If a football coach orders his team to punt every time it has the ball, we would conclude either he doesn't know what he's doing, or he's deliberately throwing the game.
But why would he throw the game? That leads into speculation of what's going on behind the scenes. Gambling debts? Blackmail? A desire to get fired? Mental illness?
Defenders of the coach would dismiss such conspiracy theories and wacky scenarios. They would say, "Where's the evidence?"
The problem is, there isn't any hard evidence that conclusively supports one theory or another. But there IS hard evidence on the field that something is amiss.
For the first option is even less plausible: NOBODY in the coach's position could be that incompetent. After all, knowing the game of football is the minimal requirement of the job. A person who knows nothing about football isn't pulled off the street to become a football coach.
This hypothetical situation is akin to the judgments of Israel's leadership in its war with Lebanon. Not that Israel is "punting;" If anything, Israel goes for the long bomb on every down and wonders why it isn't making progress. It may inflict damage, but is too predictable.
After four weeks of war, I still encounter apologists for Israel. The standard refrain is, "Israel doesn't target civilians, but Hezbollah does." Although Israel has actually killed twenty times as many civilians as has Hezbollah, the argument goes, it retains an insurmountable lead on the moral scorecard. After all, they say, Israel doesn't mean it.
Let's concede the point for a moment. In a war, the side with greater firepower is bound to inflict more extensive damage than the other. That doesn't mean the stronger is in the wrong, or that the weaker is a victim. "Good guys" have the right to punish "bad guys," regardless of their relative strengths.
Even so, the arguments from Israel's apologists neglect a key point. And it's one even Israel's critics tend to miss. The moral problem isn't in the body counts or infrastructure damage per se. Rather it is that Israel's leaders should have known that bombing Lebanon wouldn't work. They should have known that Hezbollah wouldn't be appreciably weakened, but would instead garner more recruits and support. They should have anticipated the worldwide backlash, and the condemnation of its neighbors. Israel's leaders should have known that the brutal means they used would have no bearing on the ends they claim they want to achieve.
Jimmy Carter says Israel's methods of defending itself are "inhuman and counterproductive." It could be said that they are all the more inhuman because they are counterproductive. Did Israel really think that destroying Lebanon's infrastructure and creating one million Lebanese refugees would weaken Hezbollah?
That's the problem. It is hard to believe that the military and political culture is still so backward that it doesn't understand guerrilla and counter-insurgency warfare. Apparently, no one's told Israel (or the U.S., for that matter) that brute military force does not scare or intimidate anymore - if it ever did. Whatever doesn't kill Hezbollah only makes it stronger.
I take for granted that "government doesn't work." Still, the incompetence government shows is sometimes so great that, like the coach who punts on first down, I have to wonder if there is another, hidden agenda. And that raises the question, what is the real reason behind Israel's bombing Lebanon? Is Israel really just "defending itself?"
Israel intends to advance to the Litani River, displacing Lebanese and rooting out Hezbollah along the way. One wonders whether Israel will stay there forever. If Israel stays, it has a ready excuse. They need to occupy the land as a buffer, to keep Hezbollah that much further away from Israel proper. They had to destroy Lebanon's infrastructure and economy to prevent it from resisting.
But then the occupiers could tell themselves, "Hey, look! Water! You know, since we're here anyway..."
It may very well be that Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers is just the long-awaited pretext for a war of conquest. Israel is a small and parched country. The Litani River would be a valuable source for a country that's running out of water. The river was also the dream of Israel founder David Ben-Gurion. Territorial expansion has been Israel's quest since its inception. Israel has taken land before, on the pretext of creating buffers from hostile neighbors. But Israelis then settled these territories, expanding Israel's de facto if not official borders.
Israeli Gideon Levy points out, "When the other side is quiet, why return territories? And when they do go to war, ‘there's nobody to talk to,' and certainly not while we are ‘under fire.'
I don't know if Israel's real goal is to destroy Lebanon so as to steal a portion of it. What I do know is that this would at least explain Israel's actions. True, this would mean that Israel would have lost its claim to the moral high ground. True, it would make Hezbollah fighters look less like "terrorists" and more like patriots defending their homeland. But there would also be some small comfort in this.
Let me illustrate. A man may kill a woman to steal her diamonds. Another man may kill a woman just for the pleasure of killing. Both murders are terrible and inexcusable. But we can call the first a criminal, and the second a madman. Which would you rather deal with?
I'd rather have criminals in charge of nations, rather than madmen. For the criminal thinks of his own self-interest; he knows when he's gone too far, and when he has to back down. The madman knows no such constraints.
If Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not invading Lebanon for its land and water, then I hope he and President Bush come to their senses and agree to a cease-fire, soon. Very soon.