Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On world leaders and movie lovers

Okay, so it looks like I'm not the only person who sees "Middle Eastern struggle for democratic self-determination (and for life itself)" and thinks "sci-fi." Israel's own Benjamin Netanyahu references the 1979 movie Alien for the purposes of the following analogy:
The 1979 science-fiction thriller starring Sigourney Weaver depicted "alien ferocious bodies that plant themselves in a host and lurch out, burst through the chest, and attack the person next to the host and in doing so, kills the host", Mr Netanyahu told Canadian broadcaster CTV from Tel Aviv.
"Hezbollah is the alien body and Lebanon is the host," he said.

"And the mother alien, if you will, producing these poisoned eggs, is Iran, with its way station to Syria."

Israel would be the bystander struck by the alien monster, he implied.

"If we're going to have a future of peace and good neighbours, a future of tranquility, then this alien ... it's got to go," he said.

I think it's a pretty good one, as sci-fi analogies go. I particularly liked the implication (unintended as it might have been) that, like Sigourney Weaver in the movie, Lebanon is an unwilling host that wants that creepy alien spawn out of its abdomen as much as anyone else would.

This introduces a couple of challenges. The most obvious one, the one that Israel and its allies are struggling with quite publicly, is the challenge of eliminating the alien spawn without injury to the host. And while, in the movie, only Ripley's life would be lost when the little bastard came busting through her chest wall, there are thousands of innocent people in Lebanon who are getting it both from Israel and from Lebanon.

The other challenge, a bit trickier, involves maternal instinct. Not from the mother alien (Iran), of course; I think it's safe to say that, while Iran has harbored, trained, and supplied Hezbollah, it also has no desire to fight Hezbollah's battles. I don't see Iran shedding blood for Hezbollah, and should (God willing) they be routed, I think that Iran will likely just say "Meh" (or the Farsi equivalent of "Meh") and go off to deposit a few more creepy alien pods. But Hezbollah has offered protection to some villages that have been or are at risk of being ravaged by the conflict, and there are Lebanese (though they are in the minority) who would rather have the support of Hezbollah than have no support at all.

What's comforting is that, just over a year ago, the people of Lebanon were able to work together to drive out the Syrian occupation. Right now, their situation is a bit more delicate; the people of Lebanon are scattered, injured, separated and really pissed off about what's going on, and they're literally getting it from both sides as Hezbollah uses them as human shield and Israel, having every right to defend themselves against Hezbollah's ongoing aggression, shoot right through them.

As in so many fragile situations in the region, the Lebanese will only be safe when they are able to regain self-rule, drive out the militant wing of Hezbollah (if not Hezbollah in its entirety) through force of will, and try to regrow the post-Cedar-Revolution society they were working on back before any of this happened. But that can only happen if they're not getting shelled to hell and back by everyone within missile range.

Call me a wide-eyed optimist, but I think the best thing that could happen, in terms of diplomacy and minimal collateral damage, would be for the Israeli government to become an advocate not just for themselves, but for the innocent people in Lebanon. It might take some gritting of teeth and wide, unconvincing smiles, but there's an opportunity to regain "good guy" status here. Make a concerted and public effort to avoid civilian targets during bombing runs. Use recent ground incursions as an opportunity to provide aid and even, if it can be managed, an escape route for those still trapped in Lebanon. Israel has to put itself out to actually help the people of Lebanon if it wants to make clear that Hezbollah, and not innocent Lebanese villagers, are their real targets.

And if that's not something they want to make clear, if that's not an actual priority for them, then their allies need to rethink their support. Because the concept of self-defense includes the concept of reasonable force, and that's a concept that doesn't involve dozens of women and children buried under the rubble of their homes. And when the dust clears and Hezbollah is gone, Israel will still have to deal with whatever bits of Lebanon are left behind. Both Israel and Lebanon can survive this conflict, but it requires the use of both reasonable force and discretion.

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