Change the targets of Israel's response and this is the dynamic that has pervaded Middle East politics for decades. Israel responds to attacks against it and then is branded as problematic or worse because Israel is stronger than its enemies. And so it goes.
It might be worth pointing out that Hezbollah has been operating from southern Lebanon for years now, and that it is true that the Lebanese are to a large extent hostage to their own weakness. Hezbollah receives its support from Iran and especially from Syria, the country that really ought to be seen as the enforcing rod of any axis of evil that may exist. Most in Lebanon would as soon rid themselves of the Hezbollah problem. They wish Hezbollah would disappear. But my high school football coach had a phrase that he periodically invoked whenever someone whinged about this or that: "Wish in one hand and shit in the other, and guess which one will fill up faster?" Israel cannot respond to Lebanon's champagne dreams and caviar wishes. Israel has to respond to the realities on the ground. The realities on the ground are that Hezbollah, based in southern Lebanon, has lobbed bombs into Israel, including the port city of Haifa, and has kidnapped Israel's soldiers. Israel has a responsibility to its people and a right to respond. That Israel is stronger than its enemies is of no moment.
This is one of the more vexing aspects of Israel's relationships with its neighbors and in particular with the Palestinians. Israel is the stronger force. Thus when attacked, the odds are that the response will be overwhelming. So it is a fools errand to point out that in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Israelis kill and wound more than do those who instigate the attacks. Now I suppose fools have to run errands too, but this reality does not change the facts on the ground. If you throw a punch at someone stronger than you, don't be surprised when you get the snot kicked out of you. And don't then run to the principal and claim that you were bullied: You threw the first punch. That you couldn't back it up is probably something you should have thought through beforehand. Unfortunately, school principals, like Israel's critics, only see the blood; they rarely see what caused the bloodshed.
Those who are calling for Israel's restraint are not without virtue. Too often Israel reacts in ways that only hurts its cause. In the Gaza Strip and occasionally in the West Bank Israel's actions frequently appear indescriminate, arbitrary, and for all of the force applied, even ineffectual. Israel has more than its share of civil rights problems. But Israel's critics seem to forget the virtual state of siege under which Israel has lived since its inception. Just two decades after the Shoah, Israel was inclined to take seriously calls to drive it into the sea, as happened in 1967, accompanied by the amassing of enemy troops on its borders. Israel responded, as was its right, and in so doing overwhelmed those who were prepared to vocalize their desire to eradicate Israel but were impotent to follow through. In six days Israel won the war effectively declared against it. The price in blood and treasure? Gaza and the West Bank, inter alia. Palestinain territories? Not quite. In May of 1967 Gaza was part of Egypt. West Bank was part of Jordan. Jordan and Egypt were two of the powers who had lined their troops in hopes of pushing the Jews into the Mediteranean. Neither had, up until that point, been engaged in discussions of ceding thier lands for the Palestinian State that only after Gaza and West Bank had been lost in the most humiliating of fashions. (Six days! Driven into the sea indeed.)
Since then, many individuals and many bodies, both supporters and enemies of Israel, have called for withdrawal from territories. Just how much withdrawal there would be was up for debate. Meanwhile successive Israeli governments made the decision to install settlements in the territories, settlement that inevitably was seen as provocative, settlements that many of Israel's supporters, myself included, have thought were a bad idea. Which is why many of us have cheered the removal of settlements in Gaza and wish for the same in the West Bank. Israel won these territories in a war declared against it, but nonetheless, having the right to do something does not always make it right, and beyond that, for Israel's own peace, it must concede territories won. But of course now, when Israel has done precisely what it had been scolded to do for years, Israel is accused of acting "unilaterally," as if there was a viable multilateral partner.
Furthermore, supporting Israel does not mean opposing a Palestinian state, even if Israel's neighbors never saw fit to move toward establishing such a state, except in their grim and murderous dreams of imposing such a state on the skeletal remains of the Jews they hoped to destroy. I have long supported a two-state solution. Overwhelmingly those hopes have foundered on the shoals of Palestinian intransigence. Or need we remind readers of the Oslo agreements? At one point the Palestinians could have had more than 95% of the territories. The exchange? To forswear slaughtering Israel's children. Yassir Arafat (and right-wing Israelis) chose slaughter. Eventually Ariel Sharon chose provocation. And soon enough Palestinians chose to murder thousands of Jews because a member of the Israeli government visited Temple Mount. Someone was saying something about proportionality? Please.
(As a side note, remind me of why Oslo II passed in Israel despite the opposition of a majority of Jews in the Knesset? Ahh, yes, because of the Arab members of that body. Please tell me of a neighboring state that allows Jews the same representation. Wait, that bar is set impossibly high -- please tell me of a neighboring state that allows Arabs comparable seats at the table in a representative democracy. I admit, my thumb is on the scale -- there isn't such a state! Yet Israel is the target of so much wrath. Peculiar.)
And so here we are, defenders of Israel, most of us with a record criticizing Israel while supporting it, and criticizing it in ways that would simply not be allowed were we to ask for the same right to criticize, say, the Syrian government in Syria. (Of course with an Israeli stamp on my passport, I would not even be allowed into Syria.) People who clearly have no grasp on Israel's politics call all of us "Likudniks," as if Labour governments had not for decades supported the fundamental principle of Israel to exist as a secular, liberal, Jewish state free of being driven to the sea. It's an odd thing from which to hope to be free. But this is the state of politics in the Middle East. The country that fears being eradicated by enemies who have proclaimed loudly and frequently precisely that exact goal is told it must act with restraint in the face of wars declared against it. This is the stuff of absurdist farce, were the consequences not so very real.