No one has monopoly on virtue or evil;
As the gunfire fades over Lebanon and an uneasy peace prevails, Michael Fabricant MP evaluates the role of the UN in the Middle East and finds them sadly lacking
?Just imagine if a neighbouring country were harbouring terrorist militias and were lobbing missiles into Dover and Folkestone. Would Tony Blair and Parliament do nothing for six years before finally being provoked into taking action??
Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, said in passing its resolution for a ceasefire in the Lebanon that the UN’s "inability to act sooner has badly shaken the world’s faith in this authority and its integrity". He is right. But the UN has a long history of impotency in the Middle East.
Back in 1967, UN forces were stationed in the Sinai to guarantee Israel’s safety from Egyptian attack. When President Nasser moved his army up to the Israeli border, UN forces melted away. The Six Day War was the consequence. Israel’s Golda Meir said at the time it was like having a fire engine parked outside your home only to see it drive off when your house catches fire. The UN and its member states must bear responsibility for the present conflict too.
Many have found it convenient to condemn Israel for its disproportionate response to the onslaught of Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon. The outrage felt by many in our country has been fuelled by daily television pictures of innocent civilians – including children -caught up in the crossfire. But in this conflict no one side enjoys the monopoly of virtue or of evil. It is foolish to suggest otherwise.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the creation of the State of Israel back in 1948, Israel today is a modern, fully functioning democracy. Its parliament, the Knesset, is based on the British system: every Israeli citizen -Arab, Christian or Jew – has the vote, and the Supreme Court of Israel has jurisdiction over and above the Government. So very different from the rest of the Middle East. Interestingly, England, New Zealand and Israel are the only three countries in the world without a written constitution and whose legal system is based on English law. Perhaps that is the cause of the problem: some Muslim nations in the Middle East have difficulty in accepting such a Western state in their midst. Flowing from this, there have been wars and injustice on both sides since 1948.
But with Israel recently signing peace treaties with many of her immediate neighbours, more extreme states have had to use proxies to attack Israel.
No terrorist organisation can operate in a vacuum and Hezbollah and Hamas have both been – and are still being – funded, trained and equipped by Syria and Iran. This led to attacks into Israel in the 1990s which in turn led to the Israeli army occupying the Gaza and southern Lebanon.
But with the United Nations giving assurances that their peace keeping force would move in to fill the military vacuum after an Israeli withdrawal, on May 25 2000 Israeli tanks rolled out of the Lebanon and the UN moved in.
So what happened? Despite the UN presence, and despite all the assurances the UN had given Israel, Hezbollah remained and rearmed. Plusa change.
Between May 2000 and the start of the present conflict in July this year, Hezbollah carried out 111 anti-aircraft attacks, 42 anti-tank missile attacks, 28 Katyusha rocket attacks, 16 infiltration attempts, 11 bomb attacks, and nine shooting attacks against Israel and her civilians.
On October 7 2000, less than five months after Israel’s withdrawal, Hezbollah terrorists bombed an Israeli patrol vehicle and kidnapped three soldiers on Israeli territory. The mutilated bodies of the soldiers were brought back to Israel only in January 2004.
By September 2004, the situation had become so grave, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1559 which called on all militias in the Lebanon to disband and for the authority of the legitimate government to be extended down to the Israel-Lebanon border.
Instead, Hezbollah increased its attacks and has stockpiled at least 13,000 missiles. The Lebanese army stayed out of southern Lebanon and the UN force continued to observe but do precisely nothing. Hezbollah is now the largest and most powerful armed force in Lebanon replacing, in effect, the Syrians who had previously occupied that sad country.
Over the past year, Israel implored the Lebanese Army to re-occupy the southern part of their own country and restore order. But fearing civil war and the strength of Hezbollah, the Government of Lebanon refused. Offers were made to re-equip the Lebanese Army.
Diplomatic pleas were made to the United States to beef up the UN force or install a Nato force. And while all this was going on, Hezbollah continued attacking Israel and her civilians – though little of this was reported or ever shown on TV news over here.
Finally, on the 12th July, Hezbollah crossed the border into Israel for the first time since the October 2000 raid, attacked an army patrol, and kidnapped two soldiers precipitating Israel’s armed response.
Before making judgments, I find it helpful to ask: ‘What would Britain do if it found itself in similar circumstances?’.
Just imagine if a neighbouring country were harbouring terrorist militias and were lobbing missiles into Dover and Folkestone. Would Tony Blair and Parliament do nothing for six years before finally being provoked into taking action?
And with a terrorist militia which blend into centres of civilian population deliberately storing missiles in apartments adjacent to hospitals and schools to act as a deterrent against action by the RAF, can you not imagine the tragedy of innocent civilians being killed and injured as a consequence? It is wrong to condemn Israel without a thought of what we would be forced to do in similar circumstances.
Now, I am not here to defend Tony Blair as he holidays in the Caribbean with Sir Cliff, but it would have been oh so easy for him to ignore the complicated reality of this conflict and side with his own left wing Labour MPs who demanded instant solutions. Blair knew that a repeat of the Israeli withdrawal of May 2000 wouldn’t work as long as Hezbollah is being armed and continues to attack Israel. That’s all been tried before and it takes two to tango. Terrorists like Hezbollah don’t negotiate with the UN.
So what of the future? We may now finally see a peacekeeping force with some real muscle replacing the previously supine UN presence in southern Lebanon. Once in place, provided they remain or the Lebanese army eventually replaces them, it will enable the Israelis to withdraw safely and allow both sides to live in a secure peace.
But it is in the longer term that there are more worrying issues.
Syria and Iran provide arms and training not only for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, but also for insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan who are killing British – not Israeli – soldiers.
And with Iran saying in the last few days that they will defy the world and increase their nuclear production capability, their weapons of mass destruction will soon become a reality -unlike those in Iraq.
So with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again calling for the total destruction of Israel and urging a holy war against America and the United Kingdom, Israel’s problems with madder elements in the Middle East are becoming our own.
And to those who say we brought it on ourselves by invading Iraq, there have been attempted Middle Eastern terrorist attacks on Britain and actual attacks on the US long before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. There is no excuse for terrorism at home or abroad.
In times like these, it’s important to know who your friends are. I suspect this is what Tony Blair had in mind in having the admirable courage to resist appeasing his back-bench Labour colleagues who have been calling for unworkable solutions throughout this crisis.