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Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006 12:58 am

No end in sight

The roots of Mideast conflict run deeper than the West can imagine

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Israel’s consul general to the Midwest, Barukh Binah, traveled to Springfield earlier this week to discuss the newest war in the Middle East, which started with the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Islamic organization Hezbollah.

In the wake of the soldiers’ capture, Binah says, Israeli officials believed they had two military options:

1. Use all its air force’s capabilities and level Hezbollah strongholds, which would achieve the result of “no more Hezbollah but no more city.”

2. Opt for pinpointed air strikes on Hezbollah targets and drop leaflets letting residents know that the area will be “engaged.”

If Hezbollah would just limit itself to being a political party, Binah says, things would be different: “They don’t have to like us and we don’t have to like them — but they can’t shoot at us, because then we’ll shoot at them.”

The secular Western world can only vaguely comprehend what this yet-to-be-named war is truly about, and why it won’t end anytime soon.

According to the Old Testament, Isaac was Abraham’s chosen son, the son he was willing to sacrifice to God. The Quran says it was Ishmael. Muslims and Jews — the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac — have been trying to prove the other side wrong for centuries, right up until now.

“Long ago we found out it’s not for us to tell others how to live their lives,” Binah says. “You want to live in a democracy, that’s great. You want an autocracy, a theocracy, you want whatever you want, it’s your business — provided that you won’t shoot as us, because if you do, at some point we’ll have to respond.”

So far, that response has meant that since the fighting began, on July 12, as many as 750 people in Lebanon and another 51 on the Israeli side have been killed. Those numbers include at least 54 civilians who died in an air strike on Sunday in the Lebanese town of Qana.

Binah calls the incident “regrettable,” adding that Hezbollah recklessly operates from among the civilian population.

“They want us to fire back and kill civilians so they can demonize us,” he says. By dropping leaflets written in Arabic and sending text messages to the cell phones of Lebanese citizens, his government tries to limit the damage, acting with as much restraint as possible.

Although U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., who’s of Lebanese ancestry, have also called for Israel to exercise restraint, political support of Israel has not faltered. (During his visit to Springfield, consul general Binah sported a U.S.A.-Israel friendship lapel pin.)

The U.S. Senate recently passed a resolution condemning Hezbollah and Hamas, both deemed terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department, and supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. Illinois Sens. Richard Durbin and Barack Obama were two of the bill’s co-sponsors.

A similar resolution was passed in the House, supported by the entire Illinois delegation, save for U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, who is ailing and did not vote. Meanwhile, Durbin warns against the United States’ losing sight of what’s of greater importance: Iraq.

“We can not forget that although we’re focused on Lebanon, in Iraq there is still a battle raging, a civil war in place, and American soldiers are in danger,” Durbin says. Nearly 2,600 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since March 2003.

After a brief cessation of air strikes in the wake of the Qana tragedy, on Tuesday Israel stepped up its ground offensive into Lebanon and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed there would be no cease-fire anytime soon.

So much for a “sustainable peace.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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