Last Monday, the South Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, funded and armed by Syria and Iran, set off a roadside bomb that killed an Israeli brigadier general in command of Israel’s Lebanon operations, along with a leading Israeli journalist and two other officers.
It is easy to speak of Hezbollah, as a New York Times article recently did, in terms of its “low-level war to push Israel out of South Lebanon.” Yet Hezbollah’s own rhetoric proclaims a fuller agenda. “Another victory on the way to liberating Jerusalem and Palestine” cried Hezbollah radio the morning after the attacks, while TV clips of the funerals of Hezbollah fighters the morning after Israeli Air Force attacks featured crowds chanting, “By our blood and by our soul, we will liberate you, Palestine.”
The push to get Israel out of Lebanon is not the goal but merely the first step to a final push of Israel out of Jerusalem and out of what Hezbollah defines as “Palestine.”
Yet the threat from Hezbollah is not adequately understood, even in Israel. Some suppose that the Hezbollah program begins and ends in the Lebanon Security Zone, and that after an Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah will be satisfied and Israel will live happily ever after.
One reason for Israelis’ lack of comprehension is that Hezbollah – like other Arab groups – flaunts its true intentions in Arabic. Few people in Israel understand Arabic, and fewer follow the pronouncements Arab leaders make to their own people. Israeli newscasts and newspapers rarely cover these statements or translate them into Hebrew, much less into languages accessible to Western journalists and policymakers.
Of those who do understand, even those who serve in Israeli or Western intelligence services, many dismiss this rhetoric as meant “for internal consumption.”
Most Israelis do not grasp that religious conviction can inspire wars of destruction. It would seem that average secular-minded Israelis do not realize that the nuances of a language and religion that mean nothing to them could be a galvanizing force to others.
This blurred perception might be traced to the early days of Zionist building, when there was inadequate attention to the growth of Arab-Muslim nationalism after World War I. Since then, anti-Zionism has been fed on stories of an imagined Arab-Muslim pseudo-Zionist nationalism and a generation passionately ready to go to war for an all-Arab Palestine.
In the 1980s, I lived in Upper Galilee, the sparsely settled northern region of Israel, where 100,000 Israeli Jews and Arabs dwell in an area within rocket range of Southern Lebanon. Residents of other regions of Israel often seem to have little communication with Israelis on the northern border and less empathy. My acquaintances in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv always seemed to view attacks on border settlements as our security problem, not theirs.
If we heed the words and intentions as well as the deeds of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other militant Arab Muslim groups, it should be clear that no security problem is merely regional. All Israel remains the target, and no Israeli anywhere should feel complacently free from threat.
With elections scheduled for May 17, Israeli politicians compete with one another with promises to leave the unpopular battlefield of Lebanon if they are elected. Opposition candidates Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Mordecai have so promised, as has incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
No matter the promises, a dedicated enemy is making ready to launch the march to Jerusalem. Some still ignore that agenda.
Their awakening may be rude indeed.