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Consul general explains Lebanon

Steve Kerins | Thursday, October 12, 2006

Israel has a definite plan for its role in the Middle East following this summer’s short but controversial war against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, an Israeli government representative said Wednesday.

Barukh Binah, Israel’s Consul General for Chicago, gave a lecture entitled “In the Wake of a Summer of Conflict: An Israeli Perspective.” The lecture was sponsored by Notre Dame’s Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, along with the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley and the Department of Political Science.

“There’s a lot of talk right now … about how this war started, and what was achieved and was not achieved,” Binah said, before giving an overview of the events leading up to the conflict.

Binah said Israel’s advance into Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon occurred as a response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, after numerous failed kidnapping attempts over the past several months.

Because Hezbollah is directly connected to leadership in Iran and Syria, he said, officials in those countries would have had to endorse Hezbollah’s action against Israel.

“They thought that the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers would draw attention from [Iran’s nuclear program],” Binah said. “They were surprised by the Israeli reaction.”

Israel’s reaction, Binah said, showed its neighbors the country “can retaliate” and would “not tolerate attacks” on its territory.

“In view of the provocation, which was quite a major one … we have responded in a very measured way,” he said.

The intent behind Israel’s actions against Hezbollah, Binah said, was “to bring Hezbollah down to a certain level … which we hope that we have achieved.”

Binah applauded recent measures taken by the U.N. Security Council to establish what Israel says is a more sustainable situation in the region.

“[The Security Council] mandated an [arms] embargo for every member of the United Nations on Hezbollah,” he said.

The other factor, he said, is that Hezbollah “will not be able to deploy in the south of Lebanon,” and thus no longer poses a threat to Israel.

Binah also said the release of the kidnapped soldiers remains unconditional, a matter for which Israel assigns responsibility to the Lebanese government.

“Everything is hinged on the performance of the international community” in implementing the U.N.’s resolution, Binah said.

Binah addressed criticisms raised against Israel’s treatment of Lebanese civilians and infrastructure during its attacks. He said the Israeli army did everything possible to ensure civilian safety while protecting Israel from Hezbollah’s terrorism.

“We have given up the advantage of … surprise to alert the [Lebanese] public of an impending attack,” Binah said. “We used the radio to alert people, and we even called them every now and then on cell phones, when we knew who to call.”

Although Israel won a decisive victory in this summer’s war, Binah said the political situation in that troubled region remains difficult.

“We bequeath to our children a country that still has to be fought for, and we can’t take anything for granted,” he said.