One thing I have learnt over the years is that if you ever write about Israel or Palestine you should be prepared to don a tin helmet. But I never learn, do I? On 5 Live yesterday evening I mentioned that while I supported Israel's actions over the last couple of days I was appalled at the destruction inflicted on Beirut, a city I visited fifteen years ago, shortly after John McCarthy was released. A couple of people emailed me and said I should write about the visit, so I spent a couple of hours this morning sitting in the sun on the Norfolk coast tapping out an article on the current conflict and my visit to the Lebanon. I decided to post it on Comment is Free first and you can read the full version HERE. It's the longest article I've written for some time. Naturally, the comments so far accuse me of being blindly pro-Israeli. I thought I had given a balanced view, but you can't please everyone!
Here's a short extract...
I have no doubt that Israel was right to react to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers. For some time now, the Israelis have acted with great self-restraint in response to huge provocation from various groups allied to the Palestinian cause. In the end, something was bound to give, and the likes of Hezbollah knew that.
Israel has a new prime minister, a man with no military background. There are bound to be suspicions that this week's bombing of Lebanon was, at least in part, an attempt by Ehud Olmert to prove his hardline credentials to the Israeli military - and the wider population. He wouldn't be human if there were not an element of that in his mind, though it might well be buried deep in his subconscious.
But whatever the real reason, he was right to take action. Not least because, if he had not done so, it would have been interpreted by Israel's enemies as a sign of weakness and encouraged Hezbollah to take further hostages.
The key for the Israeli prime minister now is to determine what is a proportionate response and what is not.
Friends of mine, who know far more about Israel than I do, are convinced that the soldier kidnapped a few weeks ago is already dead. For all we know the same fate has befallen the latest two victims. If so, then the Middle East is about to enter a new phase of carnage and retribution at a time when the region already resembles a giant fusebox.
Memories of August 1914 keep coming to me. A world war started by a bizarre killing in Sarajevo. Could Hezbollah have started a massive new conflict by kidnapping two anonymous Israeli soldiers? It hardly bears thinking about.
I have no doubt that the White House will be urging the Israeli government to exercise restraint. Condi Rice will be telling them that they've made their point, and that further destruction and heavy military strikes would be counter-productive.
But her discussions with the Lebanese would be far more interesting. For the newly elected and very shaky Lebanese government is in a real quandary. It contains members of Hezbollah - one in its Cabinet - yet it does not control them. Indeed, you could argue that it is even less able to control Hezbollah than the Palestinian Authority is able to control the radicals and terrorists who operate within its jurisdiction. A further complication is that the Lebanese government is heavily influenced by the Syrians. And it is they who could prove key to this unfortunate situation. This is not a comforting thought for anyone.
My thoughts on this terrible situation are also influenced by a visit I made to Lebanon some 15 years ago, not long after the British hostages had been freed. Indeed, I was told during my visit to Beirut that I was the first Brit to have ventured there following John McCarthy's release, a bit of a coincidence as John McCarthy lived in the next village to me in Essex. Had I know this before my trip, I suspect I might well have chickened out of going.
To read the full article click HERE.