For weeks now, Canadians have watched as innocent civilians on all sides have been killed in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. For Lebanese Canadians, whose families have been fleeing the violence and for Jewish Canadians whose relatives may be hiding in bunkers, emotions are very raw. None of us can pretend the conflict is happening to someone else, far away. In a real sense, it is happening to Canadians. The conflict is sowing discord among us at a time when we should be standing together.
Canada can play a significant role in reducing the suffering, but first we need to agree together why this terrible conflict is so dangerous.
Hezbollah’s strategy is to lure Israel into an escalation of violence that will radicalize the Arab world and cause Israel to lose its remaining international support. The terrible tragedy in Qana, which claimed 57 lives, is thus a victory for Hezbollah. But that is not all. Hezbollah then hopes to draw Israel into a wider conflict which would result in its ultimate destruction. In this terrible struggle, Israel cannot win, Hezbollah cannot lose and Lebanon perishes.
Israel must not play Hezbollah’s game. It must defend itself, but to persist in its military campaign would only give Hezbollah what it wants: continuing carnage in Lebanon and weakening world support for Israel. Canada should be saying to Israel that there are no further military options in Lebanon that do not risk destroying Lebanon and ultimately endangering its own security.
If Israel persists, there is a danger that it will lose control of the situation. Hezbollah cannot be wiped out militarily. They have support among Lebanese Shiites, because they provide social welfare and have the blessing of the mullahs. They also have political power, having won parliamentary seats in free elections. Further military action by Israel may only strengthen Hezbollah’s political power in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s backers– Iran and Syria– are providing it with advanced military equipment. If Iran flashes a green light, Hezbollah could launch long-range, heavy payload weapons on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel has warned Iran that if it encourages Hezbollah to escalate, what happened to Beirut will happen to Tehran. But Israel cannot be sure that Tehran will get the message. If anyone miscalculates, the struggle risks turning into a full-scale conflict between states with unforeseeable yet devastating consequences.
Who can stop this struggle before it gets out of control? In the 1990’s, the Clinton administration managed to keep all parties focused on a peace process leading to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such a solution remains the only long-term hope for peace. The Bush Administration has done little or nothing to keep the parties focused on peace, and it is bogged down in a grinding insurgency in Iraq. Worse still, the US Administration has still not called for an immediate cease-fire.
The Harper government’s response has been inadequate. It has failed to address the damage that the conflict is doing to relations between communities in Canada; it has failed to grasp just how serious the situation could become, and it has failed to stake out the positive role that Canada could play in defusing the crisis.
It’s time for Canada to do its part in stopping this march to the abyss. It should call for an immediate cease-fire, authorized by the Security Council. It should line up with the Europeans and moderate Arab states issuing the same call. Under such a cease-fire deal, Israeli forces would withdraw, aerial bombardment would cease and Hezbollah would stop rocket attacks and incursions into Israeli territory.
Once a cease-fire has taken hold, Canada should propose the deployment of an international naval, air and land force to prevent the movement of missiles and other military technology into Lebanon. These weapons come by land through Syria and by sea through the Mediterranean. Such a force should be deployed at all Lebanese ports and land borders. An additional naval force should patrol Lebanese waters. The force should be authorized by the UN Security Council to seize any weapons destined for Hezbollah or any non-state actor in the region.
Such a force would not engage in direct confrontation with Hezbollah or with the Israelis but patrol a buffer zone between them.
Canada’s commitments in Afghanistan preclude sending ground troops on this mission, but Canada could participate in the naval interdiction effort in the Mediterranean. Canada’s navy has already played this role in the Gulf and would be well equipped to do so again.
The goal here is limited but vital: to create demilitarized zones between combatants and to bar the entry of the advanced weaponry that risks widening the local conflict into a regional conflagration.
Once a cease-fire is in place, and the interdiction force deployed, Canada could form a ‘friends of Lebanon’ club, a group of states to work with the Lebanese government to reconstruct the country’s shattered infrastructure. Germany played this role after the Afghanistan war of 2001, and Canada could play the same role in Lebanon.
We are a country of peace-makers, especially because we are also a country of immigrants, many of whom have come to Canada to escape the horrors of conflict. As a nation of immigrants from the zones of war, we have a special vocation for peace, and it is by exercising this vocation that we maintain our unity as a people. We have a voice that other countries listen to. Let us use it.
[August 1, 2006]