Harper is right on the Mideast . . .

Géopolitique — Proche-Orient

EDITORIAL - Stephen Harper could have taken the safe route. When fighting broke out in the Middle East, it would have been easy to stick with the usual Canadian formula: denouncing the violence on both sides, calling for a ceasefire, proposing peace talks. Prime ministers down the decades have done precisely that, tiptoeing between the usual American support of Israel and the usual Arab denunciation.
Instead, Mr. Harper did something unusual and refreshing: He said what he thought. He didn't denounce the violence on both sides; he denounced Hezbollah violence and said Israel had a right to defend itself. He didn't say there should be a ceasefire; he said Hezbollah was primarily responsible for starting the fighting and must be primarily responsible for ending it. He didn't call for peace talks; he called on Hezbollah to return kidnapped Israeli soldiers and stop attacking Israeli civilians.
Mr. Harper's opponents in Parliament find this shocking. NDP Leader Jack Layton says he has ruined Canada's reputation for diplomatic neutrality. The Liberals' Bill Graham attacks him for lacking "nuance." Well, diplomacy and nuance have their place, but shouldn't Canada also be able to call a spade a spade? Isn't that part of the repertoire of a middle power?
What we're seeing in the Middle East is not an ordinary "cycle of violence," with each side equally to blame. It started with an unprovoked attack across a recognized international border. When Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two more, then rained missiles on Israeli civilians, it was not fending off an Israeli attack or resisting Israeli occupation. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon six years ago. This was a deliberate act of aggression by extremists sworn to destroy the state of Israel. Israel had every right to respond.
That response has been violent and sweeping. More than 300 people have been killed, 245 of them in Lebanon. Mr. Harper is not blind to the cost. He has urged "Israel and others to minimize civilian damage." He should keep saying that, and with more feeling. His reaction to the death of eight Canadians in Lebanon was underwhelming. Has he thought to phone the mourning family in Montreal? For all his powers of logic, the Prime Minister sometimes fails on the empathy side.
But he is right not to fall into the trap of saying that because Israel's bombs are killing civilians, it is just as much to blame as Hezbollah. There is a world of difference between those who deliberately kill to make mischief and those who kill in response. When an Israeli air strike gone wrong killed those eight Canadians, Israel issued a heartfelt apology. When Hezbollah rockets kill Israeli innocents, its supporters hand out sweets.
This is not always an easy distinction to talk about when civilians are being killed all around. To his credit, Mr. Harper insists on making it. No one would be dying on either side without Hezbollah and its twisted belief "that through violence it can bring about the destruction of Israel." But violence, he said, "will only bring about more violence and inevitably the result of the violence will be the death primarily of innocent people." That is the real cycle here. Those, like the Israelis, who defend themselves against unprovoked attacks are not perpetuating the violence. The instigators alone are to blame for that.
That is the important point Mr. Harper was trying to make when he broke from the pack to support Israel so forcefully in the current conflict. It may not have been the safe thing to say, but it was the right one.

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