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Costly airstrikes
A Boston Globe editorial

Israel's bombing of power stations and Hezbollah bases across Lebanon may have appeared unavoidable to
Prime Minister Ehud Barak for domestic reasons, but the bombing allows Israel to be depicted as a state that
breaks agreements at the very moment it is engaged in peace talks with Syria and the Palestinian Authority.

The decision to affirm Israel's deterrence capability by depriving Lebanese civilians of electricity also
demonstrates to Syria and Iran that Barak cannot refrain from retaliating excessively to deliberate
provocations.

The April Understanding of 1996 obliged Israel and the Iranian-backed, Syrian-supervised Hezbollah militia to
avoid firing on or from civilian areas. In the aftermath of this week's bombing raids near Beirut, Tripoli, and
Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, Israel contended that Hezbollah's earlier attacks on Israeli soldiers in southern
Lebanon were mounted from civilian sites.

But this justification of Israel's retaliation against civilians throughout Lebanon was not taken seriously even
by members of Barak's government. Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon said yesterday: ''We are not ready to play
by the rules of the game as they have been played up to now. The (1996) understandings have restricted us
from responding in Lebanon.''

Only the most naive observer may doubt that Syrian ruler Hafez Assad gave Hezbollah a green light to
provoke Israel as it did. By falling into Assad's trap, Barak enables the Syrian dictator to pretend that the
occupying power most inimical to Lebanese independence is Israel and not Syria with its occupation force of
35,000 soldiers and uncounted security agents.

Barak's resort to air power in Lebanon revives distrust of Israel in the Arab world, rallying support for
Assad's maximilist position in deadlocked peace negotiations. In this way the canny Assad used Israel's
strength against it. The Israeli bombing raid weakens Barak's strong hand, improves Assad's weak hand, and
punishes the Lebanese for living between the wrong neighbors.

This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 2/9/2000.