Once it became clear that Hezbollah is receiving Syrian (along with Iranian) help in its latest campaign against Israel, a question arises – why is Assad safe in Damascus? After all, he is openly hosting Hezbolla, and one of the missiles that passed through his hands killed 9 Israeli civilians in Haifa yesterday and wounded dozens more. Yet Israel has been careful not to strike Damascus. Why?
Of course, Israel is concerned about "widening" the conflict and drawing Syria into a full scale war. But a missile landing in Haifa should call for a commensurate reaction. It should also call for a ground invasion of southern Lebanon to push Hezbollah farther away from Israel's cities, but that has not happened, either.
I believe the reason for this is the large number of westerners in Lebanon and Syria, including many Americans. While the EU has been swiftly airlifting its citizens to safety, the US has not, paralyzed, so it seems, by events many predicted weeks ago. I also believe this can be viewed in one of two plausible ways:
1. The US is using its citizens as pawns to slow the Israeli assault in the hopes that full scale war can be averted.
2. The US – specifically the US under the leadership of a crony-dominated administration – is just too incompetent to act swiftly when necessary.
My gut tells me it is US incompetence, not foot-dragging, that is at work here. But either way, Israel seems to be waiting for the US to get its citizens out before doing what it must to completely cut off Hezbollah escape routes and entering Lebanon with the ground forces necessary to root out and destroy Hezbollah's missiles, launchers and operatives. Israel has allowed one runway to remain open at Beirut International Airport to facilitate the US evacuation. This runway can also be used by Hezbollah to rearm – or to escape. And there are other examples of highways and infrastructure left standing to help the slow-footed US get its people – our people – out.
George Bush can talk the talk. But, like his response to Katrina and literally dozens of other examples, his walk comes later, hesitantly, like a baby taking its first steps, and he hits full stride only sometime after full stride is necessary.
If Israel is waiting for its friend in the White House to do the right thing, it must remember the cardinal rule for dealing with George W. Bush: His heart is in the right place, but his body – and the actions of his administration – lags behind.
Why were US civilians not evacuated Friday or Saturday? That is the question the Bush Administration should be asked and held accountable for.