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We Must Do Whatever It Takes

By Ed Koch

It's long been said that when war comes, truth is the first casualty. War has come to Israel, Gaza and Lebanon. Let us remember the truth about how this war started.

In Gaza, Hamas terrorists dug a half-mile tunnel into Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers and taking one prisoner. The Israeli army responded by counter-attacking the Gaza Strip, which is now ruled by a Hamas government. Since its recent election to power, the Hamas government has not only refused to recognize the State of Israel, it has restated its goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with a single Islamic state running from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Hamas will not recognize any prior agreements made by Arafat with Israel. The Hamas regime has publicly endorsed the use of terror -- the killing of Israeli civilians in Israel -- to achieve its goals.

Israel is now engaged in destroying the ability of the Hamas government to achieve those goals. Israel is seeking to make it as difficult as possible to wage a war of terrorism against Israel, including the firing of missiles into Israel. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has entered the Gaza Strip from which it had totally withdrawn, having painfully removed every Israeli and destroyed every Israeli settlement in Gaza, leaving that area, which was occupied in biblical days by the Philistines and, their champion, Goliath.

The Western world in different degrees has responded with an understanding of the need for Israel's response to Hamas' acts. President Bush has from the beginning of the hostilities repeatedly said, "Israel has a right to defend herself. Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life."

A second front was opened on Israel's border with Lebanon on July 11th, with Hezbollah crossing Israel's border killing eight Israeli soldiers and taking two soldiers prisoner. Hezbollah has rained more than 1,000 missiles down on Israel, inflicting 24 deaths and 300 casualties. Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government having several cabinet ministers and 13 members of parliament. Hezbollah has been ceded by the Lebanese government the right to control southern Lebanon and its border with Israel. The leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has threatened before and during these latest hostilities the destruction of the State of Israel.

Israel began its war against Hezbollah warning the President of Lebanon that if the Lebanese government would not or could not carry out its international responsibility to prevent Hezbollah from attacking Israel from Lebanon, Israel would do the job for them.

To the surprise of many observers, the members of the G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg issued a unanimous statement supporting Israel's right to self defense, stating in part,

"The immediate crisis results from efforts by extremist forces to destabilize the region and to frustrate the aspirations of the Palestinian, Israeli and Lebanese people for democracy and peace. In Gaza, elements of Hamas launched rocket attacks against Israeli territory and abducted an Israeli soldier. In Lebanon, Hizbollah, in violation of the Blue Line, attacked Israel from Lebanese territory and killed and captured Israeli soldiers, reversing the positive trends that began with the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, and undermining the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

These extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos and provoke a wider conflict. The extremists must immediately halt their attacks.

It is also critical that Israel, while exercising the right to defend itself, be mindful of the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions. We call upon Israel to exercise utmost restraint, seeking to avoid casualties among innocent civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure and to refrain from acts that would destabilize the Lebanese government.

The most urgent priority is to create conditions for a cessation of violence that will be sustainable and lay the foundation for a more permanent solution. This, in our judgment, requires:

* The return of the Israeli soldiers in Gaza and Lebanon unharmed;
* An end to the shelling of Israeli territory;
* An end to Israeli military operations and the early withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza;
* The release of the arrested Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians."

Israel is seeking to break the back of Hezbollah through the use of its air force, not wanting to send in ground forces, to the extent it did in 1982 when it become bogged down in a land war. Whether terrorist bases can ever be totally destroyed without the use of ground forces is doubtful. Israel is culturally part of the Western world. Syria and Iran are cited by all observers as the sponsors of Hezbollah. Many observers have publicly stated that Hezbollah would not have begun this attack on Israel without those countries' agreement and material support. Surprisingly, according to The New York Times on July 17th, "..some Arab nations, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, were joining in the criticism of the attacks committed by Hamas and Hezbollah."

The enemies of the Western world in this war of civilizations are the Islamic fanatics. Those fanatics number hundreds of millions. They truly believe they have the right to kill all infidels. Sometimes, the fanatic warns us in his own words. Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle) in 1925 in which he told the world of his plans. A recent leader of al-Qaeda, the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, spoke openly of his beliefs, "Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute."

Take them at their word. Hitler meant what he said. So do the Islamic fanatics. Unlike the Western world, where we love life, the Islamic fanatics love death, what they refer to as martyrdom, killing the infidel -- Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims of different sects -- and being rewarded with 72 virgins and a prominent place in heaven.

They believe that we Westerners do not have the inner strength to withstand them. They believe that if they behead their victims, disembowel prisoners, torture them beyond recognition, we will surrender or at least provide them with a temporary victory by cutting and running. We did, in fact, do exactly that in Somalia when our soldiers were killed and literally dragged through the streets attached by ropes to a vehicle. Recently in Iraq, two American soldiers were taken hostage. This past week, the terrorists played a tape showing the body and severed head of a disemboweled American soldier. The other was tortured beyond recognition. U.S. television channels said the sight was so awful that they would not show the video on their stations.

What is the answer? We must be resigned to fighting this war of civilizations for as long as it takes, and it will take years. We have to be as tough as it takes without violating the internationally accepted rules of war. And, when any of our soldiers intentionally violates those rules, they must be held accountable. When those on our side accidentally violate those rules in fear of their own lives by overreacting, we should not immolate ourselves with flagellation. Based on past actions, we are far more scrupulous then these enemies of our civilization.

Yes, Americans and other Westerners, Christians, Jews, Hindus and a majority of Muslims love life, and I am glad that we do. We will not convert, we will not pay tribute. We will fight to defend our freedom and our way of life, and we will win.

There will be a ceasefire in the current hostilities, but the war of civilizations will go on.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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