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Bibi Vigilante

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I watched with admiration Benjamin Netanyahu's appearance last Friday, hourly on loop, on Sky News TV. All charisma, as usual, with an elegant red tie as a bonus. His spontaneous sincerity might have brought tears to my eyes, were I totally ignorant of recent history.

Mr.Natanyahu pleaded with (self-) conviction that in systematically destroying Lebanon, Israel is doing exactly what any other nation-namely the US, Britain, France, Italy-would have done. Strange that the leaders of those nations have not thought of exercising this divine right every time one of their citizens was kidnapped or their cities suffered bloody terrorist attacks. Sophisms don't cost a shekel and sell well to the general public, especially on the other shore of the Atlantic.

It is true that the United States have reacted violently on a few occasions when Americans or US interests where attacked in foreign lands-Iran, Granada, Sudan, Somalia-but these were punctual raids, except in Somalia, with no aim of flattening entire cities out, and in general proved political or military miscalculations. But I have no recollection of France, Britain or Italy invading another country to free an abducted personality or journalist, or as reprisal for a bomb exploded in the middle of their capitals. The last Franco-British adventure of this nature dates back to Suez. French and Belgian interventions in Africa also were made at the invitation of local, powerless governments or because of urgent humanitarian needs. The invasions of Iraq in 1990 or of Serbia and Afghanistan more recently had the avail of the international community. The political philosophy prevailing in western democracies, particularly in Europe, is that crises of the sort be resolved through patience, UN-approved sanctions or deterrence, negotiation, respect for human life and local governments' legitimacy, even when such governments are inefficient. Mr. Netanyahu should perhaps have devoted long time ago his eloquence to convincing Europe, the US and Arab states to collectively coerce Lebanon, the Hezbollah and Hamas to play by the rules, instead of inciting his country to police the neighbourhood alone.

Most of us in the West are friends of Israel and sympathetic to its strife to preserve its existence in the region, but watching the former Israeli PM's analysis, I could not refrain from thinking that he reminded me of Paul Kersey. Their respective looks are diametrically opposed, but their doctrines identical. Paul Kersey, incarnated by Charles Bronson, was the hero in a series of no less than five tough-action movies, produced between 1974 and 1994. In Death Wish, Bronson plays the role of an American architect, whose wife gets murdered by two thugs in their Manhattan apartment. As police struggles to find the perpetrators, the protagonist decides to become detective, judge, jury and executioner on his own right. He gets a gun and every night roams Central Park and the dangerous parts of the City looking for potential aggressors among the predominantly coloured youth of the population. Needless to say that he teaches numerous lessons to dangerous criminals and disoriented kids alike. The policeman in charge of the investigation eventually finds out who is the sudden Vigilante that terrorizes after-hours New York's underworld. But he decides to turn a blind eye and signal Bronson that he better leave town on the next Greyhound bus.

The movie is a big worldwide hit. So the story is chewed again and again for the following twenty years, every time Paul Kersey gets a new wife or girl friend. In the end, however, Bronson, the inspector, the producers, and even the public, all get tired of it. There is probably a good reason for this: the NYPD has in the meantime embraced the "Zero Tolerance" policy, so who needs a virtual Vigilante?

I wouldn't dare suggest that this series might allude to the situation in the Middle East. Even if he aspired at making Death Wish VI, Mr. Netanyahu, Bibi for his fans-and he has got quite a few of those-has nothing of an architect. But retired Paul Kersey could very well make a new start in life as demolition expert. We are, after all, in the movies.


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J N Couvas is an academic, journalist, and an international corporate and political adviser, specialising in Middle East and Balkan affairs. He teaches international strategy and executive leadership at universities in the region.

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