At least, that's the line that Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, took at a rally today.
"You have killed Hajj Imad outside the natural battlefield," fingering Israel. Hezbollah says that it only fights Israel within Lebanon and on their common border.
"You have crossed the borders," Nasrallah said. "With this murder, its timing, location and method — Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open."
It may be that Hezbollah isn't one of those collections of Islamic enthusiasts who blow up people in strategic markets and tactical stores. Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have been so inhibited.
Before being promoted from Hezbollah commander to martyr, Imad Mughniyeh was a busy terrorist. The "International Herald Tribune" put together an impressive list of his accomplishments, including:
- 1983: killing over 300 people with bombs in Beirut1
- 1985: planning the hijacking of a TWA flight, (American Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem was killed)
- 1985: Involvement in hijacking two Kuwait jetliners
- 1992: according to Israel, bombing Israel's embassy in Argentina (29 dead)
- 1994: according to Israel, bombing a Buenos Aires Jewish center (95 dead)
- 1996: connections with the Khobar Towers bombing (19 American soldiers dead)
Assuming that Imad Mughniyeh didn't get killed by a clumsy colleague, or that a clerical error in the Hezbollah car pool didn't send a limousine to some enemy of Islam and a car bomb to Imad, somebody has succeeded in removing one of the movers and shakers of the "Death to Israel!" crowd.
The nordo-celtic pagan in me finds a sort of grim satisfaction in the explosive death of one who killed so many in the same way.
However, since my ancestors abandoned the "Grendel" approach to conflict resolution roughly a millennia ago, I have to consider finer points of ethics and morality than 'you hit me, I hit you.'
Something I've noticed as the decades pile up is that, despite the existence of simple principles, their applications get complicated. Fast.
In this case, the starting point is pretty obviously the "You shall not kill" rule. Discussion of that part of the Decalogue on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website goes on at some length.
The word "innocent" came up quite often (sections 2258, 2261, 2263, 2270, for starters). The prohibition against killing clearly and specifically refers to the taking of innocent human lives. Although Imad Mughniyeh is certainly a human being, considering him "innocent" takes a greater willing suspension of disbelief than I'm likely to make.
Defense of individuals and groups is permitted. Again, it's complicated. For example: 2309 spells out the basic rules for the defense of countries; 2312 points out that moral law isn't suspended in wartime; Section 2313 spells out groups that must be treated humanely (non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners).
I understand that many people, including myself, have serious reservations about selecting the leader of a dangerous group, and killing that person. On the other hand, I haven't been able to see how it's better to let hundreds of relatively innocent people be killed in order to preserve the life of the person who plans the killings.
As I said, it's complicated:
- Imad Mughniyeh's death won't bring any of his victims back to life
- But his death may prevent more deadly attacks
- With Hezbollah promising "open war," more deaths are likely
- But Hezbollah has one less leader to help plan more attacks
I'm less certain of this, but I think it's true: Although it might be easier to obliterate cities like Beirut which harbor terrorists, mass murder is not the answer to purveyors of mass murder.
1 In 1983, attacks on the U.S. Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut killed hundreds of people: 63 in April, when a 2,000-pound truck bomb demolished the U.S. Embassy's front; 241 in October, when the First Battalion, 8th Marines Headquarters building in Beirut was destroyed by another truck bomb.