Australians in Lebanon

by John Q on July 21, 2006

As is true everywhere else in the world, Australian news reports at the moment are dominated by the fighting in Lebanon. But much more than in other countries, news reports here are dominated by the dangers facing Australian citizens in Lebanon, and the problems of arranging an evacuation. Lebanon is a major source of migration to Australia and, at any given time, as many as 20000 Australian citizens are visiting the country, and a smaller number living there on a longer-term basis. With the current crisis coming as a near-complete surprise, most of them want to get out as fast as possible. This has proved just about impossible, with the airport closed and no guarantee of safe departure by road or ship. The only really safe way out is on a warship, and Australia’s nearest armed vessel is 17 days away. There are also around 10 000 Australian citizens in Israel, some within reach of Hezbollah rockets.

This crisis raises more general issues, which are likely to recur regularly in a globalised world, with increasing movements around the world and across national boundaries. If “just war” arguments like those of Michael Walzer are accepted, Australia is now a party to the conflict, with a right and indeed an obligation to intervene “The first purpose of any state is to defend the lives of its citizens”.

At one level, other states are already intervening militarily. Sending a warship to undertake an evacuation implies a threat to respond with deadly force to any attacker who might seek to prevent the evacuation. In the absence of warships, Australia presumably has a right to threaten retaliation against any party who harms Australians in the pursuit of their own goals, and to make good on that threat if necessary, perhaps acting in some other part of the world.

It’s obvious that reasoning like this, if followed through, leads to a disastrous war of all against all. But it’s hard to see how to avoid this conclusion in a situation where virtually all parties to modern conflicts use methods (from terror attacks to aerial bombardment of urban targets) that lead inevitably to large numbers of non-combatant casualties. It seems to me that this is the core of the problem, and that all such methods ought to be condemned by the international community as a whole, regardless of the cause being pursued or any prior provocation.

I admit that this position involves its own contradictions. There’s no easy answer as to what states can do about attackers who hide among civilian populations or to how those without organised military power can defend their rights. But looking at the Middle East in particular, it’s the region of the world where, more than anywhere, all parties have relied on force to advance their goals, and it’s also the region where almost nothing has changed, except for the worse, in decades.



Chris Bertram 07.21.06 at 6:24 am

The very pretext you cite — rescuing one’s nationals — was the one used by the Reagan administration in its 1983 invasion of Grenada.


Chris Bertram 07.21.06 at 6:28 am

Incidentally, here are the figures the BBC gives for various nationalities in Lebanon at the start of hostilities:

Sri Lanka: 80,000
Canada: 40,000
Philippines: 30,000
Australia: 25,000
US: 25,000
UK: 22,000 (inc. 10,000 with dual nationality)
France: 20,000
India: 12,000


Troll 07.21.06 at 7:44 am

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Th nws rprts tht I rd ystrdy ndctd tht pprxmtly 100 cvlns hd bn klld n Lbnn. Ds tht qlfy s ‘lrg nmbrs’? If nt, wht, n yr dfntn, s ‘lrg nmbr’?

“It’s bvs tht rsnng lk ths, f fllwd thrgh, lds t dsstrs wr f ll gnst ll. Bt t’s hrd t s hw t vd ths cnclsn…”

Its nt t ll hrd t vd th cnclsn tht ny cnflct nywhr n th wrld lds t nvrsl wr. A gd xmpl f why cdmcs rn’t n chrg f nythng. Sphmrc ‘gtch’ lgc dsn’t slv prblms n th wrld-t mrly gt pblshd n jrnls.

BTW: y rlly dn’t hv t wrry t mch bt Astrln cvlns. If thy gt n rl bnd, thy, lk th rst f th Wstrn wrld, cn cnt n th US mltry t bl thm t (gn).



Barry 07.21.06 at 7:59 am

Steve, considering that the airport, to take one example, was a pure example of attacking civilians, would you please like to clarify your statement?


otto 07.21.06 at 8:03 am

There are British warships and other military assets nearby, and they owe the Aussies some favours.


john m. 07.21.06 at 8:25 am

If they get in a real bind, they, like the rest of the Western world, can count on the US military to bail them out (again).

Interestingly, according to an e-mail posted on Andrew Sullivan’s site, the US is actually looking to charge its citizens for emergency extraction: see here.

On thread, I dimly recall some discussion a few years ago about friendly hostage shields preventing wars or some such, the idea being if large amounts of your citizens were present in another country (tourists/workers etc.), then you would be less likely to attack that country in order not to cause them harm. The flaw John points out is what happens if somebody else attacks that country? The general tradition is to assist your citizens to leave and let them get on with it – pretty much the tack being adopted here. It would be very interesting to see what the US would or should do in a similar situation. Grenada does not count as we’re talking about actual wars here and Clint Eastwood won that one single handed in any event.


Uncle Kvetch 07.21.06 at 8:47 am

In the interest of an intelligent discussion, howzabout people agree to give Steve’s “contribution” the attention it deserves–which is to say, none whatsoever.


P O'Neill 07.21.06 at 9:13 am

This issue is riddled with moral hazard. If the Western countries do manage to extricate their civilians, then it’s even easier for the Israelis to go all out on the collateral damage front because it’s pretty clear that Lebanese civilian deaths don’t matter a dime at 1600 Penn and 10 Downing street. I’m also not sure that having a warship around really represents much of a threat to the belligerents. After all, the US let Saddam put an Exocet into one of their warships and didn’t do a thing about it. In short, I don’t think globalisation has changed the calculus much — it’s altered the strategy of the belligerents a bit, but ultimately it’s still the “local” civilians, those with nowhere else to go, who pay the price.


astrongmaybe 07.21.06 at 9:17 am

Martin Rowson had a cartoon on this in yesterday’s Guardian, which catches some of the ambivalences on the issue. (If he made up the “HMS Palmerston”, it’s a fabulous detail. Even if he didn’t, it’s a fabulous detail.),,1824818,00.html


Tom Hurka 07.21.06 at 9:34 am

The same issue is all over the Canadian front pages — look at the number of Canadians in Lebanon on Chris’s list. They’re being somewhat chaotically evacuated from Lebanon on government-chartered private ships.

But the moral/legal issue is more complicated than John’s post acknowledges. First, if Israel were aiming only at legitimate military targets in Lebanon and killing Canadians only collaterally, and if the Canadian deaths were not disproportionate to the legitimate military purpose of those targets, then Canada would have no complaint. So the first paragraph of Steve’s post is partly correct — it matters whether Israel is targetting Canadian civilians rather than killing them collaterally — but it’s also incomplete, since it also matters whether the harm to those civilians is proportionate. If it is proportionate, then tragic as the harms are, they’re no ground for complaint, let alon military intervention.

And, contra Barry, targetting a dual-use facility like an airport or power plant isn’t necessarily targetting civilians. The standard proportionality rule applies: how does the legitimate military benefit of hitting the facility compare to the resulting harm to civilians? In many cases the civilian harm will be excessive and the attack will be disproportionate. But that’s not inevitable; there can be attacks on dual-use facilities that are morally permissible.

But what if the harm Israel causes Canadian and other civilians in Lebanon is not proportionate, as many including Kofi Annan think? Then Canada certainly has a ground for complaint, but if the disproportion isn’t enormous it may not have a legitimate ground for military intervention. After all, only pretty serious complaints provide such grounds. Had there been a real threat to the American medical students in Grenada in 1983, the U.S. would have had a ground for complaint but surely not for war — the issue wasn’t serious enough. And the same may hold if the harm to Canadian or other civilians is only somewhat disproportionate.

But what if the harms to civilians in Lebanon are enormously disproportionate? Even here the resort to war by Canada or Australia would be limited by the ad bellum proportionality condition, which says that if those countries’ intervention really would lead to John’s “war of all against all,” or even to lesser harms that are nonetheless excessive, then despite its just cause that intervention would be wrong. (Compare the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Though it gave NATO a just cause for war, any such action would have been horribly wrong, given the nuclear conflagration it risked. So, despite its just cause, NATO was morally required to let the unjust invasion of Czechsolovakia stand.)

So complex as the current situation is, it needn’t lead to, in the sense of morally permitting, a descent into a war of all against all. There are many long-standing moral principles that would block that.


Barry 07.21.06 at 10:22 am

“And, contra Barry, targetting a dual-use facility like an airport or power plant isn’t necessarily targetting civilians. The standard proportionality rule applies: how does the legitimate military benefit of hitting the facility compare to the resulting harm to civilians? In many cases the civilian harm will be excessive and the attack will be disproportionate. But that’s not inevitable; there can be attacks on dual-use facilities that are morally permissible.”

I love the term ‘dual-use’. Some guerrillas in S. Lebanon make some attacks, and the Israelis deliberately bomb targets that are not relevant; but that’s OK, because they’re ‘dual-use’.

If I knew some PR guy for Hamas or Hezbolla, I’d e-mail him that paragraph. It’d be very useful for the next time that some suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Israelis – those people were ‘dual-use’, highly convertible to warmaking purposes.

As for proportionality, what’s the current kill ratio? 10:1?


Simstim 07.21.06 at 10:28 am

Is three comments the record for a CT thread only tangentially related to Israel getting turned into a Israel!-Not Israel! slugfest? Being the pessimist that I am, I suspect not.


engels 07.21.06 at 11:02 am

It’s hard to see how you can maintain that Israel had just cause for its action, in the capture of two of its soldiers and (later) the deaths of a number of civilians, while holding that the threshold for any other state to intervene to protect its civilians is so high as to make this impossible.

Or are you saying that although Israel lacks just cause, other states are forbidden from intervening to end Israel’s unjust war?


engels 07.21.06 at 11:04 am

#14 should have been addressed to Tom Hurka.


Tom Hurka 07.21.06 at 11:44 am

Re #12: If a facility is “not relevant,” then it’s not dual-use and attacking it is simply wrong. And civilians are never dual-use. But sometimes an airport can be relevant and therefore dual-use.

Re #14: My intention wasn’t to make the threshold for intervention by third parties impossibly high. It was just to say that there may be *some* threshold of disproportion, perhaps quite a low one, below which military intervention by third parties to protect their civilians from disproportionate collateral harm isn’t justified. And re Israel, the situation may (I’m not sure) be different when one’s citizens are being *targetted* than when they’re being killed collaterally though disproportionately, i.e. the relevant threshold may be lower. But I’m not sure.

Re #13: Yes, we should be able to discuss the theoretical issues John Quiggin raised without getting into a slugfest.


Brett Bellmore 07.21.06 at 11:44 am

“With the current crisis coming as a near-complete surprise,”

That was meant as a joke, right? You’d have to be pretty damned oblivious to be suprised by Israel going to war over having missles launched at them.

And why, pray tell, would the US be talking about charging citizens for extraction from Lebanon? Maybe because our government has been warning us not to go there because it’s freaking dangerous for years now?

The Coast Guard, IIRC, charges people for rescues, too, if they left port after a storm warning.


john m. 07.21.06 at 11:52 am

Brett, by that argument surely it was/is just as dangerous to go to Isreal, hence the robust need for self-defense as evidenced by the recent Isreali actions? I’m not trying to be sly in pointing out that the danger to US citizens in Lebanon comes from Isreali fire, not Lebanese and I suspect US government warnings not to travel to Lebanon were not based on this scenario – but I’m only guessing.


engels 07.21.06 at 12:05 pm

Brett’s right, as always, but really why is the government even airlifting anyone out? Surely any responsible libertarian would own enough firepower to be able to shoot his way out of a military blockade, without sucking off the US Navy teat?


Shelby 07.21.06 at 12:30 pm

tom hurka:

Thank you for posting a substantive, relevant comment.

Australia certainly has a right and duty to defend the lives of its citizens, though I would think the duty (if not the right) would attenuate with distance, for practical reasons, and with the citizens’ assumption of the risk, for moral hazard reasons.

However, I don’t see how this justifies its acting as a belligerent unless its citizens are being either deliberately targeted, or recklessly and unjustifiably endangered, by combatants. It seems reasonable to move in a warship to cover the evacuation, threatening a response if anyone interferes. This does not escalate or broaden the conflict, it simply warns others against doing so.


Jason 07.21.06 at 12:35 pm

I can see the “dual use” capabilities of airports in general. I cannot see it in this case. Are we afraid an agent of Hizballah is going to steal one of the Lebanese government’s fighter jets (from their vast fleet) and launch missiles into Tel Aviv?

Israel will feel, I imagine, some repurcussions if it kills first world foreigners, especially if they have Anglo-sounding surnames and light skin.


Robert McDougall 07.21.06 at 12:36 pm

Australia presumably has a right to threaten retaliation against any party who harms Australians in the pursuit of their own goals.

In ratifying the Charter of the United Nations, Australia undertook to “seek a solution by negotiation . . . or other peaceful means” to “any dispute . . . likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security”, subject to its “inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member”.

An attack on Israel or Lebanon that happens to kill Australians isn’t an attack on Australia, so it doesn’t trigger Australia’s right of individual self-defence. But an attack on Israel or Lebanon does trigger the right of collective self-defence for any country that chooses to consider itself an ally of Israel or Lebanon.

Since armed attacks have occurred against both Israel and Lebanon, Australia already has the right to join in on either side if it cares to. That right isn’t affected by the presence or absence of its nationals.

In practice of course the main safeguard against a “disastrous war of all against all” isn’t black-letter law or Walzerian theory, but self interest. It’d be utterly bloody daft for Australia to start throwing its weight around in this situation, and for most other countries likewise.

I applaud the effort to find new arguments for respecting the rights of non-combatants, but this one doesn’t cut it.


Barry 07.21.06 at 12:38 pm

Brett, that issue was disposed of on Jim Henley’s blog – suffice to say that the warnings concerning Lebanon, until the last few days, were no more severe than for a number of other countries.

Just like with Katrina, a lot of Republicans seem to eagerly write off the lives of their fellow citizens, out of loyalty to Bush, or to Israel.

Why is that?


abb1 07.21.06 at 12:44 pm

tom hurka:

Thank you for posting a substantive, relevant comment.

Yes: substantive, relevant and also quite montypythonish, I must say. This is why I love this blog.


Barry 07.21.06 at 12:47 pm


Sebastian Holsclaw 07.21.06 at 12:57 pm

Are Australian civilians being targeted? Are buildings in which Australian civilians are likely to be found being targeted without warning?

As for the idea that supplying through the Beruit airport is ridiculous, please read:


Beirut Airport has long been key to Iran’s supply of all kinds of material to Hezbollah. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has supplied Hezbollah with more than $1 billion of supplies over the past 25 years, say U.S. intelligence officials, as much as $150 million a year during tense times. The majority of it is flown in on an Iranian 747 cargo jet that unloads at Beirut Airport, where Hezbollah agents pick it up and drive it to the Bekkah valley south of the Lebanese capital. Anti-aircraft batteries, Katyusha rockets, armored vehicles, small arms, anti-tank missiles, etc. have all been sent. Beirut is the only airport in Lebanon capable of handling that 747. The initial deployment was in 1982 with planes bringing in supplies as needed. By the 1990s the flights had fallen to a quarterly routine. With Hezbollah under fire in Israel, now would be a time to resupply.

Middle East Intelligence Bulletin Dated October 1999

According to Israeli military sources, Iran recently began airlifting arms shipments to Hezbollah directly through Beirut International Airport. Previously, these shipments of Katyusha rockets, mortar shells and other weapons were transported by three Boeing 747 cargo jets every month to Damascus, where they were loaded on trucks and transferred overland into Lebanon.1 Syria apparently cut off or severely curtailed this supply route shortly after the election of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in May.

The new direct shipments reportedly include a new weapon previously unused in south Lebanon: the short-range 107mm Katyusha rocket (the standard version commonly used by Hezbollah is the 122mm, which has a range of 21 km). The arrival of the suboptimal 107mm, which has a range of about 8 km, suggests that the group is attempting to stockpile as much weaponry as it can in anticipation of a Syrian move to cut off the arms shipments from Teheran.


abb1 07.21.06 at 1:05 pm

Beirut is the only airport in Lebanon capable of handling that 747.

Is Iran somehow destined to use 747s? Or 107mm Katyusha rockets just won’t fit into any other plane? Weird.


Seth Edenbaum 07.21.06 at 1:45 pm

The American evacuation might take as long as 10 days. The Israelis have given guarantees to a handful of governments– the US obviously, Germany and a few others, (but not to the Australians who arrested a Mossad agent a few years ago, that they will not attack their convoys and ships. The consensus here is that once the evacuations are completed, the shit will really hit the fan.”

Maybe the Aussies should threaten Israel with an air assault.


Sebastian Holsclaw 07.21.06 at 1:56 pm

“Is Iran somehow destined to use 747s? Or 107mm Katyusha rockets just won’t fit into any other plane? Weird.”

Huh? Rockets aren’t the only supplies they get from Iran. Furthermore of course you could supply with single-engine two-passenger Cessnas, but it would take rather a few more flights than one 747. They could get girls with backpacks to bicycle from Tehran too. But that doesn’t mean that resupplying with a 747 (which they have done in the past) isn’t vastly easier.

And I would like to note the quick shift from the “airport couldn’t possibly be a military target because they don’t get supplies from it” to “they can get supplies from other places”. The second argument is true for any indvidual method of supply. In fact so long as the airport was around you could always say “they can get their supplies from the 747 from Iran so why try to deal with the border from Syria”.


abb1 07.21.06 at 2:14 pm

Sebastian, I’ve not been discussing anything about any ‘military targets’ here, because it’s just absurd. Just find the phrase a little weird: the only airport in Lebanon capable of handling that 747.

You may as well be discussing military effectiveness of raping women in Darfur’s villages as far as I am concerned – that’ll teach them a lesson, right? You’re simply trolling here, not that anything’s wrong with that.

Maybe the Aussies should threaten Israel with an air assault.

What are you talking about, man, they wouldn’t have a prayer. Israelis have submarines armed with nuclear missiles: boom goes Melbourne, and boom Sydnee; more room for you and more room for me.


Sebastian holsclaw 07.21.06 at 3:32 pm

Abb1, see #4, #12, and #21.

“Just find the phrase a little weird: the only airport in Lebanon capable of handling that 747.

You may as well be discussing military effectiveness of raping women in Darfur’s villages as far as I am concerned – that’ll teach them a lesson, right?”

Huh? Iran uses the Beruit airport (in Lebanon) to supply Hezbollah. It uses 747s to transport large quantities of arms/supplies. That (or those) 747s actually and in fact land at the Beruit airport. Israel bombed the Beruit airport runways to stop that easy way of delivering a large amount of supplies. They did not use special munitions to make it difficult to repair when the bombing stops. They did not destroy all (or even many or even so far as I can tell any) of the aiport support buildings. As such they were fulfilling a military objective with a minimum amount of force necessary (proportionality). That civilians (including Australians) were in danger is largely the fault of Hezbollah for using a civilian airfield as a regular supply point. But the danger was minimized as much as possible considering the military objective. It was also better than alternatives like shooting down any 747 from Iran without looking inside, or occupying Beruit so they could inspect each 747 from Iran.

What does that have to do with raping women in the Sudan?


abb1 07.21.06 at 4:07 pm

Sebastian, your #26: in 1999 Israel was occupying Southern Lebanon and Hezbollah was fighting Israeli aggression. If Iran was sending them weapons – that’s fine. That’s your second quote.

Your first quote has no specifics, talking about ‘over the last 25 years’, probably got the facts from your 1999 quote.

After Israel got kicked out of Lebanon, according to Wikipedia:

Israeli aircraft continue to fly over Lebanese territory, eliciting condemnation from the ranking UN representative in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s retaliatory anti-aircraft fire, doubling as small caliber artillery, has on some occasions landed within Israel’s northern border towns, inciting condemnation from the UN Secretary-General.[36] On November 7, 2004, Hezbollah responded to what it described as repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace by flying an Iranian-built unmanned drone aircraft over northern Israel.[37]

Furthermore Hezbollah says Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon proves that the Jewish state only understands the language of resistance. They defend their right to keep their weapons as a deterrent against Israeli attack, to liberate the disputed Shebaa Farms border area, which is occupied by Israel.[38]

I don’t see anything here about any Katyusha rockets. So, where’s the problem that’s supposed to be remedied by destroying Lebanon – airport and all the rest?


John Quiggin 07.21.06 at 5:25 pm

Rather belatedly, I’ve disemvowelled one of CT’s regular trolls at #3 (anything more from him will get the same treatment). I’m pleased to see most people ignored him and at least some managed to stick to the topic of the post.

As far as the off-topic discussion goes, I think it illustrates my main point. Once you start stretching, almost anything becomes a legitimate target for almost anyone.

On topic, I think Engels gets my main point (though I’d apply it equally to all sides in this). If the direct participants are entitled to set low thresholds for actions which inevitably cause innocent casualties, so are those indirectly affected. As stated by Robert Mcdougall, the only real barrier is good sense.


y81 07.21.06 at 8:31 pm

Well, turning to the main point of the post, the post seems to say that methods of fighting that cause primarily civilian casualties (which would include, I presume, terrorist bombing and firing of unguided missiles) should be universally condemned. What are you talking about? You couldn’t get the commentators on this blog, or an association of European academics, to universally condemn such tactics. And suddenly you expect to get people from foreign countries who despise everything you stand for to join in such condemnation? Not likely.

Then again, the idea of Australia declaring war on Israel isn’t very likely either, so maybe I am not getting some sort of esoteric irony here.


Chris 07.22.06 at 7:21 pm

Correction of fact;
#9 – “After all, the US let Saddam put an Exocet into one of their warships and didn’t do a thing about it.”
As far as I can remember the only state that’s sent rockets into American ships and got a pass on it has been Israel, which shot up the USS Liberty in 1967 as part of an earlier war. Al-quaeda or one of its associates drove a small boat with explosives into the USS Cole – but never Saddam, and never exocets.
OK, back to Australian civilians. Where the political hooraw, if any, won’t come from there being 25,000 Australians in the country now but from the 250,000 Australians who have relatives there.


Shalom Beck 07.23.06 at 5:43 pm

Israel hit the Beirut airport to keep Hezbollah from being resupplied during the present conflict. No sensible person believes that Hezbollah accumulated their present stock of missiles before Israel withdrew from Lebanon. And as for #9 and #35, look up the USS Stark on wikipedia.

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