OK, full disclosure first so there are no questions about my potential biases: I am a secular Jew, second generation American, with relatives living in Israel, and I've been to Israel twice. I'm not a knee-jerk "Israel can do no wrong" supporter; I'm often critical of Israeli government policies and actions. I believe strongly that Palestinians should have sovereign lands (Gaza, West Bank) and self-government. I don't like the settlement movement that has taken land in the West Bank. The security wall bothers me, but I understand the need for it.
I also try to look at every situation objectively, searching out different opinions and information that might give me insights into the truth behind an issue.
So, with those caveats out of the way, you can now "read my opinion;" however, I have to warn you, my opinion on this issue is dynamic and changes daily in subtle ways.
I agree that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself from attacks. Israel has exercised this right continuously in response to attacks within it's borders by a variety of terrorist groups. (Note: I don't buy the "freedom fighter" tag for terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, al Quaida and their ilk - they are murderers and criminals.) Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Northern Israel for several years since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, and I think Israel has shown remarkable restraint during this time. The recent cross-border incursion by Hezbollah militia, and the increased intensity of missile launches into Israel was an escalation by Hezbollah, one that was condemned by a large number of governments, including many Arab states.
Some facts are in order here:
1. U.N. Security Council Resoultion 425 established the "Blue Line," internationally recognized as the border between northern Israel and southern Lebanon.
2. Israel completed it's withdrawal from Lebanon, in respect to the Blue Line, in 2000.
3. U.N. S.C. Resoultion 1559, adopted in September, 2004, called on Syria to withdraw it's forces from Lebanon, and for all Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah, to disband.
4. Syrian troops completed their withdrawal from Lebanon in April, 2005. Hezbollah has not disbanded, and continued to fire missiles into Israel.
5. Hezbollah has an arsenal of at least 10,000 missiles in Lebanon, supplied to them by Iran and Syria.
6. Both Hezbollah and the Lebanese government refer to Israel as "the enemy."
7. A remaining point of contention between Israel and Lebanon - Hezbollah is the Shabaa Farms area that is under the control of Israel. Lebanon claims the area; however, the United Nations, and even Israel agree that the area is part of Syria. (As an aside, Syria does not recognize the independence of Lebanon, Jordan or Israel, by law, considering all of them to be part of "Greater Syria.")
So, with the above facts in mind, one begins to understand the incredible complexity of the situation. Clearly, the intelligence agencies of the U.S. and the European nations knew that thousands of missiles were being shipped into Lebanon to Hezbollah forces by air, ship and road. And yet, everyone seems to have turned a blind eye to these activities. With this understanding, it seems reasonable for Israel to bomb the Beirut airport, port facilities, roads and bridges to stop or slow the resupply of weapons to Hezbollah. It is also understandable that Israel would destroy fuel depots to make it more difficult for Hezbollah to fuel the vehicles that move these weapons around the country. It is also reported in the Western press that Hezbollah has many of their weapons positioned in areas where people live.
The majority opinion from world governments seems to be that, while Israel has the right to defend itself, it should show restraint. While I agree with that in principle, I also understand that on-the-ground reality is very different during war.
One of the things that disturbs me most about this situation is the outpouring of hatred I'm seeing towards Israel by people in the United States, including many of my liberal friends. In my view, too many people are always too ready to blame Israel for every situation because they are "the oppressors," "occupiers," "agressors," etc. Certainly Israel has occupied territory "won" during wars with its neighbors. Many (not all) Israelis have contempt for or hatred of Arab people; even Arab Israelis are in many ways second-class citizens. And a number of the tactics used by the Israeli government and military forces have been questionable. But it is important to put all of this into the context of history and politics, and not rush to judgement unfairly.
I see Israel in a very tenuous position right now in terms of world politics, and in the court of public opinion. When attacked by Hezbollah, Israel did not have the option to appeal to the United Nations for resolving the conflict - just look at places like Darfur where people are still waiting, and dying, for the U.N. to do something. And while the U.S. and the European governments pay lip service to Israel's right of self defense, I think they are more than happy to let Israel deal with Hezbollah, and by proxy Syria and Iran, and take the political and public relations heat for these military actions.
Finally, to those Americans who are so quick to lambast Israel, let me pose a scenario. Let's say that a group of extremist members of a political party in Mexico or Canada, or of an Indian Tribe with sovereign treaty lands inside the U.S., crossed their border and attacked a U.S. Army base, and then started firing missiles into U.S. towns and cities. Would we, the U.S., have the right to defend ourselves? And what would "restraint" look like on our part? If recent history is an example, let's say Afganistan following the attacks on September 11th, I think the U.S. would bomb someone back to the Stone Age - in a heartbeat.
Some key readings for your enjoyment:
Good summary of issues re: UN Resolutions 425 and 1559 in Wikipedia
The Innocent Bystander Myth, by Evelyn Gordon in the Jerusalem Post (jpost.com)
Disastrous Miscalculations, by Alon Ben-Meir in the Turkish newspaper Zamon (online edition)