Who is to blame for the bombings and deaths in Lebanon in the past couple of weeks?
Let's consider the suspects:
The Israelis. Certainly, many have taken this position. The first unsophisticated thought that might come to mind when considering who is to blame for a blameworthy action is, those performing the actions. In this case, we have the nation of Israel. Or, to notch it down a level of abstraction, the Israeli army. Or even the specific human beings whose names are not generally reported in the media ordering the attacks, and the even less-likely-to-be-named people actually triggering the bombs and missiles.
States get cut moral slack that individuals never do. No individual would be forgiven for carrying out a private grudge, against even the most evil of people, by blowing up his entire neighborhood—not even after giving 24 hours' warning. Much of the world nods understandingly when such acts are acts of state.
Even hewing doggedly to moral individualism can lead to a defensible argument that every individual Israeli service member causing every individual act of destruction or death is fully justified, regardless of any assumed prerogatives of Israel; Israelis as individuals have their lives and property threatened by Hezbollah actions and likely future Hezbollah actions. By this thinking, if Israel or Israelis are the relevant actors, then "blame" is the wrong word—Israel's actions, death and destruction notwithstanding, are perfectly proper.
Which leads us to number two on the obvious list of suspects:
Hezbollah. Israel's actions did not arise in a vacuum. They were a response to both a specific action of Hezbollah (or specific Hezbollah members—I'll cease spelling out these individual/collective distinctions pedantically, but I think it best not to forget them entirely) and to a pattern of past behavior and likely future behavior of attacking Israeli soldiers and bombing Israeli civilians. The current fighting alone has taken the lives of 40 Israelis.
Samir Franjieh, a Christian member of Lebanon's parliament, expressed this viewpoint clearly (as have more people than I could link to with all the pixels on the Internet), while also limning the moral difficulties with such assignment of blame: "Hezbollah took two Israeli prisoners, and the result now is that 3.5 million Lebanese are being held hostage... It's the political path chosen by the Hezbollah and its allies that led to this situation."
That raises the important moral issue of proportionality. Is Hezbollah's perfidy, past and present, sufficient moral excuse to blame it and not Israel, for 400 Lebanese deaths? Most of us don't treat all violations of a moral code as deserving of any level of retaliation.
If all punishment fits any crime, then the only appropriate role for any of us in this life, to be truly moral, is to spend it brutally killing as many other human beings as we can, since most assuredly we have all committed moral crimes. This becomes especially tricky when failing to act to stop the moral crimes of others is seen as being as blameworthy as committing the act itself.
Jonathan Chait in the Los Angeles Times thinks that all talk of proportionality regarding this conflict is a moral dodge. What is relevant is the sufficiency of means toward the end goal of crushing Hezbollah, not their proportionality to the specific Hezbollah provocation this month. In other words, the end justifies the means when the end in question is stopping a terrorist gang.
Option number three in the blame game:
Everyone else. The rogues' gallery of potentially responsible third parties is long and comprehensive. Let's start big:
* Despite all the initial excitement over the Cedar revolution-turned-fizzle and the departure of actual Syrian troops from Lebanon, President George Bush knows that it's still Syria's fault that Hezbollah hasn't been hobbled.