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The Secretary of State Prefers Brahms*


“Tell people!” The plea came from Yusuf al-Alam, who was deploring the conditions in which he and his three children found themselves.” No food, no water!”[1] The location was Tyre; the occasion, the escalating Israeli invasion of Lebanon; the appeal, to the humanity of those to whom he turned, unknowing and with evident desperation.

 

In the period since the onset of Israeli bombardment of Lebanon on July 12, the scale of casualties, including refugees as well as the scope of infrastructure destruction has steadily increased. While sources differ and are constantly being adjusted, the estimate of Lebanese killed is now more than 700, the majority civilians; the number of those displaced is reported to be between 800,000 and 900,000, out of a population of more than 4 million. According to Lebanese and international sources, Beirut’s international airport as well as other smaller airports, have been destroyed or are unfit to be used. Lebanon’s principal seaports have similarly been bombed, as have more than 60 bridges and 70 roads, along with electrical power plants, fuel tanks, gas stations, civil defense center, radio stations, factories, schools, hospitals, ambulances — including those of the Red Cross –warehouses, moving vehicles, church and mosque, as well as hundreds of residential houses.

 

According to a July 25 Associated Press report, Lebanese doctors in Tyre were treating patients who were suffering from burns caused by phosphorous incendiary weapons used by Israel. The AP report indicated that the Geneva Conventions prohibit the use of “white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations and in air attacks against military forces in civilian areas.”

 

Researchers from Human Rights Watch have reported that Israel used cluster munitions in the village of Blida on July 19. The Human Rights organization provided photographs of “M483A1 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions, which are U.S.-produced and –supplied, artillery-delivered cluster munitions.”[2] The same source reports that Israeli Defense Forces officials claim that its use of such weapons is within authorized international standards, but they have also conceded that “the IDF’s operations manual warns soldiers that the use of such cluster munitions creates dangerous minefields due to the high dud rate.” Hezbollah has repeatedly demanded that the Israelis provide maps of the locations of such minefields, a demand reiterated by the Lebanese government.

 

On July 25,UN agencies confirmed the state of emergency facing the south of Lebanon, where Israeli bombing of roads effectively blocked the effort to transport relief supplies. Two days later, a truck with food and medical supplies provided by the United Arab Emirates was attacked near the Syrian border.

 

Earlier, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, reaffirmed the “supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities,” an obligation that, if violated, is sanctioned as a war crime under international law.

 

To judge by U.S. mainstream media accounts of the ongoing Israeli invasion of Lebanon, matters are fairly simple if increasingly stark. The Lebanese Hezbollah represents the latest example of the forces of international terrorism confronting the U.S. and, in this instance, its chief Middle Eastern ally, Israel. Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers is solely responsible for the ensuing Israeli invasion that is a justifiable form of self-defense. As for the Lebanese government, despite its failure to implement UN Security Council Res. 1559 that was designed to disarm militias such as Hezbollah, the Beirut government remains the symbol of what the G.W. Bush administration insists on describing as “a centerpiece of the ‘new Middle East.’”[3] Those chiefly responsible for the ongoing chaos in the region are Syria and Iran, the forces directing Hezbollah’s operations.

 

It follows that the solution to the current crisis is also simple, if stark. First, the U.S. will aid Israel in destroying Hezbollah’s power. To do so, it will support Israeli control over southern Lebanon with an international force that complies with Israeli and U.S. direction. Then, Washington and Israel will turn to their next target, Damascus, and Teheran.

 

The above is a self-serving account whose dissemination blocks public understanding of the realities of Lebanese politics, Palestinian conditions, Israeli objectives and U.S. policies in a conflagration whose magnitude in terms of human suffering, social upheaval and political destruction inspired global outrage against the U.S. and its Israeli ally.

 

The depiction of Hezbollah as the Lebanese arm of Syria and Iran overlooks the fact that it is an indigenous political party serving in the Lebanese Parliament where it represents roughly 40% of the population. Its strength is a function of its role in providing an array of social services ignored by the government in Beirut. In addition, it was Hezbollah that was primarily responsible for ending the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, after an 18 year occupation that followed Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. That reversal for Israel has been cited by Israeli critics of the war as a likely contributing factor in Israeli PM Olmert’s decision to invade Lebanon.

 

Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 was reportedly intended by Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to lead to an exchange of prisoners with Israel, such as had occurred in the past, in 1996, 1998 and 2004. But there is some question as to what may have actually occurred on July 12, 2006. Various international sources, including Agence France Press (AFP) and The Associated Press (AP), reported that the capture of the Israeli soldiers occurred in Lebanese and not Israeli territory as a result of an Israeli incursion, an account that deserves investigation given Israel’s justification of its subsequent retaliation in the name of self-defense.

 

But the events of July 12 followed on a long history of border incidents involving Hezbollah and Israel, none of which led to Hezbollah’s direct attack on Israel. As Zeev Maoz recalls in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz (July 26,2006):

 

“On July 28, 1988 Israeli Special Forces abducted Sheikh Obeid, and on May 21, 1994 Israel captured Mustafa Dirani, who was responsible for capturing the Israeli pilot Ron Arad. Israel held these and other 20 Lebanese who were captured under undisclosed circumstances in prison for prolonged periods without trial. They were held as human ‘bargaining chips.’ Apparently, abduction of Israelis for the purpose of prisoners’ exchange is morally reprehensible, and militarily punishable when it is the Hezbollah who does the abducting, but not if Israel is doing the very same thing.”

 

In addition to the above experience of relatively recent vintage, there is an historical context in which the events of July 12 and what has followed, can be situated. In that context, the decision adopted by the Olmert government represents the latest and potentially most violent manifestation of Israeli territorial ambitions in the Lebanese south.

 

Israeli interest in creating a sphere of influence in southern Lebanon, preferably under Lebanese Maronite control, was discussed in the late 1950s and ruthlessly implemented in 1978 when the Israeli army justified its invasion of southern Lebanon as the creation of a “security belt.” In 1981 the UN with US support enforced an agreement between Israel and the PLO that was in place until Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The intervening clashes, however, had led to Israel’s bombing of Beirut and bridges leading to the South. It was a preface to a period of massive destruction, with some 17,000-20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians killed as a result of the Israeli invasion, that was followed by the savage massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila at the hands of Israel’s allies, Lebanese Phalangists. The responsibility of Israeli Gen Ariel Sharon in the Sabra Shatila massacre was the subject of the Kahan Report, an investigation that was regarded as far from adequate, according to Israeli critics.

 

But this did not end Israel’s occupation of parts of Lebanon, which continued until 2000. In the interval, two Israeli operations in 1993 and 1996, resulted in mass numbers of civilian casualties and refugee flights of half a million Lebanese in each instance. Even after the withdrawal of Israeli forces in 2000, Tel Aviv retained control of the Sheba’a farms area in Lebanon, claiming that it belonged to Syria and not Lebanon; a position disputed by Beirut and Damascus and repeatedly ignored by Washington, in spite of requests that it be addressed.

 

Conditions within the Lebanon of 2006 had little in common with that which existed more than 20 years earlier. The PLO was no longer the force it had been in Lebanon, although Palestinian camps, including Sabra and Shatila, remained impoverished and overcrowded concentrations of poor Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian and other inhabitants who suffered from the lack of the most elemental resources and the blight of unemployment or severe underemployment with few expectations of change.

 

For Hezbollah and indeed for other Lebanese political parties, the Palestinian condition in Lebanon was inextricably tied to the resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Hence, the impact of Israel’s 2006 invasion of Gaza and its continued emasculation of the West Bank on left wing Lebanese political parties as well as on Hezbollah’s supporters who from different vantage points offered similar criticisms of the inaction of the government in Beirut.

 

In practice, relations between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government have long been the subject of internal debate. Critics of the party have blamed the government in Beirut for its economic, social and political failures in the south, including its failures to confront Israeli incursions. But far from intensifying sectarian divisions and the mobilization of anti-Hezbollah sentiment, Israel’s invasion has served to blunt existing differences as Lebanese officials confront the unprecedented scale of Israeli devastation that Washington encourages and rewards with additional weapons. Contrary to the expectations of Tel Aviv and Washington, far from denouncing Hezbollah, Lebanese, especially those in the south, are ever more ardent supporters of the Sayyid and his organization. “Hezbollah is coming from the people. If they want to destroy all of Hezbollah, they have to destroy all of Lebanon,” exclaimed a doctor and member of the Tyre city council.[4]

 

Insofar as Hezbollah’s relations with Syria and Iran are concerned the Lebanese party has been the recipient of weapons and training from Syria and Iran but Gen. John P Abizaid, the US commander for the entire Middle East, stated in an interview held in Iraq on July 21, that “he did not think that Iran or Syria had pressed Hezbollah to initiate its rocket attacks against Israel.”[5] The decision was most likely taken at a lower level although exploited by Iran and Syria. From his vantage point, Israel’s goal was not to destroy the Lebanese government of PM Siniora or prevent it from eventually extending its control over the south of Lebanon.

 

While US officials continue to defend Israel’s invasions of Gaza and Lebanon as justified acts of self-defense, U.S. media dutifully reported that Israelis were doing battle with Palestinian militants in Gaza.

 

They omitted to mention that Israel was barring entry into Gaza and the West Bank to those holding foreign passports, including Palestinians with western passports and peace activists — facts reported by the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists-Geneva and a member of the International Federation of Human Rights.

 

Among the policies that were thus hidden from view was the unvarnished meaning of the Israeli practice of warning Palestinians residents to flee targeted areas. “Israel says it has dropped leaflets, and even made phone calls to families in the area, warning them that they should leave because militants are operating in the area and that the Israeli military could carry out operations.”[6] Palestinians in Gaza confirmed the fact that they had received such calls from “an Israeli Intelligence officer who speaks weak Arabic. He speaks little and has only specific words to say, ‘We are from the Israeli Defense Force. Leave the house — we will destroy it in half an hour.’” Other examples may be found.[7] Lebanese have reported similar threats issued as warnings in southern Lebanon.

 

Israeli sources concede that preparations for this war began in 2000, after Israel’s forced withdrawal from southern Lebanon. It was finalized in 2004 after which Israel’s plans were shown to U.S. and other officials. “More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail.”[8] The presentation included details of a campaign similar to the one in operation at the present time, save for the claim that there was no intention “to reoccupy southern Lebanon on a long-term basis.” Other Israeli officials have confirmed earlier plans for war against Hezbollah, simultaneously conceding the anticipated difficulties that such an offensive would involve.[9]

 

Interviewed on al Jazeera on July 24, the Israeli director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, Efraim Inbar, described Israeli objectives as designed “to remove the missile threat to Israel, to push Hezbollah out of South Lebanon and to try to damage its military capacity as much as possible.”[10] Inbar also indicated, “I advocate attacking Syria,” adding that he was uncertain as to whether the Israeli government shared his views. As to Iran, he added, “we’re more likely to leave the Iranians to the Americans — for now.” His response to the question concerning Israel’s conditions for a ceasefire serve to underline Israel’s relationship with Washington. “Basically, the minimum conditions are the same as Israel’s goals. But the US will decide when enough is enough and Israel will do what is acceptable to them.”

 

The position was not widely quoted in the US media. On the contrary, the White House denied any collusion with Israel. In London, on the other hand, where the British PM supported Washington’s position, officials readily admitted that the U.S. “had given Israel a green light to continue bombing Lebanon until it believes Hezbullah’s infrastructure has been destroyed.”[11]

 

While the administration in Washington, along with the mainstream media, continued to underscore the role of Syria and Iran as providers of Hezbollah’s training and weapons, including its targeting of civilians in Israel, far less attention was paid to the U.S role in supplying Israel, or indeed, whether that role violated the U.S. Arms Export Control Act.

 

On July 19, Reuter’s reported that the Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co. produced F-16s that were being used by the Israeli air force against Hezbollah. They were being used in Gaza as well, as part of a campaign to terrorize the Palestinian population. In late July the U.S. was reported as having accelerated delivery of US “High-Technology Bombs to Israeli Military,” with the Hezbollah its ostensible target.[12] While the timing of the latest delivery generated media attention, the sale of US weapons to Israel has long been a profitable business for major U.S. corporations such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, since according to U.S. law, “74 percent of FMF (foreign military financing) assistance to Israel must be spent on U.S. military products.”[13] According to a 2004 U.S. Congressional Research Service report, in 1998 the US agreed to increase military aid to Israel “from about $1.8 billion to $2.4 billion each year.”[14] Estimates of Israeli imports of U.S. arms in the period from 1994-2003 are on the order of $6.9 billion and, according to the same source, Israel has “more F-16s than any other country besides the U.S.”

 

In offering its unconditional support to the Israeli government, the G.W. Bush administration emphasized Israel’s right of self-defense. To this, the administration added recognition of Israel’s role as the vanguard of US anti-terrorist policies in the Middle East. Washington sought to engage its Arab allies in a parallel effort that was premised on a reordering of the Middle East which, in turn, was justified as bringing together Arab ‘moderates’ against radicals and extremists. In the new order, Israel was in first place, followed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the states of the Gulf.

 

The recent sale of more than $6 billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia can be viewed in this context. It is not only a pay-off for Saudi support, it may be read as an attempt to immunize the regime against criticism of its collaboration with Washington and Tel Aviv. The pivotal nature of that collaboration was not a novel departure in U.S. or Israeli or Arab policy. But its more public manifestation may have represented the increasing confidence and contempt in which the parties involved held Arab public opinion.

 

U.S. supporters of Israel who lobbied the administration for additional sanctions against Syria and for pressure against the European Union to follow U.S. policy towards the Hezbollah, may have been surprised to learn that the director of the Anti-Defamation League “visited the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, to thank him for his country’s condemnation of Hezbollah for igniting the crisis by launching a cross-border raid against Israel and abducting two of its soldiers.”[15] Nonetheless, several days later the Saudi court announced that it had dispatched its highest officials to warn the U.S. President of its concern if “Israeli aggression” gets out of control. Was it a change of heart or had the Saudis reached the stage where they heard the mounting opposition from within their borders, let alone  the cries of despair coming from Gaza and Beirut?

 

In late July at the Rome meeting where the U.S. Secretary of State spelled out U.S. conditions for a cease fire, Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese Prime Minister whom Washington counted on as a politically reliable ally, pointedly asked his colleagues, “is the value of human life less in Lebanon than that of citizens elsewhere?” “Are we children of a lesser god? Is an Israeli teardrop worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood?”[16]

 

No such considerations appeared to hamper Washington’s policies. The former Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-1987), Richard Perle, advocated Israeli ‘shock and awe’ policies against Hezbollah and its supporters in Lebanon and Syria. There were more than a few evocations of earlier neocon recommendations for a redrawing of the Middle East along lines similar to those emerging under Israel and Washington’s direction.[17] The dismemberment of the region into sectarian bloc of compliant entities, with weak states devoid of the capacity to resist U.S. or Israeli policies, was the long term objective. In this context, whether the regimes in question were secular or Islamist in character was a secondary issue

 

What such designs failed to recognize was the profoundly altered state of the Middle East that was emerging in the wake of the catastrophic sets of double interventions by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by U.S.-backed Israeli forces in Gaza and Lebanon. Only self-deluded officials intoxicated with their own power, ambitious media magnates contemptuous of public opinion, and academic and intellectual apologists for U.S. power and Israeli policies, could countenance the results of such policies by ignoring those at whose expense they were achieved.

 

And then there was the Israeli massacre at Qana, where at least 60 Lebanese civilians were killed in an Israeli airstrike. The attack led Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora to declare: “Out of respect for the souls of our innocent martyrs and the remains of our children buried under the rubble of Qana, we scream out to our fellow Lebanese and to other Arab brothers and to the whole world to stand united in the face of the Israeli war criminals.”[18]

 

 

Notes

 

* “Rice in a Serious Mood,” The New York Times, July 27, 2006, p. A3.

 

1. Sabrina Tavernese, “Tyre Reels From Attacks That Never Fail to Shock,” The New York Times, July 27, 2006, p. A15.

2. Human Rights Watch, “Israeli Cluster Munitions Hit Civilians in Lebanon: Israel Must Not Use Indiscriminate Weapons,” July 24, 2006. See photographs here and here.

3. Maureen Dowd, “Condi’s Flying Dutchman,” The New York Times, July 22, 2006, p. A23.

 

4. Sabrina Tavernese, “Tyre Reels From Attacks That Never Fail to Shock,” The New York Times, July 27, 2006, p. A15.

 

5. Greg Myre and Jad Mouawad, “Israeli Buildup at Lebanese Line As Fight Rages,” The New York Times, July 22, 2006, p. A6.

 

6. Craig S. Smith and Helene Cooper, “Cease-Fire Talks Stall as Fighting Rages on 2 Fronts, Dozens are Killed,” The New York Times, July 27, 2006, p. A14.

 

7. Terry M. Rempel, “This is the Israeli Army,” BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Bethlehem, Palestine, July 25, 2006.

 

8. Mathew Kalman, “Israel set war plan more than a year ago,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 21, 2006.

 

9. Steven Erlanger and Thom Shanker, “Israel Finding a Difficult Foe in Hezbollah,” The New York Times, July 26, 2006, p. A8.

 

10. Rachel Shabi, “The focus should be on Damascus” (Efraim Inbar interviewed in Tel Aviv), ALJAZEERA.Net, July 24, 2006.

 

11. Ewen MacAskill, Simon Tisdall and Patrick Wintour, “United States to Israel: you have one more week to blast Hizbullah: Bush ‘gave green light’ for limited attack, say Israeli and UK sources,” The Guardian, July 21, 2006, p. 1.

 

12. David S. Cloud and Helene Cooper, “U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery For the Israelis,” The New York Times, July 22, 2006, p. A1.

 

13. Tom Baranauskas, a “senior Middle East analyst at Forecast International, a leading provider of defense market intelligence services in the United States,” cited in Thalif Deen, “Israel Violates US Law With Attack on Lebanon,” Antiwar.com, July 18, 2006.

 

14. Frida Berrigan and William D. Hartung, with Leslie Heffel, U.S. Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict: U.S. Military Aid and Arms Transfers Since September 11, Arms Trade Resource Center, June 2005, p.34.

 

15. Ori Nir, “Bush Urged to Give Israel More TIme for Attacks,” Forward, July 21, 2006.

 

16. Craig S Smith and Helene Cooper, “Cease-Fire Talks Stall as Fighting Rages on 2 Fronts,” “Dozens are Killed,” The New York Times, July 27, 2006, p. A14.

 

17. For additional details see, Irene Gendzier, “Who Rules the Middle East Agenda?” chapter 4 in Democratic Development and Political Terrorism, ed. William Crotty, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2005.

18. CNN, “Israel halts airstrikes for 48 hours,” July 30, 2006.

 

Irene Gendzier is Professor in the Dept. of Political Science at Boston University, co-editor with R. Falk and R.J. Lifton of Crimes of War: Iraq (Nation Books, 2006), and author of  the new edition of Notes From the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon and the Middle East, 1945-1958 (Columbia University Press, 2006), and other works on US foreign policy on the Middle East.

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