Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Wa Po (7-30-06)
Is the conflagration in the Middle East a repeat of the escalating global hostilities of almost a century ago? Newt Gingrich asserted as much soon after the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah erupted, saying "We're in the early stages of what I would describe as the Third World War."
More than 60 percent of Americans now believe that the conflict in Lebanon will lead to a larger war. And the former House speaker's words have been echoed by columnists from across the political spectrum who are comparing what is happening today to the events that launched the great powers of Europe into World War I in 1914. Then, a seemingly isolated incident -- the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist -- set off a chain reaction that culminated in the Great War. Could another such incident -- Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers -- trigger a similar 21st-century cataclysm?
Having devoted my career to military history, I am certain that such speculation misses essential differences between 1914 and today. Then, the future combatants were linked by a network of mutual assistance treaties, obliging them to go to war if one of them was attacked. Today, despite the United States's commitment to protecting Israel, there is no parallel system of alliances in place.
The early 20th-century treaties in particular obliged Russia to go to war with Germany if France were attacked and obliged Germany to go to the aid of the Austro-Hungarian empire if it were attacked by Russia. There were other alliances: Britain had an understanding, though not a formal alliance, with France that committed it to send troops if the French were attacked. Most important, it had a longstanding commitment to defend Belgium if it were attacked by any power -- a commitment dating from Britain's involvement in procedures that had set up Belgium as an independent country in the 19th century.
With a deadly inevitability, these treaties triggered one another in July and August of 1914. Austria mobilized to attack Serbia, which it held responsible for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on June 28.
Russia then mobilized its army against Austria, because it was committed to protecting its Slav brothers in Serbia. Germany then mobilized against Russia, and Russia's mobilization provoked that of France, which prompted the mobilization of Germany. When Germany invaded Belgium to forestall France's attack on Germany, as the Franco-Russian treaty required, Britain responded by warning Germany that it would go to war if German troops were not withdrawn from Belgium.
By the first week of August, all the leading states of Europe had gone to war, with the exception of Italy, which had wriggled out of its treaty responsibilities, and Spain, which did not belong to the system of alliances.
No such system operates in the Middle East today. ...
Posted on: Monday, July 31, 2006 - 20:46
SOURCE: LAT (7-27-06)
WHEN AND WHERE did this war begin? Shortly after 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday, July 12, when Hezbollah militants seized Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev — Israeli reservists on the last day of their tour of duty — in a cross-border raid into northern Israel? Friday, June 9, when Israeli shells killed at least seven Palestinian civilians on a beach in the Gaza Strip? In January, when Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in a backhanded triumph for an American policy of supporting democratization? In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon? In 1979, with the Islamic revolution in Iran? In 1948, with the creation of the state of Israel? Or how about Russia in the spring of 1881?
Simple questions require such complicated answers. Even if the basic facts are agreed on, every term is disputed: Militants, soldiers or terrorists? Seized, captured or kidnapped? Every selection of facts implies an interpretation. And in tortured histories like this, every horror will be explained or justified by reference to some antecedent horror, as poet James Fenton wrote in his "Ballad of the Imam and the Shah."
From tyranny to tyranny to war
From dynasty to dynasty to hate
From villainy to villainy to death
From policy to policy to grave
… The song is yours. Arrange it as you will.
Yet observing European responses to the current conflict, I want to insist on Europe's own strong claim to be among the earliest causes. The Russian pogroms of 1881; the French mob chanting "à bas les juifs" as Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was stripped of his epaulets at the Ecole Militaire; the festering anti-Semitism of Austria about 1900, shaping the young Adolf Hitler; all the way to the Holocaust of European Jewry and the waves of anti-Semitism that convulsed parts of Europe in its immediate aftermath. It was that history of increasingly radical European rejection, from the 1880s to the 1940s, that produced the driving force for political Zionism, Jewish emigration to Palestine and eventually the creation of the state of Israel.
"What made me a Zionist was the Dreyfus trial," said Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism. If Europe decided that each nation should have its own state, would not accept even emancipated Jews as full members of the French or German nation and eventually became the scene of the attempted extermination of all Jewry, then the Jews must have their own national home somewhere else.
And never again would Jews go as lambs to the slaughter. As Israelis, they would fight for the life of every single fellow Jew. The 19th century stereotypes of German Helden and Jewish Händler have been reversed. The Germans, and most of today's bourgeois Europeans, have become the eternal traders; the Jews, in Israel, the eternal warriors.
Of course, this is only one thread in perhaps the world's most complicated political tapestry, but it's a very important one. I don't think any European should speak or write about today's conflict in the Middle East without displaying some consciousness of our own historical responsibility. I'm afraid that some Europeans today do so speak and write; and I don't just mean the German right-wing extremists who marched through the town of Verden in Lower Saxony on Saturday, waving Iranian flags and chanting "Israel — international genocide center." I also mean thinking people on the left....
Let me be very clear what I mean. It does not follow from this terrible European history that Europeans must display uncritical solidarity with whatever the current government of Israel chooses to do. On the contrary, the true friend is the one who speaks up when you're making a mistake.
It does not follow that every European who criticizes Israel is a covert anti-Semite, as some commentators in the U.S. tend to imply. And it does not follow that we should be any less alert to the suffering of the Arabs, including the Palestinian Arabs who fled or were driven out of their homes at the founding of the state of Israel, and their descendants who grew up in camps. The life of every Lebanese killed or wounded by Israeli bombing is worth exactly as much as that of every Israeli killed or wounded by Hezbollah rocket attacks.
Does it follow that Europeans have a special obligation to get involved in trying to secure a peace settlement in which the state of Israel can live in secure frontiers next to a viable Palestinian state? I think it does. ...
Posted on: Monday, July 31, 2006 - 20:37
SOURCE: informed Comment (Blog) (7-31-06)
The other thing to remember is that the United States is now a Shiite Power in part, insofar as it semi-rules a Shiite-majority country, Iraq.
The Associated Press is carrying the story that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has demanded an immediate ceasefire in Israel's war on Lebanon, in the wake of the Qana massacre:
' `Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire,'' al-Sistani said in a clear reference to the United States.
``It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. ``If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''
Sistani had earlier condemned Israeli air raids on Lebanon but had confined himself to ordering the Iraqi Shiite religious establishment to provide aid to victims of the war in Lebanon.
Sistani's statements of early Monday morning (which are not yet reflected at his website in Arabic) go substantially beyond his earlier statement.
Several questions arise: 1) Why is Sistani speaking like this? 2) What can he do about it all? and 3) What are the possible consequences if he turns anti-American in practice, not just in rhetoric, as in the past?
Sistani is taking such a hard line on this issue not only because he feels strongly about it (his fatwa against the Jenin operation of 2002 was vehement) but also because he is in danger of being outflanked by Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's Mahdi Army is said to be"boiling" over the Israeli war on Hizbullah, since after all the Sadrists are also fundamentalist Shiites and they identify with the Lebanese Hizbullah. There have already been big demonstrations in Baghdad against the Israeli attacks, to which Sadrists flocked but probably also other Shiites.
Sistani cannot allow Muqtada to monopolize this issue, or the young cleric's legitimacy will grow among the angry Shiite masses at the expense of Sistani's.
Sistani is not linked to Hizbullah, which is strongly Khomeinist in orientation. Sistani largely rejects Khomeinism. He told an Iraqi acquaintance of mine,"Even if I must be wiped out, I will not allow Iraq to repeat the Iranian experience." When Sistani had his heart problems in summer, 2004, he flew to London via Beirut. He stopped in Beirut several hours, and Nabih Berri came out to the airport to consult with him. Berri is the speaker of the Lebanese parliament and the leader of the Amal Party. Amal is the party of the secularizing, moderate Lebanese Shiites. It was more militant in the 1980s but it mellowed.
So Sistani's political ties in Lebanon go to Amal much more than to Hizbullah. Sistani has many followers or"emulators" (muqallidun) among the Lebanese Shiites, though the hard core Hizbullahis tend to follow Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei of Iran instead. Some Lebanese Shiites follow the Lebanese grand ayatollah, Husain Fadlullah.
Note that Amal is allied with Hizbullah in parliament, and some Amal fighters have been killed in clashes with Israelis in the deep south. Amal abandoned its paramilitary during the 1990s, but seems to have kept some units active down near the Israeli border.
So Berri would have been in a position to implore Sistani to intervene. Sistani is hoping for something like a moderate Amal party to coalesce in Iraq and would want to help Berri any way he could.
Sistani has issued a warning to the United States. He wants Bush to intervene to arrange a ceasefire, i.e. the cessation of israeli air raids on Lebanon in general.
What could he do if he were ignored? Sistani could call massive anti-US and anti-Israel demonstrations. Given Iraq's profound political instability, this development could be extremely dangerous. US troops in Baghdad and elsewhere are planning offensives against Shiite paramilitary groups, so tensions are likely to rise in the Shiite areas anyway. But big demonstrations could easily boil over into actual attacks on US and British troops. Both depend heavily on fuel that is transported through the Shiite south. Were the Shiites actively to turn on the US for its wholehearted support of continued Israeli air raids, the US military could be cut off from fuel and supplies. The British only have around 8,000 troops in Iraq, and they would be in profound danger if Iraq's Shiites became militantly anti-occupation.
Since the Israeli treatment of Arabs is an issue on which Sunnis and Shiites agree, there is also a possibility that Sistani could finally get some respect from the Sunni community if he led such a compaign. That development would be more dangerous to the continued US military presence in Iraq than any other I can think of.
The US is already not winning against a Sunni Arab insurgency, backed by around 5 million Iraqis. If 16 million Shiites turned on the US because of its wholehearted support for Israel's actions in Lebanon, the US military mission in Iraq could quickly become completely and urgently untenable. In this case, the British troops in particular would be lucky to escape the country with their lives.
Sistani does not issue threats lightly, and he has repeatedly shown a willingness to back them up with action. Bush and US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad will ignore him to their peril.
Posted on: Monday, July 31, 2006 - 14:35
SOURCE: Middle East Report Online (7-31-06)
Hizballah, the Lebanese Shi‘i movement whose militia is fighting the Israeli army in south Lebanon, has been cast misleadingly in much media coverage of the ongoing war. Much more than a militia, the movement is also a political party that is a powerful actor in Lebanese politics and a provider of important social services. Not a creature of Iranian and Syrian sponsorship, Hizballah arose to battle Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon from 1982-2000 and, more broadly, to advocate for Lebanon’s historically disenfranchised Shi‘i Muslim community. While it has many political opponents in Lebanon, Hizballah is very much of Lebanon -- a fact that Israel’s military campaign is highlighting.
THE LEBANESE SHI‘A AND THE LEBANESE STATE
In Lebanon, the state-society relationship is “confessional” and government power and positions are allocated on the basis of religious background. There are 18 officially recognized ethno-confessional communities in the country today. The original allocations, determined in 1943 in an unwritten National Pact between Maronite Christians and Sunni Muslims at the end of the French mandate, gave the most power to a Maronite Christian president and a Sunni Muslim prime minister, with the relatively powerless position of speaker of Parliament going to a Shi‘i Muslim. Other government positions and seats in Parliament were divided up using a 6:5 ratio of Christians to Muslims. These arrangements purportedly followed the population ratios in the 1932 census, the last census ever undertaken in the country.
This confessional system was stagnant, failing to take into consideration demographic changes. As the Shi‘i population grew at a rapid pace in comparison to other groups, the inflexibility of the system exacerbated Shi‘i under-representation in government. Meanwhile, sect became a means of gaining access to state resources, as the government shelled out money to establish sect-based welfare networks and institutions like schools and hospitals. Because the Shi‘a were under-represented in government, they could channel fewer resources to their community, contributing to disproportionate poverty among Shi‘i Lebanese. This effect was aggravated by the fact that Shi‘i seats in Parliament were usually filled by feudal landowners and other insulated elites.
Until the 1960s, most of the Shi‘i population in Lebanon lived in rural areas, mainly in the south and in the Bekaa Valley, where living conditions did not approach the standards of the rest of the nation. Following a modernization program that established road networks and introduced cash-crop policies in the countryside, many Shi‘i Muslims migrated to Beirut, settling in a ring of impoverished suburbs around the capital. The rapid urbanization that came with incorporation into the capitalist world economy further widened economic disparities within Lebanon.
Initially, this growing urban population of mostly Shi‘i poor in Lebanon was not mobilized along sectarian lines. In the 1960s and early 1970s, they made up much of the rank and file of the Lebanese Communist Party and the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party. Later, in the 1970s, Sayyid Musa al-Sadr, a charismatic cleric who had studied in the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf, began to challenge the leftist parties for the loyalty of Shi‘i youth. Al-Sadr offered instead the “Movement of the Deprived,” dedicated to attaining political rights for the dispossessed within the Lebanese polity. A militia branch of this movement, Amal, was founded at the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. Alongside al-Sadr, there were also other activist Lebanese Shi‘i religious leaders, most of whom had also studied in Najaf, who worked to establish grassroots social and religious networks in the Shi‘i neighborhoods of Beirut. Among them were Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, today one of the most respected “sources of emulation” among Shi‘i Muslims in Lebanon and beyond, and Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah. A “source of emulation” (marja‘ al-taqlid) is a religious scholar of such widely recognized erudition that individual Shi‘i Muslims seek and follow his advice on religious matters. Among the Shi‘a, the title of sayyid denotes a claim of descent from Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
Between 1978 and 1982 a number of events propelled the nascent Shi‘i mobilization forward and further divorced it from the leftist parties: two Israeli invasions of Lebanon, the unexplained disappearance of Musa al-Sadr and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In 1978, while on a visit to Libya, al-Sadr mysteriously vanished, and his popularity surged thereafter. That same year, to push back PLO fighters then based in Lebanon, Israel invaded the south, displacing 250,000 people. The initial consequence of these two events was Amal’s revitalization, as Amal militiamen fought PLO guerrillas in south Lebanon. There were increasing Shi‘i perceptions that the Lebanese left had failed, both in securing greater rights for the poor and in protecting the south from the fighting between the PLO and Israel. The following year, the Islamic Revolution in Iran set a new sort of example for Shi‘i Muslims around the world, and provided an alternative worldview to Western liberal capitalism different from that espoused by the left.
The final, and doubtless the most important, ingredient in this cauldron of events was the second Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. This time Israeli troops, aiming to expel the PLO from Lebanon entirely, marched north and laid siege to West Beirut. Tens of thousands of Lebanese were killed and injured during the invasion, and another 450,000 people were displaced. Between September 16-18, 1982, under the protection and direction of the Israeli military and then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, a Lebanese Phalangist militia unit entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, and raped, killed and maimed thousands of civilian refugees. Approximately one quarter of those refugees were Shi‘i Lebanese who had fled the violence in the south. The importance of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon to the formation of Hizballah cannot be underestimated.
Following the events of 1982, many prominent members of Amal left the party, which had become increasingly involved in patronage politics and detached from the larger struggles against poverty and Israeli occupation. In these years, a number of small, armed groups of young men organized under the banner of Islam emerged in the south, the Bekaa Valley and the suburbs of Beirut. These groups were dedicated to fighting the Israeli occupation troops, and also participated in the Lebanese civil war, which by this time had engaged over 15 militias and armies. Initial military training and equipment for the Shi‘i militias was provided by Iran. Over time, these groups coalesced into Hizballah, though the formal existence of the “Party of God” and its armed wing, the Islamic Resistance, were not announced until February 16, 1985, in an “Open Letter to the Downtrodden in Lebanon and the World.”
STRUCTURE AND LEADERSHIP
Since 1985, Hizballah has developed a complex internal structure. In the 1980s, a religious council of prominent leaders called the majlis al-shura was formed. This seven-member council included branches for various aspects of the group’s functioning, including financial, judicial, social, political and military committees. There were also local regional councils in Beirut, the Bekaa and the south. Toward the end of the Lebanese civil war, as Hizballah began to enter Lebanese state politics, two other decision-making bodies were established, an executive council and a politburo.
Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah is often described as “the spiritual leader” of Hizballah. Both Fadlallah and the party have always denied that relationship, however, and in fact, for a time there was a rift between them over the nature of the Shi‘i Islamic institution of the marja‘iyya. The marja‘iyya refers to the practice and institution of following or emulating a marja‘ al-taqlid. Fadlallah believes that religious scholars should work through multiple institutions, and should not affiliate with a single political party or be involved in affairs of worldly government. In these beliefs, he is close to traditional Shi‘i jurisprudence, and distant from the concept of velayat-e faqih (rule of the clerics) promulgated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.
Hizballah and its majlis al-shura officially follow Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the successor to Khomeini as Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but individual supporters or party members are free to choose which marja‘ to follow, and many emulate Fadlallah instead. The point is that political allegiance and religious emulation are two separate issues that may or may not overlap for any single person.
Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah is the current political leader of Hizballah. While he is also a religious scholar, and also studied at Najaf, he does not rank highly enough to be a marja‘ al-taqlid and instead is a religious follower of Khamenei. Nasrallah became Hizballah’s Secretary-General in 1992, after Israel assassinated his predecessor, Sayyid ‘Abbas al-Musawi, along with his wife and 5 year-old son. Nasrallah is widely viewed in Lebanon as a leader who “tells it like it is” -- even by those who disagree with the party’s ideology and actions. It was under his leadership that Hizballah committed itself to working within the state and began participating in elections, a decision that alienated some of the more revolution-oriented clerics in the leadership.
HIZBALLAH AND THE UNITED STATES
In the United States, Hizballah is generally associated with the 1983 bombings of the US embassy, the Marine barracks and the French-led multinational force headquarters in Beirut. The second bombing led directly to the US military’s departure from Lebanon. The movement is also cited by the State Department in connection with the kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon and the hostage crisis that led to the Iran-contra affair, the 1985 hijacking of a TWA flight and bombings of the Israeli embassy and cultural center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. These associations are the stated reasons for the presence of Hizballah’s name on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. In 2002, then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage famously described Hizballah as the “A-Team of terrorists,” possessing a “global reach,” and suggested that “maybe al-Qaeda is actually the B-Team.” Hizballah’s involvement in these attacks remains a matter of contention, however. Even if their involvement is accepted, it is both inaccurate and unwise to dismiss Hizballah as “terrorists.”
There are several major reasons for this. First, Hizballah’s military activity has generally been committed to the goal of ending the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Since the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal, they have largely operated within tacit, but mutually understood “rules of the game” for ongoing, low-level border skirmishes with Israel that avoid civilian casualties. In addition, Hizballah has grown and changed significantly since its inception, and has developed into both a legitimate Lebanese political party and an umbrella organization for myriad social welfare institutions.
Another aspect of the US listing of Hizballah on the terrorist list is related to the group’s reputation as undertaking numerous “suicide attacks” or “martyrdom operations.” In fact, of the hundreds of military operations undertaken by the group during the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon, only 12 involved the intentional death of a Hizballah fighter. At least half of the “suicide attacks” against Israeli occupying forces in Lebanon were carried out by members of secular and leftist parties.
A third element in the US insistence on labeling Hizballah a terrorist group is related to the notion that Hizballah’s raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel, or “occupied Palestine,” as per the party’s rhetoric. This perspective is supported by the 1985 Open Letter, which includes statements such as, “Israel’s final departure from Lebanon is a prelude to its final obliteration from existence and the liberation of venerable Jerusalem from the talons of occupation.” One might question the feasibility of such a project, particularly given the great asymmetry in military might and destructive power that is now on display. The Hizballah rocket attacks of July 2006, which commenced after Israeli bombardment of Lebanon had begun, have thus far killed 19 civilians and damaged numerous buildings -- nothing like the devastation and death wrought by Israeli aircraft in Lebanon. There is also reason to question Hizballah’s intent, despite frequent repetition of the Open Letter rhetoric. Prior to May 2000, almost all of Hizballah’s military activity was focused on freeing Lebanese territory of Israeli occupation. The cross-border attacks from May 2000 to July 2006 were small operations with tactical aims (Israel did not even respond militarily to all of them).
Hizballah’s founding document also says: “We recognize no treaty with [Israel], no ceasefire and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.” This language was drafted at the time when the Israeli invasion of Lebanon had just given rise to the Hizballah militia. Augustus R. Norton, author of several books and articles on Hizballah, notes that, “While Hizballah’s enmity for Israel is not to be dismissed, the simple fact is that it has been tacitly negotiating with Israel for years.” Hizballah’s indirect talks with Israel in 1996 and 2004 and their stated willingness to arrange a prisoner exchange today all indicate realism on the part of party leadership.
RESISTANCE, POLITICS AND RULES OF THE GAME
In 1985, Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon, but continued to occupy the southern zone of the country, controlling approximately ten percent of Lebanon using both Israeli soldiers and a proxy Lebanese militia, the Southern Lebanese Army (SLA). Hizballah’s Islamic Resistance took the lead, though there were other contingents, in fighting that occupation. The party also worked to represent the interests of the Shi‘a in Lebanese politics.
The Lebanese civil war came to an end in 1990, after the signing of the Ta’if Agreement in 1989. The Ta’if Agreement reasserted a variation of the National Pact, allotting greater power to the prime minister and increasing the number of Muslim seats in government. Yet while the actual numerical strength of confessional groups in Lebanon is sharply contested, conservative estimates note that by the end of the civil war, Shi‘i Muslims made up at least one third of the population, making them the largest confessional community. Other estimates are much higher.
When the first post-war elections were held in Lebanon in 1992, many of the various militia groups (which had often grown out of political parties) reverted to their political party status and participated. Hizballah also chose to participate, declaring its intention to work within the existing Lebanese political system, while keeping its weapons to continue its guerrilla campaign against the Israeli occupation in the south, as allowed by the Ta’if accord. In that first election, the party won eight seats, giving them the largest single bloc in the 128-member parliament, and its allies won an additional four seats. From that point on, Hizballah developed a reputation -- even among those who disagree vehemently with their ideologies -- for being a “clean” and capable political party on both the national and local levels. This reputation is especially important in Lebanon, where government corruption is assumed, clientelism is the norm and political positions are often inherited. As a group, Lebanese parliamentarians are the wealthiest legislature in the world.
While the party’s parliamentary politics were generally respected, levels of national support for the activities of the Islamic Resistance in the south fluctuated over the years. Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians and infrastructure -- including the destruction of power plants in Beirut in 1996, 1999 and 2000 -- generally contributed to increases in national support for the Resistance. This was especially true after Israel bombed a UN bunker where civilians had taken refuge in Qana on April 18, 1996, killing 106 people.
The occupation of south Lebanon was costly for Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made withdrawal a campaign promise in 1999, and later announced that it would take place by July 2000. A month and a half before this deadline, after SLA desertions and the collapse of potential talks with Syria, Barak ordered a chaotic withdrawal from Lebanon, taking many by surprise. At 3 am on May 24, 2000, the last Israeli soldier stepped off Lebanese soil and locked the gate at the Fatima border crossing behind him. Many predicted that lawlessness, sectarian violence and chaos would fill the void left by the Israeli occupation forces and the SLA, which rapidly collapsed in Israel’s wake. Those predictions proved false as Hizballah maintained order in the border region.
Despite withdrawal, a territorial dispute continues over a 15-square mile border region called the Shebaa Farms that remains under Israeli occupation. Lebanon and Syria assert that the mountainside is Lebanese land, while Israel and the UN have declared it part of the Golan Heights and, therefore, Syrian territory (though occupied by Israel). Since 2000, Lebanon has also been awaiting the delivery from Israel of the map for the locations of over 300,000 landmines the Israeli army planted in south Lebanon. Unstated “rules of the game,” building on an agreement not to target civilians written after the Qana attack in 1996, have governed the Israeli-Lebanese border dispute since 2000. Hizballah attacks on Israeli army posts in the occupied Shebaa Farms, for example, would be answered by limited Israeli shelling of Hizballah outposts and sonic booms over Lebanon.
Both sides, on occasion, have broken the “rules of the game,” though UN observer reports of the numbers of border violations find that Israel has violated the Blue Line between the countries ten times more frequently than Hizballah has. Israeli forces have kidnapped Lebanese shepherds and fishermen. Hizballah abducted an Israeli businessman in Lebanon in October 2000, claiming that he was a spy. In January 2004, through German mediators, Hizballah and Israel concluded a deal whereby Israel released hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers. At the last minute, Israeli officials defied the Supreme Court’s ruling and refused to hand over the last three Lebanese prisoners, including the longest-held detainee, Samir al-Qantar, who has been in jail for 27 years for killing three Israelis after infiltrating the border. At that time, Hizballah vowed to open new negotiations at some point in the future.
As noted, Hizballah officially follows Khamenei as the party’s marja‘, and has maintained a warm relationship with Iran dating to the 1980s, when Iran helped to train and arm the militia. Hizballah consults with Iranian leaders, and receives an indeterminate amount of economic aid. Iran has also continued military aid to the Islamic Resistance, including some of the rockets in the militia’s arsenal. This relationship does not, however, mean that Iran dictates Hizballah’s policies or decision-making, or can necessarily control the actions of the party. Meanwhile, Iranian efforts to infuse the Lebanese Shi‘a with a pan-Shi‘i identity centered on Iran have run up against the Arab identity and increasing Lebanese nationalism of Hizballah itself.
A similar conclusion can be reached about Syria, often viewed as so close to Hizballah that the party’s militia is dubbed Syria’s “Lebanese card” in its efforts to regain the Golan Heights from Israel. While the party keeps good relations with the Syrian government, Syria does not control or dictate Hizballah decisions or actions. Party decisions are made independently, in accordance with Hizballah’s view of Lebanon’s interests and the party’s own interests within Lebanese politics. After the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005, and the subsequent Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizballah’s position was often inaccurately described as “pro-Syrian.” In fact, the party’s rhetoric was carefully chosen not to oppose Syrian withdrawal, but to recast it as a withdrawal that would not sever all ties with Lebanon, and that would take place under an umbrella of “gratitude.”
There is no doubt that Hizballah is a nationalist party. Its view of nationalism differs from that of many Lebanese, especially from the Phoenician-origins nationalism espoused by the Maronite Christian right, and from the neo-liberal, US-backed nationalism of Hariri’s party. Hizballah offers a nationalism that views Lebanon as an Arab state that cannot distance itself from causes like the Palestine question. Its political ideology maintains an Islamic outlook. The 1985 Open Letter notes the party’s desire to establish an Islamic state, but only through the will of the people. “We don’t want Islam to reign in Lebanon by force,” the letter reads. The party’s decision to participate in elections in 1992 underscored its commitment to working through the existing structure of the Lebanese state, and also shifted the party’s focus from a pan-Islamic resistance to Israel toward internal Lebanese politics. Furthermore, since 1992, Hizballah leaders have frequently acknowledged the contingencies of Lebanon’s multi-confessional society and the importance of sectarian coexistence and pluralism within the country. It should also be noted that many of Hizballah’s constituents do not want to live in an Islamic state; rather, they want the party to represent their interests within a pluralist Lebanon.
The nationalist outlook of the party has grown throughout Hizballah’s transition from resistance militia to political party and more. After the Syrian withdrawal, it became evident that the party would play a larger role in the Lebanese government. Indeed, in the 2005 elections, Hizballah increased their parliamentary seats to 14, in a voting bloc with other parties that took 35. Also in 2005, for the first time, the party chose to participate in the cabinet, and currently holds the Ministry of Energy.
Hizballah does not regard its participation in government as contradicting its maintenance of a non-state militia. In fact, the first item on Hizballah’s 2005 electoral platform pledged to “safeguard Lebanon’s independence and protect it from the Israeli menace by safeguarding the Resistance, Hizballah’s military wing and its weapons, in order to achieve total liberation of Lebanese occupied land.” This stance places the party at odds with UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for the “disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias” in September 2004, and with those political forces in Lebanon that seek to implement the resolution. Prior to the July events, Nasrallah and other party leaders attended a series of “national dialogue” meetings aimed at setting the terms for Hizballah’s disarmament. The dialogue had not come to any conclusions by the beginning of the current violence, in part because of Hizballah’s insistence that its arms were still needed to defend Lebanon.
But the party has a social platform as well, and views itself as representing not only Shi‘i Lebanese, but also the poor more generally. The Amal militia formed by Sayyid Musa al-Sadr developed into a political party as well, and has been Hizballah’s main political rival among Shi‘i Lebanese, though they are now working in tandem. The longtime speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, Amal’s leader, is the intermediary between Hizballah and diplomats inquiring about ceasefire terms and a prisoner exchange. The party also plays the usual political game in Lebanon, where candidates run on multi-confessional district slates rather than as individuals, and it allies (however temporarily) with politicians who do not back its program. In the 2005 parliamentary contests, the Sunni on Hizballah’s slate in Sidon was Bahiyya al-Hariri, sister of the assassinated ex-premier. Since the elections, the strongest ally of the Shi‘i movement has been the former general, Michel Aoun, the quintessentially “anti-Syrian” figure in Lebanese politics. Aoun’s movement, along with Hizballah, was an important component of enormous demonstrations on May 10 in Beirut against the government’s privatization plans, which would cost jobs in Lebanon’s public sector.
Among the consequences of the Lebanese civil war were economic stagnation, government corruption and a widening gap between the ever shrinking middle class and the ever expanding ranks of the poor. Shi‘i areas of Beirut also had to cope with massive displacement from the south and the Bekaa. In this economic climate, sectarian clientelism became a necessary survival tool.
A Shi‘i Muslim social welfare network developed in the 1970s and 1980s, with key actors including al-Sadr, Fadlallah and Hizballah. Today, Hizballah functions as an umbrella organization under which many social welfare institutions are run. Some of these institutions provide monthly support and supplemental nutritional, educational, housing and health assistance for the poor; others focus on supporting orphans; still others are devoted to reconstruction of war-damaged areas. There are also Hizballah-affiliated schools, clinics and low-cost hospitals, including a school for children with Down’s syndrome.
These social welfare institutions are located around Lebanon and serve the local people regardless of sect, though they are concentrated in the mainly Shi‘i Muslim areas of the country. They are run almost entirely through volunteer labor, mostly that of women, and much of their funding stems from individual donations, orphan sponsorships and religious taxes. Shi‘i Muslims pay an annual tithe called the khums, one fifth of the income they do not need for their own family’s upkeep. Half of this tithe is given to the care of the marja‘ they recognize. Since 1995, when Khamenei appointed Nasrallah and another Hizballah leader as his religious deputies in Lebanon, the khums revenues of Lebanese Shi‘a who follow Khamenei have gone directly into Hizballah’s coffers. These Shi‘a also give their zakat, the alms required of all Muslims able to pay, to Hizballah’s vast network of social welfare institutions. Much of this financial support comes from Lebanese Shi‘a living abroad.
WHO SUPPORTS HIZBALLAH?
As one of Israel’s stated goals in the current war is the “removal” of Hizballah from the south, it is critical to note that the party has a broad base of support throughout the south and the country -- a base of support that is not necessarily dependent on sect. Being born to a Shi‘i Muslim family, or even being a practicing and pious Shi‘i Muslim, does not determine one’s political affiliation.
Nor does one’s socio-economic status. It is sometimes assumed that Hizballah is using its social organizations to bribe supporters, or that these organizations exist solely to prop up “terrorist activities.” These views both betray a simplistic view of the party. A more accurate reading would suggest that the party’s popularity is based in part on its dedication to the poor, but also on its political platforms and record in Lebanon, its Islamist ideologies, and its resistance to Israeli occupation and violations of Lebanese sovereignty.
Hizballah’s popularity is based on a combination of ideology, resistance and an approach to political-economic development. For some, Hizballah’s ideologies are viewed as providing a viable alternative to a US-supported government and its neo-liberal economic project in Lebanon and as an active opposition to the role of the US in the Middle East. Its constituents are not only the poor, but increasingly come from the middle classes and include many upwardly mobile, highly educated Lebanese. Many of its supporters are Shi‘i Muslim, but there are also many Lebanese of other religious backgrounds who support the party and/or the Islamic Resistance.
“Hizballah supporter” is itself a vague phrase. There are official members of the party and/or the Islamic Resistance; there are volunteers in party-affiliated social welfare organizations; there are those who voted for the party in the last election; there are those who support the Resistance in the current conflict, whether or not they agree with its ideology. To claim ridding south Lebanon of Hizballah as a goal risks aiming for the complete depopulation of the south, tantamount to ethnic cleansing of the area.
In terms of the current conflict, while Lebanese public opinion seems to be divided as to whether blame should be placed on Hizballah or Israel for the devastation befalling the country, this division does not necessarily fall along sectarian lines. More importantly, there are many Lebanese who disagree with Hizballah’s Islamist ideologies or political platforms, and who believe that their July 12 operation was a mistake, but who are supportive of the Islamic Resistance and view Israel as their enemy. These are not mutually exclusive positions. One of the effects of the Israeli attacks on selected areas of Beirut has been to widen the class divides in the Lebanon, which may serve to further increase Hizballah’s popularity among those who already felt alienated from Hariri-style reconstruction and development.
THE CURRENT VIOLENCE
On July 12, 2006, Hizballah fighters attacked an Israeli army convoy and captured two soldiers. The party stated that they had captured these soldiers for use as bargaining chips in indirect negotiations for the release of the three Lebanese detained without due process and in defiance of the Supreme Court in Israel. As noted, there is precedent for such negotiations. The raid had been planned for months, and the party made at least one earlier attempt to capture soldiers. Nasrallah had stated earlier that 2006 would be the year when negotiations would take place for the release of the three remaining Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. In a July 20 interview on al-Jazeera, he also stated that other leaders in Lebanon were aware of his intention to order a capture attempt, though not of the details of this particular operation.
After the capture of the soldiers, Israel unleashed an aerial assault on Lebanon’s cities and infrastructure on a scale unseen since the 1982 invasion. This attack was accompanied by a naval blockade, and more recently, a ground invasion. The ground invasion is being strongly opposed by Hizballah fighters along with fighters from other parties. Both the Lebanese Communist Party and Amal have announced the deaths of fighters in battle. At least 516 Lebanese have been killed, mostly civilians; the Lebanese government’s tally of the dead stands at 750 or more. A UN count says one third of the dead are children. In several cases, villagers who were warned by Israeli leaflets or automated telephone messages to leave their homes were killed when their vehicles were targeted shortly thereafter. On July 30, Israeli planes bombed a three-story house being used as a shelter in Qana, killing at least 57 civilians and reawakening memories of the 1996 Qana massacre. The Lebanese government estimates that 2,000 people have been wounded since July 12, while as many as 750,000 people have been displaced from their homes. Hizballah has responded, since early on in the Israeli bombing campaign, by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, killing 19 civilians thus far. An additional 33 Israeli soldiers have been killed in combat.
In Lebanon, entire villages in the south have been flattened, as have whole neighborhoods in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Runways and fuel tanks at Beirut International Airport, roads, ports, power plants, bridges, gas stations, TV transmitters, cell phone towers, a dairy and other factories, and wheat silos have been targeted and destroyed, as well as trucks carrying medical supplies, ambulances, and minivans full of civilians. The UN is warning of a humanitarian crisis, and has indicated that war crimes investigations are in order for the targeting of civilians in both Lebanon and Israel. Human Rights Watch has documented Israel’s use of artillery-fired cluster munitions, which it believes “may violate the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks contained in international humanitarian law” because the “bomblets” spread widely and often fail to explode on impact, in effect becoming land mines. Eyewitnesses in Beirut report that the pattern of destruction in hard-hit neighborhoods resembles that caused by thermobaric weapons, or “vacuum bombs,” whose blast effects are innately indiscriminate. Lebanese doctors receiving dead and wounded have alleged that Israeli bombs contain white phosphorus, a substance that, if used in offensive operations, is considered an illegal chemical weapon.
Israel’s initially stated goal of securing the release of the two captured soldiers has faded from Israeli discourse and given way to two additional stated goals: the disarmament or at least “degrading” of Hizballah’s militia, as well as its removal from south Lebanon. According to an article in the July 21 San Francisco Chronicle, “a senior Israeli army officer” had presented plans for an offensive with these goals to US and other diplomats over a year before Hizballah’s capture of the two soldiers. Though Israel is not in compliance with several UN resolutions, the Israeli army appears to be attempting singlehandedly -- though with US approval -- to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
It is unclear how the aerial bombardment of infrastructure and the killing of Lebanese civilians can lead to any of these goals, especially as support for Hizballah and the Islamic Resistance appears to be increasing. Outrage at Israel’s actions trumps ideological disagreement with Hizballah for many Lebanese at this point, and as such, it is likely that support for the party will continue to grow.
Posted on: Monday, July 31, 2006 - 14:04
SOURCE: Juan Cole's Informed Comment (Blog) (7-29-06)
Sitting on my balcony staring down at the Sea Gate of the American University of Beirut, and to the Mediterranean beyond, I am in no danger. The bombs are in the distance. The fighting is in the south. In Tel Aviv, Israeli citizens are staring at the same sea, in perfect safety. The missiles are landing in Haifa and farther north. And those following this war from living rooms around the world are in utter cocoons of safety. Most of us are separated from the violence that under girds our world and its order. But are we safe from fear? And does our fear make us wish for an order more and more strongly under girded?
AUB, like the State of Israel, is an implantation on the Levant from the West. Israel’s unilateral attempt to disengage and repair behind its enormous wall, as if it were an island in a sea of Arabs, reminds me of New Orleans dreaming of safety behind its levees. But New Orleans is an artificial island th at is actually below sea level. Is Israel below sea level as well? AUB has evolved in a very different direction with regard to its surroundings. Might the Israelis learn something from its experience?
The American missionaries who first arrived in the eastern Mediterranean in 1820 were inspired by the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening. As historian Ussama Makdisi puts it, they sought “to evangelize the world in order to facilitate the Second Coming of Christ.” They also saw themselves as representatives of the most enlightened, most advanced, most modern of civilizations—the truth of their religion being the centerpiece of this superiority. They founded schools because Christians needed to read the Bible. They introduced western medical practices and what later became the standard Arabic script. When they founded Syrian Protestant College in 1866 (later AUB), they hoped to attract students by teaching them about medicine, agriculture and the arts. The entire enterprise was a failure in terms of its goal of gaining converts: there were hardly any. But their inadvertent philanthropy had a profound impact. Many Arabs embraced the modern notions they learned at the college. In 1882, a huge controversy erupted when the Presbyterian Board of Trustees in the US forbade the teaching of the theory of evolution, and eventually dismissed two promising Arab scientists who had dared embrace modernity more thoroughly than the university’s trustees.
As years passed, the university’s mission became increasingly secular and its faculty and administration increasingly Arab. In 1920, it changed its name to the American University of Beirut. John Munro, who has written a history of the university, suggests that the word “of” in its name became more and more representative of reality. The university played an important role in the revival of Arabic literature and Arab nationalism.
Partly because of AUB, most Arabs held favorable views of the US, at least until the 1967 War. Even during the horrors of Lebanon’s long Civil War, all sides spared the AUB campus and hospital. The University has walls and gates, but its guards do not carry guns. Its walls serve to designate it as a particular place where students from all of the region’s religions and ethnic groups can openly debate and pursue knowledge. As AUB student Randy Nahle put it in his prize-winning Founders’ Day essay in 2004, the university provided “an open forum where Occidental and Oriental streams of thought could meet and debate and reshape each other.” When AUB’s Center for American Studies and Research that I direct decided to offer a course called “The Holocaust in American Literature and Culture” last semester, we were aware that, though our decision was not without controversy, AUB was a free and open space where even this topic could be approached in a scholarly way.
Instead of remaining an isolated island, AUB has continued to evolve. If it is an American institution, it is not because it slavishly serves the agenda of any presidential administration, but because it openly embraces ideals that have motivated the most admired of US achievements.
Can Israel evolve and become a country “of” its region rather than an island “in” it? A country where people of all religions have absolute equality? A country with “liberty and justice for all”? If so, both Israel and its neighbors have a great deal to gain.
In the Levant, endless empires have come and gone. Living here naturally turns one’s mind to the long view. In July of 2006, the American University of Beirut may seem vulnerable and Israel invincible, which is more likely to exist in 500 years? Perhaps now is a time to think about these most basic issues. What kind of island is likely to persist: one with open gates, or one with h igh walls? One that is a meeting place of cultures, or one that strives for cultural purity?
Posted on: Saturday, July 29, 2006 - 13:12
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (7-28-06)
Barbarism seems an obvious enough category. Ordinarily in our world, the barbarians are them. They act in ways that seem unimaginably primitive and brutal to us. For instance, they kidnap or capture someone, American or Iraqi, and cut off his head. Now, isn't that the definition of barbaric? Who does that anymore? The eighth century, or maybe the word"medieval" -? anyway, some brutal past time -- comes to mind immediately, and to the mass mind of our media even faster.
Similarly, to jump a little closer to modernity, they strap grenades, plastic explosives, bombs of various ingenious sorts fashioned in home labs, with nails or other bits of sharp metal added in to create instant shrapnel meant to rend human flesh, to maim and kill. Then they approach a target -- an Israeli bus filled with civilians and perhaps some soldiers, a pizza parlor in Jerusalem, a gathering of Shiite or Sunni worshippers at or near a mosque in Iraq or Pakistan, or of unemployed potential police or army recruits in Ramadi or Baghdad, or of shoppers in an Iraqi market somewhere in that country, or perhaps a foreigner on the streets of Kabul and they blow themselves up. Or they arm backpacks or bags and step onto trains in London, Madrid, Mumbai, and set them off.
Or, to up the technology and modernity a bit, they wire a car to explode, put a jihadist in the driver's seat, and drive it into -- well, this is now common enough that you can pick your target. Or perhaps they audaciously hijack four just-fuelled jets filled with passengers and run two of them into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and another into a field in Pennsylvania. This is, of course, the very definition of barbaric.
Now, let's jump a step further into our age of technological destruction, becoming less face-to-face, more impersonal, without, in the end, changing things that much. Theysend rockets from southern Lebanon (or even cruder ones from the Gaza Strip) against Israeli towns and cities. These rockets can only vaguely be aimed. Some can be brought into the general vicinity of an inhabited area; others, more advanced, into specific urban neighborhoods many tens of miles away -- and then they detonate, killing whoever is in the vicinity, which normally means civilians just living their lives, even, in one recent Hezbollah volley aimed at Nazareth, two Israeli Arab children. In this process, thousands of Israelis have been temporarily driven from their homes.
In the case of rockets by the hundreds lofted into Israel by an armed, organized militia, meant to terrorize and harm civilian populations, these are undoubtedly war crimes. Above all, they represent a kind of barbarism that -- with the possible exception of some of those advanced Hezbollah rockets -- feels primitive to us. Despite the explosives, cars, planes, all so basic to our modern way of life, such acts still seem redolent of ancient, less civilized times when people did especially cruel things to each other face to face.
The Religion of Air Power
That's them. But what about us? On our we/they planet, most groups don't consider themselves barbarians. Nonetheless, we have largely achieved non-barbaric status in an interesting way -- by removing the most essential aspect of the American (and, right now, Israeli) way of war from the category of the barbaric. I'm talking, of course, about air power, about raining destruction down on the earth from the skies, and about the belief -- so common, so long-lasting, so deep-seated -- that bombing others, including civilian populations, is a"strategic" thing to do; that air power can, in relatively swift measure, break the"will" not just of the enemy, but of that enemy's society; and that such a way of war is the royal path to victory.
This set of beliefs was common to air-power advocates even before modern air war had been tested, and repeated unsuccessful attempts to put these convictions into practice have never really shaken -- not for long anyway ? what is essentially a war-making religion. The result has been the development of the most barbaric style of warfare imaginable, one that has seldom succeeded in breaking any societal will, though it has destroyed innumerable bodies, lives, stretches of countryside, villages, towns, and cities.
Even today, we find Israeli military strategists saying things that could have been put in the mouths of their air-power-loving predecessors endless decades ago. The New York Times' Steven Erlanger, for instance, recently quoted an unnamed"senior Israeli commander" this way:"He predicted that Israel would stick largely to air power for now? ?A ground maneuver won't solve the problem of the long-range missiles,' he said. ?The problem is the will to launch. We have to break the will of Hezbollah?'" Don't hold your breath is the first lesson history teaches on this particular assessment of the powers of air war; the second is that, a decade from now, some other"senior commander" in some other country will be saying the same thing, word for word.
When it comes to brutality, the fact is that ancient times have gotten a bad rap. Nothing in history was more brutal than the last century's style of war-making -- than those two world wars with their air armadas, backed by the most advanced industrial systems on the planet. Powerful countries then bent every elbow, every brain, to support the destruction of other human beings en masse, not to speak of the Holocaust (which was assembly-line warfare in another form), and the various colonial and Cold War campaigns that went on in the Third World from the 1940s on; which, in places like Korea and Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, substituted the devastation of air power locally for a war between the two superpowers which might have employed the mightiest air weaponry of all to scour the Earth.
It may be that the human capacity for brutality, for barbarism, hasn't changed much since the eighth century, but the industrial revolution -- and in particular the rise of the airplane -- opened up new landscapes to brutality; while the view from behind the gun-sight, then the bomb-sight, and finally the missile-sight slowly widened until all of humanity was taken in. From the lofty, godlike vantage point of the strategic as well as the literal heavens, the military and the civilian began to blur on the ground. Soldiers and citizens, conscripts and refugees alike, became nothing but tiny, indistinguishable hordes of ants, or nothing at all but the structures that housed them, or even just concepts, indistinguishable one from the other.
One Plane, One Bomb
As far as anyone knows, the first bomb was dropped by hand over the Italian colony of Libya. According to Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing, one Lieutenant Giulio Cavotti"leaned out of his delicate monoplane and dropped the bomb -- a Danish Haasen hand grenade -- on the North African oasis Tagiura, near Tripoli. Several moments later, he attacked the oasis Ain Zara. Four bombs in total, each weighing two kilos, were dropped during this first air attack."
That was 1911 and the damage was minimal. Only thirty-four years later, vast armadas of B-17s and B-29s were taking off, up to a thousand planes at a time, to bomb Germany and Japan. In the case of Tokyo -- then constructed almost totally out of highly flammable materials -- a single raid carrying incendiary bombs and napalm that began just after midnight on March 10, 1945 proved capable of incinerating or killing at least 90,000 people, possibly many more, from such a height that the dead could not be seen (though the stench of burning flesh carried up to the planes). The first American planes to arrive over the city, wrote historian Michael Sherry in his book, The Rise of American Air Power," carved out an X of flames across one of the world's most densely packed residential districts; followers fed and broadened it for some three hours thereafter."
What descended from the skies, as James Carroll puts it in his new book, House of War, was"1,665 tons of pure fire? the most efficient and deliberate act of arson in history. The consequent firestorm obliterated fifteen square miles, which included both residential and industrial areas. Fires raged for four days." It was the bonfire of bonfires and not a single American plane was shot down.
On August 6, 1945, all the power of that vast air armada was again reduced to a single plane, the Enola Gay, and a single bomb,"Little Boy," dropped near a single bridge in a single city, Hiroshima, which in a single moment of a sort never before experienced on the planet did what it had taken 300 B-29s and many hours to do to Tokyo. In those two cities -- as well as Dresden and other German and Japanese cities subjected to"strategic bombing" -- the dead (perhaps 900,000 in Japan and 600,000 in Germany) were invariably preponderantly civilian, and far too distant to be seen by plane crews often dropping their bomb loads in the dark of night, giving the scene below the look of Hell on Earth.
So 1911: one plane, one bomb. 1945: one plane, one bomb -- but this time at least 120,000 dead, possibly many more. Two bookmarks less than four decades apart on the first chapter of a history of the invention of a new kind of warfare, a new kind of barbarism that, by now, is the way we expect war to be made, a way that no longer strikes us as barbaric at all. This wasn't always the case.
The Shock of the New
When military air power was in its infancy and silent films still ruled the movie theaters, the first air-war films presented pilots as knights of the heavens, engaging in courageous, chivalric, one-on-one combat in the skies. As that image reflects, in the wake of the meat-grinder of trench warfare in World War I, the medieval actually seemed far less brutal, a time much preferable to those years in which young men had died by their hundreds of thousands, anonymously, from machine guns, artillery, poison gas, all the lovely inventions of industrial civilization, ground into the mud of no-man's-land, often without managing to move their lines or the enemy's more than a few hundred yards.
The image of chivalric knights in planes jousting in the skies slowly disappeared from American screens, as after the 1950s would, by and large, air power itself even as the war film went on (and on and on). It can last be found perhaps in the film Top Gun; in old Peanuts comics in which Snoopy remains forever the Red Baron; and, of course, post-Star Wars, in the fantasy realm of outer space where Jedi Knights took up lethal sky-jousting in the late 1970s, X-wing fighter to X-wing fighter, and in zillions of video games to follow. In the meantime, the one-way air slaughter in South Vietnam would be largely left out of the burst of Vietnam films that would start hitting the screen from the late 1970s on.
In the real, off-screen world, that courtly medieval image of air power disappeared fast indeed. As World War II came ever closer and it became more apparent what air power was best at -- what would now be called" collateral damage" -- the shock set in. When civilians were first purposely targeted and bombed in the industrializing world rather than in colonies like Iraq, the act was initially widely condemned as inhuman by a startled world.
People were horrified when, during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, Hitler's Condor Legion and planes from fascist Italy repeatedly bombed the Basque town of Guernica, engulfing most of its buildings in a firestorm that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. If you want to get a sense of the power of that act to shock then, view Picasso's famous painting of protest done almost immediately in response. (When Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the UN in February 2003 to deliver his now infamous speech explaining what we supposedly knew about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, UN officials -- possibly at the request of the Bush administration -- covered over a tapestry of the painting that happened to be positioned where Powell would have to pass on his way to deliver his speech and where press comments would be offered afterwards.)
Later in 1937, as the Japanese began their campaign to conquer China, they bombed a number of Chinese cities. A single shot of a Chinese baby wailing amid the ruins, published in Life magazine, was enough to horrify Americans (even though the actual photo may have been doctored). Air power was then seen as nothing but a new kind of barbarism. According to historian Sherry,"In 1937 and 1938, [President Roosevelt] had the State Department condemn Japanese bombing of civilians in China as ?barbarous' violations of the ?elementary principles' of modern morality." Meanwhile, observers checking out what effect the bombing of civilians had on the"will" of society offered nothing but bad news to the strategists of air power. As Sherry writes:
"In the Saturday Evening Post, an American army officer observed that bombing had proven ?disappointing to the theorists of peacetime.' When Franco's rebels bombed Madrid, ?Did the Madrilenos sue for peace? No, they shook futile fists at the murderers in the sky and muttered, ?Swine.' His conclusion: ?Terrorism from the air has been tried and found wanting. Bombing, far from softening the civil will, hardens it.'"
Already similar things are being written about the Lebanese, though, in our media, terms like"barbarism" and"terrorism" are unlikely to be applied to Israel's war from the heavens. New York Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise, for instance, reported the following from the site of a destroyed apartment building in the bomb-shocked southern Lebanese port of Tyre:
"Whatever the target, the result was an emotional outpouring in support of Hezbollah. Standing near a cluster of dangling electrical wires, a group of men began to chant. ?By our blood and our soul, we'll fight for you, Nasrallah!' they said, referring to Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. In a foggy double image, another small group chanted the same thing, as if answering, on the other side of the smoke."
World War II began with the German bombing of Warsaw. On September 9, 1939, according to Carroll, President Roosevelt"beseeched the war leaders on both sides to ?under no circumstances undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations of unfortified cities.'" Then came, the terror-bombing of Rotterdam and Hitler's Blitz against England in which tens of thousands of British civilians died and many more were displaced, each event proving but another systemic shock to what was left of global opinion, another unimaginable act by the planet's reigning barbarians.
British civilians, of course, still retain a deserved reputation for the stiff-upper-lip-style bravery with which they comported themselves in the face of a merciless German air offensive against their cities that knew no bounds. No wills were broken there, nor would they be in Russia (where, in 1942, perhaps 40,000 were killed in German air attacks on the city of Stalingrad alone) -- any more than they would be in Germany by the far more massive Allied air offensive against the German population.
All of this, of course, came before it was clear that the United States could design and churn out planes faster, in greater numbers, and with more fire power than any country on the planet and then wield air power far more massively and brutally than anyone had previously been capable of doing. That was before the U.S. and Britain decided to fight fire with fire by blitz- and terror-bombing Germany and Japan. (The U.S. moved more slowly and awkwardly than the British from"precision bombing" against targets like factories producing military equipment or oil-storage depots -- campaigns that largely failed -- to"area bombing" that was simply meant to annihilate vast numbers of civilians and destroy cities. But move American strategists did.) That was before Dresden and Hiroshima; before Pyongyang, along with much of the Korean peninsula, was reduced to rubble from the air in the Korean War; before the Plaine des Jarres was bombed back to the Stone Age in Laos in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the B-52s were sent against the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong in the terror-bombing of Christmas 1972 to wring concessions out of the North Vietnamese at the peace table in Paris; before the first President Bush ended the first Gulf War with a"turkey shoot" on the"highway of death" as Saddam Hussein's largely conscript military fled Kuwait City in whatever vehicles were at hand; before we bombed the rubble in Afghanistan into further rubble in 2001, and before we shock-and awed Baghdad in 2003.
Taking the Sting Out of Air War
Somewhere in this process, a new language to describe air war began to develop -- after, in the Vietnam era, the first"smart bombs" and"precision-guided weapons" came on line. From then on, air attacks would, for instance, be termed"surgical" and civilian casualties dismissed as but" collateral damage." All of this helped removed the sting of barbarity from the form of war we had chosen to make our own (unless, of course, you happened to be one of those" collateral" people under those"surgical" strikes). Just consider, for a moment, that, with the advent of the first Gulf War, air power -- as it was being applied -- essentially became entertainment, a Disney-style, son-et-lumière spectacular over Baghdad to be watched in real time on television by a population of non-combatants from thousands of miles away.
With that same war, the Pentagon started calling press briefings and screening nose-cone photography, essentially little Iraqi snuff films, in which you actually looked through the precision-guided bomb or missile-sights yourself, found your target, and followed that missile or smart bomb right down to its explosive impact. If you were lucky, the Pentagon even let you check out the after-mission damage assessments. These films were so nifty, so like the high-tech video-game experience just then coming into being, that they were used by the Pentagon as reputation enhancers. From then on, Pentagon officials not only described their air weaponry as"surgical" in its abilities, but showed you the"surgery" (just as the Israelis have been doing with their footage of"precision" attacks in Lebanon). What you didn't see, of course, was the" collateral damage" which, when the Iraqis put it on-screen, was promptly dismissed as so much propaganda.
And yet this new form of air war had managed to move far indeed from the image of the knightly joust, from the sense, in fact, of battle at all. In those years, except over the far north of Korea during the Korean War or over North Vietnam and some parts of South Vietnam, American pilots, unless in helicopters, went into action (as Israeli ones do today) knowing that the dangers to them were usually minimal -- or, as over that Iraqi highway of death nonexistent. War from the air was in the process of becoming a one-way street of destruction.
At an extreme, with the arrival of fleets of Hellfire-missile-armed unmanned Predator drones over Iraq, the"warrior" would suddenly find himself seven thousand miles away at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, delivering"precision" strikes that almost always, somehow, managed to kill collaterally. In such cases, war and screen war have indeed merged.
This kind of war has the allure, from a military point of view, of ever less casualties on one end in return for ever more on the other. It must also instill a feeling of bloodless, godlike control over those enemy"ants" (until, of course, things begin to go wrong, as they always do) as well as a sense that the world can truly be"remade" from the air, by remote control, and at a great remove. This has to be a powerful, even a transporting fantasy for strategists, however regularly it may be denied by history.
Despite the cleansed language of air war, and no matter how good the targeting intelligence or smart the bomb (neither of which can be counted on), civilians who make the mistake of simply being alive and going about their daily business die in profusion whenever war descends from the heavens. This is the deepest reality of war today.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon? [Fill in the Blank]
In fact, the process of removing air power from the ranks of the barbaric, of making it, if not glorious (as in those visually startling moments when Baghdad was shock-and-awed), then completely humdrum, and so of no note whatsoever, has been remarkably successful in our world. In fact, we have loosed our air power regularly on the countryside of Afghanistan, and especially on rebellious urban areas of Iraq in"targeted" and"precise" attacks on insurgent concentrations and"al-Qaeda safe houses" (as well as in more wholesale assaults on the old city of Najaf and on the city of Fallujah) largely without comment or criticism. In the process, significant parts of two cities in a country we occupied and supposedly"liberated," were reduced to rubble and everywhere, civilians, not to speak of whole wedding parties, were blown away without our media paying much attention at all.
Our various air campaigns -- our signature way of war -- have hardly been noticed, and almost never focused on, by the large numbers of journalists embedded with U.S. forces or in one way or another on-the-ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Remember, we're talking here about the dropping of up to 2,000 pound bombs regularly, over years, often in urban areas. Just imagine, if you live in a reasonably densely populated area, what it might mean collaterally to have such bombs or missiles hit your block or neighborhood, no matter how"accurate" their aim.
Until Seymour Hersh wrote a piece from Washington last November for the New Yorker, entitled"Up in the Air," our reporters had, with rare exceptions, simply refused to look up; and despite a flurry of attention then, to this day, our continuing air campaigns are largely ignored. Yet here is an Air Force summary of just a single, nondescript day of operations in Iraq, one of hundreds and hundreds of such days, some far more intense, since we invaded that country:"In total, coalition aircraft flew 46 close-air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities."
And here's the summary of the same day in Afghanistan:"In total, coalition aircraft flew 32 close-air support missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. These missions included support to coalition and Afghan troops, reconstruction activities and route patrols." Note that, in Afghanistan, as the situation has worsened militarily and politically, the old Vietnam-era B-52s, the carpet-bombers of that war, have been called back into action, again without significant attention here.
Now, with the fervent backing of the Bush administration, another country is being"remade" from the air -- in this case, Lebanon. With the highest-tech American precision-guided and bunker-busting bombs, the Israelis have been launching air strike after strike, thousands of them, in that country. They have hit an international airport, the nation's largest milk factories; a major food factory; aid convoys; Red Cross ambulances; a UN observer post; a power plant; apartment complexes; villages because they house or support the enemy; branches of banks because they might facilitate Hezbollah finances; the telecommunications system because of the messages that might pass along it; highways because they might transport weapons to the enemy; bridges because they might be crossed by those transporting weapons; a lighthouse in Beirut harbor for reasons unknown; trucks because they might be transporting those weapons (though they might also be transporting vegetables); families who just happen to be jammed into cars or minivans fleeing at the urging of the attackers who have turned at least 20% of all Lebanese (and probably many more) into refugees, while creating a"landscape of death" (in the phrase of the superb Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid) in the southern part of the country. In this process, civilian casualties have mounted steadily -- assumedly far beyond the figure of just over 400 now regularly being cited in our press, because Lebanon has no way to search the rubble of its bombed buildings for the dead; nor, right now, the time and ability to do an accurate count of those who died more or less in the open.
And yet, of course, the"will" of the enemy is not broken and, among Israel's leaders and its citizens, frustration mounts; so threats of more and worse are made and worse weapons are brought into play; and wider targeting fields are opened up; and what might faintly pass for"precision bombing" is increasingly abandoned for the equivalent of"area bombing." And the full support system -- which is simply society -- for the movement in question becomes the"will" that must be broken; and in this process, what we call" collateral damage" is moved, by the essential barbaric logic of air power, front and center, directly into the crosshairs.
Already Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is"vowing" to use the"most severe measures" to end Hezbollah rocket attacks -- and in the context of the present air assault that is a frightening threat. All this because, as in Iraq, as elsewhere, air power has once again run up against another kind of power, a fierce people power (quite capable of its own barbarities) that, over the decades, the bomb and missile has proved frustratingly incapable of dismantling or wiping out. Already, as the Guardian's Ian Black points out,"The original objective of ?breaking Hizbullah' has been quietly watered down to ?weakening Hizbullah.'"
In such a war, with such an enemy, the normal statistics of military victory may add up only to defeat, a further frustration that only tends to ratchet the destruction higher over time. Adam Shatz put this well recently in the Nation when he wrote:
"[Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah is under no illusions that his small guerrilla movement can defeat the Israeli Army. But he can lose militarily and still score a political victory, particularly if the Israelis continue visiting suffering on Lebanon, whose government, as they well know, is powerless to control Hezbollah. Nasrallah, whom the Israelis attempted to assassinate on July 19 with a twenty-three-ton bomb attack on an alleged Hezbollah bunker, is doubtless aware that he may share the fate of his predecessor, Abbas Musawi, who was killed in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack in 1992. But Hezbollah outlived Musawi and grew exponentially, thanks in part to its followers' passion for martyrdom. To some, Nasrallah's raid may look like a death wish. But it is almost impossible to defeat someone who has no fear of death."
As the Israelis are rediscovering -- though, by now, you'd think that military planners with half a brain wouldn't have to destroy a country to do so -- that it is impossible to"surgically" separate a movement and its supporters from the air. When you try, you invariably do the opposite; fusing them ever more closely, while creating an even larger, ever angrier base for the movement whose essence is, in any case, never literal geography, never simply a set of villages or bunkers or military supplies to be taken and destroyed.
Someday someone will take up the grim study of the cleansing language of air power. Every air war, it seems, now has its new words meant to take the sting out of its essential barbarism. In the case of the Israeli air assault on Lebanon, the term -- old in the military world but never before so widely adopted in such a commonplace way -- is"degrading," not as at Abu Ghraib, but as in"to impair in physical structure or function." It was once a technical military term; in this round of air war, however, it is being used to cover a range of sins.
Try Googling the term. It turns out to be almost literally everywhere. It can be found in just about any article on Israel's air war, used in this fashion:"CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports that around the world the U.S.' opposition to a cease-fire is viewed as the U.S. giving Israel a ?green-light' to degrade the military capability of Hezbollah." Or in a lead in a New York Times piece this way:"The outlines of an American-Israeli consensus began to emerge Tuesday in which Israel would continue to bombard Lebanon for about another week to degrade Hezbollah's capabilities, officials of the two countries said." Or more generally, as in a Washington Post piece, in this fashion:"In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq." Or as Henry A. Crumpton, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, wielded it:"It's not just about the missiles and launchers? [I]t's about the roads and transport, the ability to command and control. All that is being degraded. But it's going to take a long time. I don't believe this is going to be over in the next couple of days." Or as an Israeli general at a Washington think tank told the Washington Times:"Israel has taken it upon itself to degrade Hezbollah's military capabilities." Sometimes degradation of this sort can be quantified:"A senior Israeli official said Friday that the attacks to date had degraded Hezbollah's military strength by roughly half, but that the campaign could go on for two more weeks or longer." More often, it's a useful term exactly because it's wonderfully vague, quite resistant to quantification, the very opposite of"precision" in its ambiguity, and capable of taking some of the sting out of what is actually happening. It turns the barbarity of air war into something close to a natural process -- of, perhaps, erosion, of wearing down over time.
As air wars go, the one in Lebanon may seem strikingly directed against the civilian infrastructure and against society; in that, however, it is historically anything but unique. It might even be said that war from the air, since first launched in Europe's colonies early in the last century, has always been essentially directed against civilians. As in World War II, air power -- no matter its stated targets -- almost invariably turns out to be worst for civilians and, in the end, to be aimed at society itself. In that way, its damage is anything but" collateral," never truly"surgical," and never in its overall effect"precise." Even when it doesn't start that way, the frustration of not working as planned, of not breaking the"will," invariably leads, as with the Israelis, to ever wider, ever fiercer versions of the same, which, if allowed to proceed to their logical conclusion, will bring down not society's will, but society itself.
For the Lebanese prime minister what Israel has been doing to his country may be "barbaric destruction"; but, in our world, air power has long been robbed of its barbarism (suicide air missions excepted). For us, air war involves dumb hits by smart bombs, collateral damage, and surgery that may do in the patient, but it's not barbaric. For that you need to personally cut off a head.
[Note on Other Websites: For keeping me up-to-date on the present crisis in the Middle East, I would especially like to thank (and recommend to readers): Juan Cole's Informed Comment website (his recent essays there have been inspired); Antiwar.com, which provides an incredible range of Middle Eastern coverage that no one could collect on his or her own; the War in Context whose editor has an especially good eye for the telling article (and a sharp tongue for the absurdities of our moment); and Truthout and Common Dreams on which I rely regularly for so many things.]
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War. His novel, The Last Days of Publishing, is now out in paperback.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Friday, July 28, 2006 - 17:34
SOURCE: The Baltimore Sun (7-28-06)
We Americans don't seem to worry that we owe billions of dollars to the Chinese, or that our oil hunger is enriching hostile, rogue regimes, or that our annual budget deficit keeps adding to our national debt.
Why fret now? For nearly a quarter-century, Americans have come to expect the good life. Unemployment should never go above 5 percent. Interest rates are expected to be always around the same low percentages, inflation even lower - and all this accompanied by steady growth in the economy and expanding government entitlements. Double-digit rates of interest, unemployment and inflation are apparently ancient history.
Along with the amazing performance of the post-Cold War economy, technology has made the basics of life far more enjoyable. The entrance of 2 billion workers in China and India into the global capitalist system, along with easy credit, makes material goods more accessible to the consumer than ever.
Luxury is now available to the middle class. Suburban tract houses often have both hot tubs and gardeners. Garages now appear in new developments with two garage doors - and on occasion three or even four.
What are the consequences of this affluence?
For starters, a certain lack of appreciation of our bounty. No one praises Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton or President Bush for the past amazing performance of the U.S. economy. Instead, it's taken as America's new birthright.
We expect almost instantaneous success in everything we do. Most in the media are thus tired of the present wars in the Middle East and think the enormous human cost is not worth the goal of offering freedom to millions, even though we have suffered far fewer fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan than a generation sacrificed in Vietnam.
As we near the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, most have forgotten the dangers of a terrorist attack. Often the public appears to worry more over the Patriot Act and wiretaps, as if our own leaders pose a greater threat to the United States than do mass-murdering Islamist terrorists.
But could our good life really sometime come to an end - as the histories of past affluent societies suggest it will? Imagine al-Qaida attacking the New York Stock Exchange. What if Beijing suddenly had to sell off billions of its accumulated American dollars? Or how about a good old 1970s-style recession in which interest rates hit 20 percent, with inflation and unemployment each hovering near 10 percent? What would millions of younger Americans do - people who have known only the prosperity, material surfeit and mostly peace and security of the 1980s and 1990s?
Prosperity can also be deceiving. Many Americans, despite superficial affluence, are in debt and often a paycheck away from insolvency. By historical standards, they are pretty helpless. Most of us can't grow our own food, don't know how cars work and have no clue where or how electricity is generated. In short, few have the smarts to survive if the thin veneer of civilization were to be lost.
Think back to the Roman era of the "Five Good Emperors" - between A.D. 96-180 under the reigns of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius - when all problems of the turbulent past at last seemed to have been solved. There was a general peace, ever more prosperity from Mediterranean-wide trade, and a certain boredom and occasional cynicism among the Roman elite. Few then had any idea that three centuries of war, revolution, poverty and scary emperors like Commodus and Caracalla awaited their descendants - all a prelude to a later general collapse of Roman society.
In our own age of war, terrorism, huge debt, high-priced gas and frightful weapons and viruses that we try to ignore, we should remember that civilization's progress is not always linear. The human condition does not inevitably evolve from good to better to best.
The good life sometimes can be lost quite unexpectedly and abruptly when people demand rights more than they accept responsibilities, or live for present consumption rather than sacrifice for future investment, or feel their own culture is not particularly exceptional and therefore in no need of constant support and defense.
We should tread carefully in these challenging days of our greatest wealth - and even greater vulnerability.
Posted on: Friday, July 28, 2006 - 12:29
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (7-31-06)
ON JULY 26, 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, at that time the most vital international waterway in the world. The Middle East, and all of us, still live under the shadow of the fateful events his decision triggered 50 years ago. Even more than the Cold War, the Suez crisis has shaped the world we live in. And at its heart was the biggest American foreign policy blunder since the War of 1812.
The socialist Proudhon said the origin of property was theft. The same could be said of the modern Middle East. By any objective standard, Nasser's seizing of the canal was theft. Until that July, it had been administered by a private company headquartered in Paris and owned by international shareholders. Nasser had even signed an agreement recognizing the Canal Zone's autonomy two years earlier, which allowed Great Britain to pull out the last troops from its bases in Suez.
That withdrawal, of course, freed the Egyptian dictator to do what he pleased. Nasser decided to grab the canal to pay for his ill-conceived dam on the Nile at Aswan. He also reasoned that the resulting international outcry would only build up his reputation in the Arab world, and that the response from a declining British Empire, and the rest of the West, would be all talk and no action--even though Suez was vital to Britain and Europe for their oil from the Persian Gulf.
This was Nasser's one miscalculation--but in the end it proved unimportant. In 1956, memories of Hitler and Mussolini were still fresh. Appeasing demagogic dictators who broke international law had few advocates. Just three years earlier, Iran's Mossadegh had tried to nationalize Iran's oil wells. The British and the CIA had kicked him out of power for his pains.
Britain's prime minister, Anthony Eden, assumed he had to respond to Nasser's move with some show of force, especially if he wanted to lay claim to being Winston Churchill's political heir. He also saw an opportunity to reassert Britain's authority on the world stage after the loss of India. But ,unlike Churchill, Eden had no understanding of history; he had, in historian Paul Johnson's words, "a fatal propensity to confuse the relative importance of events." He also never understood, as Churchill had, that to use military force, one had to be ready to use it to the hilt.
So, when the British high command informed Eden it would take six weeks to assemble enough ships, planes, and men to take back the canal and topple Nasser, Eden turned to the French for help. They in turn appealed to the Israelis. For some time the Israelis had wanted to wipe out the Palestinian guerrilla bases which had sprung up along their border with Egypt since the 1948 war, camps run by a Palestinian student-turned-Nasser flunky named Yasser Arafat. So Israel's chief of staff, the 41-year-old Moshe Dayan, drew up a plan with the help of a young paratrooper colonel named Ariel Sharon for an incursion into Gaza and Sinai in coordination with an Anglo-French landing at Suez. The Israelis assumed the West would back up bold action against hit-and-run terrorists and those who supported them.
But they, and their allies the French and British, had not reckoned on the United States. President Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, were preoccupied with the Cold War. Like their Democratic predecessors, they were reluctant to support any move that smacked of "colonialism," no matter how justified. And Eisenhower, in Stephen Ambrose's words, was "uncomfortable with Jews" and never understood the threat Israel faced from its Arab neighbors. So the Americans refused to endorse the Suez invasion. "We do not want to meet violence with violence," Dulles said--words that have a disturbing echo today. Then the Americans went further. If the British and French attacked Egypt, Eden was told, the United States would not back them up in the United Nations.
Finally, in late October, after weeks of hesitation and prevaricating, the British, French, and Israelis struck. The British and French Operation Musketeer was a stunning success; in the face of the Israeli attack, Nasser's army collapsed. French paratroopers and tanks were poised to roll into Cairo. But then, with American encouragement, U.N. secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld became involved....
The Suez crisis was over. But the damage it did was, and remains, incalculable. Eisenhower had wrecked the trust between the United States and its former World War II allies for a generation; in the case of France, for all time. If anyone wonders why French politicians are always willing to undermine American initiatives around the world, the answer is summed up in one word: "Suez."
Suez destroyed the United Nations as well. By handing it over to Dag Hammarskjöld and his feckless ilk, Eisenhower turned the organization from the stout voice of international law and order into at best a meaningless charade; at worst, a Machiavellian cesspool. Instead of teaching Nasser and his fellow dictators that breaking international law does not pay, Suez taught them that every transgression will be forgotten and forgiven, especially if oil is at stake.
As for Nasser, Israel moved to the top of his agenda. Attacking the Jewish state became the recognized path to leadership of the Arab world, from Nasser to Saddam Hussein to Iran's Ahmadinejad--with the U.N. and world opinion standing idly by. ...
Posted on: Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 17:47
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (7-26-06)
The AIPAC Democrats in Congress came after Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday, condmening him for his refusal to condemn the Lebanese Hizbullah. Al-Maliki had on the contrary complained (quite rightly) about naked Israeli aggression on Lebanon and had called for a cease fire. At his news conference on Tuesday he dodged questions about the issue and said his main concerns were humanitarian.
I respond with a golden oldie from March, 2005.
The US Congress, aside from a strange inability to recognize the disproportionate use of force when it sees it, does not seem to realize that the Dawa Party of Iraq, from which Nuri al-Maliki hails, is a revolutionary Shiite religious party not that much different from the Lebanese Hizbullah.
The members of Congress also don't seem to realize that the Iraqi Dawa helped to form the Lebanese Hizbullah back in the early 1980s. The Dawa was in exile in Tehran, Damascus and Beirut and it formed a shadowy terror wing called, generically, Islamic Jihad. The IJ cell of the Dawa attacked the US and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983, in an operation probably directed by the Tehran branch, which was close to Khomeini.
My understanding is that Nuri al-Maliki was the bureau chief of the Dawa cell in Damascus in the 1980s. He must have been closely involved with the Iraqi Dawa in Beirut, which in turn was intimately involved in Hizbullah. I am not saying he himself did anything wrong. I don't know what he was doing in specific, other than trying to overthrow Saddam, which was heroic. But, did they really think he was going to condemn Hizbullah and take Israel's side?
And if he did, do they think that the Shiite religious parties that backed him would let him stay in office (they are the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Islamic Dawa, and the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr)?
Here is what I said the first time a Dawa Prime Minister was brought to power by US-sponsored elections, last year. I kept telling Americans that this was a mixed picture, not an unadulterated feel-good story, and I got nasty mail about raining on their parade. Now you see what I was talking about:
Things have changed, and I am not at all suggesting that a vindictive attitude is appropriate, but Dawa has a background as a terrorist organization. While in Tehran, it spun off a shadowy set of special ops units generically called"Islamic Jihad," which operated in places like Kuwait and Lebanon. The Dawa's Islamic Jihad appears to have been at the nexus of splinter groups that later, in 1982, began to coalesce into Hezbollah (the 1983 truck bombing of US Marines is often blamed on"Hezbollah," but that organization barely existed then.) The current al-Dawa leadership repudiates these anti-West actions, and blames them on cells of al-Dawa temporarily taken over by Iranian elements. The arrest lists do not support this excuse. No one seems to want to bring up the following:
U.S. News & World Report
December 26, 1983 / January 2, 1984
The New Face of Mideast Terrorism
A new brand of terrorism confronting the U.S. in the Mideast was demonstrated in the closing days of 1983 when a suicide bomber wrecked the American Embassy in Kuwait.
Actions that once were hallmarks of Mideast radicals -- takeovers of buildings, hijackings of airliners and seizing of hostages -- are waning. In their place: Terrorism sponsored by governments -- notably Iran and Syria -- and carried out by Moslem fanatics fired by hatred of the U.S. and a desire for martyrdom.
Prompted as much by current issues as by ideology, the new terrorism is more lethal, widespread and harder to contain than terrorism of the 1970s.
U.S. officials blamed the December 12 bombing of their embassy in Kuwait on ''Islamic fundamentalists'' of the Shiite sect, backed by Iran and Syria.
The Americans charged that the attack was ''clearly connected'' to three disastrous bombings in Beirut -- one in April that killed more than 60 people at the U.S. Embassy and two suicide attacks in October that killed more than 240 American servicemen at the Marine barracks and 58 soldiers at the French peacekeeping headquarters. Shiites also are blamed for a bomb that killed 61 persons at an Israeli command center in southern Lebanon in November.
Suspicion for the attacks in Lebanon centered on one group -- the Islamic Jihad [Holy War], a secretive Shiite unit based in Syrian-controlled eastern Lebanon. It is closely linked to the Iranian regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who calls the U.S. the ''great Satan.''
The terrorist who detonated the truckload of explosives at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait was identified as a 25-year-old Iraqi belonging to an outlawed Moslem unit, the Iranian Dawa Group.
The Associated Press
February 11, 1984, Saturday
Trial Of Bomb Blast Defendants Opens
By ALY MAHMOUD (KUWAIT)
Twenty-one defendants accused of bombing the U.S. and French Embassies last December were formally arraigned today, as their trial began under extreme security.
To be tried in absentia are four defendants who are at large, the prosecutor general said.
Five people were killed and 86 injured in the rash of bombings on Dec. 12. Besides the U.S. and French embassies, four Kuwaiti targets were bombed.
The prosecution has demanded the death penalty for 19 of the defendants. The others are believed to have played a lesser role in the bombings in and around the capital of this oil-rich Arab nation . . . Of the other defendants, 17 are Iraqis; two, Lebanese, three, Kuwaitis and two are stateless. Most of them said they belonged to Al-Dawa (Islamic Call) Party, an Iraqi movement of Shiite Moslem fanatics who are pro-Iranian, said court sources who asked not to be identified.
The Associated Press
September 21, 1986, Sunday
Underground Iraqi Group Threatens French Hostages
An Iraqi opposition group warned Sunday that French hostages in Lebanon will suffer if two Iraqis deported from France last February are not allowed to return to Paris soon. The statement was issued by the Beirut-based regional office of the Dawa Party, which is made up of Iraqi Shiite Moslems and supports mainly Shiite Iran in its 6-year-old war with Iraq. Iraq's government is made up mainly of Sunni Moslems. France deported the two students, Fawzi Hamzeh and Hassan Kheireddin, reported to be Dawa members, along with 11 other Middle Easterners after a series of terrorist bombings. The pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad organization, which has close ties with Dawa, said in March that it killed French hostage Michel Seurat in retaliation for the deportation. His body was not found . . .
The Associated Press
December 27, 1986, Saturday
Five Groups Claim Responsibility; Iraq Accuses Iran
BYLINE: By HAFEZ ABDEL-GHAFFAR
DATELINE: DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia
Five groups in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the attempted hijacking of an Iraqi jet, but conflicting accounts remained of what happened before the jetliner crashed, killing at least 62 people. Iraqi Airways flight 163 was en route to Amman, Jordan, from Baghdad, Iraq, on Christmas Day when it crash landed in northern Saudi Arabia. The death toll was thought to be the highest in a hijacking or attempted hijacking in the history of air piracy . . . Another an anonymous caller to a Western news agency claimed responsibility on behalf of Islamic Jihad, or Islamic Holy War, a fundamentalist Shiite Moslem faction loyal to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini . . . He told a Western news agency the hijackers acted in cooperation with the Dawa party of pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiites. The caller demanded the release of two hijackers he said were arrested after the crash.
. . . I am just saying that the Dawa Party has a history that must be recognized if we are to assess the meaning of it coming to power in Baghdad today.
Posted on: Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - 21:40
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (7-26-06)
The current round of hostilities between Israel and its enemies differs from prior ones in that it's not an Arab-Israeli war, but one that pits Iran and its Islamist proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah, against Israel.
This points, first, to the increasing power of radical Islam. When Israeli forces last confronted, on this scale, a terrorist group in Lebanon in 1982, they fought the Palestine Liberation Organization, a nationalist-leftist organization backed by the Soviet Union and the Arab states. Now, Hizbullah seeks to apply Islamic law and to eliminate Israel through jihad, with the Islamic Republic of Iran looming in the background, feverishly building nuclear weapons.
Non-Islamist Arabs and Muslims find themselves sidelined. Fear of Islamist advances – whether subversion in their own countries or aggression from Tehran – finds them facing roughly the same demons as does Israel. As a result, their reflexive anti-Zionist response has been held in check. However fleetingly, what The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh calls "an anti-Hizbullah coalition," one implicitly favorable to Israel, has come into existence.
It began on July 13 with a startling Saudi statement condemning "rash adventures" that created "a gravely dangerous situation." Revealingly, Riyadh complained about Arab countries being exposed to destruction "with those countries having no say." The kingdom concluded that "these elements alone bear the full responsibility of these irresponsible acts and should alone shoulder the burden of ending the crisis they have created." George W. Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, a day later described the president as "pleased" by the statement.
On July 15, the Saudis and several other Arab states at an emergency Arab League meeting condemned Hizbullah by name for its "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts." On July 17, Jordan's King Abdullah warned against "adventures that do not serve Arab interests."
A number of commentators began to take up the same argument, most notably Ahmed Al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of Kuwait's Arab Times, author of one of the most remarkable sentences ever published in an Arab newspaper: "The operations of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon are in the interest of people of Arab countries and the international community." Interviewed on Dream2 television, Khaled Salah, an Egyptian journalist, condemned Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah: "Arab blood and the blood of Lebanese children is much more precious than raising [Hizbullah's] yellow flags and pictures of [Iran's Supreme Leader] Khamene'i."
A leading Wahhabi figure in Saudi Arabia even declared it unlawful for Sunni Muslims to support, supplicate for, or join Hizbullah. No major Arab oil-exporting state appears to have any intention of withholding its oil or gas exports out of solidarity with Hizbullah.
Many Lebanese expressed satisfaction that the arrogant and reckless Hizbullah organization was under assault. One Lebanese politician privately confided to Michael Young of Beirut's Daily Star that "Israel must not stop now … for things to get better in Lebanon, Nasrallah must be weakened further." The prime minister, Fuad Saniora, was quoted complaining about Hizbullah having become "a state within a state." A BBC report quoted a resident of the Lebanese Christian town of Bikfaya estimating that 95 percent of the town's population was furious at Hizbullah.
The Palestinian Legislative Council expressed its dismay at these muted Arab reactions, while a women's group burned flags of Arab countries on Gaza's streets. Nasrallah complained that "Some Arabs encouraged Israel to continue fighting" and blamed them for extending the war's duration.
Surveying this opinion, Youssef Ibrahim wrote in his New York Sun column of an "intifada" against the "little turbaned, bearded men" and a resounding "no" to Hizbullah's effort to start an all-out war with Israel. He concluded that "Israel is finding, to its surprise, that a vast, not-so-silent majority of Arabs agrees that enough is enough."
One hopes that Ibrahim is right, but I am cautious. First, Hizbullah still enjoys wide support. Second, these criticisms could well be abandoned as popular anger at Israel mounts or the crisis passes. Finally, as Michael Rubin notes in the Wall Street Journal, coolness toward Hizbullah does not imply acceptance of Israel: "There is no change of heart in Riyadh, Cairo or Kuwait." Specifically, Saudi princes still fund Islamist terrorism.
Arab disavowal of Hizbullah represents not a platform on which to build, only a welcome wisp of reality in an era of irrationality.
Posted on: Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - 15:37
SOURCE: Guardian (7-22-06)
Many of the present conflicts in the world take place in the former colonial territories that Britain abandoned, exhausted and impoverished, in the years after the second world war. This disastrous imperial legacy is still highly visible, and it is one of the reasons why the British empire continues to provoke such harsh debate. If Britain made such a success of its colonies, why are so many in an unholy mess half a century later, major sources of violence and unrest?
Top of the list is Palestine, a settler colony that Britain abandoned in 1947 after barely 30 years, having imposed a population of mostly European settlers on the indigenous people - one of the typical characteristics of imperial rule. Unfortunately for the settlers, arriving during the imperial sunset, they had insufficient time to achieve the scale of defeat of the local people, amounting to extermination and genocide, that characterised the British conquest and settlement of Australia.
While the native peoples of Australia, drunk and demoralised, survive in shanty towns or reservations, those in Palestine have had some capacity to struggle against such a fate, organising a lasting resistance to the settlers, inspired by their own ancient religion and sustained by the support of a vast Arab hinterland. The Australian settlers suffer from little more than a guilty conscience - if that- while the Israelis face a permanent and ineradicable threat. Like the medieval crusaders, whose ruined castles dominate the landscape of the eastern Mediterranean, they will be lucky if their state lasts more than a century. Many will surely abandon ship in despair.
A similar imperial trouble spot is Sierra Leone, another settler colony where the British imposed an alien, largely Christian, black population from Britain and Canada on to a congeries of native peoples already in thrall to Islam. The original colony dates back to the 18th century, but much of the country was secured through military conquest at the end of the 19th, to which there was energetic resistance. The recurrence of civil war, though suffocated recently by a return of British troops, remains a permanent probability.
Other victims of settler colonialism where unresolved problems survive from the time of empire include South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, and of course the tragic statelet of Northern Ireland. In these countries the settlers are all now on the back foot, outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, yet the baneful legacy of the colonial regime - in social customs, and in the forms of government designed to protect settler society - lives on. Much unfinished business remains. Settler colonies of a marginally different kind were established in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Fiji, the victims of continuing trouble. In both islands workers from India were imported in the 19th century for the white-owned plantations, creating the basis for an endless civil war that can never be resolved. Here, as elsewhere, endemic violence and conflict have proved to be the lasting legacy of empire.
In India itself Britain's speedy and disastrous scuttle in 1947 led to partition and the creation of the "moth-eaten" Muslim state of Pakistan (and eventually of Bangladesh), making nonsense of two centuries of British dominion designed to maintain the unity of the subcontinent. Abandoning India without a clear and agreed decision on the future of the princely state of Kashmir has created a scenario of disaster that has lasted from that day to this....
Posted on: Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - 01:37
SOURCE: Jewish News Weekly (7-21-06)
As we witness much of the world decrying the “lack of proportionality” in Israel’s response to the unprovoked attack on its military personnel and civilians within the State of Israel, it would be important to recall a similar episode in United States history.
On March 6, 1916, a group of 360 Villistas (followers of Pancho Villa) crossed the international border between the United States and Mexico and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. Their immediate goal was to obtain weapons from the nearby headquarters of the U.S. 13th Cavalry. Eighteen Americans were killed during the raid and additional nine were killed in pursuit of the attackers back to the border.
The raid was led by German agents directed by Luther Wertz, a key German operative in Mexico. Germany wanted to keep the United States out of World War I, which was then raging, and sought to divert U.S. attention from Europe to south of the border.
The unprovoked attack on the United States triggered demands for retaliation and punishment of the raiders. There was no talk of “proportional” response.
As a result, President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing and 6,000 American troops on a “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico. The force crossed into Mexico some two weeks after the initial attack and would penetrate some 300 miles into Mexico. During its nine-month stay in Mexico, U.S. forces would clash with Villistas as well as with Mexican Federal troops.
The Villistas again attacked the United States on May 5, 1916, raiding Glen Springs and Borquilla, Texas. This prompted President Wilson to send an additional force of 8,000 troops into Mexico. On June 18 he called up the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona National Guard and sent 150,000 men to patrol the U.S. border. Wilson also placed an arms embargo on Mexico, which included food and even horses.
On June 24 there was a clash between U.S. and Mexican forces at Carrizal, with 84 U.S. soldiers being surrounded by superior Mexican forces. Over half escaped but 14 were killed and 24 U.S. servicemen were taken prisoner.
Wilson’s reaction was immediate. The next day he demanded the release of the captured soldiers, and to back up his demands he mobilized the entire U.S. National Guard and incorporated it into the regular army. He dispatched American warships to patrol and enforce a blockade on Mexican ports on both its east and west coasts. All the American prisoners were released five days later, on June 30. There was no talk of a “lack of proportionality.”
While U.S. forces did not catch Pancho Villa, they crippled his ability to strike at the United States and inflicted heavy casualties on his forces in Mexico.
The American force was withdrawn, unexpectedly, on Jan. 25, 1917, not because of any Mexican or international pressure, but rather because the U.S. had obtained information that Germany intended to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, a step that would bring the U.S. into World War I. Additionally, the U.S. had obtained proof, via the Zimmermann Telegram, that Germany was seeking an anti-U.S. alliance with both Mexico and Japan. Thus the U.S. force was withdrawn so as not to give Mexico additional cause for considering such an alliance.
Similarly, the world has witnessed agents of Iran and Syria instruct Hamas and Hezbollah to attack military positions within Israel. This came after the Nov. 14, 2005 Iran-Syria Strategic Accord, whereby Iran pledged, among other things, military support for Syria. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 01:46
SOURCE: Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (7-24-06)
The beginnings of World War I in the summer of 1914 are seen by some analysts as similar to the outbreak of fighting in Lebanon and Israel this summer. The trigger for the conflict in 1914 was a terrorist act and countries were drawn into the developing war by the pressures of perceived security threats and existing alliances, and this seems to be similar to what is happening in the Middle East. While the analogy has some popular appeal, historians familiar with the specifics of both conflicts should have reservations about expanding on the similarities very far. However, while the similarities are very limited, the differences between the two outbreaks of fighting can, in fact, be helpful in illuminating important dimensions of the current clash in the eastern Mediterranean.
One major difference is in the relative “hard power” of the emerging combatants. In terms of available military power, there was symmetry between the two vast coalitions that emerged in 1914 as the major fighting started. The basic structures of European international relations for a century had a “balance of power” as one of the major objectives, and the alignments at the beginning of World War I reflected that balance. The conflict was set in motion by an action taken by an extremist Serbian nationalist, who murdered the heir apparent to the imperial throne of Austria-Hungary. However, the actual fighting involved the armed forces of competing states. In the existing framework of alliances, no small state was left exposed and unsupported in the face of overwhelming military power. When the Austro-Hungarian forces began to bombard the Serbian capital, Serbia received military support from Russia and was not destroyed.
This situation is in sharp contrast to conditions in the eastern Mediterranean today. An enormous asymmetry in military power exists, with Israel wielding huge resources for destruction and Lebanon possessing virtually no military capacity to defend itself. In the absence of the type of alliances existing in Europe in 1914, Lebanon is open to destruction, and is, in fact, being reduced to rubble. Although the United States supported United Nations resolutions calling for all foreign armed forces to stay out of Lebanon and it opposed any Syrian military actions in that country, there has been no American protest to support Lebanon’s territorial integrity or to defend its civilians from Israeli attacks. While the old-style balance-of-power politics did not allow for the destruction of a country, the new world of asymmetric military power appears to accept that possibility.
The obliteration of Lebanon as a functioning country appears to be taking place. This is not simply a “change of government” process. The end result could easily be the destruction of the state and the political system itself, and a return to the warlordism of civil war. Unless the United States works with other countries and groups to stop this demolition, U. S. policy makers run the risk of confronting the realities and difficulties of a failed/ destroyed state. The U.S. experiences with Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal and Somalia provide important examples of the threats to U.S. interests when such failed states become the locations for anarchy. An Israeli occupation is not a viable alternative, since the lesson from the eighteen year occupation of southern Lebanon by Israel is that this type of forceful occupation increased rather than reduced the strength of Islamist organizations like Hizbullah.
The primary goal needs to be the preservation of the democratically elected current government of Lebanon. It would be dangerous to attempt a major regime change. Again, past experience may provide some guidelines. The overwhelming Israeli military victory in Lebanon in 1982 transformed Lebanese politics briefly in ways that laid the foundations for the current conflict. As Thomas Friedman reported in late 1982, the “Israeli invasion of Lebanon…turned Lebanese politics upside down, tipping the balance of power radically in favor of the Maronite Christian minority and leaving the Moslem majority submissive and disillusioned.” (New York Times, 2 November 1982) The support for the Lebanese government today must be for the politically-inclusive government that was created by the last elections. It will not be possible for the U.S. to pick and choose who will get support unless America wants to have again a significant portion of the Lebanese people being disillusioned and resentful.
The first step in this process is, as John Esposito argues (see “Lebanon: Bush’s Moment of Truth” http://explore.georgetown.edu/blogs/?id=17009), for the United States to take the initiative in negotiating an effective cease fire and then to take a major role in the process of reconstruction of the country.
In the long run, the problem of the major asymmetries of power will also have to be addressed. It has been argued that terrorism is the weapon of those who do not have access to “hard power” military capacity. The dramatic differential between the military power of Israel and that of its neighboring states creates a sense of fear and uncertainty and provides an opening for non-state activists to advocate use of non-conventional weapons. The overwhelming military victory of Israel in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, for example, may have proved decisively that no combination of Arab states had the military capacity to defeat Israel. The result was not, however, an acceptance of Israel. Instead, the Israeli victory strengthened the hand of the extremists in the Palestinian movement and was part of the process of the emergence of terrorism as a weapon to be used by the enemies of Israel. A strong consciousness of significant asymmetries of power continues to be a source of conflict. As a result, in addition to the concrete and pragmatic efforts for ceasefire and reconstruction, the U.S. must also begin to develop long term programs in which military asymmetries will not appear as threats to national existence in the Middle East.
Posted on: Monday, July 24, 2006 - 17:09
BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL ONLY AFTER A Katyusha rocket killed her neighbor did she agree to come. For more than a week, I had been pleading with my mother and her 80-year-old partner, a veteran of many Israeli wars, to leave their home in the northern city Nahariya and spend time in our small two-bedroom apartment far from the line of fire. Within a week the fighting will subside, I assured her, while asking myself whether this new cycle of violence will indeed end so soon.
Although the immediate motives for Israel's campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon were the abduction of three soldiers, releasing the captives is only part of the government's overall objectives. In Gaza, Israel used the abduction as an excuse to reenter the region to stop the firing of Qassam rockets on Israeli cities and towns as well as to try and topple the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
In the north, Israel aspires to defang Hezbollah, clean south Lebanon of Hezbollah's military bases, and force the Lebanese government to clamp down on Hasan Nasrallah's militias.
In order to examine whether these objectives are prudent and whether Israel's actions can in fact bring about the desired results, one needs to consider the two regions separately.
It is crucial, for example, to remember that despite its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last August, Israel still controls the means of legitimate movement in the region. And as long as Israel maintains control over the movement of Palestinian inhabitants, labor, goods, and money, then -- as any first-year political science student knows -- it continues to be the sovereign power and Gazans remain under occupation.
While no country should have to stand by and watch its cities and towns being shelled by rockets, a distinction must be made between a sovereign people launching rockets at a neighboring country and people living under occupation engaging in the same activity.
Taking this difference into account does not justify the use of rockets, but it does help us understand the root causes underlying their employment and provides some clues on how the Qassam can be stopped.
Insofar as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about real grievances, primarily the denial of self-determination to an entire people, then the only tenable solution is political. Israel, however, has decided to ignore the political route and has chosen the military one instead. Yet, cutting off 700,000 people from electricity, redeploying troops in the middle of Gaza, and causing intense suffering to 1.4 million civilians has not produced the desired results.
Short of transforming the Gaza Strip into a gigantic football field and killing hundreds of thousands of people, Israel will not be able to stop the Qassam by military means. Ending the occupation, though, will.
Interestingly, Hamas is ready to stop launching rockets and return the captive soldier if Israel discontinues its assassination policy, releases Palestinian prisoners and returns to the negotiating table to carve out a peace agreement based on Israel's withdrawal to its 1967 borders. This needs to be seen as an opportunity. Israel should immediately put a stop to the Gaza campaign, pick up the glove, and start talking with Hamas, since, as the cliché goes, one negotiates with one's enemies and not with one's friends.
Regarding the Lebanese front, matters are different, not least because Lebanon is a sovereign country. Yet, unlike other sovereign states that have a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, the Lebanese government does not control Hezbollah, which has been attacking Israeli targets against its government's wishes.
While this situation must be resolved, Israel's attempt to bring about structural change within Lebanon by using extreme force aimed mostly at a civilian population is boomeranging. If before the war there was considerable internal Lebanese criticism of Hezbollah, Israel's ruthless violence, including the erasure of whole neighborhoods in Beirut as well as the forceful evacuation of half a million Lebanese citizens from their homes, has managed to sway popular support in favor of the fundamentalist organization. When all is said and done, the Israeli campaign is actually empowering Hezbollah.
Consequently, my support for my mother and all other Israelis who are being bombed does not translate into support for the policies of the Israeli government. Employing lethal force to advance political objectives seldom works, and employing more force after the first military assault fails only sows additional seeds of hatred. Despite what many people may think and what most commentators suggest, standing with Israel at this juncture means pressuring its government to stop the trumpets of war. It's time to lay down the guns so that words can begin replacing bullets.
Posted on: Monday, July 24, 2006 - 12:55
When Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah held his press conference to declare his new victory over his enemy, Israel, he was triggering –probably without knowing- a new era in the history of Lebanon and the region. “We will continue in faithfulness to our line,” he declared, in legitimizing his cross border attack on an Israeli patrol, killing soldiers and kidnapping two. But the real “fidelity” Nasrallah was referring to wasn’t to his captured men in Israeli jails, but to the regimes decision-makers in Tehran and Damascus. The “operation of July” came as a tipping point in a larger conflict, which superseded Hezbollah’s detainee, the Shebaa farms, borders skirmishes and Israeli tactical responses. Beyond and above the events of that day, Hezbollah was triggering the first Iranian war on Lebanon’s soil: A Syrian-supported offensive, even at the height of the Assad II regime. Bringing fire and smoke to the Lebanese-Israeli borders, and a week before to the Gaza-Israel demarcation lines, is not simply two local disputes, one over unilateral Israeli withdrawal in Gaza and the other over real estate on the western slopes of Mount Hermon. Nasrallah (as well as his counterpart of Hamas) has calculated perfectly how to conduct a hit and run with the Israelis ordered by regional regime who have miscalculated their strategies. Pressured by the new regional realities and world concerns about nuclear threats and Terrorism, Iran and Syria wanted to throw their allies into the greatest uncertainties of survival.
The road to the current conflict
But as Israel’s Air Force began to pound Nasrallah’s organization and Lebanon’s transportation and communications infrastructure, and the media reported the war in progress with its horrific images, world opinion and decision-centers commenced to swing in all directions, seeking a name to the War and a projection of its ending, with great difficulties. Attempts are still ongoing to frame it from the most simplistic to the most conspiratorial: Lebanon is a beautiful country, it doesn’t deserve violence and victimization, say the less informed. Indeed such lamentations should have been expressed since 1975, when this country was thrown to the lions. Between the PLO attacks since the beginning of the War, the Syrian occupation as of June 1976, the Israeli involvement in 1982 and the Iranian penetration of the 1980s, in addition to the civil war between all communities, more than 180,000 people were massacred and killed, with very little compassion under the Cold War and despite its end in 1990. While most militias disarmed in 1991, only one dodged that duty: Iranian-backed Syrian-protected Hezbollah. Co-ruling the country with Syria’s security services, the militia presented itself as a “resistance” for a whole decade, building its networks, and consolidating power inside the country while claiming liberation against Israel’s occupation of the south. The “Khumeinist resistance” endorsed the Syrian “occupation” of Lebanon and never struggled to free its compatriots in Damascus’ jails. In May 2000 it achieved victory over Israel and its local allies, by occupying the so-called “security zone” in southern Lebanon after the latter being evacuated by the Israeli Government. Since then, Hezbollah reached its golden age: Control of about 70 km of international borders with the “Zionist entity,” warranting hundreds of millions of dollars and other military support from Iran’s Pasdarans; but also appropriation of enormous Government assets and resources under the auspices of Syrian control.
Between 2000 and 2005, Hezbollah increased its influence in Lebanese politics, becoming the dominant force, and remaining the principal ally of Syrian occupation. In this half decade, Tehran supplied the organization with weapons capable of reaching remote areas inside Israel. In those years as well, Hezbollah extended and grew its cells around the world including in South America, North America, West Africa and Western Europe. But the surge to high power, both in Lebanon and worldwide began to face challenges as of September 11, 2001.
The crisis years
From when the American public mobilized against Terrorism in general to the first US-led intervention in Afghanistan, Tehran’s leaders got extremely nervous about the changes hitting their neighborhood. Any democracy anywhere around them is a bad omen. When the Taliban regime was removed from Kabul in 2001, Tehran’s Khumenists witnessed the rise of women in the electoral process and within the Afghani Government. Iranian leaders understood the future implications at home. When Saddam’s regime was removed from Baghdad, Khamenei’s elite wasn’t unhappy with the removal, but with the multi party process that followed, even though they succeeded in inserting their influence in it. And when UNSCR 1559 was approved-- calling on Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and Hezbollah’s disarming--both Tehran and Damascus felt the heat pressuring their joint influence on the Eastern Mediterranean. The Syrian Baathist reaction to the new era was quick with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on February 14, 2005. Assad paid a dear price for this fast drawing and shooting against his opponents in Lebanon. In March of that year, and despite an attempt by Hezbollah to shore up popular support to the Syrian President inside Lebanon, one million and a half citizens marched in the street of Beirut, shattering the myth of both Syrian “brotherly” occupation and e He zbollah’s untouched position in the country. With the political weakening of its allied organization by the public and the pulling out of Damascus’ regular troops from Lebanon, Iran’s regime mobilized for the counter regional attack. Hezbollah readied for its role in the general Jihadi offensive.
The counter offensive
The Jihadi Syro-Iranian offensive started simultaneously in early 2005, with the Hariri assassination in Lebanon and the selecting of Mahmoud Ahmedinijad as head of the Islamic Republic in Tehran. In Lebanon as the pro-Syrian Government collapsed new elections were held and an anti-Syria majority was established, Hezbollah executed a sophisticated one year plan in preparation for the war launched in July 2006. It began with Nasrallah imposing on the Seniora Government a strange offer: taking three members of the Party into his cabinet, while Hezbollah maintains a strategic relation with Syria’s regime. That success brought other moves forward. For six months, political leaders and journalists of the Cedars Revolution were assassinated with car bombs: Samir Qassir, George Hawi and Gebran Tueni. This sufficed to convince the anti-Syrian politicians that any serious obstruction of the Iranian-Syrian axis and opposition to Hezbollah will be “punished.” The terror treatment seemed to have worked, as the Government was forced to abandon the implementation of UNSCR 1559 and have its components sit down with Hezbollah to “discuss” the future of its weapons. In short, it took Nasrallah and his allies less than a year to contain and weaken the Cedars Revolution and the Government it has produced. Twelve months passed after Syria’s withdrawal from the country, and yet the Lebanese army was not allowed by Hezbollah’s veto power inside the Seniora cabinet to deploy along the borders or even inside the sensitive area of south Lebanon. Strategically, Hezbollah absorbed the consequences of the Syrian withdrawal, penetrated the Government and along with pro-Syrian politicians created further divisions within Lebanon’s religious communities, including within Sunni, Druze and Christian political establishments.
During 2006, several factors pushed Iran and Syria to press their allies in Lebanon and in Palestine to create havoc. The nuclear crisis with Tehran was the principal factor for convincing the Mullahs that a major crumbling of the region’s new democracies and peace processes is vital to deflect the crisis away from Tehran. In fact the international determination to remove the Iranian nuclear threat was breaking Ahmedinijad’s ambitions for increasing international power. The several elections in Iraq, despite terrorism, indicated the rise of the political process in that country, with future impact on Iran itself. Syria’s isolation as a result of the UN investigation in the Hariri assassination further convinced the Assad regime that inflaming the Gaza and the Israeli-Lebanese borders is the recipe for overshadowing the UN report. Hamas also had developed an interest in the clash with the “Zionist enemy,” as the financial credibility of their newly formed Government in the Palestinian areas was sinking down and a civil war with Fatah loomed on the horizon. And finally Hezbollah: the militia-turned party and still listed as a Terrorist organization on the US list of terrorist groups, used extreme patience since 2000 in building its hyper-arsenal across the country, infiltrated the Army and avoided major escalation against Israel. But on Bastille Day Sayyed Nasrallah ended the previous era of preparedness: Now is the time for a qualitative Jihad, he seemed to imply.
In addition to the regional injunctions to strike Israel in order to focus the international heat on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Hezbollah has also included a number of “Lebanese” factors in its decision to flare up the borders with its enemy. Back in March 2005, the leaders of the Iranian-backed organization saw in disbelief the enormous masses marching against Syria, and by ripple effect, against Hezbollah. Not only the largest democracy demonstration in the history of the Middle East, but also a multiethnic and multi-religious one: Christians, Druze, Sunnis and even some Shiites broke the taboo of Hezbollah’s “sacred” character in Lebanon. Second nightmare was with the actual withdrawal of the Syrian army from the country, opening the path for the implementation of the second item of the UNSCR 1559, i.e., disarming the fundamentalist militia. The third nightmare came when this anti-Syrian coalition brought a majority in Parliament during the May-June 2005 legislative elections in Lebanon. The threat to Hezbollah was not the formation of a cabinet opposing Syrian influence in as much as it was a signal that the people of Lebanon wasn’t endorsing the “resistance” story, or put it simply, wasn’t buying the party’s story period. The Cedars Revolution was the worse development the Khumeinist movement had to absorb since its inception. The sight of a million young men and women in colorful outfits marching in downtown Beirut was the beginning of a new era: liberal democracy, freedom and rejection of the dark ideology of Nasrallah. Hence, it became a must to eliminate that revolution at any price.
The slaughter of the Cedars Revolution
In few months, a number of leading politicians and journalists were savagely murdered by the pro-Syrian camp: Syrian intelligence, Hezbollah and other groups were believed to be behind the assassination campaign. In parallel, Hezbollah and its allies outmaneuvered the parliamentary majority, which was supposed to form an anti-Baathist Government, bring down the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and remove the pro-Syrian speaker of the House, Nabih Berri. A magic hand convinced the so-called politicians of the March 14 movement, that none of these measures is feasible. Hence Syria maintained its power in Lebanon, while U.S and French Presidents were singing the praise of the liberation of Lebanon. Furthermore, and in a suicidal move the Lebanese cabinet, headed by Fouad Seniora invited Hezbollah to join the Government, before the latter disarmed. By the summer of last year, the Cedars Revolution was bleeding seriously. Not only entrenched in the legal Government of Lebanon, but Hezbollah succeeded in a penetration of the Christian community, the hardcore of the anti-Syrian resistance, by enlisting the former commander of the Lebanese Army who performed an about face after 10 years in exile, where he claimed opposition to Syria. Michel Aoun signed an agreement of “understanding” with Hassan Nasrallah during the spring of 2006. The “revolution” was beheaded and Hezbollah was waiting for the right time to operate its come back into the center of Lebanese politics, while executing the instructions of Tehran and Damascus.
The “Waad al sadeq” operation
By early July 2006, Hezbollah’s preparations for the bloody return to the top were fulfilled. The organization had already accomplished its Lebanese tasks:
1) Elimination (direct or in conjunction with Syrian intelligence or Syrian Social Nationalists) of visible symbols of anti-Syrian leadership: Tueni, Qassir and Hawi, and attempts against others such as May Chidiac, as an intimidation lesson to all others.
2) Paralysis of PM Seniora’s cabinet from the inside and in cooperation with President Lahoud's networks on the outside.
3) Paralysis of the parliament in collaboration with speaker Berri and the Aoun bloc.
4) Dragging the political forces in the country in the so-called national dialogue on the weapons of Hezbollah, a major waste of time and marginalization of the 1559 stipulation
3) Intimidation of the Lebanese army command.
4) Attempts to divide the Lebanese Diaspora by implanting agents linked to the axis.
5) Reactivation of the pro-Syrian and Jihadist networks in Lebanon and within the Palestinian camps.
6) Distribution of weapons among allied militias
7) Finally and most importantly, completing the final steps in the deployment of a system of rockets and long range artillery batteries aimed at Israel.
It is based on these domestic achievements in Lebanon and on strategic injunctions by its regional sponsors that Hezbollah decided to trigger its awaited Armageddon. What was the Hezbollah’s initial plan? The pro-Iranian militia had constructed a theory of invincibility based on the rationalization of a string of former successes against the United States and France in the 1980s, against Israel and the ex-South Lebanon Army in the 1990s, and its intimidation of the Cedars Revolution in 2005. In short, Nasrallah’s team was convinced of the following: A spectacular operation against Israeli military would
The operation, dubbed “al-Waad al sadeq” (Faithful Promise) would signal the beginning of a series of skirmishes with Israel and a generalized assault on the Cedars Revolution and the Seniora cabinet, who were to be accused of treason and collusion with the Zionists.
With the crumbling of the Lebanese Government under the strikes by Hezbollah-Lahoud-Aoun, the pro-Syrian President would dismiss the Seniora cabinet, and in cahoots with pro-Syrian Berri, would disband the Parliament. A massive campaign of assassinations, arrests and exile would target the March 14 movement, followed by Terror-backed legislative elections, brining back a pro-Syrian Hezbollahi assembly and a radical Government.
The “putsch” would reestablish a Pro-Syrian-Iranian regime in Lebanon, and reconstruct a third wing to the Tehran-Damascus axis, reanimating the Arab-Israeli conflict, rejuvenating the Syrian dominance, isolating Jordan, reaching out to Hamas, crumbling Iraq, and unleashing Iran’s nuclear programs unchecked. The domino effects of Hezbollah’s “Waad al sadeq” are far from being even imagined by Western and Arab policy planners.
Plans and surprises
Nasrallah seemed to be in control of his strategy when he appeared in his press conference of victory. His back was safe since he has terrorized the Cedars Revolution’s movement, enlisted Aoun’s support (breaking Christian community unity), and pushed Sunni and Druze breakaways to challenge Jumblat and Hariri (the son). To his south, he was applauding Haniya’s Hamas “cabinet” for having already engaged the Israelis. To his east, Syria was mobilizing and waiting. In Iran, the “masters” were extending their strategic umbrella; and in Iraq, the Terror sapping of sectarian relations was on. All the brothers in Khumeini Jihadism were awaiting Hezbollah to break the chain of events from the Galilee. Nasrallah was at the forefront of a plan aiming at wrecking the rising democracy and the fledgling stability of the region. The stakes were really high for the “axis.”
But Hassan Nasrallah’s master plan failed. First the Lebanese Government, smelling the odors of conspiracy was quick to distance itself from the operation. “The Government was not informed by it nor does it endorse it,” stated the Seniora release. Second, Israel’s volte-face surprised Hezbollah and their allies. Why would the Olmert Government, declare a full war on an organization that classical armies cannot take out, thought the Tehran planners. Then came, the Arab position: Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, followed discretely by others didn’t extend their full support to the move. They certainly criticized Israel to the fullest of rhetoric, but didn’t praise the “Hizb.” On the international level, the Terror group “that-provide-services” didn’t fare better. The United States firmly extended its bipartisan support to UNSCR 1559; France and the rest of Europe stated the same –with their continental language- Russia wouldn’t side with Nasrallah against the world, and China has other priorities on its plate. Only Iran threatened to wage wars in the rescue of its most western army. Nasrallah fell into his own trap but decided to come up with a contingency plan.
Hezbollah’s Contingency plan
Not so different from Plan A, the objectives of Plan B have been readjusted. If Israel bombards Hezbollah’s infrastructure to the ground, Iranian oil will rebuild it. If Israel invades by land, it will find itself against a more aggressive Hezbollah than the one of the 1990s. Besides, Hezbollah will attempt nevertheless to go after the Seniora Government anyway. Calling on the “reserves,” Hezbollah enlisted President Lahoud and his son in law Defense Minister Elias Murr to drag the Lebanese Army in the War against Israel’s forces. And in collaboration with Aounist cadres (while the majority of his partisans are still stunned by the events), Hezbollah has unleashed an international campaign against the “inhumane aggression.” If things go well, Nasrallah expects Plan B to become Plan A, and a land advance by Israel would unleash a total offensive against the Government of Lebanon by pro-Iranian and Syrian forces. If Israel moves north to create a safe area against rockets, Hezbollah would move north to control the rest of Lebanon. The Syrian-Iranian axis will refuse UNSCR 1559, reject international initiatives for disarming the militias, and will make its stand in Lebanon, even if the Switzerland of the Middle East is to be reduced to rubbles. Assad wants to save his regime in Beirut, and Ahmedinijad wants to shield his bomb in the Bekaa: Alea Jacta Est, the dice are rolling.
The Lebanese Army
Hezbollah’s plan for the Lebanese Army is to drag it to a fight with Israel, as a way to destroy it. For the past 16 years Syria and Hezbollah have penetrated the Lebanese Army and installed their followers at various positions. For example, the command of the southern command, the officers in charge of the southern suburb of Beirut, the Murabb’a al amni (security zone for Nasrallah) and many offices in the second bureau are in the hands of Shiite officers linked to Hezbollah. Syria’s allies including the Hezb and Amal can count on 20% influence within the institution. The commander in chief, General Michel Sleiman is neutral, with possibilities of shifts to either side. The head of the military intelligence, a Christian, follows Lahoud's orders. The power map inside the Army keeps changing, but at the core of this institution, most officers are pro-Lebanese, close to the West. If Hezbollah pushes the regular troop into battle against Israel, the Army may split.
The United Nations is bound by a resolution it cannot but implement: UNSCR 1559. Having been among those who worked on introducing it in 2004, I have followed up till very recently the international efforts in this regards. There is a solid consensus that the resolution has to be implemented; it is inescapable. The question is who would implement it? Reality is that the Lebanese Government and its armed forces are too weak in front of the Hezbollah-Baath-Ahmedinijad axis. So if a regional bloc is obstructing a UN resolution, the international community should provide the balance of power. Hence, the US and France, along with the European Union, the moderate Arab states with the consent of the Security Council must provide the tools for the Lebanese Government to spread its sovereignty over its national soil, and the support for the Cedars Revolution to revive itself. The options are very limited: Either Hezbollah will dominate the Lebanese Republic, or the latter will disarm Hezbollah. Anything in between would be a waste of time. If Israel stops its operations short of an international intervention, Hezbollah will win the war. If Israel moves forward inside Lebanon after Hezbollah, an international intervention is inevitable. The days, weeks and months ahead will tell.
Meanwhile Hezbollah and its allies both in the region and in the West are and will be waging the mother of all propaganda wars. The task assigned to the propagandists is to stop military operations so that Hezbollah survives and to stop international intervention so that the Lebanese Government collapses. A war of images, photos, mudding, Internet, and media will explode in all directions. Operatives helping Hezbollah, including many with Christian names, will be waging an indiscriminate propaganda offensive against Lebanese, Arab, Western and obviously Israeli figures to spread confusion and psychological collapse in the international community. Objective: Obstruct the implementation of UNSCR 1559, trash the March 14 movement, criticize the Arab Government, and incite for Jihadi violence.
Future of the Hezbollah War
Hezbollah waged an Iranian War with Syrian backing. It knew how to start it, but it won’t know how it will end. The forces unleashed in this conflict have been unpredictable including Israel, Lebanon’s politics, the Arab Governments, and the international community. Hezbollah and its regional allies have spoken of “surprises” to come. In fact the latter are pretty much predictable: more rockets on and suicide attacks in Israel, coup d’Etat in Lebanon, and obviously international terrorism, including in the West. But “surprises” could also happen to Hezbollah. The “Waad al sadeq” operation may not be the only miscalculation by Secretary Hassan Nasrallah. The future of Hezbollah’s war is as uncertain as the fate of the organization.
Posted on: Sunday, July 23, 2006 - 13:49
SOURCE: NY Sun (7-18-06)
The blame for the current fighting falls entirely on Israel's enemies, who deploy inhuman methods in the service of barbaric goals. While I wish the armed forces of Israel every success against the terrorists in Gaza and Lebanon and hope they inflict a maximum defeat on Hamas and Hezbollah while taking a minimum of casualties, erroneous Israeli decisions in the last 13 years have led to an unnecessary war.
For 45 years, 1948-93, Israel's strategic vision, tactical brilliance, technological innovation, and logistical cleverness won it a deterrence capability. A deep understanding of the country's predicament, complemented by money, will power, and dedication, enabled the Israeli state systematically to burnish its reputation for toughness.
The leadership focused on the enemy's mind and mood, adopting policies designed to degrade his morale, with the goal of inducing a sense of defeat, a realization that the Jewish state is permanent and cannot be undone. As a result, whoever attacked the State of Israel paid for that mistake with captured terrorists, dead soldiers, stalled economies, and toppled regimes.
By 1993, this record of success imbued Israelis with a sense of overconfidence. They concluded they had won, and ignored the inconvenient fact that Palestinian Arabs and other enemies had not given up their goal of eliminating Israel. Two emotions long held in check, fatigue and hubris, came flooding out. Deciding that they had had enough of war and could end the war on their own terms, Israelis experimented with such exotica as"the peace process" and"disengagement." They permitted their enemies to create a quasi-governmental structure (the"Palestinian Authority") and to amass hoards of armaments (Hezbollah's nearly 12,000 Katyusha rockets in southern Lebanon, according to the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat). They shamelessly traded captured terrorists for hostages.
In this mishmash of appeasement and retreat, Israel's enemies rapidly lost their fears and came to see Israel as a paper tiger. Or, in the pungent phrasing of Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in 2000:"Israel, which has both nuclear power and the strongest air force in the region, is weaker than a spider's web." As I wrote in 2000,"their earlier fear of Israel has been replaced with a disdain that borders on contempt." As Israelis ignored the effect of their actions on enemies, they perversely seemed to confirm this disdain. As a result, Palestinian Arabs and others rediscovered their earlier enthusiasm to eliminate Israel.
To undo this damage of 13 years requires that Israel return to the slow, hard, expensive, frustrating, and boring work of deterrence. That means renouncing the foolish plans of compromise, the dreamy hopes for good will, the irresponsibility of releasing terrorists, the self-indulgence of weariness, and the idiocy of unilateral withdrawal.
Decades of hard work before 1993 won Israel the wary respect of its enemies. By contrast, episodic displays of muscle have no utility. Should Israel resume the business-as-usual of appeasement and retreat, the present fighting will turn out to be a summer squall, a futile lashing-out. By now, Israel's enemies know they need only hunker down for some days or weeks and things will go back to normal, with the Israeli left in obstructionist mode and the government soon proffering gifts, trucking with terrorists, and yet again in territorial retreat.
Deterrence cannot be reinstated in a week, through a raid, a blockade, or a round of war. It demands unwavering resolve, expressed over decades. For the current operations to achieve anything for Israel beyond emotional palliation, they must presage a profound change in orientation. They must prompt a major rethinking of Israeli foreign policy, a junking of the Oslo and disengagement paradigms in favor of a policy of deterrence leading to victory.
The pattern since 1993 has been consistent: Each disillusionment inspires an orgy of Israeli remorse and reconsideration, followed by a quiet return to appeasement and retreat. I fear that the Gaza and Lebanon operations are focused not on defeating the enemy but on winning the release of one or two soldiers -- a strange war goal, one perhaps unprecedented in the history of warfare -- suggesting that matters will soon enough revert to form.
In other words, the import of hostilities under way is not what has been destroyed in Lebanon nor what the U.N. Security Council resolves; it is what the Israeli public learns, or fails to learn.
HNN Hot Topic: July War
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 23:12
SOURCE: Montreal Gazette (7-15-06)
Even after Hezbollah launched hundreds of Katyusha rockets on Thursday, wounding 90 Israelis and killing at least two, Jerusalemites remained calm.
Where you stand regarding Israel's unsought two-front war depends on how quickly you say "Kassam" and "Katyusha" when telling the story. True, Israel's supporters - and civilians -- can take pride in a country which will go to Herculean lengths to save even one kidnap victim and has made the well-being of three soldiers a national obsession.
Still, the kidnappings are a sidelight. The months-long downpour of Kassams, especially on the working-class southern town of Sderot, has shaped Israel's Summer Rains Gaza strategy. And Hezbollah's rocket barrage has made intolerable the six-year status-quo standoff.
No nation can tolerate persistent shelling from a neighbour. The question isn't "How dare Israel attack Gaza and Lebanon?" but "What took so long for Israel to respond effectively"?
On the Lebanese border, the response appeared quick - judging by the time elapsed from the moment Hezbollah ambushed the young soldiers on routine patrol until Israel began hitting central targets in Lebanon.
Yet for six years Israel has shown remarkable restraint in the north. Despite Israel's complete, unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah's Islamist radicals wanted to continue their war against the Jewish state.
Hezbollah then amassed an estimated 10,000 missiles against Israel. Hezbollah provocations, ranging from the attempted kidnapping and murder of three patrolling soldiers in 2000 to occasionally bombing northern Israeli towns, have triggered controlled responses. Israel's strategy has been to try to avoid a multi-front war. The real question, however, is why Hezbollah enjoys attacking the Jewish state so wantonly.
Similarly in the south, Israel's reactions seemed hasty only when linked to the kidnapping two weeks ago. After what they calculate to be 1,500 Kassams in 1,900 days, with eight deaths, the good citizens of Sderot resent their government's inaction. They often seem as angry at Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as at their murderous Palestinian neighbors. "Sharon Wake Up, Olmert is in a Coma," one sign in the town square reads.
The residents have endured this harassment for far too long. Here, too, the questions easily switch from the strategic to the existential. Why is it, so many wonder, that Gaza's Palestinians have devoted their energies in the year since disengagement to trying to destroy Israel, rather than building a peaceful future?
The fact that this two-front war has been launched from areas evacuated by Israel army's has undermined the credibility of Israel's peace camp - as well as Olmert's pro-disengagement government. In Sderot on Sunday, most people blamed the Gaza disengagement for intensifying Palestinian attacks.
Moreover, the Palestinians' deadly shell game of spring and summer highlighted one of the more depressing aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli clash and a lingering source of Israeli insecurity. The widespread Hezbollah-Hamas desire to eliminate Israel, and Palestinians' success in peddling their one-sided narrative to the world remain unnerving....
Hamas and Hezbollah have repeatedly called for Israel's extermination - and acted to realize their twisted ideals. While the appropriate response is debatable, chiding Israel without acknowledging the lethal realities of the challenges facing Israel reveals much about the Western capacity for self-delusion. True statesmanship requires honest evaluations not blind moral equivalence. Especially this month, Israel has been victimized enough....
HNN Hot Topic: July War
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 23:12
SOURCE: Salon (7-18-06)
Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter insisted that Hezbo llah rocket launchers be cleaned out of the area between Israel's northern border and the Litani River, creating a sort of demilitarized Zone on the model of the Koreas. He added ominously that the Israeli army "should be instructed to operate without a time limit and without a limit of means to apply heavy pressure on the residents of southern Lebanon to evacuate northwards, thereby applying pressure on the center of the Lebanese government." Dichter's statement appears to envisage an Israeli attack on south Lebanon that will have as its goal the displacement of tens or hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shiites into Beirut, burdening the city with a massive refugee problem. A military spokesman said that a ground invasion was not being planned; instead, Israel would attack with airstrikes and artillery fire....
Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have already been displaced. UNICEF's representative in Lebanon told Agence France-Press that "The situation is bot h alarming and catastrophic. There are about 500,000 people displaced already."
If it comes about, the forced transfer of the Shiites of the south would have several advantages for the Israelis. The depopulated territory would make it easier to search for and destroy all the Katyusha emplacements and the heavier missiles of which Hezbollah boasted on Sunday. With Hezbollah's approximately 5,000 fighters deprived of civilian cover, it would be easier to kill them. The Israelis clearly anticipate that a refugee crisis in Beirut will put pressure on the Lebanese government to turn on Hezbollah decisively and to intervene against it militarily. Finally, they expect Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, in the aftermath, to send the Lebanese army south to take up positions along the border and so form a buffer between Hezbollah and Israel.
How good is the maximalist plan enunciated by Israeli military and government spokesmen? Ethically, it is monstrous, involving war crime s on a vast scale insofar as it targets a civilian population for forcible relocation. And practically, any such plan is doomed to abject failure. '
HNN Hot Topic: July War
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 23:12
SOURCE: LAT (7-20-06)
A leading Israeli philosopher some years back referred to his countrymen as"an exhausted people, confused and without direction." Before he became prime minister, Ehud Olmert publicly declared these extraordinary words:"We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies." In that demoralized spirit, the state of Israel retreated twice in five years under fire, from Lebanon and from Gaza -- and now, as a consequence, is fighting wars in precisely those places.
Individual members of congress have noticed this problem; I suggest that the executive branch take Olmert at his word and buck up this fatigued but exceptionally close ally. Even if Israel can very capably defend itself (as recent events have confirmed), it lacks the will to make the protracted efforts to defeat its enemies. And Israel's enemies--Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran--are also America's enemies.
Building on this assessment, I suggest that the administration make the following requests of Tel Aviv, to protect American interests.* Specifically:
- Do not engage in exchanges with terrorist groups, such as the 2004 trade of one rogue Israeli civilian and the remains of three soldiers for 429 living terrorists and criminals. This returns terrorists to the field while encouraging further abductions.
- Do not allow Hezbollah to acquire thousands of Katyusha rockets from Iran and station them in southern Lebanon. The estimated current arsenal of nearly 12,000 Katyushas not only threatens all of northern Israel, as recent days have proved, it provides Iran with a strategic threat with implications for the entire region.
- Do not permit arms to reach the terrorist Fatah organization, as recently happened, according to the Jerusalem Post, when an estimated 3,000 American rifles and a million rounds of ammunition were delivered to it out of a misguided ambition to help one Palestinian faction beat out another.
- Do not turn the West Bank over to Hamas terrorists. This endangers U.S. interests in several ways, notably because it would threaten Hashemite rule in Jordan.
Israel has a significant role in the U.S.-led war on terror; it can best defend itself and help its U.S. ally not by aspiring to agreements with intractable foes but by convincing them that Israel is permanent and unbeatable. This goal requires not episodic violence but sustained and systematic efforts to change regional mentalities. Therefore, U.S. policymakers might suggest to Olmert that he view the current fighting not as a momentary exception to diplomacy but as part of a long-term conflict.
With the emergence of an aggressive and perhaps soon-to-be nuclear-armed Iran, the strategic map of the Middle East is in the throes of fundamental change. This overarching threat should provide the backdrop for every Israeli decision going forward ? whether to retake territory in Gaza, what to target in Lebanon and whether to launch military actions against Syria.
Paradoxically, developments of the past week bring good news: Many Middle Easterners, not just Israelis, fear Iranian ambitions. Worries about Iran prompted the Saudi kingdom to take the lead in condemning attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah on Israel as"rash adventures." As the Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh has documented, Israel's counterattacks have prompted"an anti-Hezbollah coalition." Sound Israeli policies will greatly influence the evolution of this nascent force.
As Arabs worry more about Iranian Islamists than Israeli Zionists, a moment of opportunity presents itself. Close coordination between Washington and Jerusalem is needed, including timely reminders to Israelis that they have a war to win.
July 20, 2006 update: * As originally submitted, this line read,"Building on this assessment of Israel, I suggest the administration make three requests." In the course of editing, the sentence was changed to the above. Only after publication did some readers point out to me, correctly, that Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, is the capital of Israel, and that my text implies otherwise.
HNN Hot Topic: July War
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 23:12
SOURCE: New Republic (7-17-06)
Nearly 40 years ago, Israel and the Arab world fought a war that altered the course of Middle Eastern history. Now, as the region teeters on the brink of a new and potentially more violent cataclysm, it is important to revisit the lessons of the Six Day War, a conflict that few Middle Eastern countries wanted and none foresaw.
By 1967, ten years after the Sinai Campaign, the Arab-Israeli dispute had settled into an uneasy status quo. The radical Egyptian regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser still proclaimed its commitment to liberating Palestine and throwing the Jews into the sea, as did its conservative rivals in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but none of these states made any attempt to renew hostilities. On the contrary, Egypt remained quiescent behind the U.N. peacekeeping forces deployed in Sinai, Gaza, and the Straits of Tiran since 1957. Jordan maintained secret contacts with the Israelis. Israel, for its part, had long learned to ignore bellicose Arab rhetoric and to seek backdoor channels to even the most vituperative Arab rulers. As late as April 1967, officials at Israel's foreign ministry were speculating whether Nasser might be a viable partner for a peace process.
But one Arab state did not want peace. Syria, then as now under the rule of the belligerent Baath Party, wanted war. Having tried and failed in 1964 to divert the Jordan River before it crossed the Israeli border--IDF jets and artillery blasted the dams--the Syrians began supporting a little-known Palestinian guerrilla group called Al Fatah under the leadership of Yasir Arafat. Using Lebanon as its principal base, Al Fatah commenced operations against Israel in 1965 and rapidly escalated its attacks. Finally, at the end of 1966, Israeli officials felt compelled to retaliate. But, fearing the repercussions of attacking Soviet-backed Syria, they decided to strike at an Al Fatah stronghold in the Jordanian-controlled West Bank.
The raid unfortunately led to a firefight between IDF and Jordanian troops, and to Jordanian claims that Nasser had not done enough to protect the West Bank Palestinians. Desperate to restore his reputation, Nasser exploited a spurious Soviet report of Israeli war plans to evict U.N. peacekeepers. He closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, concentrated 100,000 of his troops along the Israeli border, and forged anti-Israeli pacts with Syria and Jordan. The Arab world rejoiced at the prospect of annihilating Israel, and even the Soviets, eager to find some means of distracting American attention from Vietnam, were pleased. Israeli leaders had no choice but to determine when and where to strike preemptively.
And so, suddenly and unexpectedly, a regional war erupted that the principal combatants--Israel, Egypt, and Jordan--neither desired nor anticipated. The lesson: Local conflicts in the Middle East can quickly spin out of control and spiral into a regional conflagration.
The lesson is especially pertinent to the current crisis. Then, as now, the Syrians have goaded a terrorist organization, Hezbollah, to launch raids against Israel from Lebanon. Then, as now, the rapid rise of terrorist attacks has forced Israel to mount reprisals. If the Soviets in 1967 wanted to divert America's attention from Vietnam, the Iranians--Syria's current sponsors--want to divert American attention from their nuclear-arms program. And once again Israel must decide when to strike back and against whom....
HNN Hot Topic: July War
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 23:11