July 27, 2006
is burning, hundreds of Lebanese die, hundreds of thousands lose all they
ever owned and become refugees, and all the world is doing is rescuing the
"foreign passport" residents of what was just two weeks ago "the Paris of
the Middle East." Lebanon must die now because "Israel has the right to
defend itself." So goes the U.S. mantra, used to block any international
attempt to impose a cease-fire.
Israel, backed by
the U.S., portrays its war on Lebanon as a war of self-defense. It is easy
to sell this message to mainstream media, because the residents of the
North of Israel are also in shelters, bombarded and endangered. Israel's
claim that no country would let such an attack on its residents go
unanswered, finds many sympathetic ears. But let us reconstruct exactly
how it all started.
On Wednesday, July
12, a Hezbollah unit attacked two armored jeeps of the Israeli army,
patrolling along Israel's border with Lebanon. Three Israeli soldiers were
killed in the attack and two were taken hostage. In a news conference held
in Beirut a couple of hours later, Hezbollah's leader Sheikh Hassan
Nasrallah explained that their aim was to reach a prisoner exchange, where
in return for the two captured Israeli soldiers, Israel would return three
Lebanese prisoners it had refused to release in a previous prisoner
exchange. Nasrallah declared that, "he did not want to drag the region
into war," but added that "our current restraint is not due to weakness .
. . if they [Israel] choose to confront us, they must be prepared for
government, however, did not give a single moment for diplomacy,
negotiations, or even cool reflection over the situation. In a cabinet
meeting that same day, it authorized a massive offensive on Lebanon. As
Ha'aretz reported, "In a sharp departure from Israel's response to
previous Hezbollah attacks, the cabinet session unanimously agreed that
the Lebanese government should be held responsible for yesterday's
events." Olmert declared: "This morning's events are not a terror attack,
but the act of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and
without provocation." He added that, "the Lebanese government, of which
Hezbollah is a part, is trying to undermine regional stability. Lebanon is
responsible, and Lebanon will bear the consequences of its actions."
At the cabinet
meeting, "the IDF recommended various operations aimed at the Lebanese
government and strategic targets in Lebanon," as well as a comprehensive
attack on southern Lebanon (where Hezbollah's batteries of rockets are
concentrated). The government immediately approved both recommendations.
The spirit of the cabinet's decision was succinctly summarized by Defense
Minister Amir Perertz who said: "We're skipping the stage of threats and
going straight to action." 
At 21.50 that same
day, Ha'aretz internet edition reported that by that time Israel
had already bombarded bridges in central Lebanon and attacked "Hezbollah's
posts" in southern Lebanon.  Amnesty International's
press release of the next day (13 July 2006) stated that in these attacks
"some 40 Lebanese civilians have reportedly been killed . . . Among the
Lebanese victims were a family of ten, including eight children, who were
killed in Dweir village, near Nabatiyeh, and a family of seven, including
a seven-month-old baby, who were killed in Baflay village near Tyre. More
than 60 other civilians were injured in these or other attacks."
It was at that
point, early on Wednesday night, following the first Israeli attack, that
Hezbollah started its rocket attack on the north of Israel. Later the same
night (before the dawn of Thursday), Israel launched its first attack on
Beirut, when Israeli warplanes bombed Beirut's international airport and
killed at least 27 Lebanese civilians in a series of raids. In response,
Hezbollah's rocket attacks intensified on Thursday, when "more than 100
Katyusha rockets were fired into Israel from Lebanon in the largest attack
of its sort since the start of the Lebanon War in 1982". Two Israeli
civilians were killed in this attack, and 132 were taken to the hospital.
 When Israel started destroying the Shiite quarters of
Beirut the following day, including a failed attempt on Nasrallah's life,
Hezbollah extended its rockets attacks to Haifa.
The way it started,
there was nothing in Hezbollah's military act, whatever one may think of
it, to justify Israel's massive disproportionate response. Lebanon has had
a long-standing border dispute with Israel: In 2000, when Israel, under
Prime Minister Ehud Barak, withdrew from Southern Lebanon, Israel kept a
small piece of land known as the Shaba farms (near Mount Dov), which it
claims belonged historically to Syria and not to Lebanon, though both
Syria and Lebanon deny that. The Lebanese government has frequently
appealed to the U.S. and others for Israel’s withdrawal from this land,
which has remained the center of friction in Southern Lebanon, in order to
ease the tension in the area and to help the Lebanese internal
negotiations over implementing UN resolutions. The most recent such appeal
was in mid-April 2006, in a Washington meeting between Lebanon's Prime
Minister Fouad Siniora and George Bush.  In the six
years since Israel withdrew from Lebanon, there have been frequent border
incidents between Hezbollah and the Israeli army, and cease-fire
violations of the type committed now by Hezbollah, have occurred before,
initiated by either side, and more frequently by Israel. None of the
previous incidents resulted in Katyusha shelling of the north of Israel,
which has enjoyed full calm since Israel's withdrawal. It was possible for
Israel to handle this incident as all its predecessors, with at most a
local retaliation, or a prisoner exchange, or even better, with an attempt
to solve this border dispute once and for all. Instead, Israel opted for a
global war. As Peretz put it: "The goal is for this incident to end with
Hezbollah so badly beaten that not a man in it does not regret having
launched this incident [sic]." 
government knew right from the start that launching its offensive would
expose the north of Israel to heavy Katyusha rockets attacks. This was
openly discussed at this first government's meeting on Wednesday:
"Hezbollah is likely to respond to the Israeli attacks with massive rocket
launches at Israel, and in that case, the IDF might move ground forces
into Lebanon."  One cannot avoid the conclusion that
for the Israeli army and government, endangering the lives of residents of
northern Israel was a price worth paying in order to justify the planned
ground offensive. They started preparing Israelis on that same Wednesday
for what may be ahead: "'We may be facing a completely different reality,
in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis will, for a short time, find
themselves in danger from Hezbollah's rockets,’ said a senior defense
official. 'These include residents of the center of the country.’"
 For the Israeli military leadership, not only the
Lebanese and the Palestinians, but also the Israelis are just pawns in
some big military vision.
The speed at which
everything happened (along with many other pieces of information)
indicates that Israel has been waiting for a long time for "the
international conditions to ripen" for the massive war on Lebanon it has
been planning. In fact, one does not need to speculate on this since,
right from the start, Israeli and U.S. official sources have been pretty
open in this regard. As a Senior Israeli official explained to the
Washington Post on July 16, "Hezbollah's cross-border raid has
provided a 'unique moment’ with a 'convergence of interests’."
 The paper goes on to explain what this convergence
of interests is:
For the United States, the broader goal is
to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush
administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic
playing field in the Middle East, U.S. officials say.
For the U.S., the
Middle East is a "strategic playing field," where the game is establishing
full U.S. domination. The U.S. already controls Iraq and Afghanistan, and
considers Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and a few other states as friendly
cooperating regimes. But even with this massive foothold, full U.S.
domination is still far from established. Iran has only been strengthened
by the Iraq war and refuses to accept the decrees of the master.
Throughout the Arab world, including the "friendly regimes," there is
boiling anger at the U.S., at the heart of which is not only the
occupation of Iraq, but the brutal oppression of the Palestinians, and the
U.S. backing of Israel's policies. The new axis of the four enemies of the
Bush administration (Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran) are bodies viewed
by the Arab world as resisting U.S. or Israel's rule, and standing for
Arab liberation. From Bush's perspective, he only has two years to
consolidate his vision of complete U.S. control of the Middle East, and to
do that, all seeds of resistance should be crushed in a devastating blow
that will make it clear to every single Arab that obeying the master is
the only way to stay alive. If Israel is willing to do the job, and crush
not only the Palestinians, but also Lebanon and Hezbollah, then the U.S.,
torn from the inside by growing resentment over Bush's wars, and perhaps
unable to send new soldiers to be killed for this cause right now, will
give Israel all the backing it can. As US Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice announced in her visit in Jerusalem on July 25, what is at stakes is
"a new Middle East." "We will prevail" -- she promised Olmert.
But Israel is not
sacrificing its soldiers and citizens only to please the Bush
administration. The "new Middle East" has been a dream of the Israeli
ruling military circles since at least 1982, when Sharon led the country
to the first Lebanon war with precisely this declared goal. Hezbollah's
leaders have argued for years that its real long-term role is to protect
Lebanon, whose army is too weak to do this. They have said that Israel has
never given up its aspirations for Lebanon and that the only reason it
pulled out of Southern Lebanon in 2000 is because Hezbollah's resistance
had made maintaining the occupation too costly. Lebanon's people know what
every Israeli old enough to remember knows -- that in the vision of Ben
Gurion, Israel's founding leader, Israel's border should be "natural",
that is, the Jordan river in the East, and the Litani river of Lebanon in
the north. In 1967, Israel gained control over the Jordan River, in the
occupied Palestinian land, but all its attempts to establish the Litani
border have failed so far.
As I argued in my book Israel/Palestine,
already when the Israeli army left Southern Lebanon in 2000, the plans to
return were ready.  But in Israel's military
vision, in the next round, the land should be first "cleaned" of its
residents, as Israel did when it occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in
1967, and as it is doing now in southern Lebanon. To enable Israel's
eventual realization of Ben Gurion's vision, it is necessary to establish
a "friendly regime" in Lebanon, one that will collaborate in crushing any
resistance. To do this, it is necessary first to destroy the country, as
in the U.S. model of Iraq. These were precisely Sharon's declared aims in
the first Lebanon war. Israel and the U.S. believe that conditions have
now ripened enough that these aims can finally be realized.
Tanya Reinhart is
Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. She is author of
Road Map to Nowhere, to be published by Verso Books in July 2006, and
Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 (Seven Stories
Press, 2002). Visit her website:
Stern, "Nasrallah: Only deal will free kidnapped soliders," Ha'aretz
July 13, 2006.
2) Amos Harel, Aluf Benn and Gideon Alon, "Gov't okays massive strikes on
Lebanon," Ha'aretz, July 13, 2006.
4) Amos Har'el, "Israel prepares for widespread military escalation,"
Ha'aretz internet edition, Last update -- 21:50 12/07/2006.
5) Amos Harel, Jack Khoury and Nir Hasson, "Over 100 Katyushas hit north,"
Ha'aretz July 14, 2006.
"Lebanese PM to lobby Pres. Bush on Israeli withdrawal from Shaba," by
Reuters, Ha'aretz, April 16, 2006:
minister [is] asking U.S. President George Bush to put pressure on Israel
to pull out of a border strip and thus enable his government to extend its
authority over all Lebanese land... 'Israel has to withdraw from the Shaba
Farms and has to stop violating our airspace and water,' Siniora said.
This was essential if the Lebanese government was 'to become the sole
monopoly of holding weapons in the country'.., he added. 'Very important
as well is to seek the support of President Bush so that Lebanon will not
become in any way a ball in the courtyard of others or... a courtyard for
the confrontations of others in the region,' Siniora said. Lebanon's rival
leaders are engaged in a 'national dialogue' aimed at resolving the
country's political crisis, the worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil
war. One key issue is the disarming of Hezbollah... The Shi'ite Muslim
group says its weapons are still required to liberate Shaba Farms and to
defend Lebanon against any Israeli threats."
7) Amos Harel, Aluf Benn and Gideon Alon, "Gov't okays massive strikes on
Lebanon," Ha'aretz, July 13, 2006.
10) Robin Wright, "Strikes Are Called Part of Broad Strategy,"
Washington Post, Sunday, July 16, 2006; A15
12) Tanya Reinhart Israel-Palestine -- How to End the War of 1948,
Seven Stories press 2002, 2005, p. 83-87. See "How Israel left Lebanon,"
www.tau.ac.il/~reinhart (Media articles section).