HIZBOLLAH'S POLITICAL HEADQUARTERS In Southern Beirut, after Isreel's air strike on July 21.
LET us begin with a supposedly "undisputed" fact:
The official story, told first by the Israeli government and automatically accepted by governments and media outlets across the world, is that Hizbollah is a Muslim fundamentalist, terrorist organisation which periodically lobs shells and rockets into civilian population centres of northern Israel and that, in its latest outrage on July 12, it attacked a border military post inside Israeli territory, killing six Israeli soldiers and capturing two. Having waited several years for "the international community" and the Lebanese government to disarm this "terrorist" organisation, Israel is said to have been finally exasperated by this latest outrage and, acting in self-defence, it decided to retaliate so as to "break Hizbollah" for ever and ever, for the sake of the security of its citizens.
This official version raises some basic questions regarding the character of Hizbollah itself, about the very incident that is supposed to have "provoked" Israel beyond endurance, and about the scope of Israel's "retaliation".
The background to the rise of Hizbollah is instructive, as is its present role in Lebanese politics in general. There is a long history of United States and Israeli military interventions in Lebanon, dating back to the landing of U.S. Marines there in 1958 and including major Israeli invasions in 1978 and 1982, which predate the very formation of Hizbollah. It was in 1978 that Israel first captured a large swath of territory in the predominantly Shia region of southern Lebanon and held it as a self-declared "security zone" until a Lebanese armed resistance movement, led by Hizbollah, put an end to that occupation, except for a mountainside at the point where the borders of Israel and Syria meet with that of Lebanon, known as Shebaa Farms, which Israel has continued to occupy and which therefore continues to be a point of military contention between the occupiers and the resistance.
Hizbollah itself came into being some four years after the invasion of 1982, when Israel occupied about half of Lebanon, destroyed much of Beirut and oversaw the infamous massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps on the outskirts of the city. In its formative phase, Hizbollah drew many of its guerilla fighters from among the relatives of those who had been killed during the Israeli invasions and, throughout its history, it has been based predominantly among the Shias who constitute roughly half the population of Lebanon, the overwhelming majority in the south and the bulk of the urban poor in Beirut itself. Until 2000, it was devoted almost exclusively to fighting the Israeli occupiers. After evicting the Israelis from virtually the whole of southern Lebanon, it entered into Lebanese politics as a party and now has 12 members in Parliament and two in the Cabinet; there are other forces, including wholly secular as well as non-Muslim forces, which are allied with it in a parliamentary bloc. In fact, the list of candidates for the alliance it led during the 2005 elections included five Christians, three Sunni Muslims and a Druze alongside 14 Shia candidates.
A LEBANESE MAN kisses a poster of Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut.
Certain facts stand out in sharp relief here. First, Hizbollah is undoubtedly an Islamicist organisation but it arose not to turn Lebanon into a theocratic state; it arose as a resistance movement against Israeli occupation. That its mass base is exclusively among Shias reflects, in the first pace, the sectarian nature of the Lebanese political chessboard, based as it is on the constitutional arrangements devised by the French colonial authority before its departure, in which every party, except the Left parties, represents an ethnic and/or religious grouping. Moreover, this mass base is owed also to the fact that Shias were the vast majority who lived under Israeli occupation and who inhabit the slums of Beirut.
Second, perhaps the majority of the Lebanese look upon it as a movement of anti-colonial resistance, so that the U.S.-Israeli-British characterisation of it as "terrorist" falls on deaf ears.
Third, Hizbollah certainly arose as a guerilla force but, through an evolution and expansion over two decades, it has become an influential political party in Parliament and the Cabinet, while it also maintains a militia which fights Israel over the little sliver of Lebanese territory which is still occupied. There is no history of Hizbollah ever committing violence against a Lebanese citizen, and though a Christian militia, known as the Southern Lebanon Army (SLA), fought alongside the Israelis during 22 years of full-scale occupation of Lebanon, Hizbollah undertook no acts of revenge or retribution against that client force after its Israeli masters had been forced to withdraw. Most of the fire between Israel and Hizbollah is exchanged not over northern Israel, as the global propaganda machine would have us believe, but over the Shebaa Farms which Israel occupies and which Lebanon considers its own (Syria also claims that little patch of a mountainside).
As for the incident of July 12 which is said to have "provoked" Israel into attacking Lebanon, the primary fact is that Israel holds in its prisons hundreds of Lebanese nationals, most of whom it does not acknowledge and many of whom have been held for well over a decade - not to speak of some 10,000 Palestinians who are currently held in Israeli prisons. Hizbollah is always on the lookout to capture Israelis so that it can then exchange them for some of Israel's Arab prisoners. Such prisoner exchanges have happened in the past, and the current Israeli claim that it does not exchange prisoners is a straightforward lie.
As for the incident of July 12 itself, when Hizbollah is supposed to have attacked a military post inside Isreal, there is reason to be sceptical.
IN THE MOROCCAN capital of Rabat, a protest against Israeli aggression.
The initial report filed by Agence France-Presse (AFP) actually said that "According to the Lebanese police force, the two Israeli soldiers were captured in Lebanese territory, in the area of Aitaa al-Chaab, near to the border with Israel, where an Israeli unit had penetrated in middle of morning."
The Associated Press (AP) gave the same version on July 12: "The militant group Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers during clashes Wednesday across the border in southern Lebanon, prompting a swift reaction from Israel, which sent ground forces into its neighbour to look for them. The forces were trying to keep the soldiers' captors from moving them deeper into Lebanon, Israeli government officials said on condition of anonymity."
This was also the account published in The Hindustan Times the same day: "The Lebanese Shi'ite Hizbollah movement announced on Wednesday that its guerillas have captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon. `Implementing our promise to free Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, our strugglers have captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon,' a statement by Hizbollah said. `The two soldiers have already been moved to a safe place,' it added. The Lebanese police said that the two soldiers were captured as they `infiltrated' into the town of Aitaa al-Chaab inside the Lebanese border."
This line of reporting was completely suppressed after Israel put forward its claim that it was Hizbollah that had attacked its territory, killed its soldiers and kidnapped two others, so that it could claim to be attacking Lebanon in retaliation. We do know that an Israeli tank got blown up in Lebanese territory in the course of that incident. Israelis claim that they had sent that tank to chase the Hizbollah guerillas who had kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Hizbollah, by contrast, claims that the tank was part of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon, got blown up by a landmine, and Israeli soldiers were taken prisoner after a gun battle. Hizbollah's version seems more credible in the light of the reports we have quoted above.
Two soldiers taken prisoner - on Israeli territory, let us grant for arguments' sake.
Israel responds by bombing three runways and fuel depots of Beirut International Airport, all the country's seaports, most highways and roads connecting various parts of the country as well as those leading to Syria, tens of bridges in Lebanon's south and east, factories, army bases, trucks, ambulances, hospitals, schools, television transmitters, the whole of southern Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, Baalbek, other towns, other villages. Six hundred dead, thousands injured. Half a million refugees in the first week. Eight hundred thousand by the end of the second week. At the time of writing, on July 27, one out of five Lebanese citizens has been rendered homeless. Tens of billions of dollars of damage inflicted upon a tiny country, one of the most beautiful and vibrant on this planet of ours, which had only recently pulled itself out, gloriously and with great aesthetic finesse, out of the devastations of a civil war and foreign - Israeli! - occupation. "Lebanon has been put back 20 years," an Israeli general exults on television. Precisely. Because Hizbollah took two prisoners and wanted to exchange them for some Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.
Tzipi Livni, the glamorously dressed Israeli Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, sits in the glare of television cameras and justifies the carnage in suave tones, invoking the "axis of terror and hate created by Iran, Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas that want to end any hope for peace". She says that the best way to retrieve the two captured soldiers "is to destroy totally the international airport of Beirut", so that they are not taken out of Lebanon. "But they can sneak them away in a car," her interlocutor says. "Oh, indeed," says the Israeli Foreign Minister, "This is why we also destroy all the roads in Lebanon leading out of the country." And, one would suppose that a fifth of the Lebanese population is rendered homeless so that Hizbollah has no buildings left to hide those two soldiers; once all the buildings are gone, the Israeli Army will then find those two soldiers, just sitting somewhere out in the open, and bring them home.
It is difficult to say just when the planning for this war began. We know that for well over a year now, senior military officers have been giving a Power Point presentation, the "Three-Week War," to their U.S. counterparts, U.S. think-tanks and pro-Israeli members of the U.S. Congress, selected European diplomats and journalists, spelling out the plans for what is now unfolding. We do not know who was behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, in February 2005, but we do know that the assassination was used by the U.S.-Israeli axis to obtain the withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon (who had come there initially on U.S. and Saudi Arabian promptings, to save Lebanon from the secular Left) and to get the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution calling for the disarming of Hizbollah.
But who in Lebanon was going to be strong enough to disarm Lebanon's most popular political entity? Not the Lebanese government, overwhelmingly inclined towards the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli axis but too weak internally and also much too dependent on Hizbollah itself. So, with the Syrians gone, Israel may itself return, take care of Hizbollah, turn Lebanon into the kind of Israeli protectorate that Jordan already is, and re-occupy southern Lebanon, as in days of yore before Hizbollah threw them out, and re-create there a "security zone" alongside northern Israel, as Amir Peretz, the Labour Party chief and the current Defence Minister of Israel, said a couple of days ago - right up to the Litani river, some 32 km into Lebanese territory, whose water resources Israel covets.
If that were to come to pass, Israel would have achieved all the aims it has been pursuing in Lebanon since the invasions of 1978 and 1982. At that time, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had established its headquarters, camps and institutions in Lebanon, after it had been evicted out of Jordan in 1971, and getting the PLO to leave Lebanon was a major aim, which was realised after the blitzkrieg of 1982 when the U.S. brokered Yasser Arafat's departure to Tunis. However, Syrian forces were already in Lebanon, invited initially by that same Israeli-U.S.-Saudi axis. Israel shot down about a 100 Syrian airplanes during that invasion but the Syrian ground troops remained, and a sort of truce came in force. Syria would continue to occupy its positions but it would also not directly challenge Israel's right to occupy southern Lebanon, while the government in Beirut remained weak in relation to both neighbouring - and occupying - powers.
Hizbollah arose out of this crucible, with the single aim of throwing out the Israelis, and therefore aligned itself with Syria - with converging interests but by no means a creature of Syria, which initially backed not Hizbollah but Amal, a much less militant Shia organisation. Israel could in any case not turn Lebanon into a protectorate at that time, given the Syrian presence on Lebanese territory and major Lebanese elite interests aligned with it.
Since its very inception in 1948, Israel is used to capturing Arab territory and retaining it. The state was created by an act of the U.N. and it immediately proceeded to capture much more territory than it was granted; today's Israel, which most governments of the world recognise, includes that additional occupied territory. In the Six-Day War of 1967, it captured the rest of Palestine and has refused to vacate even an inch of it, despite all the heroic resistance that the Palestinians have mounted; the "disengagement" from Gaza has simply meant turning it all into a mass prison and daily military attacks, which take dozens of Palestinian lives each week. It also captured the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights and never returned it, despite all sorts of Syrian overtures and offers. It returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt only when Egypt bent down on its knees, recognised it, opened itself up to it, took itself out of any Arab resistance to the Zionist design, and in effect became an ally; after Israel launched its ongoing destruction of Lebanon, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak denounced Hizbollah and, pro forma, requested Israel for some restraint.
Hizbollah has been thus far, in some 60 years of Israeli settler-colonial enterprise, the only entity which has through armed resistance forced the Israelis to relinquish any territory that the Jewish state has ever captured. For that unforgivable sin Hizbollah must be punished and destroyed, and Israel's original plan to turn Lebanon into a dependency be implemented, just as brutally as it was attempted in 1978 and 1982.
The Present Context
The historical moment now is auspicious for Israel, in terms of the enormous shifts that have taken place in global politics. Under the guise of the "war on terror", the U.S. is determined to undo whatever losses it had to incur in the days of the Soviet Union-aligned Arab nationalist regimes, and after the fall of the Shah in Iran. Within this larger context, Israel can again make a bid to dominate permanently the entire landmass from the Euphrates to the Nile, and from the shores of the Red Sea to the Turkish border - all the Arab lands, in short, which were once part of the Ottoman Empire. Most of the key Arab governments - those of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and so on - have already been secured for the U.S.-Israeli axis; Libya has been tamed and, with the fall of Iraq, another major adversary is gone. Britain is now fully a part of the U.S.-Israeli axis, and aside from those two countries, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the only one defying the global call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon after what Israel has wrought.
In Germany, we now have a government more closely aligned with the U.S. than any since the days of Chancellor Konrad Adenaur. French President Jacques Chirac regrets that he distanced France from the U.S. plan of action during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and he has been trying to undo his sin ever since. France was therefore a partner of the U.S. in engineering the coup in Haiti that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and was again a key player in getting the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution demanding the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the disarming of Hizbollah. Russia, China and India - strutting like giants in Asia, acting like pygmies in international affairs - issue prim little protests against the killing of four U.N. personnel in Israeli shelling but keep their mouths shut about a fifth of the Lebanese population being made homeless in less than two weeks.
And there is the historical moment within Israel itself. When Ariel Sharon, as Defence Minister, invaded Lebanon in 1982, 20,000 Israelis demonstrated against it and hundreds of serving soldiers and officers joined the protests, some returning their medals won for bravery in previous wars. Now, as the new invasion from the air unfolded, the anti-war demonstration attracted barely 800. Even the pretence of a two-party system no longer functions in Israel. If Sharon ruled Israel as a leader of Likud with Labour in his coalition and under his wing, the new government of Ehud Olmert, a favourite of Sharon, has the Labour chief Amir Peretz, a Sephardic Jew and the grand hope of the Zionist left, as his Defence Minister, executing these policies of mass destruction not just in Lebanon but also in Gaza. With the moral sentiments of most of the population made coarse by decades of occupying other people's lands and killing anyone who resists, virtually the whole nation supports the atrocities in Gaza and Lebanon. Ilan Pappe, a distinguished Israeli historian and commentator, estimates that some 80 per cent of the members of the Knesset have been elected on what he calls "the race ticket". The result is that the marginalised minority in Israel which still keeps alive in its hearts the sense of injustice toward Palestinian victims and the spiritual vision of a different kind of Judaism is condemned to intensities of a moral loneliness which is difficult to imagine for an outsider.
With the exception of parties dominated by the Arab citizens of Israel, all others are agreed that there shall be no withdrawal from all the territories that Israel occupied in 1967, no right of return given to Palestinians uprooted from their homes by Israel's wars, and no equality of citizenship between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel. Kadima, the ruling party, fought the recent elections and won 29 seats on a platform which promised that Israel would retain in perpetuity all the major settlements established after the conquest of the West Bank and the bulk of the territories occupied in 1967. Avigdor Lieberman's party, Israel Our Home, won 11 seats and comprises one of the larger blocs in Parliament on the platform that calls for denying to current Israeli citizens "the right to live in the state on the grounds of religion and race" - a clear promise that, if elected to form the government, Lieberman would no longer allow Muslim and Christian Arab citizens to reside in Israel.
According to a poll published in March 2006 in Haaretz, Israel's most prestigious newspaper, more than two-thirds of Israeli Jews stated that they would not live in the same building with the Palestinian citizens of Israel and 40 per cent believed that "the state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens". With this kind of mentality rampant in the nation, the Israeli state, a regional superpower whose military might dwarfs all other states in the region, feels free to kill and burn as much as it wishes.
"New Middle East"
Behind this historical moment there lies that vision of "the New Middle East" that Condoleezza Rice now mentions in every speech that she delivers on affairs of that region. Risen from the corporate offices of Chevron and the petrodollar industry in general, and serving these days as the U.S. Secretary of State, she dismisses all the destruction of Lebanon over the past two weeks as the "birth-pangs of the New Middle East". As late as July 23 when a sixth of the Lebanese population had been rendered homeless, she dismissed the idea of a ceasefire, saying "we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the New Middle East, not going back to the old one", while President George W. Bush has openly said that he will give Israel all the time and latitude it requires to annihilate Hizbollah. The phrase seems to have become something of a mantra but one may well ask: what, precisely, is this "New Middle East"?
A large number of documents exist written by U.S. rightwing radicals - some of them neoconservative - which spell out the project in great detail, and many of these thinkers and doers of the far right, such as Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, have divided their time between occupying high places in the U.S. government and working for high Israeli officials. The power of the "Israeli lobby" has been much in the news recently because two mainstream Professors from Harvard University and the University of Chicago published a lengthy article documenting that power. There is, in addition, close cooperation between elite U.S. think-tanks and their Israeli counterparts.
The ensuing vision of the "New Middle East" has some key features. In country after country, client regimes are to be imposed, with the force of arms if necessary, on the model of Afghanistan. In the larger countries, such as Iran, violent overthrow of the existing government is envisioned as a prelude to not only the imposition of a client regime but also the break-up of the country along ethnic and denominational lines, as is now unfolding in Iraq; Saudi Arabia itself may be up for such a break-up if the anti-monarchical insurgency cannot be contained within existing political and territorial parameters.
The "rollback of Syria", a favourite phrase of the neocons, has begun with the assassination of Hariri and the forced withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon; Hizbollah is seen as a strategic ally of Syria and its destruction is sought on its own merits as well as in the campaign for that "rollback". As the Iraqi insurgency spreads in provinces adjoining the Syrian border, the urgency to control Syria increases, and President Bashar al-Assad is being told that he can save his skin, and save Syria from invasion, if he cooperates with the U.S.-Israeli axis in Iraq and Lebanon, and if he breaks his alliance with Iran. Part of the demands on Syria is that it cooperate in the construction of an oil pipeline from Kirkuk in Iraqi Kurdistan to Israel, through Syrian territory - this, while Israel continues to occupy Syrian territory in the Golan.
The U.S.-Israeli axis perceives two types of remaining impediments. At the level of state formation, only the regimes of Iran and Syria remain which are to any degree still independent, though both have cooperated with the U.S., notably in Iraq where the U.S.-sponsored and Shia-dominated regime would have been impossible without extensive collusion on the part of Iran. Syria has likewise provided key information to the U.S. in its pursuit of the Iraqi resistance and has even hosted the U.S. offshore torture chambers. Yet, both have their own distinct national interests which clash with those of the U.S. and Israel, and a complicated game of coercion and concession is being played, but with the aim of emasculating both, with "regime change" and even invasion looming on the horizon.
The more immediate threat is perceived to come from a variety of non-state but armed actors, notably the Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and such entities elsewhere as Muqtada al Sadr's militia, the Sadr Brigade, in Iraq. Each of these three "enemies" arose outside the authorised structures of the nation-state formation, as militias and then as full-fledged guerilla forces; each has eventually decided to participate in the political process in their respective areas and even in government formation. Hamas was actually elected to governmental power; Hizbollah and Muqtada's forces also have substantial presences in the current, newly erected political structures of Lebanon and Iraq respectively. However, each of them participates in rituals of the state in pursuit of strategic advantage and each would be perfectly content to withdraw into the arena of guerilla warfare if its legitimate political aims are blocked in the political arena and/or it comes under military siege.
Moreover, each of them draws its main mass base from among the slum-dwellers, the unemployed and the pauperised, the proletarianised masses making a precarious living in the so-called "informal economy", the direct victims of past aggressions, relatives of the dead and the injured, the wretched of the earth. They have been uprooted from their traditional ways of life and religion serves for them as an opiate for their wounds, as the soul of a soulless world, as the encyclopaedic compendium of the knowledge of this world, as promise of a better one. They are neither state functionaries nor bourgeois, hence cannot be bribed into submission. They must be annihilated.
These armies of the poor are also seen by the U.S.-Israeli axis as flanks for the Iranian and Syrian regimes, and since the imperial imagination is incapable of seeing slum-dwellers as being autonomous subjects of their own history they are perceived as "agents" of the regimes which give them some rudimentary weapons for their own reasons. That there are practical relationships between Hizbollah and the Iranian and Syrian regimes is undeniable, but what the U.S.-Israeli axis does not comprehend is that there is a convergence of interests and convictions, not a relationship of clientalism. Nor can they perceive that the mass base of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Basij militia in Iran is exactly the same as that of Hamas in Palestine and Hizbollah in Lebanon: the rejects of capital and empire. The U.S.-Israeli axis believes that if the militias elsewhere can be beaten to pulp, Iran will lose its flanks and can then be dealt the final blow. All this is expected to be in place over the next couple of years and Olmert has said that he will declare Israel's "final" borders sometime by 2010.
The state of Israel is now close to 60 years old and already the pre-eminent power in the region, but it is also the only state in the world, and so recognised by the world system, that has never revealed what its borders are. The borders it had achieved for itself by 1967 are simply called "the Green Line", because it expects to annex more territory from the Palestinian population that it occupies as well as from its neighbours. Olmert's promise that he will declare Israel's "final" borders in a few years is premised on the belief that the U.S.-Israeli project for the "New Middle East" shall have been realised by then, and those "final" borders are likely to include not only the areas within the "Green Line" but also much of the Palestinian West Bank as well as parts of Syrian and Lebanese territories. That is what Hamas and Hizbollah, with their little armies of the poor and their rudimentary weapons, are up against. A new, sanitised phrase seems to have become very fashionable over the past few months to encapsulate this confrontation between vast imperial armies and little bands of nationalist soldiers: "asymmetrical warfare."
In this "New Middle East", reduced to a patchwork of ethno-religious entities, the whole history of oil nationalisations shall be reversed, control over oil resources of the region shall be transferred to the petrodollar corporations of the core capitalist countries, primarily the U.S. and Britain, and Israel's "energy security" shall be guaranteed, as part of the Jewish state's national security. Moreover, the water and land resources of Palestine shall come under permanent Israeli control, and the water resources of Lebanon may also be partially diverted for use in Israel. Various military arrangements are envisioned for the realisation of this project.
The U.S. itself has taken the main responsibility for Iraq and Israel is doing the same in Lebanon, while the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is already embroiled in Afghanistan and is now being slated for a very large role in Lebanon after Israel has finished off with Hizbollah, destroying much of the country in the process. Britain is already in the U.S. pocket, Chirac has become extraordinarily belligerent on issues of "terror" emanating from the Middle East (West Asia) and North Africa, and, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in toe, there is now emerging a new definition of NATO's global responsibilities. Its expansion "eastward" now means not only in the direction of Russia but also towards West Asia.
A NATO-Israel protocol was signed in Brussels in November 2004 whereby closer cooperation was envisaged and Israel was invited to participate in military exercises and "anti-terror manoeuvres" with NATO, along with some Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Algeria. Under this aegis, joint exercises of U.S., Israeli and Turkish forces did take place in the eastern Mediterranean, off the Syrian coast, in January 2005. Similar exercises were held for Israel with a larger number of NATO countries the following month and have since then become a regular feature. The premise of this growing integration of Israel into NATO is that Israel is under threat from the same sources which pose a threat to NATO countries - and, in deed, to their selected clients in the Arab world itself.
Hizbollah Plays the Spoiler
In the fatefully consequential year of 1967, Israel fought a swift war and not only destroyed the air forces of Egypt and Syria but also captured the remaining Palestinian territories as well as Syria's strategic Golan Heights and Egypt's vast Sinai peninsula, placing its armour on the embankments of the Suez Canal - all in a matter of six days. Subsequently, it invaded Lebanon at will and imposed upon the country whatever arrangements suited its purposes. All through these years, it has killed, maimed, kidnapped, imprisoned as many Palestinians as it wished, while the loss of even a couple of Israeli lives in retaliation became the reason for more bombings, killings, kidnappings and so on. Thus it has been, and Israel's arrogance of power is based on concrete historical experience.
The notable feature of Israel's current onslaught against Lebanon is that it began with the usual, made-for-television spectacle of mass destruction of civilian populations and infrastructure that has become the norm in recent years, reaching a particularly high-pitched crescendo in the "Shock-&-Awe" U.S. blitzkrieg against Baghdad in the opening days of that invasion. Much of the Lebanese national infrastructure was destroyed in a matter of days, as were the habitats of hundreds of thousands people in southern Beirut and other Lebanese cities; half a million refugees were generated in a week in a country half the size of Uttaranchal and more sparsely populated than it.
On the ground, however, the supposedly invincible Israeli Army simply could not move even half a kilometre without casualties. Hizbollah had evidently mastered the Vietminh-style art of laying landmines and building underground bunkers and tunnels for guerillas to operate from. From the skies, they destroyed cities and villages alike but, on the ground, they had to fight fierce battles to capture even single villages, inflicting but also taking casualties. Used to being masters of the West Asian skies for half a century, they could not intercept the ramshackle short-range missiles of Hizbollah, which fell at the rate of hundred a year on Israeli soil - for the first time in the history of the imperious Jewish state.
During its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel had shot down over a 100 Syrian aircraft without losing one of its own (U.S.-supplied, of course). Now, when Hizbollah could not even imagine having an air force of any kind, Israel lost four Apache helicopters and an F-16 jet - state-of-the-art U.S. hardware - during the first 10 days of its invasion: a stunning first in the history of Israel's perpetual assaults on Arab lands. As the Israeli attacks began, their generals announced on television that they are going to "eliminate" Hizbollah and Western newsprint was ablaze with headlines saying that Bush had given Israel a week to do the eliminating, knowing that pressure to impose a ceasefire shall soon mount internationally. By the end of the second week, Israeli ground forces had made no significant progress while casualties were mounting beyond the endurance of the Israeli population which is used to not only victories but also victories without any significant casualties of their own; only the others are supposed to die. Israel had amassed troops on the Lebanese border with the assumption that Hizbollah shall be rendered powerless soon enough and the Israeli forces shall move quickly up to at least the Litani river.
With no significant progress on the ground and Israeli soldiers dying each day, while the Israeli government itself starting to talk not of "eliminating" Hizbollah but "weakening" it and "pushing" it farther away from the Israeli border, there began another kind of parade on Israeli television: retired high military brass and "experts" coming forward to say that the whole plan had been misconceived, that it needed re-thinking and so on. The latest news, before this article goes to press, is that Israel has "halted" its much-awaited "ground assault" in Lebanon but has called up three full divisions of reservists for active military duty. Only the next few days will tell whether Israel will play safe and hope that the U.S. will arrange for a NATO force to occupy southern Lebanon on its behalf (with the consent of the Lebanese government), or will undertake that ground offensive later, with more massive forces.
When Israelis began shelling an area in southern Lebanon which had U.N. personnel in it, the U.N. Deputy Secretary-General contacted them 10 times to request cessation of the bombardment and an Irish military officer warned them six times; despite all these requests and warnings, the bombing continued and four U.N. personnel were killed in a direct hit. By the time U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Rome to attend the G8 Summit (plus Arab emissaries) to discuss the Lebanese situation, he was furious and demanded an immediate ceasefire; the Americans had already vetoed his bid to have his post as Secretary-General renewed, and they had dragged his name in mud on the issue of his son's involvement in the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, so he had nothing to lose. But he was then joined by everyone demanding a ceasefire, so that the U.S. and Britain found themselves isolated. The Israelis had had two weeks and they had simply not delivered, and, defiant as ever, Bush simply announced that he was going to give the Israelis as much time as they needed to do whatever they have planned. The Rome meeting ended in a fiasco, the so-called "international community" having made no decisions except to leave the Lebanese to the mercies of Israel.
Hence the season of leaks. It is said that much is going on behind the scenes. That there shall be a multinational force of perhaps as many as 20,000 or 30,000, led by Turkey or Germany or both, and involving contingents from a variety of countries, including India, Pakistan and Egypt. That it will start arriving in 60 days (plenty of time for Israel to do as it wishes) and the rest shall trickle in later. That its job shall be not to "disarm" Hizbollah but to re-locate it far away from the Israeli border. Whether that force shall be "led" by the U.N., or "mandated" by it but "led" by another country, or assembled and "led" by NATO is unclear, even in these leaks.
None of it can happen without simultaneous agreement of the Israeli and the Lebanese governments, and the latter has no power to agree to anything not acceptable to Hizbollah. If that fragile government is forced to proceed without the consent of Hizbollah, the government will fall and, with political vacuum at home and Israelis pounding the country from the outside, Lebanon may gradually return to a sectarian civil war, an outcome that Israel shall greatly welcome because Hizbollah then can be sucked into fighting that civil war and relieve the pressure on Israel; Israel, in turn, can then start arming yet another rightwing Maronite militia, as in the past.
The catch in all this is that the situation within Lebanon has changed drastically over the past decade or more. Having been brought up under the dark shadow of a civil war fought by a previous generation and fuelled in part by the Israelis, the new-generation Lebanese, who have seen their country go from rubble to prosperity, have no stomach for another civil war. There is undoubtedly a Far Right as well as a pro-Israeli elite which would like to see Hizbollah wiped off the face of the earth. But those forces no longer dominate Lebanese society as they did in the past. Most Lebanese view Hizbollah as a legitimate part of their national polity, and even its enemies have no sense of a blood feud against it, since it has never taken any Lebanese lives. As Azmi Bishara, the distinguished Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, wrote recently in the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, everything now depends on Lebanese unity; if that goes, everything goes.
Having come into Lebanon after being driven out of it with the force of arms, Israel cannot now retreat from this fight. Only the coming days shall show whether there is going to be a long-drawn-out war of attrition or a massive land assault; massive destruction through aerial bombings shall in any case continue, since that kills the Lebanese with no risk of Israeli casualties. Israel has claimed that Iranian arms are being brought to Hizbollah through Syria and it has gone to great lengths in asserting that it has carried out forensic tests which show that some of the most lethal rockets that have been fired by Hizbollah into Israel are of Syrian manufacture. This alone can be used as a justification for mounting an attack on Syria, or even Iran. Hence the Syrian-Iranian Summit in Damascus which is going on even as I write these lines.
Invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are behind us, possible invasions of Syria and Iran are perhaps ahead of us, Lebanon is currently at the heart of the Zionist-imperial offensive. Meanwhile, a dozen or more keep getting killed in Palestine every week, a hundred or more in Iraq every day. The bloodlust of the imperium is unrelenting.
In conclusion, an odd fact. The severest condemnation of Israel's destruction of Lebanon that any Arab government handed out came not from Saudi Arabia, the Keeper of Islam's Holy Places, nor from Egypt, the largest and most powerful country in the Arab world, but from the U.S.-occupied Iraq where the U.S.-confected Parliament passed a unanimous resolution of outrage against Israel's action and the U.S.-appointed Prime Minister openly joined Syrian and Iranian demand for an immediate ceasefire. A sign of the times yet to come?