It is Lebanon, not Israel, that faces a threat to its existence in this war
The Franco-US resolution is an absurdity: it would give Israel immunity while denying Lebanon the right to defend itself
Ahmad Samih Khalidi
Thursday August 10, 2006
While it can hardly be comfortable for northern Israel's civilian population to be forced into shelters for four weeks, the physical safety of the overwhelming majority - unlike that of their counterparts in much of Lebanon - has never been seriously at stake. And while Hizbullah's supposed targeting of Israeli civilians has yielded relatively few victims, Israel's repeated "mistakes" in Lebanon have maintained a civilian death rate of about 100 Lebanese to every three Israelis. The opposite side of this coin is that
After yesterday's decision to expand the ground war all the way up to the Litani river and beyond, Israel's constantly shifting war plan is now moving away from its initial relatively cautious phase and has plunged headlong into grand-scale politico-strategic engineering. What Israel now seeks is less of a secure border, and more of a major rearrangement of the Lebanese domestic scene that will crush resistance not only in Lebanon, but by extension in Palestine as well, and wherever else it may exist across the seething Arab Muslim world.
If Hizbullah, as many have argued, is indeed the people of south Lebanon and the voice of Shia Lebanese empowerment, then the Israelis seem to believe that the best means of defeating them is to disperse them, uproot the communities in which they thrive, and destroy the infrastructure that sustains them and provides them with their means of livelihood.
That is why Israel has been pounding away at the Shia areas of south Beirut that Hizbullah evacuated even before the bombing began. That is why it is attacking Shia population centres in the Beka'a valley in the east of the country. And that is why it is deliberately depopulating south Lebanon, driving almost a million civilians northwards in the hope of destroying what remains of the area's infrastructure, so as to make it impossible for its residents to return home any time in the near future. As in Gaza - which has been hit by 12,000 artillery shells over the past six weeks - Israel is creating a system of free fire and buffer zones, where it will be free to act in response to any "provocation".
Sadly, there is really not much new here.
The difference this time is in the purposeful destruction of the social and economic structure of the south, and the rest of the country. With no popular sea to swim in, Hizbullah's fighters will have been denied a secure social base for a long time to come. And now there seems to be the additional goal of creating a new socio-demographic reality in Lebanon, one that will make an impact on the already fragile domestic confessional and sectarian balance. After "cleansing" the south, Israel expects the rest of Lebanon, with support from the international community, to continue the elimination of Hizbullah - politically if possible, but by force of arms if necessary.
And with that comes the threat of a serious meltdown in the Levant that will have inevitable repercussions, from Syria to Iraq with its disaffected Shia masses. And it is precisely because of these grave dangers that the initial Franco-US draft security council resolution is so outrageous.
And why the strongest military power in the region needs another layer of defence via an international force, to secure it from the weakest and least powerful party in the area, is simply beyond argument or reason.
The only conclusion must be that It is also meant to And it is further intended to send a message to Tehran and Damascus that those who act with such violence in Lebanon, as well as Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, are ready to do the same in Iran and Syria as well.
The UN may yet come to its senses, and stitch together a resolution that has a minimum chance of success. Its initial, absurd draft may have been intended to produce a second modified draft that the Arabs, Lebanese and Hizbullah would find very hard to refuse.
But Far from being a war for its survival, Israel has by its actions over the past month .
· Ahmad Samih Khalidi is a senior associate member of St Antony's College, Oxford, a former Palestinian negotiator and the co-author, with Hussein Agha, of A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine (Chatham House, 2006)