August 14, 2006
Round one: Lebanon, 1 – Israel, 0
We hear much about "the cycle of violence" in the Middle East, with liberals and conservatives wailing that it needs to be "broken," but never do they say who started this "cycle," or whose brazen coercion and outright viciousness keeps it going. Yet even as the Israelis were approving UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which demands a cease-fire in Israel's war of aggression against Lebanon, the IDF was launching a huge offensive, and within minutes of the Israeli cabinet vote, the bombs were falling on Beirut. Right up until the last moment – 7 a.m., Monday morning – they were killing as many Lebanese as they could. And people wonder why Arabs teach their children to hate the Israelis. The feeling, rest assured, is mutual.
News of the Lebanese denouement is being covered as one would report a soccer match, with the gist of the story being "Who won?" Both sides claim "victory." This is typical of the region, where chest-beating bravado long ago overshadowed efforts to reach a peaceful settlement. Alright, then, so who "won"? The answer, at least as far as the first round, is Hezbollah, and, standing behind them, the government of Lebanon.
Take a look at Resolution 1701: it is quite a lengthy document, which goes well beyond the call for a cease-fire and lays the groundwork for a comprehensive solution to the current crisis in the Middle East – one in which Israel gains not an inch. If implemented – and that, of course, is the key – it endorses the seven-point program of the Lebanese government, first put forward at the international conference of July 26. This means a mutual exchange of prisoners – not only the two Israeli soldiers, but the many Lebanese still being held by the Israelis – and the return of the disputed Shebaa Farms enclave to Lebanon. Resolution 1701 also harkens back to the 1989 Taif Agreement, brokered by the Arab League, that put the West's imprimatur on the Syrian "occupation," ending the Lebanese civil war.
When 1701 endorses the efforts of the Lebanese government "to extend its authority over its territory, through its own legitimate armed forces, such that there will be no weapons without the consent of the Government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon," consider that Hezbollah's political arm has two ministers in this government.
The Lebanese army, furthermore, is urged to take control of southern Lebanon: and, in tandem with this, Hezbollah is to be "disarmed." But who, exactly, is in this army? Lebanon's military recruiters will have a field day, as the ranks of the armed forces swell with Hezbollah fighters. The resolution orders the Israelis out of south Lebanon, and invites Hezbollah back in.
Remember, Hezbollah is not some foreign force, or even an Iranian "proxy," as the Israelis (and George W. Bush) aver: it is a Lebanese institution, by far the best organized political force in the country – and one that now has the overwhelming support of the populace. The Israelis have not only lost militarily – in the sense that Hezbollah fought the IDF to a draw – they has also lost politically, within Lebanon, where they have alienated their former allies by bombing Christian neighborhoods. As the Washington Post reports:
"Israel's ferocious bombing has rallied many more Lebanese around Hezbollah, regardless of politics or religion, said Gen. Antoine Lahd, who led a now defunct militia that helped Israeli troops police the occupation zone before they withdrew six years ago.
"Beirut's leading newspaper, An-Nahar, has long been critical of Hezbollah – especially its harassing rocket attacks on Israel before the war began – but it urged all Lebanese to stand behind Nasrallah's group to achieve victory against the Jewish state."
The events surrounding Israel's second invasion of Lebanon underscore the utter isolation of the U.S. and Israel in the face of universal opposition: we are getting a taste of what it would be like if the Americans went along with Tel Aviv's strategy of a U.S.-Israeli alliance against the world. As the divergence between American and Israeli interests widened, the former blinked – and reined in the latter. But for how long?
That is the question we face as the cease-fire takes effect, and expectations are low. Condoleezza Rice anticipated this on Sunday, when she said there would no doubt be "skirmishes" but hoped that the major fighting would end. We can see, however, that it takes very little for a "skirmish" to turn into an all-out war: this, after all, is what precipitated the present conflict to begin with – a border skirmish between the IDF and Hezbollah, which Israel used as a pretext to put into operation its long-standing plan to take out Hezbollah.
The plan backfired, and badly, not only militarily but also politically. To begin with, it undermined support for Olmert's government within Israel. As the war went on, support for the Kadima-led coalition declined significantly, as did Olmert's personal popularity. This precipitated the Israeli decision to accept 1701.
The invasion also dealt a blow to the Israel lobby's efforts to retain control of American policy in the Middle East at a time when that stranglehold is being challenged as never before. Though subjected to a sharp attack by neoconservative guru Richard Perle for suggesting negotiations with Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program, the American secretary of state now looms all the larger in the Washington firmament, after having successfully chaperoned 1701 to its debut. This is, in effect, her debut – and, so far at least, she is the shining queen of the ball. Whether it all ends as did Carrie's night at the prom, in the famous American horror movie of the same name, remains to be seen; for the moment, at least, Secretary Rice is riding high.
That means the neocons are still bleeding and reeling from the wounds inflicted on their power and prestige by the near-meltdown of the American occupation in Iraq. The balance of power in Washington is shifting, as the reality of what professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt call "the Lobby" reveals itself. What was chiefly notable, during this little episode, was the laughable crudity of the Lobby's propaganda. As Ken Silverstein acerbically remarked:
"With nearly one thousand people killed in Lebanon, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has outdone itself – spinning press releases with a mastery of the form that could bring a tear to the eye of even the most hardened and cynical flack.
"Exhibit one is a July 27 memo entitled 'Beirut Largely Unscathed as Israel Targets Hezbollah Strongholds,' in which AIPAC suggested that IDF forces were using state-of-the-art technology to wage a surgical bombing campaign that spared civilians. Despite large-scale destruction in Beirut and beyond, AIPAC cheerily noted that 'an overwhelming majority of the city remains untouched' and lauded Israel for dropping 'leaflets and taking other measures to urge civilians to leave the area.'"
The American public watched, aghast, as the Israelis heedlessly slaughtered Lebanese civilians and leveled the country's infrastructure, and, for the most part, they didn't like what they saw. The polls show decidedly mixed results, but what it comes down to is this: Americans are about evenly split when it comes to their stance toward Israel's actions in the Middle East. About half want us to side neither with the Israelis nor the Arabs, and a plurality disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation, which, as we all know, is to give unconditional support to Israeli aggression. An ABC/Washington Post poll shows a plurality in favor of the proposition that Israel and Hezbollah are equally to blame for the outbreak of hostilities.
This is a defeat for Israel on every level: militarily, politically, and diplomatically. It is also a stunning setback for the War Party, which is already falling back on the argument that its platform, far from being discredited, was never acted on in the first place. As Jim Lobe points out, they are directing their fire at the Israelis for not killing enough Lebanese, and, now, for signing on to the cease-fire.
They may be down, but they are not out – not by a long shot. The cease-fire is fragile, and as we have seen, the Israelis are adept at provoking minor incidents and then blowing them out of proportion to carry out their preexisting agenda. However, in the developing regional conflict pitting Israel and the U.S. against Iran and Syria, we have to award round one to the latter. And for that, Tel Aviv and Washington have no one to blame but themselves.
As usual, Seymour Hersh has the inside dope, and he depicts Israel's failed blitz as a dress rehearsal for the main event: an American confrontation with Iran. Once again, as in the run-up to American's war with Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney and his office were among the chief instigators. Hersh reports:
"Cheney's point, the former senior intelligence official said, was 'What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it's really successful? It'd be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon.'"
If this dress rehearsal is any indication of how the show will be received once it hits the big time, then remember: this administration has been duly warned. As have the Democrats, who tried to outflank the GOP by being more royalist than the king on the question of unconditional support for Israeli aggression. Let those famed "antiwar" candidates the Democratic Party is fielding for Congress this summer come out against U.S. war plans for Iran – then, and only then, can we afford to breathe a sigh of relief.