Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Israel's Invasions

Last Wednesday Hizbollah crossed the UN Blue Line in southern Lebanon, killed three Israeli soldiers, captured two others and demanded the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.

Hizbollah's attack broke the UN rules in southern Lebanon. Geir Pederson, the senior UN official in Lebanon called it a "violent breach" of the Blue Line. It provided the occasion for Israel to open up a second front in Lebanon, parallel to the similar operation that has been delivering air and artillery strikes for the last couple of weeks in Gaza.

Writing from his home in Beiruit, Robert Fisk describes how he could hear the jets all night long, "whispering high above the Mediterranean. It lasted for hours, little fireflies that were watching Beirut, waiting for dawn perhaps, because it was then that they descended.

He writes that "They came first to the little village of Dweir near Nabatiya in southern Lebanon where an Israeli plane dropped a bomb onto the home of a Shia Muslim cleric. He was killed. So was his wife. So were eight of his children....

Also writing from Beiruit, The Guardian's long-time correspondent, David Hirst lamented that Lebanon had been "plunged back into the role it endured for a quarter century and more - that of hapless arena for other people's wars, as well as pawn in the ambitions and machinations of regional players far more powerful than itself."

From Jerusalem, Ha'aretz correspondent Zvi Bar'el didn't see it that way. He accused Lebanese commentators of being "far from attributing to any Lebanese government the ability to disarm Hezbollah or to deploy its forces along the southern border. Therefore, all eyes are turned to the secret talks between Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Lebanon, and less so to the Security Council deliberations."

Rami Khouri, a regular contributor to Beiruit's English language Daily Star, wasn't ready to let the US off the hook so easily:

"You need to understand the relationship among four pairs of actors to grasp the meaning of the escalating attacks by Hamas, Hizbullah and Israel.... The four pairs are Hamas and Hizbullah, the Palestinian and Lebanese governments, Syria and Iran, and Israel and the United States.

"Simplistically, US President George W. Bush has depicted this latest round of war as a clash between good and evil, while the Israeli government has tried to blame Palestinians and Lebanese who only want to make war against a peace-loving Israel. The more nuanced and complex reality is that all the actors in the four pairs collectively play a role in the ongoing fighting, as we witness the culmination of four decades of failed policies that have kept the Middle East tense, angry and violent."

On his way to the G8 meeting in St Petersburg, Prime Minister Steven Harper told reporters "I think Israel's response under the circumstances has been measured."

From the reports we get here in Canada, you would never guess how little agreement there is about the details.

Robert Fisk speculates that "prisoner swaps is probably all that will come of this" and points out that such exchanges Israel and Lebanon have a long history. Fisk concludes that "Hizbollah knows--and Israelis know--how this cruel game is played. How many have to die before the swaps begin is a more important question."

Peace activist and former leftwing Member of Knesset, Uri Avnery insists that
"The real aim is to change the regime in Lebanon and to install a puppet government.

"That was the aim of Ariel Sharon's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It failed. But Sharon and his pupils in the military and political leadership have never really given up on it.

"As in 1982, the present operation, too, was planned and is being carried out in full coordination with the US.

"As then, there is no doubt that it is coordinated with a part of the Lebanese elite.

"That's the main thing. Everything else is noise and propaganda."

On the other front in Gaza, the idea that whatever the fate of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit may be, the Israeli army’s war in Gaza is not about him was confirmed by security analyst Alex Fishman, writing in Yediot Aharonot. Fishman, who favors the elimination of Hamas, says that "The army was preparing for an attack months earlier and was constantly pushing for it, with the goal of destroying the Hamas infrastructure and its government.... The abduction of the soldier released the safety-catch, and the operation began on 28 June with the destruction of infrastructure in Gaza and the mass detention of the Hamas leadership in the West Bank, which was also planned weeks in advance.

Ismail Haniyeh expressed much the same idea a week later in an article for the Washington Post. Corporal Shalit, he said "is only a pretext for a job scheduled months ago."

Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, recalls the strategic vision in a paper written for Benjamin Netanyahu by Richard Perle and a number of influential American neo-conservatives. She argues that that paper, called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," is the key to understanding Israel's current security policy.

Back in Beiruit, Fisk points out that "In past violence of this kind, Syria's power was controlled by Hafez Assad, one of the shrewdest Arabs in modern history. But there are those - including Lebanese politicians - who believe that Bashar, the son, lacks his late father's wisdom and understanding of power." Similar questions have been raised about Ehud Olmert.

Writing in the conservative Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz says,
"Many outside commentators have loudly wondered over the weekend whether a government led by military veterans such as Ariel Sharon or Yitzhak Rabin would have responded to Hizbullah's cross-border onslaught last Wednesday in the way that Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz have. The answe is almost certainly yes."

A more challenging question, according to Horovitz, is whether Nasrallah would have dared authorize the attack had a Sharon or Rabin been in power.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert is not well known outside Israel. At 60, he is a lifelong politician who was first elected to the Knesset at 28. He officially became prime minister in April but had been the acting PM since January when his mentor Ariel Sharon, suffered a massive stroke and was incapacitated.

Even those who hated Ariel Sharon recognized him as a rare individual, especially so when compared to others in that small group of generals who try their hand at politics. He was a far better general than, say, Colin Powell. Brilliant, ideosyncratic, equivocal, brutal. And he was a successful politician. One thinks of Eisenhower, deGaulle. He got away with frequent acts of insubordination and deceit against his superiors. Although he was forced to resign as Defense Minister after the inquiry into Sabra and Shatilla, he was still the individual who made "facts on the ground" a household phrase.

On the other hand, Ehud Olmert is municipal politician who inherited The Master's most ambitious endgame. His military training, especially when compared with almost every other Israeli leader, has been brief. He was injured during his compulsory military service and released early. He completed his military duties as a journalist for the armed forces magazine and was a military correspondent during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

However, speaking of Israel's other prime ministers, Time magazine describes Olmert as "probably the best politician of them all."

A lawyer, a dealmaker, and an inside man, he is a former finance minister and minister of trade and development. He spent two terms as mayor of Jerusalem, concentrating on development and transit issues.

As mayor of Jerusalem between 1993 and 2003, he advocated expanding settlements in the West Bank surrounding the city.

"His Israel is a modern, democratic society, not a biblical re-enactment....He calculated that Israel couldn't rule the Palestinians [in Gaza] and remain a democracy.

In November 2003, he gave a speech foreshadowing Sharon's disengagement plan. Soon after, he gave his views in an interview:

"We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say: we have been won over. We agree with Liberman. There is no room for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All that we want is the right to vote.

"The day they do that, is the day we lose everything. Even when they carry out terror, it is very difficult for us to persuade the world of the justice of our cause. We see this on a daily basis. All the more so when there is only one demand: an equal right to vote.

"The thought that the struggle against us will be headed by liberal Jewish organizations who shouldered the burden of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa scares me."

Olmert lacks the military experience to get away with "floating like a butterfly," so we will probably see a lot of "stinging like a bee." That can have a devastating effect on the home folks, especially if the war isn't over quickly.

Israeli actions in Gaza and Lebanon seem to be similarly designed. In both cases, air and artillery attacks were first unleashed to cut transportation routes and cordon off key areas. The army is now moving in to tighten the noose." In fact, these are textbook invasions. The generals are in charge.

The most obvious problem with this kind of manoeuvre is the civilians killed in bombardments or cut off from supplies like water and food. Olmert may be politically savvy enough not to dismissed civilian deaths as collateral damage, but to understand them as a terminal liability winning hearts and minds in a fourth generation war.Recommend this Post

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