Bush’s New Frontier

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Bush’s New Frontier in the ‘War on Terrorism’

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis

Israel’s relentless Biblical destruction of Lebanon continues, except that the old Testament calls for "an eye for an eye," while the new Israeli interpretation of vengeance has become ten Arab eyes for one Israeli one.

As of this writing, hundreds of civilians in Lebanon have been killed by Israeli bombing and shelling; over 500,000 are internal refugees. One UN report says the figure is 700,000 — or 18% of Lebanon’s population. Northern Israel’s civilians are still being blasted by unguided Hezbullah rockets. Both acts violate international law.

The recent ravaging of Gaza and now Lebanon are the most egregious example of what the UN calls unlawful mass collective punishment since Serbia unleashed ethnic terrorism on Bosnia and Kosova, and NATO was forced to militarily intervene to halt the carnage.

Europe’s leaders have condemned Israel’s ferocity in Lebanon as totally inappropriate response to Hezbullah border raid. UN Human Rights Commissioner, Canadian Louise Arbour, just warned Israel’s and Hezbullah’s attacks on civilians may constitute "war crimes."

Recently, normally ultra-discreet Switzerland, guardian of the Geneva Conventions, openly warned Israel its collective punishment of Palestine was violating the Conventions.

This latest calamity for long-suffering Lebanon need never have happened. Hezbullah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers was primarily aimed at swapping them for forgotten Hezbullah fighters and Lebanese hostages — as well as some of the 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners — in Israeli prisons, some top-secret hell holes that served as a model for America’s Guantanamo prison.

In provoking this crisis, Hezbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah had a second important objective: shaming fellow Arab leaders for doing less than nothing to protect Palestinians and their democratically-elected Hamas government from Israel’s campaign of devastation and assassinations.

The same Arab nations that refused under US pressure to help the new Palestinian government and save its people from misery and starvation, also were quick, after calls from Washington, to openly criticize Hezbullah for making trouble.

Interestingly, the leader of Iraq’s US-installed government actually came out and condemned the US-sanctioned destruction of Lebanon.

Hezbullah’s provocation is being seen by hawks in Washington and Israel as a welcome pretext to launch their long-planned master strategy to "take down" Syria and then finish with Israel’s primary enemy, Iran. Hezbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah must have known his raid would not only enrage Israel but present the new Olmert government with a challenge it could not refuse.

Israel has long yearned for revenge for being defeated by Hezbullah and run out of Lebanon in 2000. Ever since, it has waged a propaganda war against Hezbullah, branding it an "anti-American terrorist organization linked to al-Qaida." Israel could not tolerate a well-armed, hostile force allied to Iran on its vulnerable northern border.

Just as the blundering Reagan Administration gave Israel in 1982 a green light to invade Lebanon, so the Bush Administration not only blessed Israel’s current laying waste to Lebanon, but is now beating the war drums against Syria and Iran.

Israeli strategists have long believed that a few sharp military blows would shatter Syria’s fragile ethnic/religious mosaic and splinter it, like Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, into tiny cantons and tribal fiefs.

The Bush Administration agreed with this policy but has so far hesitated because it could not find suitable "assets" to put into power in Damascus, and deeply fears Syria’s powerful underground Muslim Brotherhood. But war fever has again gripped Washington, so Syria is squarely in US gun sites.

Israel knows it cannot destroy Hezbullah by bombing and shelling. After all, Israel occupied southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 and could not defeat Hezbollah. The Israelis may manage to assassinate Sheik Hassan, but other capable men will take his place. Since Israel can’t destroy Hezbullah, it seems to be trying to destroy everything around it — what US neoconservatives call "draining the swamp."

But if bombing Lebanon back to the stone age does not work, then Israel may send in commando teams or launch a full-scale invasion. Israeli ground forces are already probing into southern Lebanon, where they are meeting fierce resistance.

To make Hezbullah militarily insignificant, Israel will have to occupy much of Lebanon, and right up to Syria’s borders. Damascus has warned this could bring war. The Bush Administration and Israel have long discussed attacking Syria. Israeli military commentators have said that the current operation in southern Lebanon was planned long before the kidnapping that triggered the latest fighting. So a push into Syria cannot be discounted.

Washington’s neoconservatives have often talked about attacking Iran, the only nation that could break Israel’s nuclear monopoly. But US forces are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. To knock out Iran, Israeli ground and air forces would be needed, and while Israel is ready to deliver heavy air strikes on Iran, sending its ground forces, other than commando troops, to fight Iran seems out of the question.

Bush and the Republican Party are in deepening political trouble over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. America’s important midterm elections are nearing. Bush badly needs a new military "triumph" to boost his sagging fortunes.

Vice President Dick Cheney just proclaimed that the fight against Hezbullah is a "new front" in the war on terrorism. Meaning that Lebanon and, possibly, Syria, could become the war issue that galvanizes Americans and restores the fortunes of the Republicans.

Most Americans cannot distinguish between Hezbullah, Hamas, the PLO, al-Qaida and Taliban. To them, these groups are all dangerous Islamic terrorists attacking the United States. So a "victory" against Hamas would be seen in the US as a major advance in the so-called war on terrorism.

Israel’s leadership is urgently trying to press George Bush to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure before the president leaves office. Bush is so close to Israel’s right wing that some Israelis call him "our president." Bush claims to be a born-again "Christian Zionist." Israel will probably never find a better time to strike at it enemies.

As of Monday, a new scenario is emerging. Washington appears to be trying to organize a NATO force to move into southern Lebanon to fight Hezbollah. Such an operation would duplicate the NATO force sent to southern Afghanistan to fight Taliban. It remains to be seen if Europeans, who are aghast at Israel’s ravaging of Lebanon, will be willing to join this ugly little war and see their soldiers drawn into a no-win conflict with Hezbullah. This week should tell us more about the direction in which the war is heading.

Eric Margolis [send him mail], contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.

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