Lebanon Agonistes

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In 1982, an
unusual sight appeared on the Mediterranean horizon. Like the death
ship in Star Wars, a World War II battleship threatened the Lebanese
shore. US naval spokesmen claimed the USS New Jersey was the most
fearsome artillery platform on the high seas. The Reagan administration
had re-commissioned her and a few other seagoing dinosaurs to pursue
gunboat diplomacy from Nicaragua to Iran. The New Jersey’s advance
propaganda impressed the Lebanese, who had already endured seven
years of civil war, Syrian occupation and two Israeli invasions.
The sixteen-inch guns aboard the New Jersey, the Navy said, would
send payloads the size of Volkswagens to clear areas big as football
fields. Why a Volkswagen rather than a small Ford was never explained,
anymore than whether the football referred to was the kind the Lebanese
or the Americans played. A Marine officer I knew pointed at the
summit of Mount Lebanon above Beirut one day. He told me that, if
the New Jersey fired at that mountain, it wouldn’t be there anymore.
It seemed an extravagant claim, but most of us were willing to believe
him – until the New Jersey actually fired.

When the New
Jersey unleashed its Volkswagens on 14 December 1983, we saw flames
a mile away shoot out of its muzzles. What we didn’t see was much
destruction – not by Lebanese standards anyway. A few houses in
the Druze hills of the Shouf were demolished. Hundreds of people,
mostly Shiites and Druze, died. The summit of Mount Lebanon remained
intact. There were no flying Volkswagens, no football fields. The
Lebanese, faced with a bluff called, lost their fear of the New
Jersey and, indeed, of the United States. They continued blowing
up American embassies and military barracks. By February 1984, the
New Jersey killed a Syrian army general while covering the "redeployment"
of the Marines from Beirut. The Marines were ordered to abandon
Lebanon and the French, British and Italian allies that Secretary
of State George Schultz had conned into joining them in Lebanon
as the so-called Multi-National Force. US spokesmen insisted that
redeployment did not mean retreat. It looked like retreat to us
in Lebanon, especially when the fleet and the Marines next redeployed
to the United States. The New Jersey was mothballed in 1991, the
year the US threw Iraq out of Kuwait and invited the Syrians to
end the war by assuming control of most of Lebanon.

The biggest
military mistake the Americans made in Lebanon was to use the New
Jersey. As a threat, she caused fear. In reality, she caused a bit
of damage. I won’t go into the political mistakes, which were so
many that the Reaganite Mideast specialists almost make George W.
Bush’s neo-cons look competent (I said, almost). An army can frighten
people with a devastating weapon, until it uses it. Israel has used
its weapons so often in Lebanon that the Lebanese don’t care. They
are suffering, but they are standing up to the displacement of a
half million people and the loss of many hundreds of men, women
and children. "The resistance isn’t playing the role of victim,"
Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian Arab Member of the Israeli Knesset wrote
in Al Ahram Weekly. "It didn’t ask for international sympathy
with the victims but for solidarity among freedom-seeking peoples."
So, what other tricks can Israel perform that are not old-hat to
the Lebanese? Bombardment? The Israelis have been bombing Lebanon
since the late 1960s. Invasion? They played that card in 1978 and
1982 and left a thousand soldiers dead on the field before they
withdrew in 2000. What’s left in the arsenal? Occupation, again?
The Lebanese realized sometime in 1983 that Israeli soldiers on
Lebanese soil were not ferocious warriors so much as targets. Israel
could give them more targets, like the eight or nine Israeli soldiers
who died on Wednesday in the small Shiite border village of Bint
Jbeil (a place that made shoes until Israel occupied and nearly
emptied it in 1978).

Israeli propaganda,
except in the United States where there isn’t any other kind, doesn’t
work its old magic. In 1982, a few people may have believed that
Ariel Sharon sent his troops into Lebanon to avenge the wounding
of Israel’s ambassador to Britain, but no one is falling for the
ruse that the current devastation is an operation to rescue two
captured Israeli solders. The planners are having such problems
with that slender pretext that, unusually, they have yet to give
this mission a name. The operation that dare not speak its name
has yet to join its immediate predecessors, Operation Accountability
in 1993 and Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996, in the list of creatively
branded onslaughts. How about calling this one Operation Infinite
Repetition?

Operation Cover-Up
might do, given that the soldiers scurrying into Lebanon and being
shot by Hizballah today are trying to make up for the incompetence
of officers who let three men under their command be captured by
Hamas and Hizballah. Where is the American taxpayer’s money going
if officers cannot keep their troops from abduction by young guerrillas
whom they watch day and night with the most sophisticated technological
eavesdropping devices that American-Israeli genius can produce?
If the army had not been so careless, they would not now be bombing
the hell out of Gaza and Lebanon – unless, of course, the politicians
wanted to bomb the hell out of Gaza and Lebanon anyway. If so, what
better excuse than a few missing in action?

The prescient
Mideast scholar Patrick Seale wrote in the Saudi-owned newspaper
Al Hayat on 21 July, "By their cross-border raids and the capture
of three Israeli soldiers, Hizballah and Hamas humiliated the Israeli
army and dented its deterrent capacity. In Israeli eyes, this cannot
go unpunished." But who should be punished and who should be
approached with an offer to save the soldiers’ lives? Perhaps punish
the high command for its negligence. Maybe approach Hamas and Hizballah
for a trade of the kind Israel and its adversaries have made often
– the last time in 2004, when a foolish, allegedly retired Israeli
army major allowed himself to be taken in Beirut and Israel freed
400 prisoners to get him back. Israel knows it can pick up another
400 anytime it wants, so what’s the problem? At the moment, it holds
almost 10,000 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners and detainees.
Using the 2004 ratio as a guide, the quick release of 1,200 detainees
would do the trick without costing a single life.

Prime Minister
Ehud Ohlmert has come clean with added objectives for Operation
Untitled. On 15 July, his spokeswoman Miri Eisen told Agence France
Presse, "The Prime Minister is prepared to finish our operations
in Lebanon if Hezbollah releases our two soldiers, stops its rocket
fire and if the Lebanese Government decides to implement UN Security
Council resolution 1559." The resolution requires the disarmament
of all militias in Lebanon. That means Hizballah, because the other
militias disarmed under Syrian pressure years ago. Hizballah claimed
however that its armed wing was a resistance movement – the
only one capable of protecting south Lebanon from Israeli attack
– and not a militia. On 21 July, another spokesman added a
new Israeli shopping item, "One of the conditions for a ceasefire
is that Hezbollah no longer receives arms supplies from Iran and
Syria once it is enforced." As Operation Save the High Command
annihilated Lebanon’s post-war infrastructure – the airport,
roads, bridges, army bases, clinics, telecommunications networks
and lots of houses – without achieving anything, Ohlmert added
a new condition: a NATO force in south Lebanon to stop Hizballah
from hitting Israel. How about a force in north Israel to protect
Lebanon?

This
will go on and on. When Operation Get-Even ends, the respite may
last a year or so. There will be other crises, other kidnappings
by both sides, other murders, other wars. And it will not stop until
Israel makes peace on terms that the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors
have said they will accept: enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution
242 and the end of Israeli land confiscations in the West Bank.
If you think the land grab is over, ask the Palestinians whose property
is fenced off and seized for the Israeli settlers almost daily.
If you think Israel is content to leave the natives alone to get
along with it, ask the Bedouin of the Negev desert (who serve in
the Israeli army and have been loyal citizens) about the creative
deployment of the Monsanto-manufactured herbicide Roundup Ready
to destroy their crops so they will abandon their ancestral lands
once and for all. Goat by goat, dunum by dunum, the old Zionist
adage went, the settlers redeem the land. As the Arabs lost their
goats and their dunums of land, they got bullets and bombs.

This article
originally appeared on CounterPunch.

August
1, 2006

Charles
Glass [send him mail]
is the author, most recently, of The
Northern Front
. See his
website
.

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