A Foolhardy War

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by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis

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The news about the Mideast most North Americans get is heavily biased by the media’s need to cater to reader prejudices and misconceptions.

To find out what’s really going on in Israel, I turn to that nation’s finest newspaper, Haaretz. Last week, Haaretz columnist Doron Rosenblum wrote a remarkable, explosive analysis that no one would ever dare print in North America, where any criticism of Israel brings a storm of abuse and often terminates careers.

The real cause of the latest Lebanon war, wrote Rosenblum, was not seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbullah, but an earlier TV speech by Hezbullah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, that provoked Israel’s leaders to fury and an act of supreme folly.

Nasrallah taunted Israel’s new triumvirate of PM Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, sneering they were "small" compared to Ariel Sharon. "Adding fuel to the fire," wrote Rosenblum, "Nasrallah emphasized the ‘small’ with his fingers." According to Rosenblum, "bad-tempered" Olmert, "egocentric" Peretz, and "arrogant Halutz" flew into rages at this grave Levantine insult to their manhood, and sought to prove they could out-Sharon Sharon by turning a minor skirmish into an all-out war.

This sounds bizarre, but remember, George Bush Sr invaded Panama after its ruler, Gen. Manuel Noriega, called him as a "wimp."

Israel’s old Lebanese curse just keeps getting worse. A number of respected press agencies have reported the skirmish that triggered this war didn’t occur in Israel, as Israel claims, but just inside Lebanon.

If true, this would hugely embarrass Israel and sink it deeper into the hole it has already dug itself after laying waste Lebanon and killing scores of civilians at Qana with a US-supplied missile.

Israel first claimed it was targeting missile launchers firing from Qana. Its amen chorus in North America went into high volume to justify the attack.

But Israel’s military now admits there were no rockets being fired from Qana the day of the attack. A decade ago, Israeli artillery killed 106 civilians there.

Former US President Jimmy Carter wrote that Israel’s savaging of Lebanon is "inhuman and counterproductive." He echoes world opinion. Israel has become the target of international condemnation.

One of Israel’s finest thinkers, Uri Avnery, says Olmert and Peretz don’t know what they’ve unleashed: "they are not running the war, the war is running them." Like Bush in Iraq, their generals promised them an easy victory and instead produced a human, political and military disaster. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looked even more pathetic than usual after proclaiming a temporary humanitarian cease-fire in Lebanon — which Israel promptly ignored. While pretending to talk peace, she was actually blocking international efforts to impose a cease-fire in the hope that Israel would quickly finish off Hezbullah. She deserves to be fired.

Like well-trained seals, the entire US Senate, and all but eight of 435 Congressmen, voted full support for Israel’s war, even blocking calls to limit civilian casualties.

Israel may dominate Washington, but is having a far tougher time with Lebanon. In a little Thermopylae, Hezbullah’s 3,000 fighters astoundingly held off Israel’s mighty military machine, the world’s fourth strongest, for twenty-seven days so far. Not bad for what Israel calls "a bunch of terrorists." Many Israelis are now questioning the invasion’s logic and objective.

Israel’s latest plan: occupy and depopulate a 20-mile deep chunk of Lebanon to the Litani River until an international force comes in and subdues what’s left of Hezbullah. Israeli armored bulldozers are now busy razing villages in what it calls the "security zone." So far, one million Lebanese — a third of that ravaged nation’s population — have been made refugees by Israel’s bombing and shelling.

Few nations seem prepared to send troops to southern Lebanon without prior agreement with Hezbullah. Israel battled Hezbullah for 18 years, losing nearly 800 men, and ultimately lost the war it began.

Attempts by the US and France to ram a resolution through the Security Council calling on Hezbullah to disarm, but Israel to remain in occupation of southern Lebanon, have been denounced by Lebanon’s US-installed government, Hezbullah, and the Arab League.

The Bush Administration wants other nations to go fight Hezbullah, just as it has managed to arm-twist NATO into fighting Taliban in Afghanistan. France wants to reassert its old colonial influence in Lebanon. But the deeper Israel advances into Lebanon, the more its troops are exposed to Hezbullah attack. Bombing and shelling won’t defeat Hezbullah, which represents a third of Lebanon’s people and is its de facto army. Eighty-seven percent of Lebanese now back Hezbullah. So far, the war has badly backfired for Israel.

Israeli operations are edging dangerously close to Syria. Damascus may be reluctantly forced into the war in spite of its obsolete armed forces. That’s fine with President George Bush who aims to use Israel as a proxy against Iran’s allies, Hezbullah and Syria, sparing US casualties before November elections.

Tiny Lebanon has been shattered, with billions in damage.

It is hard to see how Lebanon, already saddled with crushing debts from rebuilding after the 1980’s war, can ever afford to repair the current devastation. Continuing the war may turn ruined Lebanon into a chaotic, anarchic failed state and incubator for more violent groups.

Those who destroy Lebanon will have to deal with its ugly consequences.

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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