Blackmail by bombs
Israel's determination to unbalance the Lebanese equation has been long in the planning, writes Azmi Bishara. All they were waiting for was an auspicious time
Any comparison between Olmert's and Nasrallah's political rhetoric must conclude that the latter is the more rational. His speeches are more consistent with the facts and rely less than Olmert's on religious expressions and allusions. Nasrallah would never dare seal a parliamentary speech with a lengthy prayer, as Olmert did in his latest speech before the Knesset.
Israeli politicians have no cultural or moral edge over resistance leaders. The latter are far less attached to Iran than the former are to the US, and Hizbullah's constituency is less attached to Iran than the organised Jewish community abroad is to Israel.
The people who unleashed the brutal war against Lebanon are neither intelligent nor courageous. Quite the opposite; they are mediocrities, cowards and opportunists, but they happen to have military superiority. And they possess the keys to the machinery of a state, a real state, one that is secure in its identity, that has clear national security goals and channels of national mobilisation, as opposed to a long deferred project for statehood and a states built on the fragmentation of national identity. On the other side is a resistance movement operating in the context of a denominationally organised society, a Lebanese government neutralised to everything but sectarianism, and an Arab order parts of which are rooting for Israel to do what it is incapable, or too embarrassed, to do itself, which is to deal with the resistance as a militia because it foregrounds their own lack of national and popular legitimacy.
Israel has nothing to show for ten days of barbaric vandalism and the deliberate targeting of civilians. It cannot claim a single military victory against the Lebanese resistance. It can, though, point proudly to whole residential quarters that have been reduced to rubble, to the burned out hulks and ruins of countless wharfs, factories, bridges, roads, tunnels, electricity generators and civil defence buildings. In terms of explosive and destructive power Israel has thrown an atom bomb on Lebanon, it is the Israeli Hiroshima.
True, Israel suffers a paucity of intelligence on the whereabouts of Hizbullah members, which is why it has been targeting the homes of their families. But this does not justify the systematic bombardment of Lebanese society, and the attempts to destroy its economy. This is the epitome of terrorism: the incitement of terror in a civilian populace by unleashing massive violence and destruction against it in an attempt to compel the people's political leaders to act against the Lebanese resistance or to change their positions.
The current Israeli assault against Lebanon has nothing to do with freeing two captured soldiers. That is a purely tangential concern, and Israel will probably agree to a prisoner exchange when the time comes. Of prime concern, on the other hand, is an agenda that has bearings on Lebanese domestic, as well as American agenda for regional, politics.
The issue is not why the resistance chose this particular time for its operation. Timing, here, becomes another pretext for vilifying the resistance and justifying the aggression. The fact is that, over the past few months, the resistance made several attempts to capture Israeli soldiers. The difference is that its last attempt succeeded. Also, the Israeli soldiers that died in this operation were not killed in combat, but rather because their tank rolled over a landmine while pursuing the kidnappers. A more important question is why Israel choose this time to launch a full scale attack?
The timing is an Israeli-American one. And the answer resides with the Arabs and the US, and their inability to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and dismantle the Lebanese resistance with Arab tools. So Israel stepped forward. The only difference between today and the earlier bombardments -- the "Day of Reckoning" and "Grapes of Wrath" between 1993 and 1996 -- is that Syrian forces are no longer present in Lebanon. Instead there is an American-sponsored project for the country, involving the rest of the Arab world, which was to change the structure of government in Lebanon and transform it into an ally of the US, a good neighbour to Israel and a participant in US- oriented alliances in the region.
The project took off following the assassination of Al-Hariri, but in recent months it had run aground as it became increasingly clear that the Arabs had no practical means to keep it afloat. What kept discussions in Beirut from collapsing completely was the fact that the only alternative was internal violence and civil war. But while it was obvious that the talks were useful in keeping violence at bay and, hence, good for the tourist season, they were not helping to advance the American project in Lebanon. It was equally obvious, therefore, that those who wanted to push this project were expecting something to happen -- a US strike against Iran, for example, or an Israeli strike against Lebanon. Given the Iranian option remains currently out of bounds Israel knew it could count on a tacit green light from major Arab powers for its attack against Lebanon, and they did not disappoint it. It was the scope and vehemence of Israel's actions in Lebanon that came as the surprise.
This is neither an Iranian nor a Syrian war.The fist is just being involved in dialogue with the Americans and the second has been trying to avoid a war with Israel for decades.
Israel's aim is to change the rules of the game between Israel and Lebanon and, therefore, within Lebanon itself. This is the only point of similarity between the current campaign and the war of 1982. The major differences are that, on the negative side, international and regional circumstances favour Israel, while on the positive side the resistance, which is not Palestinian but Lebanese this time, is much stronger and better organised. To these two we can add another, which is that the Lebanese are not heading towards another 17 May; that experience they have put firmly behind them and no one wants to rake it up again. Even after the Syrian withdrawal the Lebanese society has much more positive attitude towards the Lebanese resistance than it had towards the Palestinian resistance, in those days of 1982 a part of the Lebanese people fought on the side of the Israelis. The initiative now lies in the hands of the Lebanese people and the resistance. They, alone, have the ability to thwart the conspiracy.
International delegations will soon appear in Lebanon to reap the fruits of the aggression. They will promise the Lebanese a ceasefire if they implement 1559, saying that there is no longer any excuse for delaying implementation now that the Israeli army has demonstrated the consequences of non- implementation.
Roed-Larsen's visit was not a fact-finding mission. Sending Roed-Larsen was in itself a political statement. He is not only the Israeli Labour Party's man on the conflict with the Palestinians, he is also the spokesman of the Israeli position with respect to the Lebanese resistance. He is the one who is after blood-money to compensate for Barak's loss of honour after withdrawing from Lebanon and the one who was called in to supervise the implementation of Resolution 1559. Larsen has not only drawn a red line at crossing the blue line, he regards the Lebanese resistance as a local militia. He is also a foremost exponent of that now old term, "the New Middle East", by which is meant, at best, the normalisation of Arab relations, ie according inter-Arab relations no more priority than bilateral relations between individual Arab states and Israel. Larsen was the sworn enemy of Yasser Arafat, who spoiled the Oslo recipe and refused to behave as he was supposed to. He is filled with a mixture of hatred and bitterness against "Arab extremists" and harbours low expectations of, and disappointment with, "Arab moderates" who should always demonstrate that they are up to the Israeli establishment's expectations.
That's what it's all about; the rest is décor. We'll see Larsen in the garb of mediator, which hardly suits him since he is not an arbitrator and nowhere near the middle. And, we'll be inundated with details about ceasefires, truces, and preparations for implementing 1559.
The resistance isn't playing the role of victim. It didn't ask for international sympathy with the victims but for solidarity among freedom-seeking peoples. These are the rules of another game, a language that Arab regimes have forgotten, if they ever really knew it, though they owe their own existence to such a discourse. I am speaking of the language of liberation movements that exact a payment for colonisation from the coloniser. Resistance movements attempt to exact a price that their adversaries cannot afford and that the societies of their adversaries do not wish to pay, and they try to encumber their adversaries in a manner that inhibits the full use of force. This is how resistance movements try to neutralise military superiority.
The resistance was not being unduly reckless; it did not even select the timing. It was Israel that chose to open a broad battlefront against the resistance. It feared that putting off an inevitable battle with the Lebanese resistance would only give the resistance time to grow stronger and increase its arsenal. One reason why Israel chose this time in particular was that it already knew how key Arab regimes would react. The situation, therefore, is the opposite of what is being portrayed: the charge that the resistance has courted disaster betrays the existence of an Arab camp that regards robust resistance in Lebanon and Palestine as an adventure.
The US, meanwhile, is futilely trying to regulate Israel's cowardly assault against civilians and its destruction of civilian infrastructure. It wants Israel to target the resistance and the society that supports it without jeopardising the American project in Lebanon. It wants Israel to bully and blackmail America's allies without crushing them, alienating them completely or driving their supporters into the arms of the resistance. The difference between the Israel and the US, here, maybe tactical, but it is important. It is one of degree, of pushing or not pushing people over the edge.
Whereas the US wants Israel to promote the American project in Lebanon rather than throw out the baby with the bathwater, Israel wants the US, Washington's allies and all the international agencies at their disposal, to negotiate with the Lebanese government a ceasefire that fulfils several conditions. The first is to disarm Hizbullah, the second to deploy the official Lebanese army in the south and substitute the international force with a proper NATO force, the third to release the Israeli captives. But it is the first condition that is the one that counts; meeting this will be sufficient for Israel to agree to a ceasefire. The political order that emerges from the rubble of Israel's destruction in will see to the rest. Israel, in other words, has decided to settle internal Lebanese dialogue by Israeli force of arms.
A Nato force accepted by the government without the consent of the people will be considered an occupation force and will be the next target of the resistance thus creating a new Iraq, a fragmented Lebanon. If the Lebanese government agrees to the proposed settlement that includes dismantling Hizbullah a process of attrition will start also from the inside aimed at getting Lebanese society to pressure the resistance into conceding. This is how internal strife is ignited and it is part of the plan.
Israel decided that this would not only be a good time to go on the offensive but that the battle would be decisive. If the Israeli terrorist project and military adventure is not to prevail, it is not just the resilience of the resistance that matters but also the unity of the Lebanese against Israeli aggression and its political aims.