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And then there was war

News Editorial, Friends of Lebanon


My daughter said one day while doing her homework, “Wikipedia is just so great.” For the most part, I would agree: instant access to concise, up-to-date information on practically everything you’d want to research. But, then again, brevity can come at a cost. To strip away detailed context can leave a narrative just a crude sketch in black and white. The problem is that life is played out in shades of grey.

In attempting to define the July 2006 War in Lebanon, Wikipedia offers a simplistic description of back and forth battling set off by the “casus belli” (justification for war) of the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers. Albeit subtle, the fingerpointing-notion of “well, it’s his fault, he started it!” runs throughout the article. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Lebanon_War)

Not so subtle is the ostensibly objective fact-provider “Infoplease.” But their tag-line “all the knowledge you need” should serve as a caution that the information provided is inherently subjective. In their timeline of Lebanon history, they offer this as casus belli: Hezbollah, they state, “enters Israel and captures two Israeli soldiers on July 12. In response, Israel launches a major military attack, bombing the Lebanese airport and parts of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliates by launching hundreds of rockets and missles [sic]—believed to have been supplied by Syria and Iran—into Israel.” Did you remember to snarl and hiss as you read “Syria and Iran”? It pops up so often in the timeline, you’d think it were a bizarre panto. (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/lebanontime1.html)

Ironically, it is Israel’s own inquiry into the July 2006 War that is filling back in those vital shades of grey. Haaretz, the key Israeli daily newspaper, has reported that the start of the 2006 Lebanon War was far more complicated than a knee-jerk reaction to the infamous military abduction. (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/834572.html) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has testified before the Israeli Winograd Commission that his decision to launch a broad military operation was made as early as March 2006, four months before the abduction. Olmert stated that his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, had already been making preliminary plans, including a list of targets in Lebanon. Olmert further stated that he had held several meetings (in January, March, April, May and July 2006) on potential military action against Lebanon.

Olmert testified these meetings concluded that Israel's goal in a military operation would be the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israeli border and the disarmament of Hezbollah. Olmert stated that he was informed in May 2006 by then-National Security Council head Giora Eiland and by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak that the Lebanese government would agree to implement Resolution 1559 in return for an Israeli withdrawal from Sheba Farms. (On Lebanese PM Siniora’s visits in April/May 2006 with US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on this issue, see http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/04/20060418-2.html and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4984062.stm)

With the ongoing problems of Lebanese and Palestinians held as prisoners in Israel, abductions and negotiations for mutual release was standard fare in the region. Interestingly, following the high profile abduction of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006 (by Palestinian forces who wanted Palestinian women and children prisoners released by Israel in exchange for the safe return of Shalit), Haaretz reports Olmert testified that “he was certain there would be a similar attempt to kidnap soldiers on the Lebanese border. He ordered the IDF to prevent this.” So the IDF was on high alert. Yet on 12 July—a mere 17 days later—the IDF failed to prevent the abduction that has now been labeled the justification for the war.

Justification or pretext? As early as 21 July 2006, Matthew Kalman, of the San Francisco Chronicle Foreign Service, asserted that Israel had planned its war at least a year prior. (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/21/MIDEAST.TMP)

Kalman reported that “More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail. . . . In his talks, the officer described a three-week campaign: The first week concentrated on destroying Hezbollah's heavier long-range missiles, bombing its command-and-control centers, and disrupting transportation and communication arteries. In the second week, the focus shifted to attacks on individual sites of rocket launchers or weapons stores. In the third week, ground forces in large numbers would be introduced, but only in order to knock out targets discovered during reconnaissance missions as the campaign unfolded.”

This description fits quite well the actual course of events. (see summary of events at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5218210.stm) Keep in mind the article was published 21 July, just 9 days into the war. Kalman quotes Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University: "Of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared," he said. "In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal, when it became clear the international community was not going to prevent Hezbollah from stockpiling missiles and attacking Israel. By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board." (For a detailed description of border activity since 2000, see UNIFIL reports at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/background.html)

In her article “Burning Lebanon: Israel's New Middle East,” 27 July 2006, (http://www.counterpunch.org/reinhart07272006.html) professor and author Tanya Reinhart asserted that the “speed at which everything happened (along with many other pieces of information) indicates that Israel has been waiting for a long time for 'the international conditions to ripen' for the massive war on Lebanon it has been planning. In fact, one does not need to speculate on this, since right from the start, Israeli and U.S. official sources have been pretty open in this regard. As a Senior Israeli official explained to the Washington Post on July 16, "Hezbollah's cross-border raid has provided a 'unique moment' with a 'convergence of interests'." The paper goes on to explain what this convergence of interests is: For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East.”

Olmert has now testified that his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, was making military plans against Lebanon when Sharon became ill and Olmert took office. This confirms Reinhart’s view that even as the Israeli army left Southern Lebanon in 2000, they planned to return. To fulfil Israel's military vision, however, it would be necessary to “clean” the land of its residents, to destroy the country, and to establish a "friendly regime" in Lebanon, one that would collaborate in crushing any resistance. These were precisely Sharon's declared aims in the first Lebanon war. 2006 saw many of these conditions ripen within a costly second Lebanon war.

In his article “More Than Meets the Eye: The War in Lebanon,” 28 July 2006, (http://www.counterpunch.org/baroud07282006.html), professor and author Ramzy Baroud states that for years, “Israel's strategic objective has been to break up the Syria-Lebanon front to isolate Syria and meddle as always in Lebanon's affairs. . . . despite its insistence that it left Lebanon for good, Israel never departed from its original military goal of destroying Hizbollah.” It just needed a pretext.

Even as far back as November 17, 2002, months before the US invasion of Iraq, top US officials were explaining on television how Hezbollah and Hamas had to be annihilated. Nevermind you could fit all of Palestine and Lebanon put together in one of America’s smallest states, the US felt threatened. CNN interviewed Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham, Chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee, and the Alabama Republican, Senator Richard Shelby, Vice-chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0211/17/le.00.html)

Senator Graham stated: “And against those international terrorists such as Hezbollah and Hamas, we need to be launching attacks on their headquarters and their training camps so that they will not be in a position to provide support for their terrorists that are embedded in the United States or be developing the next generation of terrorists.”

When asked what specific action should be taken, Graham responded, “I think what we ought to do is to go to the president of Syria, who controls most of these organizations, and say, "We have conclusive evidence that these training camps are in existence, they're operating in territory under your control, they are in violation of international law, they represent a threat to the world. We expect you to take care of this problem, but if you don't, we're going to take care of this problem.”

Of course he then said he’d already spoken to the Syrian President about this, but that the President “was still in a state of denial that there even were these terrorist training camps in his country and in the Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon.”

When asked if the US must militarily start planning to take out Hezbollah, Senator Shelby responded “Before they take us out. Absolutely, we're going to have to do something. . . . What's the sequence? We're not sure yet. But to sit back and wait till these camps and these groups train thousands and thousands more terrorists -- we're going to be in this war for 30 years or more.”

Asked about priorities, Senator Graham, Chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee, stated, “Saddam Hussein, according to our intelligence community, is going to be the most dangerous when he is cornered, when he realizes he's about to lose power, then he strikes out vengefully, and one of the ways will be through forming partnerships with these international terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, using their agents inside the United States, maybe using his weapons of mass destruction.”

So what did Saddam Hussein do when he felt threatened? He hid in a hole.

And those Weapons of Mass Destruction? None.

So much for his intelligence community.

(For discussion on how US policy has remained the same on the issue of taking out Hezbollah and Hamas, please see previous news editorial “Foreign Aid.”)

Olmert’s recent testimony reinforces what academics, journalists, and historians have been saying loud and clear: the July 2006 Lebanon War has its roots not in a simple military abduction, but in a global political power struggle played out in the battlegrounds of the Middle East. We may never know the entire story. What we should know is that when analysing history, even if contemporary, we must acknowledge its complex nature. Above all, we must be wary of the post hoc fallacy of logic. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc; after this, therefore because of this. Chronology does not equal cause and effect. Because life is not black and white.






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