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(Not) Why Israel attacked Lebanon

By David Morrison

28 August 2006


If we are to believe Israel, and its allies in Washington and London, the reason Israel laid waste to Lebanon for a month was to secure the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were captured by Hezbollah on 12 July 2006 in a cross-border raid, in which three other Israeli soldiers were killed.

If their release was Israel’s primary objective, this was a nonsensical approach. Hezbollah’s motive in taking them prisoner was to exchange them for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. Such exchanges had taken place at least three times in the past, in July 1996, in June 1998, and the largest in January 2004 (see, for example, Electronic Intifada article History of Israeli-Arab Prisoner Exchanges [1]). The release of the captured soldiers could have been secured without a military assault on Lebanon - and, more than a thousand deaths later, the assault has predictably failed to secure their release.

On 14 August 2006, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, appointed Ofer Dekel, formerly the deputy head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, as his “Special Representative regarding the return of the three kidnapped Israeli soldiers: Gilad Shalit [held in Gaza], Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev” [2]. Before Ofer Dekel’s appointment, negotiations were already going on, with Egypt acting an intermediary, about the release of Gilad Shalit in a prisoner exchange. It is a pound to a penny that Ofer Dekel has already opened negotiations to secure the release of the other two soldiers in another prisoner exchange.

Kidnapping

Israel managed to project a sense of moral outrage about Hezbollah’s capture of its two soldiers, outrage that was widely echoed in the West. To assist in this process, the soldiers’ capture was referred to as kidnapping and they were referred to as hostages. In the sense that they were captured and were being held in order to put pressure on Israel to do something it wouldn’t otherwise do, the use of the word “hostage” is not inappropriate. But, it is a bit rich for Israel to be complaining about such behaviour, since taking Lebanese hostages was a practice that it commonly engaged in. Listen to what Amnesty International had to say in June 1998 [3]:

“By Israel’s own admission, Lebanese detainees are being held as ‘bargaining chips’; they are not detained for their own actions but in exchange for Israeli soldiers missing in action or killed in Lebanon. Most have now spent 10 years in secret and isolated detention. Must the hostages wait in detention for another 10 years before they are released? This is a game that must stop.”

Another point: the moral outrage widely expressed in the West about the holding of the three soldiers for a few weeks is in marked contrast to the almost total silence in the West about the over 9,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, many for years and most without any kind of trial, including over 100 women and about 400 young people under 18 [1]. This list has been added to in recent weeks by the detention of Hamas elected representatives, with barely a whimper of complaint from the outside world.


Unprovoked attack

A factor used by Israel to amplify the moral outrage about the capture of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on 12 July 2006 was that it was carried out inside Israel itself. Israeli spokesmen, and their counterparts in Washington, have asserted over and over again that Israel had subjected to an outrageous unprovoked attack on their territory, to which they had to respond.

Doubt has been expressed about whether the attack did take place in Israel - with some justification since early reports by, for example, Associated Press correspondent, Joseph Panossian, said it took place in Lebanon:

“The militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers during clashes Wednesday across the border in southern Lebanon, prompting a swift reaction from Israel, which sent ground forces into its neighbor to look for them.”

Later on 12 July 2006, Panossian changed his reporting twice, ending up with what became the official version:

“Hezbollah militants crossed into Israel on Wednesday and captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel responded in southern Lebanon with warplanes, tanks and gunboats …”

The reports by Panossian, and from other sources, are reviewed by Trish Schuh here [4].

It must be emphasised that UN observers from the UNIFIL force concur with the official version that the attack took place within Israel. Since they are on the ground close to the Israeli border in southern Lebanon, they are in the best position to know.

UNIFIL was created by Security Council resolution 425, passed on 19 March 1978, “for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces”, in the words of the resolution [5]. Over 28 years later, the force is still in southern Lebanon. Ironically, UNIFIL stands for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon - its initial deployment was for 6 months, but every 6 months since then the Security Council has passed a resolution to extend its mandate by another 6 months. About 250 UNIFIL personnel have been killed in the course of their duties, the vast majority as a result of Israeli military action, including 4 on 25 July 2006.

Every 6 months the UN Secretary General presents a detailed report on UNIFIL’s observations to the Security Council (see [6] for recent ones). The report (S/2006/560) for the period 21 January 2002 to 18 July 2006 says the following about the events of 12 July 2006 [7]:

“The crisis started when, around 9 a.m. local time, Hezbollah launched several rockets from Lebanese territory across the withdrawal line (the so-called Blue Line) towards Israel Defense Forces (IDF) positions near the coast and in the area of the Israeli town of Zarit. In parallel, Hezbollah fighters crossed the Blue Line into Israel and attacked an IDF patrol. Hezbollah captured two IDF soldiers, killed three others and wounded two more. The captured soldiers were taken into Lebanon.” (paragraph 3)

Until there is evidence to the contrary, this has got to be taken to be the definitive account.


Unprecedented event

So, let’s assume for now that Israel’s sovereignty was briefly infringed by Hezbollah on 12 July 2006. In recent weeks, the impression has been given by Israel, and generally speaking reported as fact in Britain, that Hezbollah’s brief incursion was an unprecedented event and that, since Israel withdrew its ground forces from Lebanon in May 2000 (after 18 years of occupation), there had been few incursions either way across the Blue Line. The message we were meant to get was that Hezbollah’s action was the kind of reward that the ungrateful Arabs mete out to Israel when it generously withdraws from Arab territory.

The truth is somewhat different, as George Mombiot pointed out in The Guardian on 8 August 2006 [8]. Since May 2000, there have been hundreds of violations of the Blue Line attested to by UNIFIL. Israel may have withdrawn its ground troops but, according to UNIFIL, Israeli aircraft crossed the Blue Line “on an almost daily basis” between 2001 and 2003, and “persistently” until 2006. These incursions “caused great concern to the civilian population, particularly low-altitude flights that break the sound barrier over populated areas”.

In addition to these persistent violations of Lebanese sovereignty by Israel since May 2000, there have been a number of minor outbreaks of hostilities across the Blue Line prior to 12 July 2006, the last at the end of May this year. George Mombiot’s account of it is as follows:

“On May 26 this year, two officials of Islamic Jihad - Nidal and Mahmoud Majzoub - were killed by a car bomb in the Lebanese city of Sidon. This was widely assumed in Lebanon and Israel to be the work of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. In June, a man named Mahmoud Rafeh confessed to the killings and admitted that he had been working for Mossad since 1994. Militants in southern Lebanon responded, on the day of the bombing, by launching eight rockets into Israel. One soldier was lightly wounded. There was a major bust-up on the border, during which one member of Hezbollah was killed and several wounded, and one Israeli soldier wounded. But while the border region ‘remained tense and volatile’, UNIFIL says it was ‘generally quiet’ until July 12.”

Israel’s holier than thou attitude to Hezbollah’s brief violation of sovereignty across the Blue Line on 12 July 2006 is hypocritical. On a more general note, the history of Israel is the history of violation of other states’ sovereignty not just for hours but for decades, including the ultimate violation - the annexation of other states’ territory, notably, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. For Israel to complain about the infringement of its territory is akin to a persistent drunk complaining about other people sucking a brandy ball.

And don’t think that Israel is about to abandon its addiction to violating the sovereignty of other states. Listen to this from Prime Minister Olmert in the Knesset on 14 August 2006 [9]:

“Hezbollah leaders went into hiding and are lying. We will continue to hunt them down anytime, anywhere.”

There, Olmert asserts the right of Israel to violate the sovereignty of any state, anytime. Don’t expect any protest from those in the West who were outraged by Hezbollah’s brief infringement of Israeli sovereignty on 12 July 2006.


Raining rockets

The first myth about Israel’s assault on Lebanon is that its objective was to secure the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The second myth is that its objective was to stop Hezbollah raining down rockets on Israeli cities. Prime Minister Blair told a press conference at the G8 on 17 July 2006 [10]:

“… but the fact of the matter is this began with the kidnap of soldiers. Then there were Israeli soldiers killed and then there have been rocket attacks, as I say perhaps as many as 1,000 or more rocket attacks which have killed innocent people in deliberate acts of terrorism launched from the Lebanon. Now of course it is tragic that in the retaliatory strikes there are also innocent civilians killed in the Lebanon and we express full solidarity with them and their families at a time such as this …”

So, according to Blair, the Israel’s assault on Lebanon was in retaliation for the initial kidnapping of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev and the killing of other Israeli soldiers, and for rocket attacks on Israel.

It is true that Hezbollah fired a number of rockets into Israel as a diversionary tactic at the same time as it launched its operation to capture Israeli soldiers, but they were not aimed at Israeli cities. But, before 12 July 2006 no rocket had been fired into Israel since late May. Then, Israel made a limited military response. Had Israel made a similar limited response on 12 July 2006, the large-scale rocket attacks on northern Israel would never have happened.

Hezbollah’s large-scale rocket attacks on northern Israel cities did not begin until after Israel’s much more destructive, and much more lethal, assault on Lebanon got under way and they stopped once Israel’s assault on Lebanon stopped, as Hezbollah always said they would. They were in retaliation for Israel’s assault on Lebanon and they would not have happened without Israel’s assault on Lebanon.

(On the matter of Hezbollah rockets, Haaretz ran a story on 18 August 2006 entitled Peretz: Army did not warn me about missiles [11], which began:

“When Defense Minister Amir Peretz took office four months ago, Hezbollah and the missile threat were at the bottom of the priority list senior IDF officers presented him, Peretz says. In private conversations over the past few days, Peretz said officers did not tell him there was a strategic threat to Israel, and did not present him with all relevant information about the missile threat.”

Could it be that the assault on Lebanon was launched without the Defense Minister knowing that Hezbollah was capable of retaliating by firing rockets into northern Israel in large numbers? If he didn’t know, you would have thought that he would have the wit to draw a veil over his ignorance? Or is he making a crude attempt to avoid responsibility for the attacks on northern Israel?)


Comparatively placid

Israel and its supporters managed to give two different, and rather contradictory, impressions of what had gone on across the Blue Line, since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. On the one hand, that the Hezbollah action of 12 July 2006 was an unprecedented unprovoked attack, which had to be responded to by an unprecedented act of self-defence. On the other hand, that Hezbollah had been constantly raining down rockets into Israeli cities and had therefore been a constant threat to the lives of Israeli civilians - and this was the reason for Israel laying waste to Lebanon.

The truth was that, although there were constant border violations, chiefly by Israel, there were few serious incidents and few people killed, either civilian or military. Here is an account by American academic, Augustus Richard Norton, in The Boston Globe on 7 August 2006 [12]:

“What most casual observers are not expected to know, but what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Bush should know, is that the six years between Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 until the momentous Hezbollah attack on July 12 were comparatively placid.

“During that period, one Israeli civilian was killed by Hezbollah weapons (and five more were killed in a Palestinian operation that may have been helped by Hezbollah). Meanwhile, more than a score of Lebanese civilians were killed either by hostile action or by mines left behind by Israel. The dead deserve that we not treat their violent end lightly. Haviv Donon, 16, who was felled by a Hezbollah antiaircraft round fired at Israeli planes violating Lebanese airspace, and Yusif Rahil, 15, a shepherd killed by an artillery round intended for Hezbollah after an attack in Shebaa Farms, were innocent victims. Thankfully, such victims were far fewer then than may be commonly imagined.

“There were serious clashes in the vicinity of the Shebaa Farms, part of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights claimed by Lebanon during that six-year period. Nine Israeli soldiers died in Hezbollah attacks in the contested area, and 16, including eight on July 12, were killed along the international border in seven clashes. Some of the attacks were in retaliation for Israeli-caused deaths in Lebanon. At least 21 Israeli soldiers were also wounded.”


Lebanon asks for ceasefire

Paragraph 4 of the UNIFIL report (S/2006/560) referred to above reads as follows [7]:

“In the afternoon of 12 July local time, the Government of Lebanon requested UNIFIL to broker a ceasefire. Israel responded that a ceasefire would be contingent upon the return of the captured soldiers.”

The same afternoon, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, spoke to the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, and to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni. This information is contained in a press statement in the name of the Secretary of State [13], which significantly doesn’t mention the Lebanese Government’s request for a ceasefire.

Had the US administration wished to stop the incipient hostilities, this was the time to do it. Instead, Condoleezza Rice rang up Kofi Annan and asked him to send a mission to the Middle East. As she told a press conference in Germany the next day [14]:

“I had a conversation with him [Kofi Annan] yesterday morning, suggested that it might be useful for the U.N. to send a mission, and he is now sending such a mission.”

Could there be a more cynical ploy to give Israel time to lay waste to Lebanon? The UN mission came back from the Middle East and reported to the Security Council on 21 July 2006. This gave Israel over a week.

At this point, the US felt obliged to begin a show of trying to bring hostilities to an end, but it took Condoleezza Rice until 24 July 2006 to get to Beirut. (Her presence had the one advantage that Israel stopped bombing the city, lest the US Secretary of State be killed by a US-supplied bomb dropped from a US-supplied plane by a US ally - perhaps the Lebanese should have kidnapped her and held her until Israel called off its assault).

Then there was the diversion of the international conference in Rome on 26 July 2006, whereupon she had to give an important piano recital in Kuala Lumpur on 28 July 2006. However, she did come back to Israel on 30 July 2006, only to be told that she wasn’t welcome in Beirut because Israel had just killed a large number of Lebanese civilians in Qana - so she had to go back to Washington.

At this point, with Israel having failed to do serious damage to Hezbollah in the time provided for them by the US, a serious attempt began to organise cover for a climb-down in the form of a Security Council resolution. Two weeks later, on 11 August 2006, resolution 1701 was passed and on 14 August 2006 a ceasefire arranged by Kofi Annan took place. The US, backed to the hilt by the UK, had provided Israel with 34 days in all to lay waste to Lebanon.


Condi prays

On 18 July 2006, Condoleezza Rice met the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, Nasrallah Sfeir, in Washington, and told him [15]:

“And I want you to know that we’re not only working hard, but we’re also praying for the people of Lebanon.”

It will have been of great comfort to the Lebanese people, as the US-supplied bombs rained down upon them, to know that throughout it all the US Secretary of State was praying for them, while supplying Israel with more bombs, and playing diplomatic games to ensure that Israel was given time to make use of them.



David Morrison
28 August 2006
Labour & Trade Union Review
www.david-morrison.org.uk



References:

[1] electronicintifada.net/v2/article4986.shtml

[2] www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng/Communication/Spokesman/2006/08/spokeofer140806.htm

[3] web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde150541998

[4] onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_1107.shtml

[5] daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/368/70/IMG/NR036870.pdf

[6] www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/unifilDrp.htm

[7] daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/437/22/IMG/N0643722.pdf

[8] www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,1839282,00.html

[9] www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3291134,00.html

[10] www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page9864.asp

[11] www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/751448.html

[12] www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2006/08/07/in_mideast_shades_of_1982/

[13] www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2006/68902.htm

[14] www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2006/68967.htm

[15] www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2006/69164.htm

 





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