* very good * Empire comes to Lebanon


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Empire comes to Lebanon: The U.S.-Israel axis goes all out to remove the last 
impediments to building a "New Middle East".

Vol:23 Iss:15

LET us begin with a supposedly "undisputed" fact:

The official story, told first by the Israeli government and automatically 
accepted by governments and media outlets across the world, is that Hizbollah is
a Muslim fundamentalist, terrorist organisation which periodically lobs shells 
and rockets into civilian population centres of northern Israel and that, in its
latest outrage on July 12, it attacked a border military post inside Israeli 
territory, killing six Israeli soldiers and capturing two. Having waited several
years for "the international community" and the Lebanese government to disarm 
this "terrorist" organisation, Israel is said to have been finally exasperated 
by this latest outrage and, acting in self-defence, it decided to retaliate so 
as to "break Hizbollah" for ever and ever, for the sake of the security of its 

This official version raises some basic questions regarding the character of 
Hizbollah itself, about the very incident that is supposed to have "provoked" 
Israel beyond endurance, and about the scope of Israel's "retaliation".

The background to the rise of Hizbollah is instructive, as is its present role 
in Lebanese politics in general. There is a long history of United States and 
Israeli military interventions in Lebanon, dating back to the landing of U.S. 
Marines there in 1958 and including major Israeli invasions in 1978 and 1982, 
which predate the very formation of Hizbollah. It was in 1978 that Israel first 
captured a large swath of territory in the predominantly Shia region of southern
Lebanon and held it as a self-declared "security zone" until a Lebanese armed 
resistance movement, led by Hizbollah, put an end to that occupation, except for
a mountainside at the point where the borders of Israel and Syria meet with that
of Lebanon, known as Shebaa Farms, which Israel has continued to occupy and 
which therefore continues to be a point of military contention between the 
occupiers and the resistance.

Hizbollah itself came into being some four years after the invasion of 1982, 
when Israel occupied about half of Lebanon, destroyed much of Beirut and oversaw
the infamous massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps on the 
outskirts of the city. In its formative phase, Hizbollah drew many of its 
guerilla fighters from among the relatives of those who had been killed during 
the Israeli invasions and, throughout its history, it has been based 
predominantly among the Shias who constitute roughly half the population of 
Lebanon, the overwhelming majority in the south and the bulk of the urban poor 
in Beirut itself. Until 2000, it was devoted almost exclusively to fighting the 
Israeli occupiers. After evicting the Israelis from virtually the whole of 
southern Lebanon, it entered into Lebanese politics as a party and now has 12 
members in Parliament and two in the Cabinet; there are other forces, including 
wholly secular as well as non-Muslim forces, which are allied with it in a 
parliamentary bloc. In fact, the list of candidates for the alliance it led 
during the 2005 elections included five Christians, three Sunni Muslims and a 
Druze alongside 14 Shia candidates.

Certain facts stand out in sharp relief here. First, Hizbollah is undoubtedly an
Islamicist organisation but it arose not to turn Lebanon into a theocratic 
state; it arose as a resistance movement against Israeli occupation. That its 
mass base is exclusively among Shias reflects, in the first pace, the sectarian 
nature of the Lebanese political chessboard, based as it is on the 
constitutional arrangements devised by the French colonial authority before its 
departure, in which every party, except the Left parties, represents an ethnic 
and/or religious grouping. Moreover, this mass base is owed also to the fact 
that Shias were the vast majority who lived under Israeli occupation and who 
inhabit the slums of Beirut.

Second, perhaps the majority of the Lebanese look upon it as a movement of 
anti-colonial resistance, so that the U.S.-Israeli-British characterisation of 
it as "terrorist" falls on deaf ears.

Third, Hizbollah certainly arose as a guerilla force but, through an evolution 
and expansion over two decades, it has become an influential political party in 
Parliament and the Cabinet, while it also maintains a militia which fights 
Israel over the little sliver of Lebanese territory which is still occupied. 
There is no history of Hizbollah ever committing violence against a Lebanese 
citizen, and though a Christian militia, known as the Southern Lebanon Army 
(SLA), fought alongside the Israelis during 22 years of full-scale occupation of
Lebanon, Hizbollah undertook no acts of revenge or retribution against that 
client force after its Israeli masters had been forced to withdraw. Most of the 
fire between Israel and Hizbollah is exchanged not over northern Israel, as the 
global propaganda machine would have us believe, but over the Shebaa Farms which
Israel occupies and which Lebanon considers its own (Syria also claims that 
little patch of a mountainside).

As for the incident of July 12 which is said to have "provoked" Israel into 
attacking Lebanon, the primary fact is that Israel holds in its prisons hundreds
of Lebanese nationals, most of whom it does not acknowledge and many of whom 
have been held for well over a decade - not to speak of some 10,000 Palestinians
who are currently held in Israeli prisons. Hizbollah is always on the lookout to
capture Israelis so that it can then exchange them for some of Israel's Arab 
prisoners. Such prisoner exchanges have happened in the past, and the current 
Israeli claim that it does not exchange prisoners is a straightforward lie.

As for the incident of July 12 itself, when Hizbollah is supposed to have 
attacked a military post inside Isreal, there is reason to be sceptical:

The initial report filed by Agence France-Presse (AFP) actually said that 
"According to the Lebanese police force, the two Israeli soldiers were captured 
in Lebanese territory, in the area of Aitaa al-Chaab, near to the border with 
Israel, where an Israeli unit had penetrated in middle of morning."

The Associated Press (AP) gave the same version on July 12: "The militant group 
Hizbollah 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 neighbour to look for them. The forces were trying to 
keep the soldiers' captors from moving them deeper into Lebanon, Israeli 
government officials said on condition of anonymity."

This was also the account published in The Hindustan Times the same day: "The 
Lebanese Shi'ite Hizbollah movement announced on Wednesday that its guerillas 
have captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon. `Implementing our 
promise to free Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, our strugglers have captured 
two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon,' a statement by Hizbollah said. `The 
two soldiers have already been moved to a safe place,' it added. The Lebanese 
police said that the two soldiers were captured as they `infiltrated' into the 
town of Aitaa al-Chaab inside the Lebanese border."

This line of reporting was completely suppressed after Israel put forward its 
claim that it was Hizbollah that had attacked its territory, killed its soldiers
and kidnapped two others, so that it could claim to be attacking Lebanon in 
retaliation. We do know that an Israeli tank got blown up in Lebanese territory 
in the course of that incident. Israelis claim that they had sent that tank to 
chase the Hizbollah guerillas who had kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Hizbollah, by 
contrast, claims that the tank was part of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon, 
got blown up by a landmine, and Israeli soldiers were taken prisoner after a gun
battle. Hizbollah's version seems more credible in the light of the reports we 
have quoted above.

Israel "Retaliates"

Two soldiers taken prisoner - on Israeli territory, let us grant for arguments' 

Israel responds by bombing three runways and fuel depots of Beirut International
Airport, all the country's seaports, most highways and roads connecting various 
parts of the country as well as those leading to Syria, tens of bridges in 
Lebanon's south and east, factories, army bases, trucks, ambulances, hospitals, 
schools, television transmitters, the whole of southern Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, 
Baalbek, other towns, other villages. Six hundred dead, thousands injured. Half 
a million refugees in the first week. Eight hundred thousand by the end of the 
second week. At the time of writing, on July 27, one out of five Lebanese 
citizens has been rendered homeless. Tens of billions of dollars of damage 
inflicted upon a tiny country, one of the most beautiful and vibrant on this 
planet of ours, which had only recently pulled itself out, gloriously and with 
great aesthetic finesse, out of the devastations of a civil war and foreign - 
Israeli! - occupation. "Lebanon has been put back 20 years," an Israeli general 
exults on television. Precisely. Because Hizbollah took two prisoners and wanted
to exchange them for some Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.

Tzipi Livni, the glamorously dressed Israeli Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of
Foreign Affairs, sits in the glare of television cameras and justifies the 
carnage in suave tones, invoking the "axis of terror and hate created by Iran, 
Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas that want to end any hope for peace". She says that 
the best way to retrieve the two captured soldiers "is to destroy totally the 
international airport of Beirut", so that they are not taken out of Lebanon. 
"But they can sneak them away in a car," her interlocutor says. "Oh, indeed," 
says the Israeli Foreign Minister, "This is why we also destroy all the roads in
Lebanon leading out of the country." And, one would suppose that a fifth of the 
Lebanese population is rendered homeless so that Hizbollah has no buildings left
to hide those two soldiers; once all the buildings are gone, the Israeli Army 
will then find those two soldiers, just sitting somewhere out in the open, and 
bring them home.

It is difficult to say just when the planning for this war began. We know that 
for well over a year now, senior military officers have been giving a Power 
Point presentation, the "Three-Week War," to their U.S. counterparts, U.S. 
think-tanks and pro-Israeli members of the U.S. Congress, selected European 
diplomats and journalists, spelling out the plans for what is now unfolding. We 
do not know who was behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former 
Lebanese Prime Minister, in February 2005, but we do know that the assassination
was used by the U.S.-Israeli axis to obtain the withdrawal of the Syrian forces 
from Lebanon (who had come there initially on U.S. and Saudi Arabian promptings,
to save Lebanon from the secular Left) and to get the U.N. Security Council to 
pass a resolution calling for the disarming of Hizbollah.

But who in Lebanon was going to be strong enough to disarm Lebanon's most 
popular political entity? Not the Lebanese government, overwhelmingly inclined 
towards the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli axis but too weak internally and also much too 
dependent on Hizbollah itself. So, with the Syrians gone, Israel may itself 
return, take care of Hizbollah, turn Lebanon into the kind of Israeli 
protectorate that Jordan already is, and re-occupy southern Lebanon, as in days 
of yore before Hizbollah threw them out, and re-create there a "security zone" 
alongside northern Israel, as Amir Peretz, the Labour Party chief and the 
current Defence Minister of Israel, said a couple of days ago - right up to the 
Litani river, some 32 km into Lebanese territory, whose water resources Israel 

If that were to come to pass, Israel would have achieved all the aims it has 
been pursuing in Lebanon since the invasions of 1978 and 1982. At that time, the
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had established its headquarters, camps 
and institutions in Lebanon, after it had been evicted out of Jordan in 1971, 
and getting the PLO to leave Lebanon was a major aim, which was realised after 
the blitzkrieg of 1982 when the U.S. brokered Yasser Arafat's departure to 
Tunis. However, Syrian forces were already in Lebanon, invited initially by that
same Israeli-U.S.-Saudi axis. Israel shot down about a 100 Syrian airplanes 
during that invasion but the Syrian ground troops remained, and a sort of truce 
came in force. Syria would continue to occupy its positions but it would also 
not directly challenge Israel's right to occupy southern Lebanon, while the 
government in Beirut remained weak in relation to both neighbouring - and 
occupying - powers.

Hizbollah arose out of this crucible, with the single aim of throwing out the 
Israelis, and therefore aligned itself with Syria - with converging interests 
but by no means a creature of Syria, which initially backed not Hizbollah but 
Amal, a much less militant Shia organisation. Israel could in any case not turn 
Lebanon into a protectorate at that time, given the Syrian presence on Lebanese 
territory and major Lebanese elite interests aligned with it.

Since its very inception in 1948, Israel is used to capturing Arab territory and
retaining it. The state was created by an act of the U.N. and it immediately 
proceeded to capture much more territory than it was granted; today's Israel, 
which most governments of the world recognise, includes that additional occupied
territory. In the Six-Day War of 1967, it captured the rest of Palestine and has
refused to vacate even an inch of it, despite all the heroic resistance that the
Palestinians have mounted; the "disengagement" from Gaza has simply meant 
turning it all into a mass prison and daily military attacks, which take dozens 
of Palestinian lives each week. It also captured the Syrian territory of the 
Golan Heights and never returned it, despite all sorts of Syrian overtures and 
offers. It returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt only when Egypt bent down on 
its knees, recognised it, opened itself up to it, took itself out of any Arab 
resistance to the Zionist design, and in effect became an ally; after Israel 
launched its ongoing destruction of Lebanon, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 
denounced Hizbollah and, pro forma, requested Israel for some restraint.

Hizbollah has been thus far, in some 60 years of Israeli settler-colonial 
enterprise, the only entity which has through armed resistance forced the 
Israelis to relinquish any territory that the Jewish state has ever captured. 
For that unforgivable sin Hizbollah must be punished and destroyed, and Israel's
original plan to turn Lebanon into a dependency be implemented, just as brutally
as it was attempted in 1978 and 1982.

The Present Context

The historical moment now is auspicious for Israel, in terms of the enormous 
shifts that have taken place in global politics. Under the guise of the "war on 
terror", the U.S. is determined to undo whatever losses it had to incur in the 
days of the Soviet Union-aligned Arab nationalist regimes, and after the fall of
the Shah in Iran. Within this larger context, Israel can again make a bid to 
dominate permanently the entire landmass from the Euphrates to the Nile, and 
from the shores of the Red Sea to the Turkish border - all the Arab lands, in 
short, which were once part of the Ottoman Empire. Most of the key Arab 
governments - those of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and so on - have already been
secured for the U.S.-Israeli axis; Libya has been tamed and, with the fall of 
Iraq, another major adversary is gone. Britain is now fully a part of the 
U.S.-Israeli axis, and aside from those two countries, British Prime Minister 
Tony Blair was the only one defying the global call for an immediate ceasefire 
in Lebanon after what Israel has wrought.

In Germany, we now have a government more closely aligned with the U.S. than any
since the days of Chancellor Konrad Adenaur. French President Jacques Chirac 
regrets that he distanced France from the U.S. plan of action during the 
invasion of Iraq in 2003, and he has been trying to undo his sin ever since. 
France was therefore a partner of the U.S. in engineering the coup in Haiti that
overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and was again a key player in getting
the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution demanding the departure of Syrian
troops from Lebanon and the disarming of Hizbollah. Russia, China and India - 
strutting like giants in Asia, acting like pygmies in international affairs - 
issue prim little protests against the killing of four U.N. personnel in Israeli
shelling but keep their mouths shut about a fifth of the Lebanese population 
being made homeless in less than two weeks.

And there is the historical moment within Israel itself. When Ariel Sharon, as 
Defence Minister, invaded Lebanon in 1982, 20,000 Israelis demonstrated against 
it and hundreds of serving soldiers and officers joined the protests, some 
returning their medals won for bravery in previous wars. Now, as the new 
invasion from the air unfolded, the anti-war demonstration attracted barely 800.
Even the pretence of a two-party system no longer functions in Israel. If Sharon
ruled Israel as a leader of Likud with Labour in his coalition and under his 
wing, the new government of Ehud Olmert, a favourite of Sharon, has the Labour 
chief Amir Peretz, a Sephardic Jew and the grand hope of the Zionist left, as 
his Defence Minister, executing these policies of mass destruction not just in 
Lebanon but also in Gaza. With the moral sentiments of most of the population 
made coarse by decades of occupying other people's lands and killing anyone who 
resists, virtually the whole nation supports the atrocities in Gaza and Lebanon.
Ilan Pappe, a distinguished Israeli historian and commentator, estimates that 
some 80 per cent of the members of the Knesset have been elected on what he 
calls "the race ticket". The result is that the marginalised minority in Israel 
which still keeps alive in its hearts the sense of injustice toward Palestinian 
victims and the spiritual vision of a different kind of Judaism is condemned to 
intensities of a moral loneliness which is difficult to imagine for an outsider.

With the exception of parties dominated by the Arab citizens of Israel, all 
others are agreed that there shall be no withdrawal from all the territories 
that Israel occupied in 1967, no right of return given to Palestinians uprooted 
from their homes by Israel's wars, and no equality of citizenship between Jewish
and non-Jewish citizens of Israel. Kadima, the ruling party, fought the recent 
elections and won 29 seats on a platform which promised that Israel would retain
in perpetuity all the major settlements established after the conquest of the 
West Bank and the bulk of the territories occupied in 1967. Avigdor Lieberman's 
party, Israel Our Home, won 11 seats and comprises one of the larger blocs in 
Parliament on the platform that calls for denying to current Israeli citizens 
"the right to live in the state on the grounds of religion and race" - a clear 
promise that, if elected to form the government, Lieberman would no longer allow
Muslim and Christian Arab citizens to reside in Israel.

According to a poll published in March 2006 in Haaretz, Israel's most 
prestigious newspaper, more than two-thirds of Israeli Jews stated that they 
would not live in the same building with the Palestinian citizens of Israel and 
40 per cent believed that "the state needs to support the emigration of Arab 
citizens". With this kind of mentality rampant in the nation, the Israeli state,
a regional superpower whose military might dwarfs all other states in the 
region, feels free to kill and burn as much as it wishes.

"New Middle East"

Behind this historical moment there lies that vision of "the New Middle East" 
that Condoleezza Rice now mentions in every speech that she delivers on affairs 
of that region. Risen from the corporate offices of Chevron and the petrodollar 
industry in general, and serving these days as the U.S. Secretary of State, she 
dismisses all the destruction of Lebanon over the past two weeks as the 
"birth-pangs of the New Middle East". As late as July 23 when a sixth of the 
Lebanese population had been rendered homeless, she dismissed the idea of a 
ceasefire, saying "we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the New 
Middle East, not going back to the old one", while President George W. Bush has 
openly said that he will give Israel all the time and latitude it requires to 
annihilate Hizbollah. The phrase seems to have become something of a mantra but 
one may well ask: what, precisely, is this "New Middle East"?  ( emphasis 

A large number of documents exist written by U.S. rightwing radicals - some of 
them neoconservative - which spell out the project in great detail, and many of 
these thinkers and doers of the far right, such as Richard Perle and Douglas 
Feith, have divided their time between occupying high places in the U.S. 
government and working for high Israeli officials. The power of the "Israeli 
lobby" has been much in the news recently because two mainstream Professors from
Harvard University and the University of Chicago published a lengthy article 
documenting that power. There is, in addition, close cooperation between elite 
U.S. think-tanks and their Israeli counterparts.

The ensuing vision of the "New Middle East" has some key features. In country 
after country, client regimes are to be imposed, with the force of arms if 
necessary, on the model of Afghanistan. In the larger countries, such as Iran, 
violent overthrow of the existing government is envisioned as a prelude to not 
only the imposition of a client regime but also the break-up of the country 
along ethnic and denominational lines, as is now unfolding in Iraq; Saudi Arabia
itself may be up for such a break-up if the anti-monarchical insurgency cannot 
be contained within existing political and territorial parameters.

The "rollback of Syria", a favourite phrase of the neocons, has begun with the 
assassination of Hariri and the forced withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon;
Hizbollah is seen as a strategic ally of Syria and its destruction is sought on 
its own merits as well as in the campaign for that "rollback". As the Iraqi 
insurgency spreads in provinces adjoining the Syrian border, the urgency to 
control Syria increases, and President Bashar al-Assad is being told that he can
save his skin, and save Syria from invasion, if he cooperates with the 
U.S.-Israeli axis in Iraq and Lebanon, and if he breaks his alliance with Iran. 
Part of the demands on Syria is that it cooperate in the construction of an oil 
pipeline from Kirkuk in Iraqi Kurdistan to Israel, through Syrian territory - 
this, while Israel continues to occupy Syrian territory in the Golan.

The U.S.-Israeli axis perceives two types of remaining impediments. At the level
of state formation, only the regimes of Iran and Syria remain which are to any 
degree still independent, though both have cooperated with the U.S., notably in 
Iraq where the U.S.-sponsored and Shia-dominated regime would have been 
impossible without extensive collusion on the part of Iran. Syria has likewise 
provided key information to the U.S. in its pursuit of the Iraqi resistance and 
has even hosted the U.S. offshore torture chambers. Yet, both have their own 
distinct national interests which clash with those of the U.S. and Israel, and a
complicated game of coercion and concession is being played, but with the aim of
emasculating both, with "regime change" and even invasion looming on the 

The more immediate threat is perceived to come from a variety of non-state but 
armed actors, notably the Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and such 
entities elsewhere as Muqtada al Sadr's militia, the Sadr Brigade, in Iraq. Each
of these three "enemies" arose outside the authorised structures of the 
nation-state formation, as militias and then as full-fledged guerilla forces; 
each has eventually decided to participate in the political process in their 
respective areas and even in government formation. Hamas was actually elected to
governmental power; Hizbollah and Muqtada's forces also have substantial 
presences in the current, newly erected political structures of Lebanon and Iraq
respectively. However, each of them participates in rituals of the state in 
pursuit of strategic advantage and each would be perfectly content to withdraw 
into the arena of guerilla warfare if its legitimate political aims are blocked 
in the political arena and/or it comes under military siege.

Moreover, each of them draws its main mass base from among the slum-dwellers, 
the unemployed and the pauperised, the proletarianised masses making a 
precarious living in the so-called "informal economy", the direct victims of 
past aggressions, relatives of the dead and the injured, the wretched of the 
earth. They have been uprooted from their traditional ways of life and religion 
serves for them as an opiate for their wounds, as the soul of a soulless world, 
as the encyclopaedic compendium of the knowledge of this world, as promise of a 
better one. They are neither state functionaries nor bourgeois, hence cannot be 
bribed into submission. They must be annihilated.

These armies of the poor are also seen by the U.S.-Israeli axis as flanks for 
the Iranian and Syrian regimes, and since the imperial imagination is incapable 
of seeing slum-dwellers as being autonomous subjects of their own history they 
are perceived as "agents" of the regimes which give them some rudimentary 
weapons for their own reasons. That there are practical relationships between 
Hizbollah and the Iranian and Syrian regimes is undeniable, but what the 
U.S.-Israeli axis does not comprehend is that there is a convergence of 
interests and convictions, not a relationship of clientalism. Nor can they 
perceive that the mass base of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Basij 
militia in Iran is exactly the same as that of Hamas in Palestine and Hizbollah 
in Lebanon: the rejects of capital and empire. The U.S.-Israeli axis believes 
that if the militias elsewhere can be beaten to pulp, Iran will lose its flanks 
and can then be dealt the final blow. All this is expected to be in place over 
the next couple of years and Olmert has said that he will declare Israel's 
"final" borders sometime by 2010.

The state of Israel is now close to 60 years old and already the pre-eminent 
power in the region, but it is also the only state in the world, and so 
recognised by the world system, that has never revealed what its borders are. 
The borders it had achieved for itself by 1967 are simply called "the Green 
Line", because it expects to annex more territory from the Palestinian 
population that it occupies as well as from its neighbours. Olmert's promise 
that he will declare Israel's "final" borders in a few years is premised on the 
belief that the U.S.-Israeli project for the "New Middle East" shall have been 
realised by then, and those "final" borders are likely to include not only the 
areas within the "Green Line" but also much of the Palestinian West Bank as well
as parts of Syrian and Lebanese territories. That is what Hamas and Hizbollah, 
with their little armies of the poor and their rudimentary weapons, are up 
against. A new, sanitised phrase seems to have become very fashionable over the 
past few months to encapsulate this confrontation between vast imperial armies 
and little bands of nationalist soldiers: "asymmetrical warfare."

In this "New Middle East", reduced to a patchwork of ethno-religious entities, 
the whole history of oil nationalisations shall be reversed, control over oil 
resources of the region shall be transferred to the petrodollar corporations of 
the core capitalist countries, primarily the U.S. and Britain, and Israel's 
"energy security" shall be guaranteed, as part of the Jewish state's national 
security. Moreover, the water and land resources of Palestine shall come under 
permanent Israeli control, and the water resources of Lebanon may also be 
partially diverted for use in Israel. Various military arrangements are 
envisioned for the realisation of this project.

The U.S. itself has taken the main responsibility for Iraq and Israel is doing 
the same in Lebanon, while the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is 
already embroiled in Afghanistan and is now being slated for a very large role 
in Lebanon after Israel has finished off with Hizbollah, destroying much of the 
country in the process. Britain is already in the U.S. pocket, Chirac has become
extraordinarily belligerent on issues of "terror" emanating from the Middle East
(West Asia) and North Africa, and, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in 
toe, there is now emerging a new definition of NATO's global responsibilities. 
Its expansion "eastward" now means not only in the direction of Russia but also 
towards West Asia.

A NATO-Israel protocol was signed in Brussels in November 2004 whereby closer 
cooperation was envisaged and Israel was invited to participate in military 
exercises and "anti-terror manoeuvres" with NATO, along with some Arab countries
such as Egypt, Jordan and Algeria. Under this aegis, joint exercises of U.S., 
Israeli and Turkish forces did take place in the eastern Mediterranean, off the 
Syrian coast, in January 2005. Similar exercises were held for Israel with a 
larger number of NATO countries the following month and have since then become a
regular feature. The premise of this growing integration of Israel into NATO is 
that Israel is under threat from the same sources which pose a threat to NATO 
countries - and, in deed, to their selected clients in the Arab world itself.

Hizbollah Plays the Spoiler

In the fatefully consequential year of 1967, Israel fought a swift war and not 
only destroyed the air forces of Egypt and Syria but also captured the remaining
Palestinian territories as well as Syria's strategic Golan Heights and Egypt's 
vast Sinai peninsula, placing its armour on the embankments of the Suez Canal - 
all in a matter of six days. Subsequently, it invaded Lebanon at will and 
imposed upon the country whatever arrangements suited its purposes. All through 
these years, it has killed, maimed, kidnapped, imprisoned as many Palestinians 
as it wished, while the loss of even a couple of Israeli lives in retaliation 
became the reason for more bombings, killings, kidnappings and so on. Thus it 
has been, and Israel's arrogance of power is based on concrete historical 

The notable feature of Israel's current onslaught against Lebanon is that it 
began with the usual, made-for-television spectacle of mass destruction of 
civilian populations and infrastructure that has become the norm in recent 
years, reaching a particularly high-pitched crescendo in the "Shock-&-Awe" U.S. 
blitzkrieg against Baghdad in the opening days of that invasion. Much of the 
Lebanese national infrastructure was destroyed in a matter of days, as were the 
habitats of hundreds of thousands people in southern Beirut and other Lebanese 
cities; half a million refugees were generated in a week in a country half the 
size of Uttaranchal and more sparsely populated than it.

On the ground, however, the supposedly invincible Israeli Army simply could not 
move even half a kilometre without casualties. Hizbollah had evidently mastered 
the Vietminh-style art of laying landmines and building underground bunkers and 
tunnels for guerillas to operate from. From the skies, they destroyed cities and
villages alike but, on the ground, they had to fight fierce battles to capture 
even single villages, inflicting but also taking casualties. Used to being 
masters of the West Asian skies for half a century, they could not intercept the
ramshackle short-range missiles of Hizbollah, which fell at the rate of hundred 
a year on Israeli soil - for the first time in the history of the imperious 
Jewish state.

During its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel had shot down over a 100 Syrian 
aircraft without losing one of its own (U.S.-supplied, of course). Now, when 
Hizbollah could not even imagine having an air force of any kind, Israel lost 
four Apache helicopters and an F-16 jet - state-of-the-art U.S. hardware - 
during the first 10 days of its invasion: a stunning first in the history of 
Israel's perpetual assaults on Arab lands. As the Israeli attacks began, their 
generals announced on television that they are going to "eliminate" Hizbollah 
and Western newsprint was ablaze with headlines saying that Bush had given 
Israel a week to do the eliminating, knowing that pressure to impose a ceasefire
shall soon mount internationally. By the end of the second week, Israeli ground 
forces had made no significant progress while casualties were mounting beyond 
the endurance of the Israeli population which is used to not only victories but 
also victories without any significant casualties of their own; only the others 
are supposed to die. Israel had amassed troops on the Lebanese border with the 
assumption that Hizbollah shall be rendered powerless soon enough and the 
Israeli forces shall move quickly up to at least the Litani river.

With no significant progress on the ground and Israeli soldiers dying each day, 
while the Israeli government itself starting to talk not of "eliminating" 
Hizbollah but "weakening" it and "pushing" it farther away from the Israeli 
border, there began another kind of parade on Israeli television: retired high 
military brass and "experts" coming forward to say that the whole plan had been 
misconceived, that it needed re-thinking and so on. The latest news, before this
article goes to press, is that Israel has "halted" its much-awaited "ground 
assault" in Lebanon but has called up three full divisions of reservists for 
active military duty. Only the next few days will tell whether Israel will play 
safe and hope that the U.S. will arrange for a NATO force to occupy southern 
Lebanon on its behalf (with the consent of the Lebanese government), or will 
undertake that ground offensive later, with more massive forces.

When Israelis began shelling an area in southern Lebanon which had U.N. 
personnel in it, the U.N. Deputy Secretary-General contacted them 10 times to 
request cessation of the bombardment and an Irish military officer warned them 
six times; despite all these requests and warnings, the bombing continued and 
four U.N. personnel were killed in a direct hit. By the time U.N. 
Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Rome to attend the G8 Summit (plus Arab 
emissaries) to discuss the Lebanese situation, he was furious and demanded an 
immediate ceasefire; the Americans had already vetoed his bid to have his post 
as Secretary-General renewed, and they had dragged his name in mud on the issue 
of his son's involvement in the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, so he had 
nothing to lose. But he was then joined by everyone demanding a ceasefire, so 
that the U.S. and Britain found themselves isolated. The Israelis had had two 
weeks and they had simply not delivered, and, defiant as ever, Bush simply 
announced that he was going to give the Israelis as much time as they needed to 
do whatever they have planned. The Rome meeting ended in a fiasco, the so-called
"international community" having made no decisions except to leave the Lebanese 
to the mercies of Israel.

Hence the season of leaks. It is said that much is going on behind the scenes. 
That there shall be a multinational force of perhaps as many as 20,000 or 
30,000, led by Turkey or Germany or both, and involving contingents from a 
variety of countries, including India, Pakistan and Egypt. That it will start 
arriving in 60 days (plenty of time for Israel to do as it wishes) and the rest 
shall trickle in later. That its job shall be not to "disarm" Hizbollah but to 
re-locate it far away from the Israeli border. Whether that force shall be "led"
by the U.N., or "mandated" by it but "led" by another country, or assembled and 
"led" by NATO is unclear, even in these leaks.

None of it can happen without simultaneous agreement of the Israeli and the 
Lebanese governments, and the latter has no power to agree to anything not 
acceptable to Hizbollah. If that fragile government is forced to proceed without
the consent of Hizbollah, the government will fall and, with political vacuum at
home and Israelis pounding the country from the outside, Lebanon may gradually 
return to a sectarian civil war, an outcome that Israel shall greatly welcome 
because Hizbollah then can be sucked into fighting that civil war and relieve 
the pressure on Israel; Israel, in turn, can then start arming yet another 
rightwing Maronite militia, as in the past.

The catch in all this is that the situation within Lebanon has changed 
drastically over the past decade or more. Having been brought up under the dark 
shadow of a civil war fought by a previous generation and fuelled in part by the
Israelis, the new-generation Lebanese, who have seen their country go from 
rubble to prosperity, have no stomach for another civil war. There is 
undoubtedly a Far Right as well as a pro-Israeli elite which would like to see 
Hizbollah wiped off the face of the earth. But those forces no longer dominate 
Lebanese society as they did in the past. Most Lebanese view Hizbollah as a 
legitimate part of their national polity, and even its enemies have no sense of 
a blood feud against it, since it has never taken any Lebanese lives. As Azmi 
Bishara, the distinguished Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, wrote 
recently in the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, everything now depends on Lebanese 
unity; if that goes, everything goes.

Having come into Lebanon after being driven out of it with the force of arms, 
Israel cannot now retreat from this fight. Only the coming days shall show 
whether there is going to be a long-drawn-out war of attrition or a massive land
assault; massive destruction through aerial bombings shall in any case continue,
since that kills the Lebanese with no risk of Israeli casualties. Israel has 
claimed that Iranian arms are being brought to Hizbollah through Syria and it 
has gone to great lengths in asserting that it has carried out forensic tests 
which show that some of the most lethal rockets that have been fired by 
Hizbollah into Israel are of Syrian manufacture. This alone can be used as a 
justification for mounting an attack on Syria, or even Iran. Hence the 
Syrian-Iranian Summit in Damascus which is going on even as I write these lines.

Invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are behind us, possible invasions of Syria and
Iran are perhaps ahead of us, Lebanon is currently at the heart of the 
Zionist-imperial offensive. Meanwhile, a dozen or more keep getting killed in 
Palestine every week, a hundred or more in Iraq every day. The bloodlust of the 
imperium is unrelenting.

In conclusion, an odd fact. The severest condemnation of Israel's destruction of
Lebanon that any Arab government handed out came not from Saudi Arabia, the 
Keeper of Islam's Holy Places, nor from Egypt, the largest and most powerful 
country in the Arab world, but from the U.S.-occupied Iraq where the 
U.S.-confected Parliament passed a unanimous resolution of outrage against 
Israel's action and the U.S.-appointed Prime Minister openly joined Syrian and 
Iranian demand for an immediate ceasefire. A sign of the times yet to come?

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