Cry Havoc


The G-8 statement on Israel’s war on Lebanon puts the onus on Hezbollah. The Europeans are wringing their hands. Mr. Blair begs Mr. Bush to give him leave to mollify public opinion in Britain. Meanwhile, the Syrian ambassador to the US, Imad Mustafa, the Lebanese Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, and the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal plead with the U. S. government to “restrain Israel.” The mad dog has been let loose, but no-one can seem to get the owner to apologize for it or to bring it back home. Among the emissaries of the Arab ruling class, the plea to the U. S. is made to indicate that they don’t want to beg Tel Aviv, to whom they cannot be seen to be subservient. Their cringing in Washington D. C. is acceptable, and it is understood by the eminences that this is a message to Israel.

But among U. S. liberals there seems to be no such subtlety. The illusion is well-fed, that the U. S. government is outside this current conflict and that pressure from Washington, D. C. could force the Israeli army to the barracks. The plea that we should put pressure on the White House to act is misguided. The White House is deaf to these calls; it already has a dog in this fight. The call for the U. S. government to restrain Israel relies upon at least two premises:

(1) That the U. S. government and ruling class do not share a foreign policy with the Israeli ruling establishment.

(2) That the U. S. government is capable of telling the Israelis to back off.

The second point is mooted by the first. The U. S. government is not prepared to tell Israel to back off. Indeed Bush’s enthusiastic statements and the fresh shipments of U. S. armaments to Tel Aviv egg on the Israelis to prosecute this assault. Even if the U. S. government did ask Israel to slow down or shutdown the assault, history shows us that Israel will not listen. One might recall the visit by the “man of peace,” Ehud Barak, to Washington, D. C. shortly after his election victory (enabled by Clinton pal James Carville). After he signed a $2.5 billion deal to get fifty F-16E bombers, Barak hit Clinton hard for being “patronizing” and reminded the U. S. never to become the “policeman, judge and arbitrator” of Israeli relations with the Arab world. It is with some irony that I recall reading Clinton’s carp over the July 2000 Camp David fiasco, when he told Barak that he could no longer countenance being treated “like a wooden Indian doing your bidding.”

Bush in Moscow carped with his wingman, Mr. Blair, about the United Nations’ role in the current fracas. “What about Kofi,” he asked, “That seems odd.” Before Israel ruthlessly killed four U. N. unarmed observers, Mr. Annan had made noises about a ceasefire (now his tone is more militant, angered by the cold-blooded killing not of the Lebanese, but of the four U. N. employees). “I don’t like the sequence of it,” Bush told Blair, “[Annan’s] attitude is basically, cease-fire and everything else happens.” Bush does not want the fires to cease. He wants Israel to continue. This comes from the old theory of how to deal with the mosquitoes.

Major-General Yehoshafat Harkabi had been Israeli’s chief of military intelligence from 1955 to 1959, and a major proponent of the armed road against the Palestinians. Over time, Harkabi came to realize the futility of Israeli intransigence, and he began to call himself a “Machiavellian dove.” In 1984, Harkabi noted that the solution to terrorism was not an escalation of Israeli military response, but the completion of a political settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “To offer an honorable solution to the Palestinians, respecting their right to self-determination: that is the solution to the problem of terrorism. When the swamp disappears, so will the mosquitoes.” Harkabi’s point is simple, that a political solution would remove the grievances (the swamp) and peace would drive out the militants (the mosquitoes).

On September 18, 2001, during a press conference at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld borrowed and twisted Harkabi’s metaphor. “Terrorists do not function in a vacuum,” he noted. “They don’t live in Antarctica. They work, they train, and they plan in countries.” The only way to undermine terrorist networks, said the Pentagon’s leader a week after 911, is to “drain the swamp they live in.” Unlike Harkabi, Rumsfeld did not mean that the U. S. should create a political settlement with those who bear grievances against it. Rather, he argued, they and their neighborhoods must be obliterated. “This adversary is different. It does not have any of those things [armies, navies, air forces] or any high-value targets we can go after. But those countries that support them and give them sanctuary do have such targets.”

Hezbollah, formed in 1982 in reaction to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, was placed on the U. S. State Department terrorist list in 1997. The U. S. like Israel, therefore, sees Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In 1992, Hezbollah began to play an active role in Lebenese electoral politics, and seemed, if the conditions were ripe (i. e. if Israel conducted a political settlement with the Palestinians and truly withdrew from all of Southern Lebanon, including the Shams Farms), to move in the direction of the IRA-Sinn Fein. This was not to be. The provocations continued, and were intensified recently. Since the U. S. sees Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, it gives Israel the widest latitude to do to Lebanon what it did to Afghanistan and what it is doing in Iraq. The civilian population is the oxygen of groups like Hezbollah and they must therefore be “drained” if the mosquitoes are to be destroyed. Israel has been catholic in its choice of who to name a terrorist. Shimon Peres once noted, “If there were an Israeli in Central America, the Americans would not have the problems they do there.” In other words, the IDF would be so much more reliable than the Contras. The PLO, the African National Congress, the Algerian FLN ­ anyone who crossed Israel’s path was tarred with the label “terrorist.” How must these groups be dealt with: as Chief of Staff General Rafael Eitan said, “The PLO must be fucked” (Ma’ariv, January 3, 1986). The IDF’s pacification campaign against the Palestinians and the Lebanese is a reflection of this, a policy that is being followed with American accents in Iraq.

Harkabi must feel shifty in the afterlife. This invasion and the “peace process” are designed to do one thing: not to create stability in the Middle East, but to pacify those who neighbor Israel. A condition of being human is to demand freedom. Pacification is a myopic solution to Israel’s long-term problem. Hezbollah and the people of southern Lebanon might be destroyed, but from that earth and from the blood around it, other forces will arise. The swamp is never drained. It finds its water, and breeds its own mosquitoes.

VIJAY PRASHAD teaches at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. His latest book is Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare (Boston: South End Press). His essay, “Capitalism’s Warehouses”, appears in CounterPunch’s new book, Dime’s Worth of Difference. His forthcoming book is The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, November 2006). He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu



Vijay Prashad, director of International Studies at Trinity College, is the editor of “Letters to Palestine” (Verso). He lives in Northampton.

October 06, 2015
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