The Lebanon Ceasefire
"How can the deployment of the expanded UN force in southern Lebanon, brought about by Israel’s attack on its northern neighbor, facilitate the broader goal of achieving regime change in Iran?"
That’s surely the question uppermost in the minds of Bush administration neocons as they seek to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat following Israel’s costly and unsuccessful effort to destroy Hizbollah. Urged on by the Bush administration (while condemned by the rest of the world), Israel undertook its invasion not for the reason advertised (in response to recent Hizbollah attacks) but to deprive Tehran from using the Shiite militia in retaliation for the long-planned attack on Iran. If the Lebanese fighters can be driven from the border area back behind the Litani River, they will be unable to launch missile attacks such as the 3800 provoked by Israeli’s most recent invasion.
The deployment of a UN-legitimated, probably French-led force in south Lebanon is in theory designed to "secure the border." But UNIFIL itself has reported nearly daily violations of Lebanese airspace by Israel since the Israeli withdrawal from the area in 2000. (Lebanese of all faiths credit this withdrawal to the efforts of Hizbollah fighters.) In reality the expanded UNIFIL mission is intended to eliminate Iran’s ability to respond to imperialist aggression against itself through the use of its Lebanese allies. It’s a mission preparatory to that aggression, preceding Iran’s expected rejection of the U.S.-backed "generous offer" to Iran and reiteration of its inalienable right according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium.
"We are creating a situation where everything we’re going to try short of military force is going to fail," says Ilan Berman, an Iran specialist with the American Foreign Policy Council, which advocates an aggressive posture towards Iran. While many, including some "defense officials" in Israel, doubt the willingness of the White House to exercise the military option, the U.S. has been preparing for it, step by step. First there was the campaign of vilification inaugurated with Bush’s first state of the union address in 2002, in which the president included Iran in the "axis of evil." Then there was the rejection of Iranian diplomatic overtures, and the hype about Iran’s nuclear program, in 2003. Then the presentation of dubious "intelligence," the campaign against IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei (for refusing to find Iran in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty), and the arm-twisting of the IAEA culminating in its disgracefully partisan vote in November 2005 in favor of a report stating Iran’s "many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement [voluntarily signed by Iran in 2003] . . . constitute non-compliance" with the NPT.
Back in May, when the U.S. agreed to join in talks with the Iranian regime if it agreed to suspend uranium enrichment," the U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton told Neil Cavuto of Fox News that Bush was "taking this step to show strength and American leadership. He’s doing it to say ‘We gave Iran this last chance to show they are serious when they say, "We don’t want nuclear weapons." This is ‘put up or shut up’ time for Iran." It was in fact setup time for Iran. By giving Iran an offer it had to refuse, the administration expanded its ability to legitimate further aggressive moves. The expanded UNIFIL mission in Lebanon should be viewed in this context of a relentless drive for regime change in the Islamic Republic. Its presence increases the likelihood that a broader war in the Middle East triggered by an attack on Iran attack will find France and other nations contributing UNIFIL troops on the side of the U.S. and Israel, if only in the Levant theater of an expanding war for the reconfiguration of Southwest Asia. Even if the French, Russians, Chinese and others (along with global public opinion) deplore a U.S. strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, they will not stand in such loud opposition as they did last time—when the U.S. criminally invaded Iraq. That, at least, is the apparent neocon hope. More importantly, U.S. public opinion will more likely accept an attack on Iran if it can be sold as part of the "War on Terror." Bush has already depicted Israel’s attack on Lebanon as part of that war, and the U.S. corporate media has dutifully portrayed the recent fighting as between Israel acting in self-defense and a "terrorist Hizbollah" acting as a proxy for Iran, the world’s "most active state sponsor of terrorism."
The propaganda hasn’t been wholly effective; polls show that Americans were more inclined to see the Israeli action against Lebanon as virtually all European heads of state described it publicly: "a disproportionate response" to the "kidnapping" (capture) of two Israeli soldiers. But only the occasional courageous (and marginalized) commentator (like Scott Ritter) challenges the depiction of Hizbollah as terrorist. Americans remain deprived of the knowledge that Hizbollah is a huge, popular political movement, a significant element in mainstream Lebanese politics, enjoying according to one recent poll 87% approval in Lebanon’s religiously divided society. (Few Americans are aware that many Christians—who make up maybe 40% of the total—admire this "terrorist" group!) Those promoting a broadening of the terror war, such as the hideous Elliott Abrams, can rest assured that most Americans accept the notion that Iran, Syria and Hizbollah are all somehow terrorist, evil, and connected to the horror of 9-11. Perhaps a third of the nation is inclined to accept an attack on Iran and the apocalyptic scenario to follow as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy—hence welcome in preparing the way for the Lord. Even if Iraq’s a disaster, Afghanistan a growing problem, and the president widely perceived as stupid and dishonest, the neocon-driven administration just might get what it wants—its new Israel-centered U.S.-occupied creatively chaotic Greater Middle East—by the end of the president’s second term.
Condi Rice is going the way of her predecessor Colin Powell, sidelined by the neocons closest to the idiot-president’s ear. Reportedly furious at the reports of Israel’s attack on Qana in late July, she like virtually all foreign ministers in the world urged an immediate ceasefire. But she was ignored by her cowboy boss who insisted there be no return to the "state within a state" status quo. No matter that scandal surrounds the neocons, that their lies have been exposed by numerous investigations. They still ride high in the saddle, relying on ignorance, bigotry, fear, disinformation, the cooperative neofascist bluster of high-profile telejournalists, the Israel lobby and political smear apparatus to accomplish their goals. (AIPAC’s president Howard Friedman has boasted that "only ONE nation in the world came out and flatly declared: Let Israel finish the job," praising AIPAC members and "the rest of American Jewry" for pressuring Washington to give Israel carte blanche, while also insisting that the Lebanon conflict was a mere "diversion" from the real problem: "Iran’s nuclear weapons program.") Chief among these goals is to wipe the Islamic Republic of Iran off the map.
So how indeed can this UN deployment in Lebanon, taking shape as I write, aid the neocons’ and AIPAC’s ambition to topple the government of Iran? By wedding the U.S. Europe, and Israel in the common cause of disarming the most admired armed force in the Middle East and broader Muslim world, and thus involving them all cooperatively in an effort calculated to provoke Syria and Iran. True, France and the EU continue to omit Hizbollah from their U.S.-inspired lists of international terrorist organizations. True, France questions the need for a 15,000-strong UNIFIL force in Lebanon and criticizes aspects of U.S. policy in the region. Russia continues to oppose UN sanctions against Iran. All is not going exactly as Washington’s warmongers would like, and some report that the Israeli government has concluded that its American patron’s won’t destroy its "existential threat," leaving it to the Jewish state to pull off another, more ambitious, Osiraq. (Recall that Israel destroyed a French-built Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1982 and was condemned even by the Reagan administration for this violation of international law.)
But even if things don’t pan out precisely as planned, the UNSC-brokered peace on the Lebanese border may spark a chain reaction producing an American empire, friendly to Israel, corporate America and permanent U.S. military bases, from the Mediterranean to the Khyber Pass. That’s a very bad scenario, inevitably generating endless low-intensity conflict. One can only hope that the Lebanese Army—whose rank and file are disinclined to quarrel with their patriotic brothers in Hizbollah—and whatever international troops are sent into the border region reject their assigned role in the provocative plan. In different scenarios, long-suffering Lebanon might either provide the stage for the next world war’s opening act, or help stop the crusaders in their tracks.
Hizbollah could be key here. The much-maligned movement and party has apparently cultivated ties with secularists and the left. It is no Taliban; Hasan Nasrallah, admires the eminently secularist and humanist Che Guevara, and has stated that he doubts sharia law will ever be accepted in Lebanon’s multicultural society. It looks to me as though Lebanese society has united against the U.S. imperialist program, involving as it does subtle designs to bring European allies/rivals on board, and that this is largely due to the Shiite organizers’ careful efforts to promote nationalistic unity. Such unity if it holds could inspire the growing global antiwar movement in the coming weeks. It could backfire big-time on Washington’s warmongers whose terrorist record finds few parallels in recent history. One should be optimistic.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: email@example.com