Why the Bush Administration Wants to Negotiate Now with Hezbollah
Note: This is the second installment in FRANKLIN LAMB’s extraordinary three-part series, which we are publishing across Thursday, Friday and the weekend. Editors.
"These fools do not learn from their past mistakes. When they withdrew from Lebanon, they continued to occupy the Shebaa Farms and kept our brothers in custody. Had they released them when they left Lebanon, there would not now be a ‘prisoner issue’ between Lebanon and the enemy. They opened the door for us."
Hassan Nasrallah, January 2004, during a welcome home ceremony for Lebanese and Arab detainees as a result of a Hezbollah-Israel swap.
As discussed below, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the Bush administration is prepared to concede that Hezbollah keep its weapons. Even though it encourages its marionettes to foment this issue, and does so itself publicly, the Bush Administration knows that Hezbollah is not going to disarm until the Question of Palestine is settled to the satisfaction of the Palestinians. Yet it feels that focusing on Hezbollah’s militia is still a good pre-negotiation bargaining chip.
The word ‘militia’ with respect to Hezbollah requires a brief clarification.
The term Hezbollah ‘militia’ is used by the Bush administration as a substitute for the internationally (except in Israel) accepted term Lebanese Resistance. In private or in front of Zionist groups the Bush administration simply refers to ‘Hezbollah terrorists’ to describe the Lebanese Resistance. The Bush administration has not been able to bring itself to utter the R-word in public. Indeed, the noun Resistance is banned from even the US Embassy Press office here in Beirut ever since former US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman exclaimed in frustration at last year’s Embassy Staff Christmas party (reportedly after a couple of glasses of holiday ‘punch’): "even hearing that word gives me gas! … F—k the Resistance!!", he repeated twice as the Ambassador moved center stage in front of the staff decorated Christmas tree to lead the guests, with his arms raised and keeping time to the music, in the singing of his favorite Carol: "O Little Town of Bethlehem".
Those in Lebanon who miss the former US Ambassador may be relieved to know that while Jeffrey did not get the Gulf posting some at the State Department thought he was angling for, he is evidently content to be back in Washington.
As a reward for his three years service in Beirut, Elliot Abrams got him named #2 in the Welch Club, serving directly under David Welch with the new crisp title: Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Near Eastern Affairs.
This post puts Feltman on the front line regarding Hezbollah and in close contact with his long time soul mate, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Kristen Silverberg. Silverberg came out this week with more threats for those who may be indicted and brought before the Hariri Tribunal, a cause long championed by Feltman. Kristen emphasized that Secretary of State Rice had pledged that "The court will try the suspects in Hariri’s assassination and related crimes." The "related crimes" language was chosen to signal Hezbollah that its suspected activities in the 1980s and 1990s may be fair game for the Tribunal and its leadership could theoretically be indicted and arrest warrants issued. This is a squeeze presumably calculated to make Hezbollah more receptive to ‘offers’.
To reinforce this latter point, Samir Geagea carried the identical threat when he briefed the media on his return from Washington on April Fools Day. The tribunal, according to Geagea, "wouldn’t just deal with the Hariri assassination, but would also shed light on what has happened in Lebanon in the past 30 years." (Beirut media wags have suggested Geagea may know something about that subject).
Geagea advised the media that he also raised the issue of Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails and "we were surprised by the answer from the State Department that Hezbollah is negotiating with Israel on this issue!" Geagea may not have been aware that Washington was using him in the role of ‘good cop’ on this issue. The point regarding Hezbollah ‘handling that issue’ was emphasized to Geagea, according to a Congressional source who attended an Israeli lobby reception for Geagea, in order to signal Hezbollah. The message Geagea unwittingly carried was that the US realizes that on certain issues vital to Lebanon, Hezbollah is best suited to carry the file and that the US respects Hezbollah’s competence and, indeed right, to get Lebanon’s prisoners released since no one else can do the job. The same source opined "that the US is increasingly inclined to use Hezbollah against Israel and vice versa".
To maintain pressure on Hezbollah, each month US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad repeats his ‘bad cop’ tirade against Hezbollah at Turtle Bay. His skit is to demand from the 15-member Security Council, during its monthly meeting on the Middle East that: "Hezbollah must immediately disarm! I would like to underscore our deep concern about the illegal arms transfers across the Syrian-Lebanese border, and in particular claims by Hezbollah that it has replenished its military capacity since the summer 2006 war. Hezbollah must disarm, and it must do so now, in accordance with resolutions 1559 and 1701."
This month Khalilzad was joined with a nearly identical and simultaneous statement by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack and, perhaps out of politeness, none of the Security Council members mentioned Israeli violations of UNSC 1701. Not to be eclipsed by Silverberg, Khalilzad then urged member states to "generously support" the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The irony of his strident call to implement all of UNSC Resolutions 1559 and 1701 (which Israel has failed to do) was not lost on the Security Council members given recollections that in 1978 the Israeli army invaded south Lebanon and the Security Council issued Resolution 425 demanding Israel’s immediate and unconditional withdrawal form Lebanese territory. Under US pressure the Security Council was paralyzed and for 30 years did nothing to implement the resolution. Nor did the Security Council invoke Chapter Seven of the UN Charter which would have allowed the UN to take military action to enforce 425.
While nothing effective was done to implement SCR 425 for 30 years or for 41 years concerning UNSCR 242 and more than a dozen others, the Bush administration supports the Israeli claim that the matter is now closed. Of course it is not closed and according to 174 countries out of 193 members of the UN whose delegates were polled by students from Columbia University, UNSCR 425 is not fully implemented since Israel still occupies the Lebanese territory of Shebaa Farms and Ghajar village.
Some UN members point out that it took only seven months for the key provision of UNSC 1559 regarding the withdrawal of Syrian troops and the "disarming of militias" to be implemented under threat of Chapter 7 military action (the next and seventh UNSC monitoring and progress report which will focus on Syria and Hezbollah will be issued on April 28): seven months to implement 1559 in contrast to 30 years for 425 or 41 for 242 both still not implemented. Why? A delegate from China surprised some by providing the short answer: Because 425 and 242 targeted Israel and 1559 favored Israel.
President Bush also does not pass up many opportunities to keep political pressure on the Lebanese Resistance. On the 25th anniversary of the bombing at the US Embassy in Beirut last week he told the world: "The people of Lebanon have spent the better part of three decades living under the threat of violence, assassinations, and other forms of intimidation. Since the Beirut attack, we and citizens of many countries have suffered more attacks at the hands of Hezbollah and other terrorists."
One week before, the strong Zionist supporter of Israel and Islamophobe, MEP Jana Ken of the Liberal Group urged the European Parliament on April 9, 2008 to put "it [Hezbollah] in the list of terrorist organizations in order to contain Hezbollah’s influence and its activities and in order to curb its power over the Islamic world." Within hours, US-inspired charges were leveled by Bulgaria that Hezbollah has benefited from drug smuggling revenue across from its territories.
Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, in a memo to the Bulgarian Embassy in Beirut, said the charge made by the Bulgarian parliament’s security committee is "totally denied by us." The memo added: "We hope that it is not motivated by Zionist agitation with the aim of hurting the image of resistance movements." It called on "Bulgarian parliamentarians to be more accurate in this respect."
Another "let’s squeeze Hezbollah" tactic of the Bush administration is to periodically issue Anti- Hezbollah Warnings for U.S. Citizens. On an average of every seven months, David Welch, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs will try to pressure Hezbollah with yet another Lebanon Travel Warning for U.S. Citizens designed to lead the world to believe that Hezbollah is dangerous for Americans.
The latest is dated April 22, 2008 and is directed: "(t)o US citizens in Lebanon as a result of the ongoing political tensions and the threat of attacks against Western interests. This Travel Warning informs U.S. citizens of current safety and security concerns". The US government "continues to strongly urge that Americans defer travel to Lebanon and that American citizens in Lebanon consider leaving immediately or consider carefully the risks of remaining."
The statement says that "Hezbollah has threatened retaliatory actions for the assassination of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh who was killed in Syria Feb. 12, 2008." Finally, it warns that "Prominent members of Hezbollah have intimated that they hold the United States partially responsible for Mughniyeh’s death, and it is possible that someone may lash out against U.S. interests or persons."
No sooner had he tried to frighten Americans in Lebanon than Welch warned the general public here on 22 April that "Another hot summer awaits the Lebanese after political efforts to settle the Lebanon crisis reached a deadlock, including the Arab League initiative." Welch was quoted at a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday, further warning that "Tourism (in Lebanon) is expected to drop due to tensions in the country".
Against this pressure background, what is the Bush offer and why now?
US allies are urging the Bush administration to open dialogue with Hezbollah and efforts to isolate Hezbollah have failed.
British Defense Secretary Des Browne in a newspaper interview published in the March 30 2008 UK Daily Telegraph agreed with Jonathan Powell, formerly Tony Blair’s top adviser, that Hezbollah should be engaged in discussions. The efforts to politically isolate Hezbollah along with Hamas have failed. Just last week the French Embassy in Beirut invited Hezbollah’s foreign affairs representative to lunch. President Carter’s meetings with Hamas will accelerate the process.
In addition, pro-Hezbollah sentiment is growing in Jordan and Egypt as reflected in legislation introduced in the Jordanian Parliament this week to abrogate the Oct. 26, 1994 Treaty with Israel. While the proposal will not pass this year, the Bush administration is being advised that both Jordan and Egypt will likely abrogate their treaties with Israel following anticipated rebellions against the Abdullah and Mubarak regimes.
Nearly two-thirds of the 27 Countries that make up the European Union are said to believe that it is doubtful whether there really is a viable military option – American, Israeli or combined – for destroying Hezbollah. The Party is too integrated and has support all over Lebanon and the region. Even if there were, the war in Iraq has effectively eliminated it. The American military’s strength has been exhausted in Iraq and Afghanistan and it has inadequate force to devote to a particularly dangerous third front. This is perhaps the greatest consequence of the neocon adventure in Iraq, where after five years there is no end in sight. The United States may be stuck in Iraq for years to come, regardless of who the next president is or how many casualties it takes. Israel may end up as the main victim of the Iraq adventure it instigated.
‘Essential’ Bush administration/Israeli projects have failed in Lebanon.
Neither the Sunni-Shia conflict, the Kleiaat airbase, the Al Qaeda affiliates, a civil war nor the planned and supported July 2006 destruction of Hezbollah has been realized.
A brief comment on one of its projects. The Bush Administration and their Welch Club allies brought al Qaeda elements from Iraq to Lebanon and Syria, starting in 2005, for two purposes. One was to fight Hezbollah and thus weaken Iranian influence in the region and the second was to ignite another Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Syria like the April 1981 attack on the Alawite village of Hama or overthrow the Bashar Assad government.
When Al Qaeda arrived in Lebanon they did what all motivated al Qaeda types do when they arrive in a staging country to organize jihad. They frequented mosques, prayed more than the required five times a day, held late night study and planning sessions, and went shopping. The women shopped at BHV, Spinneys, local shops and the Beirut Mall for baby needs and school supplies and the men went shopping for weapons and fighters. Based on interviews with some who associated with Fatah al Islam during the past 18 months, it appears that many in Lebanon today think they were the good guys in the conflict at Nahr al Bared. Many salafists thought they were coming to Lebanon to fight UNIFIL, perhaps bomb some western and Arab Embassies, try to ignite a war with Israel and generally do what they like to do best.
However, it soon became clear to Fatah al-Islam that they were expected by local pay-masters to fight Hezbollah instead. The salafists demurred because they understood for the first time that they were brought to Lebanon to be used against Syria and Iran.
During discussions the main reason they refused to fight Hezbollah was made clear. Most al Qaeda partisans take seriously the Islamic injunction against fighting fellow Muslims unless in self-defense while others feel apostates are fair game. They also admire Hezbollah, who they report has been reaching out to Sunnis, and don’t want to fight them, because as one commented: "we are on the same side working in Lebanon to liberate Palestine, so we must not fight each other."
Their analysis is nearly identical to the one just offered on 4/23/08, in an audio message posted on the Internet by Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Dr. Zawahiri announced that:"Lebanon will play a pivotal role in the Islamists’ fight against the Crusaders and Jews. Lebanon is a Muslim frontline fort. It will have a pivotal role, God willing, in future battles with the Crusaders and the Jews. I call upon the jihadist generation in Lebanon to prepare to reach Palestine, and to banish the invading Crusader forces which are claimed to be peace keeping forces in Lebanon," he said in reference to the U.N. forces deployed along the borders with Israel. From this observer’s impression, they are indeed organizing for that role.
These young people generally appear very modest, clean cut, polite, smart and serious; one imagines, rather like the image of Mohammad Atta to his neighbors in Hamburg. They are less interested in talking about what they say is ‘minor jihad’ i.e. violently fighting their enemies and prefer to discuss "greater jihad" which is an introspective concept of individual self improvement, becoming a better person by pure thoughts, good deeds, study, and following the teachings of the Koran.
In some ways they remind one of Maoists during the Chinese Cultural Revolution period, sitting around discussing the concept of "the new Maoist man", the guidance found in the little Red Book, engaging in self-criticism, inner struggle trying to follow the correct path in life, and the Islamic imperative of self improvement. This is different from the western perception of them as being religious fanatics in the Hagee Christian Zionist mold.
No viable civil war option
Another reason the White House wants to put out ‘feelers’ to Hezbollah is that it has concluded that it is not likely to be able to ignite a Lebanese Civil war and what was thought by the Welch Club to be perhaps its most promising project, is not going to happen anytime soon.
Even foreign visitors based in Beirut who talk with exhausted and traumatized middle aged former militiamen who did the fighting and killing between 1975 and 1992 sense this. One is struck by how many of these former killers (one fellow confessed to this observer to killing more than 130 men, women and children just because they were Muslims) feel remorse, seek absolution, and speak out against renewed fighting. Many are warning Lebanon’s youth not to repeat their mistakes despite some heated galvanizing rhetoric from certain ‘leaders’. They want a better life for their children.
During the 15 year Lebanese civil war more than 150,000 were killed. In a civil war usually one side wins. There are social, political, economic, cultural changes as a result. This did not happen with the Lebanese civil war. Things ended after 17 years of fighting much where they began. There were no winners in Lebanon.
Everyone lost. Those who following the Taif agreement first thought they won came to realize that they also lost. Much of Lebanon was destroyed, almost annihilated and it lost its regional position. All the militias committed massacres against other sects and some even against their own. The cliché that "Lebanon was used as a battleground for foreigners to fight their battles" is not accurate.
The Lebanese used the willing outsiders to fight their internal battles. Lebanese militias were probably more violent and ruthless than those who gave them arms and money.
Following the war, rather than create a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the instigators of the civil war–many of whom are still ‘leaders’ today–gave themselves a blanket amnesty. Some continue to agitate on the same issues with the same self evident and self righteous ‘truths’ that festered 30 years ago. Few in their confessions have confidence anymore in these warlords and prefer that they just keep quiet.
"We fought for nothing and we lost everything. Lebanon went mad and we killed because others were not like us. Show me a family in Lebanon who did not lose a loved one! We have nothing but our sorrow and tears to show for it. We were betrayed and cheated by those we killed and died for. Our young people must not become the next lost generation or the next war generation!" a sandwich shop owner in Alay commented.
With these widespread sentiments in Lebanon today it is tough to ignite internal war, although ‘incidents’ require only a few thousand dollars. Moreover, a civil war would require Hezbollah’s involvement and that organization has repeatedly made it clear it will not fight fellow Lebanese. "Our weapons are for use against Israel and not for use against our countrymen", is a commonly heard sentiment from Hezbollah members.
When Hezbollah took many casualties during fights with Amal in the late 1980s ("a very black page in Shia history" according to one Hezbollah source), rather than engage in all-out war against their fellow Lebanese today they will take casualties again without answering– ‘a thousand casualties’ Hasan Nasrallah stated– if necessary to keep the peace. (NB. Regarding clashes with Amal eighteen years ago, Hezbollah did finally lose patience and crushed Amal in south Beirut and the intra-Shia conflict ended with an agreement on November 9, 1990).
The Lebanese Association for Human Rights recently organized events for the April 13 anniversary of the 1975 Ain al-Rummaneh killing of 27 passengers on a Palestinian bus; a massacre that ignited, within hours, the Lebanese civil war. "We want those who lived the civil war to tell the younger ones of what awaits them if a new conflict erupts," Association Member Ziad Khaled 32, stated. "We also want to forewarn our politicians that we won’t follow them into a new war."
A Regional War is Unlikely
Despite the media hype these days, many Middle East analysts as well as the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by former presidential candidate Joe Biden (D-Del), consider that the Bush administration and Israel are not likely to ignite a regional war, however tempting that may be, before Bush leaves office.
Someone on Capitol Hill put it bluntly: "If Barack Obama wins, no regional war. If John McCain ("bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!") wins, move to Alaska ’cause all hell may break loose."
The Committee Staff thinking mirrors that of Middle East specialists that the unpredictability factor and the potential very high cost create a strong deterrence. According to one Committee source, "It’s like the old MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) Doctrine during the Cold War. MAD actually kept the peace. It worked because the parties knew they would lose too much. In this region it is the fear in Israel and Washington that will keep the peace for the foreseeable future. We do not see a war coming either inside Lebanon or in the Region. Of course I could be wrong!"
Another Committee source emailed:
"The Russians disagree with our analysis. Russian military intelligence services remind us that heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran with our Naval presence in the Persian Gulf have reached the level that existed before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and this suggests that Bush (Cheney) may act in the next few months and leave the mess for the next administration."
Indeed, General Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences did claim last week that the Pentagon is looking for a way to deliver a strike against Iran "that would enable the Americans to bring the country to its knees at minimal cost." The USS John C. Stennis, with a crew of 3,200 and around 80 fixed-wing aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, eight support ships and four nuclear submarines are being deployed in the Gulf, where a similar group led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has been based since December 2006, and recently fitted
The CIA and the Pentagon Weigh In
"Those bastards [the Israeli military] know the rules and what the US Arms Export Control Act requires! The CBU 58’s are decades out of date! We [the US] have not even had them in our weapons inventory since we last used them in 1991 during Desert Storm. They are now complete junk and I am amazed that any of them after 35 years even detonated. By using them this time in Lebanon, Israel was illegally dropping landmines."
–Pentagon official commenting on Israel’s use of American weapons against civilians in Lebanon during the July 2006 war (chap. II, The Price We Pay)
It has been a fact that, since at least 1982, perhaps the harshest and most frustrated American critics of Israel are those who work in Langley, Virginia, at CIA Headquarters and especially those across the 14th Street Bridge from the White House, on the banks of the Potomac River, who work at the Pentagon.
Harshest because, as fed up Pentagon employees have long protested, they work with Israel closely on weapons supply matters and they know first hand how consistently the US is lied to and cheated by Israeli weapons procurement officials. Frustrated because they are prohibited by law, politics and the ever watching Israel lobby from disclosing the regular chicanery they witness to the public.
American researchers, including the late indefatigable Janet Stevens, learned about Pentagon attitudes toward Israel decades ago when she methodically wrote down serial numbers found on US cluster bomb canisters and other ordnance during the 75 day Israeli siege of West Beirut, now less than two months shy of a quarter century ago.
Janet’s motivation was transparent. She wanted proof to offer to skeptical Beirut media (‘Hotel Journalism’ as she used to call it) who were blithely repeating Israeli denials regarding its use of American weapons. Many hunkered down in the Commodore Hotel Bar waiting for Israeli press releases rather than venture out into the dangerous streets of Beirut. Janet made a ‘deal’ with Pentagon contacts that they could have the scores of serial numbers she catalogued (which the Pentagon wanted in order to learn how far down its stockpile of US cluster bombs and ordnance Israel had dipped during its 1982 invasion) if the Naval Ordnance Disposal Unit working at the Indian Head, Maryland Navel Base would provide Janet with diagrams of the US cluster bombs and information on how to disarm them. It was agreed and the information Janet received was used to make public information posters for Beirut citizens warning of the danger and how to defuse the US cluster bomblets. (In those days the humanitarian work such as being done today by Qatar, UAE, UNICEF and other public information projects re cluster bombs were not functioning as well in Beirut—but Norwegian Aid, Oxfam, the Menonites and a few others were here).
Even some in the French, British and Italian contingents of the so-called ‘Multi-National Peacekeeping Force’ (MNF) used Janet’s posters because the US Marine contingent was not allowed to share their technical information concerning US weapons with their allies. (Copies of these posters distributed around Beirut are reproduced in the 1984 volume, Israel’s War in Lebanon, F. Lamb, Ed, South End Press).
Whereas in 2006 Israel saturated South Lebanon with four types of US cluster bombs, in 1982 Israel used all seven types that President Nixon had ordered transferred to Israel from the US stockpiles in Subic Bay, Philippines meant to supply US troops who were increasingly under pressure in Vietnam. Nixon later admitted he erred, but reported that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, fearing military collapse in the face of Egypt’s 8th army during the 1973 October war, had threatened to use nuclear weapons in the Sinai unless the US rescued Israel.
Increasing Pentagon anger in 1982-83 was the fact that US marine and navy ordnance disposal specialists based at the US Marine barracks were taking casualties from unexploded American cluster bombs, which Israel continued to deny using (an acquaintance of Janet’s, Corporal David Reagan, was killed next to his barracks on the edge of Beirut airport on September 30th, 1982 by an M-43 ‘birdie’ US cluster bomb and three of his platoon were wounded).
Researchers in West Beirut during the 11 week 1982 siege continued to catch the Israeli government’s serial lies as their officials maintained that US cluster bombs were not used against civilians in Lebanon. Janet knew differently and proved her claims with detailed lists of geographic place names, dates and types of US cluster bombs Israel dropped around Beirut on civilian areas.
This observer distinctly recalls even during heavy bombing and shelling in West Beirut when not a soul, stray cat or terrified bird dare venture out, Janet would say: "Yala! (Let’s go!) I heard from one of the guys [fighters defending Beirut] Israel fired 155’s nearby [155 mm shells holding 143 US cluster bomblets] with ‘birdies’!"
(‘Birdie’ was the nickname for the M-43 Raytheon manufactured cluster bomb which was widely used by Israel against civilians in 1978, 1982, and to a lesser extent in 1993, and 1996 but not at all, according to this observer’s research during 2006, contrary to some inaccurate reports).
Janet would lead the way through the smoke, deafening blast noise and debris along Hamra streets while her companion tried to keep up wondering to himself: "Why do I always do what this woman says?"
The Reagan administration had access to Janet’s work also through the media. President Reagan, after confronting Israeli PM Begin in late June of ’82, with what he and Secretary of State George Shultz believed was irrefutable evidence, was shocked by Begin’s complete denial and his aggressive demeanor toward Reagan. As the President later recounted, Begin pointed his finger at him and shouted that Reagan’s accusations amounted to "a blood libel against every Jew everywhere".
Reagan later explained that at the time of his meeting with Begin that he did not know what "blood libel" meant, but that he subsequently learned "that the man had looked me straight in the eyes and lied to me".
Reagan immediately cut off shipments of US cluster bombs to Israel and the ban lasted for 6 years, until in 1988 George H. Bush, in a tough race for the White House, and under pressure form the Israel lobby, got Reagan to lift the ban. George W. Bush has refused to re-impose it despite the July 2006 experience.
The Pentagon’s distrust of Israel reached new depths following the July 2006 war with Israel’s use of the now ancient Lockheed Martin CBU-58 A/B cluster bomb unit. This bomb which was first used in Vietnam consists of a large canister which is designed to open in flight dropping 650 baseball sized bombs called BLU (Bomb Live Unit) 61 or 63 depending on the fusing, shocked and enraged some in the Pentagon.
As reported in the recent volume, The Price We Pay, the Pentagon at first did not believe reports that Israel still had any CBU-58’s because they had been told that Israel used up their stockpile of the type in 1982. The CBU-58, it should be noted, was among those sent to Israel by Nixon from Vietnam in 1973!
Each one has a yellow tag on the ‘mother bomb canister’ that clearly states that the shelf life is ‘365 days’. Every one used by Israel and examined in Lebanon by this researcher following the July 2006 war showed this 365 days warning plus a manufacture date of March or August 1973.
Thus, according to the Pentagon and UN deminers, Israel dropped US bombs in 2006 that were up to 35 years out of date. This guaranteed, according to Pentagon specialists, that nearly 75 per cent of the CBU-58’s that Israel dropped were duds and now lie around South Lebanon as land mines. Other US cluster bombs Israel used (M-42’s and M-77’s) had lower dud rates as widely reported by the United Nations and various researchers on the scene.
Pentagon anger and frustration was strongly expressed in the autumn of 2006 by Pentagon officials (see The Price We Pay, Chap. II). As one official who oversees arms shipments from US stockpiles to Israel commented:
"Those bastards (the Israeli military) know the rules and what the US Arms Export Control Act requires! The CBU 58’s are decades out of date! We (the US) have not even had them in our weapons inventory since we last used them in 1991 during Desert Storm. They are now complete junk and I am amazed that any of them after 35 years even detonated. By using them this time in Lebanon Israel was illegally dropping landmines."
When asked why Israel would use them if they didn’t function as designed, the official replied:
"They were emptying their closets of old shit so they can get the new M-26’s. We (the Pentagon) don’t resupply them (the Israelis) until their stockpile goes down to a certain level. They told us they didn’t have any CBU-58’s which are purely anti-personnel. The M-26 is the rocket fired cluster bomb [Ed: He was referring to the Honeywell manufactured Multiple Launch Rocket System that fires 7,728 M-77 bomblets up to 35 miles in less than one minute] the Israelis used across South Lebanon and will use again during their next war. We suspended shipments of the M-26 during the July war after we learned about the CBU-58 and Israeli lies about what they were doing with the M-26’s in their inventory."
Some in the Pentagon are urging engagement with Hezbollah following the realization that Israel performed poorly in its latest attack on Lebanon. This included major military surprises such as the vulnerability of Israeli armor to Hezbollah anti-tank rockets which resulted in dozens of tanks hit and the greatest proportion of Israeli casualties among tank crews. On the first day of its ground offensive 27 Israeli troops were killed.
A recent Pentagon funded study of Israel’s July 2006 performance reached the following summarized conclusions:
* Israel erred in going to war over two captured soldiers.
* "Israel disregarded the central American tenet of precision targeting—that fewer weapons and less physical destruction can achieve desired effects with far less "collateral" damage, human and political."
* "Israel’s military strategy was deeply flawed. Israel bombed too much and bombed the wrong targets, falling back upon cookie-cutter conventional targeting in attacking traditional military objects. Israel also undertook an intentionally punishing and destructive air campaign against the people and government of Lebanon."
* "The IDF seemed to satisfy itself with conventional measures of "success"—accumulating suspect statistics of Hezbollah launchers and rockets hit, dead fighters, and destroyed Hezbollah "structures." Israel may have satisfied itself that every building and structure it was attacking in Beirut and every civilian home in the south was associated with Hezbollah, but the cumulative impact was far less impressive militarily and far more politically damaging than the planners and commanders projected."
* "Hundreds if not thousands of civilian buildings were falsely and promiscuously labeled Hezbollah "structures" and attacked in the name of degrading or destroying that organization".
* "Israel expanded its attacks on civilian targets to exact punishment on Hezbollah supporters and the government and people of Lebanon. Israel doggedly explained its action by reiterating again and again that Hezbollah fighters were "terrorists" and that Hezbollah was ultimately responsible for any damage caused, but outside of a small circle of supporters, Israel increasingly was objectified, by US military analysts, as the aggressor."
* "The argument we hear from the Israeli government is dubious i.e. that it had no alternative—that these otherwise civilian homes and buildings had to be attacked because of the nature of Hezbollah and its use of Lebanese society as a human shield."
* "Hezbollah’s resilience demonstrated that the organization had deep roots and enormous popular support in Lebanon, and yet Israeli political and military leaders seemed to believe their own propaganda that Hezbollah had no Lebanese support, was weak, and was losing. From this stemmed a wholly conventional and false measure of success that Israel seemed content to apply: Hezbollah’s six years of investment and effort to build up infrastructure in Lebanon was gone, the routes of Syrian and Iranian resupply were disrupted, 70–80 percent of the long-range and 50 percent of the short-range launchers were destroyed, half of the stock of actual rockets and missiles was destroyed or expended, and more than 600 Hezbollah fighters were dead. Destruction of the organization’s support infrastructure—roads and bridges, fuel, communications, media, even financial institutions—accumulated. The Pentagon knew that this was not true. Israel failed to make a holistic analysis of the military benefit relative to the human and political impact".
* "From a military standpoint, a different course should have been followed. Airpower as it was employed by Israel is not that alternative. (Added to this is the speculation that Hezbollah’s recently mentioned ‘Surprise for Israel" includes surface to air missiles that can destroy Israeli aircraft when they attack Lebanon).
Israel also failed to protect its tank crews.
The potency of infantry anti-armor weapons have plagued the Israelis since the 1973 Ramadan War when Russian-made wire guided Sagger missiles were fired in barrages at Israeli tanks by Egyptian forces crossing the Suez Canal.
In July 2006 Hezbollah used the Russian AT-13 Metis or Saxhorn, the modern tube-launched successor to the Sagger which can punch through 18 inches (46cm) of Merkava IV tank armor.
Israel’s ‘reactive armor’–which consists of explosive pads or bricks on the outside of a tank or vehicle–is designed to explode outwards when hit by an incoming missile, disrupting the effect of the missile warhead. But these enhancements have not proved sufficiently effective against the most modern anti-tank systems operated by determined fighters on the ground. Hezbollah adapted and used tandem charges whereby the first warhead triggers the Israeli ‘reactive armor’ and the second penetrates the tank. Hezbollah’s RPG-29, a shoulder-fired weapon designed with a tandem charge proved devastating to Israeli tanks. Military analysts speculate that were Israel to launch a major ground assault on Lebanon it would lose hundreds of tanks from tandem charge weapons including the Kornet which is accurate from three miles away, includes tandem charges, and can penetrate 1,200 cm of hardened armor. A reporter from the London Daily Telegraph reported seeing Kornet missile casings laying around Mar al Ras, Eita Shaab, and Aitayoun.
Next: in the third and final installment, Bait, Hook and Switch: the US offer and the quid pro quo.
FRANKLIN LAMB is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at email@example.com