Although it may appear as casual “tit for tat” tactics, Middle East violence cannot always be explained with such simplicity. The nature of the recent escalation at the Lebanon-Israel border is more complicated than it may appear.
Let’s be a bit bold while unveiling the context that might have influenced the most recent violence engulfing the Lebanon-Israel border, which so far, has resulted in the killing of a young Israeli man and the wounding of four others.
The Roadmap peace initiative–introduced by the United States and accepted by Israel and the Palestinian leadership–is not going very well, for either party.
Palestinians say that Israel’s release of 350 prisoners–keeping in prison 6,000 more, is simply not sufficient, especially as Israeli forces have arrested more than the number of Palestinian prisoners it released since its acceptance of the roadmap.
Israel seems a bit too nervous because of the lull in violence. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon thrives on violence. Under the banner of shielding Israel, Sharon managed to pull off a separation wall that is currently in the process of swallowing up 10 percent of the West Bank. He is expanding illegal settlements while cracking down on Palestinian resistance groups with a free hand, under the pretext that he is “fighting terror”.
But none of the pretexts of the past are of much relevance anymore, at least during this stage; Palestinian groups halted their attacks, almost completely. Those who wished to violate the ceasefire–signed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and various Palestinian factions on June 29–were caught and sent back. Even Israel’s frequent raids on the West Bank, most recently in Nablus, which killed several Palestinians, are bearing Israel no fruit. Once more, Hamas, along with other groups, assured Prime Minister Abbas that they would adhere to the ceasefire. Instead of a violent response, they simply handed Abbas, during a meeting in Gaza on August 5, a long list of Israeli violations of the ceasefire.
Confused by the Palestinian reaction, Sharon kept on playing an old tune, declaring that his government “will not tolerate roadmap violations.” Whose violations?
Despite the complicity of pro-Israeli media in the Western hemisphere, Israel is slowly regaining the image of the aggressor, an image maintained by Israel for too long, yet interrupted occasionally by Palestinian suicide bombings.
But it is not only the PR campaign that is occupying Israel’s mind. Rumors in Washington that were circulated by the media, indicated that the U.S. government might withhold aid to Israel over its insistence on constructing the separation wall in the West Bank. (AFP–5 August). Although President Bush distanced himself from the reports, his repeated use of the word “problem” while referring to Israel’s wall might have not been a slip of a tongue after all.
True, the right-wing alliance of the current Israeli and American government is too robust to be hampered by a lousy 1000km long wall–so what if 100,000 Palestinians will be encaged by tons of steal and concrete–but Israel who labored to forge that alliance is not the least ready to be in a defensive mode again, alone taking the flak while Palestinians are lauded.
On August 02, Ali Hussain Salih, a top Hezbollah official was assassinated in Beirut when a bomb ripped through his car. Since the Israeli intelligence is known to be active in Beirut, Hezbollah was convinced that Israel is the one responsible for the assassination.
A few days later, Hezbollah fired on Israeli positions in the occupied Shebba farms (the only remaining Lebanese territory in Israel’s hands.) Israel fired back, bombing villagers in South Lebanon. Hezbollah, once again fired, this time reaching a population center in northern Israel, killing a 16-year-old teenager. Hezbollah dubbed its attacks the “Martyr Ali Hussain Salih Operation,” after the man believed to have been assassinated by Israel.
Was Israel taken by a surprise by these sudden attacks? Not in the least.
What was truly sudden about these attacks is how Israel, (with the help of its friends in the United States government) managed to change the standings in the Middle East game of politics.
First, the escalation at the border helped transfer the pressure onto Lebanon, Syria and Iran, evoking condemnation from the U.S. government and top U.N. and European officials. The question of linking Iran and Syria to terrorism has once more resurfaced, which has played well in the hands of pro-Israeli pundits in the U.S. government and media.
Second, the separation wall, which has occupied the imagination of politicians in the Middle East and around the world for weeks, has been cast aside. The construction of the giant wall continues unabated with little or no criticism.
Third, Israel is once more the victim, as portrayed in the media. In fact, the Jerusalem Post tells us that Sharon doesn’t intend on retaliating with a major military strike. Instead he’ll allow the diplomatic channels to help “neutralize” Hezbollah; a sound move, indeed. A major strike against Lebanon will archive the border violence under the “tit for tat” file. Israel wants to prolong the fiasco by engaging the United Sates, the United Nations, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, the Arab League, the European Union and the world’s media in the less urgent matter as long as possible, so that it avoids the accountability pressures of the Roadmap.
But in the midst of all this, few have noticed that Israel has practically “froze” the Roadmap for peace, with Sharon telling his Cabinet on Sunday, August 10, that the Roadmap of peace is “on hold” until the Palestinians dismantle all of the anti-Israeli occupation groups, even though the occupation continues.
It no longer matters who provoked the border violence starting with the assassination of the Hezbollah official on August 02. What matters, at least to Israel, is that for now, it won an important round. Now, Sharon, a pressure-free man, is likely to pressure the Palestinians further over dismantling resistance groups, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in particular.
Sharon’s call is likely to resonate, this time much stronger in Washington and its influential media, for as far as the untrained-eye of U.S. media and officials believe, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, are all synonymous to al-Qaeda.
This is what Israel has been pushing for since September 11 until this day, and by far, this has been its most valuable card.
RAMZY BAROUD is the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and the editor of the anthology “Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion 2002.” 50 percent of the editor’s royalties will go directly to assist in the relief efforts in Jenin.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org