Into the Valley of Death

I am in blood
stepp’d in so far that,
should I wade no more,
returning were as tedious
as go o’er.”


Israel’s capacity to shed Arab blood has remained undiminished since its creation, winning it territory but no real friends or security and promising it a violent and unrewarding existence. One main lesson of the past three weeks—the first Middle East conflict fought on Israeli rather than Arab lands—is that Israel’s aggression can no longer be conducted with impunity.

The tragedies of Jewish history may explain Israel’s leaders’ actions, perhaps, their endemic paranoia and inability to deal with their neighbors in any other manner than aggressive superiority. What is hard to explain is why the United States and the United Kingdom, this latter newly and firmly in the pillory as Israel’s second most loyal and uncritical supporter, and their media, for the most part, fail to ask most of the correct questions about the roots and nature of the horror that has been revisited on Lebanon, and to a much lesser extent on northern Israel (no false equivalence here).

It is not surprising the nascent UN Security Council resolution is being endlessly kicked around like a soggy medicine ball in a back alley. The Shapeless Thing will find itself added to the pile of similar failed discards that have been deployed to try to simultaneously evade, avoid and solve the Lebanese-Israel problem. One stands back in awe as at Balaclava while the French volunteer to lead this latest ride into the Valley of Death.

Consider UN SC 1559, of 2004, which called, inter alia, for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.” This unique interference by the Security Council in Lebanon’s internal affairs, was jointly sponsored by the US, anxious to diminish Syria, and France, equally keen to reassert itself in an old possession it has never got out of its sentimental old post-colonial heart, to punish Syria for doing in Lebanon what France nor anyone else could, bring security, and to rejoin the top table of nations, as France saw it, after its spat with Washington over Iraq.

The Lebanese Government, Russia and China all opposed (but did not vote against) Resolution 1559, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry representative of the time pointing out presciently that if there were a threat to Lebanon it did not come from Syria. If UN Security Council resolutions are so sacrosanct, we might well ask why all the enthusiasm for 1559 and its successors when somehow interest in 242 and 338, of some 39 years vintage, calling for Israel’s withdrawal from Arab territories occupied in 1967, and condemning the acquisition of territory by force, has waned to the point of vanishing?

Any new resolution acceptable to the US and therefore Israel, and which places foreign troops-especially the French, co-authors of 1559—on the Lebanese side of the border only, thus consolidating and promulgating gains Israel has made, will be unacceptable to Hezbollah. Hezbollah will remain after this Israeli onslaught the single biggest and best-armed construct in the fragile consensus of warlords and fiefdoms that holds Lebanon together at the best of times. These are not the best of times. If it does not wish the Lebanese Army to deploy south to the Israeli line, in collaboration with foreign forces there with an enemy’s permission and co-operation, such deployment will not happen, certainly not to effect.

If it is tried, in the ensuing chaos Israel will tire of the arrangement and the clashes with Hezbollah will continue at some early future stage in among or over the heads of the unfortunate peacekeepers. Any army volunteering for this mission should dust off the 1983 files, when Hezbollah-inchoate blew the US Marines and the French paras to kingdom come.

Another question no-one asks: is Lebanon a nation-state in the sense the US , the UK and France would have us believe? Is it not rather a provenly frail arrangement that holds together when the going is good (as it was, mostly, under Syrian aegis between 1990 and 2005), with the reluctant co-operation of all the sectarian movements, interest groups and chiefs? And that as the most powerful players in this game, Syria and Hezbollah can build or wreck as they see fit? It may not be a Good Thing or a Nice Thing but it is a long, observable fact of the Levant. Long after Israel has decided to take a rest and/or hand over for a while to some unfortunate patsy of a peace force, Hezbollah and Syria, together and separately, will be at the heart of Lebanon’s future.

More questions, rarely asked: we hear this one, a lot: why should Israel tolerate a burgeoning armed force with rockets on its northern approaches? We do not hear asked back, why should Arabs tolerate the most powerful state in the Middle East’s history clanking its armor and peering through its intrusive lenses into their territory and sending over bombs, troops and jet-fighters at will?

It can be argued the Arabs have no choice in the matter, but they have now — Lebanon has chosen how it wishes to resist Israel, quite effectively over the past 10 years or so, and the Arabs of the region are pleased that at last someone has registered with Israel that aggression is no longer dressed with impunity. The Arabs cannot win, they will suffer, but at last it is not without damaging retaliation.

More importantly, what business is it of anyone’s how Lebanon defends itself, given its neighbor to the south and its record since 1948?

We hear, from such experts as Fergal Keane of the BBC, writing in The Spectator of August 4, that Iran and Syria “meddle” in Lebanon. Indeed they do, Fergal. The resistance that finally cleared Israel out of South Lebanon after 22 years would not have been formed without them, and would not be sustained today. Do not then the US in strident particular and the West in general “meddle” in the region, by sustaining Israel as the military master of the Middle East? Are we are right to castigate the indigenous peoples of the region for taking a lively interest in their own futures? Does anyone look at maps or read history?

Hezbollah miscalculated three weeks ago (so did Israel). It had not gauged the momentum that had built up behind 1559, especially after Syria so badly overplayed its hand in Lebanon, was deeply implicated in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, in February and was forced out of Lebanon. Weakness was perceived and the train of war was fired up and set in motion.

By the mid-2000s, Syria was overplaying its hand in Lebanon and it deserved its comeuppance; but anyone who thought Syria would or even could go away was staring into a mirror distorted by wishful thinking. Syria’s role in Lebanon is crucial and everlasting, whether the rest of the world likes it or not; Hezbollah IS Lebanon, is OF Lebanon, and cannot be quelled or removed or subsumed: it is not an alien body, like the PLO, which was removed from Lebanon by Israel and Syria, which delivered the coup de grace to Yasir Arafat in 1983. Hezbollah fighters, even if reduced, and so far not much sign of that, grow in Lebanese homes on Lebanese soil. There are tens of thousands of boys now aged ten to fourteen who in five years time will make up numbers and will have been forged in the fury that Israel has so mistakenly and shortsightedly administered.

You do not have to support this view to know its truth and hope that American and British politicians might absorb it, if only in the pragmatic interests of their own citizenry.

Hezbollah and Hamas, beyond Lebanon, have become the voice of the Arab world in lieu of the nation states, kingdoms and republics who dropped the interests of their peoples long ago. Though these Arabs of the Street and their new heroes cannot turn soon the tide of American-Israeli-Western military and political pressure, they have put us and Israel on notice that for the first time in modern history the Middle East conflict is being fought on Israeli as well as Arab land, and that the highly mechanized delivery of death by machine that has been the fate of the Arabs since 1917 — yes, 1917 — comes no longer without cost, human and economic, for everyone.

Israel has made itself the least safe place in the world for a Jew to live, a terrible reflection on the calamity of Zionism for its own people and others.

TIM LLEWELLYN, a former BBC Middle East Correspondent, based in Beirut and Nicosia in the 70s,80s and early 90s, covered his first Middle East story in Southern Lebanon in May, 1974. Lebanese Shi’ite villagers were shrieking at Lebanese Army soldiers to protect them from Israeli shells,which were falling all around, and the PLO guerrillas who were provoking those attacks. They could not then and cannot in the future. The lesson of thirty-two years is that these people’s only effective protectors were and will remain Hezbollah, whatever hasty arrangements the UN tries to make this week on Israel’s behalf. Without Hezbollah, and without a solution to Israel’s seemingly irreversible expansion across the region, there will be no solution in Southern Lebanon or anywhere else nearby. He can be reached at