Is the Lebanon Invasion a Step Toward a Regional War in the Middle East?

The dividing line between peace candidates and pro-war candidates is no longer opposition to the Iraq War ­ a view now held by large majorities of Americans. It is whether they oppose the pre-meditated destruction of Lebanon by Israel ­ with U.S. weapons, and oppose a first strike military attack on Iran.

Israel’s massive attack on Lebanon, resulting in the death of more than 1,100 civilians and destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure, was certainly not about the capture of two soldiers in a cross border incident. Rather, it was a pre-meditated attack about a broader vision of a Middle East dominated by Israel and the United States working together.

Further, it may be part of a plan to attack Iran. The UN Security Council set a deadline of August 31 for Iran to stop its nuclear power program. Iran rejected the resolution saying it was legal for Iran to develop nuclear power. Does the upcoming escalation of the conflict between Iran and Israel/United States explain the timing of the massive attack on Lebanon? Did Israel act now to prevent a response from Hezbollah when Iran is attacked by Israel or the U.S.?

Already, President Bush acknowledges the Lebanon conflict was a proxy war between Iran and the U.S.; time will tell whether it develops into a direct conflict. But if an attack on Iran does occur Israel’s claim that is was responding to Hezbollah’s “terrorism” will be even more clearly seen for what is was ­ akin to the manipulation of claims of alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by the Bush Administration ­ an excuse to go to war.

In fact, the cross-border incident that led to the attack on Lebanon, where two soldiers were captured, was part of an ongoing series of conflicts at the Israel-Lebanese border. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

“Since its withdrawal of occupation forces from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israel has violated the United Nations-monitored ‘blue line’ on an almost daily basis, according to UN reports. Hizbullah’s military doctrine, articulated in the early 1990s, states that it will fire Katyusha rockets into Israel only in response to Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians or Hizbullah’s leadership; this indeed has been the pattern.”

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that Israeli aircraft crossed the line “on an almost daily basis” between 2001 and 2003, and after that “persistently” including in 2006. They report that these incursions “caused great concern to the civilian population, particularly low-altitude flights that break the sound barrier over populated areas.”

Or as George Monbiot reports Hezbollah’s action “was simply one instance in a long sequence of small incursions and attacks over the past six years by both sides. So why was the Israeli response so different from all that preceded it? The answer is that it was not a reaction to the events of that day. The assault had been planned for months.”

Further evidence that this reaction by Israel was premeditated is that fact that there is a long history of prisoner exchange between the Palestinians and Israel as well as Hezbollah and Israel dating back to 1948. In 2004 Israel released 436 prisoners in return for three Israeli soldiers and an Israeli intelligence officer. The prisoners included 400 Palestinians; 23 Lebanese; two Syrians; three Moroccans; three Sudanese; a Libyan; and a German Muslim. This time Israel reacted out of character and turned a border skirmish into an invasion with group punishment for Lebanese civilians.

Israel presented its plans for destroying Lebanon to the Bush Administration a little more than a year ago, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Israel’s Lebanese plans were at the center of political discussions during the annual World Forum, organized by the neo-con American Enterprise Institute, on June 17th and 18th of 2006. There, Benjamin Netanyahu and Dick Cheney conferred at length, along with Richard Perle and Nathan Sharansky. The White House gave the green light for Israel’s invasion a few days later.

This is confirmed by the independent reporting of Sy Hersh in the New Yorker who wrote that the Bush Administration had been told of the plans long in advance of the capture of the Israeli soldiers. Hersh reports “Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah-and shared it with Bush Administration officials-well before the July 12th kidnappings. ‘It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,’ he said, ‘but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.'”

Further, this pre-meditated military assault on Lebanon ­ thorough and well-planned ­ is consistent with a plan put forward for Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The strategy noted that the border with Lebanon was a problem that could be dealt with saying: “Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon.” The goal of the “Clean Break” plan was to remake the Middle East — much like the Bush neo-con vision — beginning with Iraq and then moving onto Syria and Iran.

Noted writer on U.S. intelligence, James Bamford, reports in a July article, that planning for an attack on Iran has been going on for five years. He describes the close relationship between U.S. neo-cons and the pro-Israeli lobby, AIPAC, a relationship that has led to indictments. And he reports how the neo-cons see the current Lebanon attack as a next step. Bamford concludes his article saying:

“To [the neo-cons], the war in Lebanon represents the final step in their plan to turn Iran into the next Iraq. Ledeen, writing in the National Review on July 13th, could hardly restrain himself. ‘Faster, please,’ he urged the White House, arguing that the war should now be taken over by the U.S. military and expanded across the entire region. ‘The only way we are going to win this war is to bring down those regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and they are not going to fall as a result of fighting between their terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon on the one hand, and Israel on the other. Only the United States can accomplish it.'”

Hersh reports the Bush Administration supported Israel’s plans to attack Hezbollah as a prelude to a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran:

“President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.”

An attack on Iran may lead to a regional war, but comments by American officials demonstrate the chaos of regional war may be welcome. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a press briefing on July 21, 2006: “What we’re seeing here is, in a sense, the growing ­ the birth pangs ­ of a new Middle East, and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.”

After months of beating a war drum for an attack on Iran around the issue of nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the Bush administration seems to have failed to garner enough support for this path to an attack. Perhaps after the August 31 UN deadline they will pound those drums louder, but it seems evident that the U.S. is trying to use Lebanon, and their allegations of close ties between Hezbollah and Iran, as another path to war with Iran.

The so-called opposition party, the Democrats, are trapping themselves in a political corner where they will be unable to oppose an attack on Iran. The House of Representatives voted 410-8 in favor of Israel’s war in Lebanon, a resolution that also “condemns enemies of the Jewish state.” The Democrats, loyal to their funders from the hard right Israeli lobby, are cheer leading the attack on Lebanon and, sound like Bush when they discuss Iran as well.

The defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman is just one more signal that this November’s elections are going against pro-war legislators. The anti-war movement needs to build on this momentum and not let an expansion of wars in the Middle East empower pro-war politicians. The timing of an attack on Iran, whether it is before or after the election ­ or whether it occurs at all ­ could depend in part on how well the anti-war movement organizes electorally.

Anti-war voters need to make clear that they will resist these manipulations by refusing to support any politician who fails to actively oppose the Iraq quagmire, or other escalation of combat in the region. Those voters opposed to war should become committed peace voters and sign the VotersForPeace Pledge at www.VotersForPeace.org and build a fierce anti-war electoral movement which does not tolerate or protect pro-war incumbents from defeat this fall. The peace movement must prepare to rapidly turn escalation of hostilities into a political poison for pro-war politicians.

It is time for the anti-war movement to put forward its vision for the future. A future that is based on multi-national, not unilateral, actions; one that is rooted in diplomacy and negotiation, not shock and awe and one built on stability and peace, not instability and chaos.

For Israel the current path does not lead to peace or security. It must make peace with its neighbors ­ that begins with ending its occupation of Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territories as well as the return of the thousands of political prisoners it holds.

The success of Hezbollah in responding to the awesome, high tech military power of Israel, along with the success of the resistance in Iraq, should show the United States and Israel that the future is not in bombs and military force, but in multi-national diplomacy. Organized peace voters can drive that message home.

KEVIN ZEESE is Director of DemocracyRising and a candidate for U.S. Senate.



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Kevin Zeese is an organizer at Popular Resistance.

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