The destructive and lethal forces unleashed this past summer by the United States and Israel upon Lebanon are not surprising in light of their historical roots in at least four patterns of conflict:
First, the unwillingness of Israel and its American patrons to resolve the question of the Palestinian refugees and provide for a viable Palestinian state, but rather the exploitation of this conflict to intimidate other Arab states in the region, especially Lebanon.
Second, Israel’s territorial ambitions in southern Lebanon, especially regarding water, as well as the economic challenge posed to Israel by a peaceful and thriving Lebanon as a center of finance and tourism.
Third, Israel’s doctrine of massive and illegal retaliation against civilian populations in response to Arab terrorism and resistance, as a means of asserting unquestioned military superiority in the region and preventing the establishment of a deterrent force that would necessitate good faith negotiation.
Fourth, Israel’s military alliance with the U.S., and its willingness to serve American interests in the latter’s efforts to dominate the region’s energy resources, as defined more recently by both neoconservative and neoliberal doctrines that have engendered the destruction of not only Lebanon but Afghanistan, Iraq, and Gaza; and have also justified the increased concentration of wealth and economic inequality in both Israel and the U.S.
The Palestinian Question:
Palestinian refugees have resided in Lebanon since the 1948 war. After the 1967 war, Israel continued bombing refugee camps in southern Lebanon. Ron David (Arabs and Israel for Beginners) quotes London Guardian correspondent Irene Beeson (writing in 1978) that “150 or more towns and villages in South Lebanon . . . have been repeatedly savaged by the Israeli armed forces since 1968.” In 1970, PLO leadership was driven from Jordan to Lebanon. After the 1973 war, Yasser Arafat began to signal that he would accept a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, building on an interpretation of UN resolution 242 that called for the formation of a Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza.
According to Noam Chomsky (Middle East Illusions):
“The issue reached the UN Security Council in January 1976, with a resolution incorporating the language of UN 242 but abandoning its rejectionism, now calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The resolution was supported by virtually the entire world, including the major Arab states, the PLO, Europe, the nonaligned countries, and the Soviet Union, which was in the mainstream of international diplomacy throughout.
“Israel refused to attend the UN session. Instead, it bombed Lebanon once again, killing more than 50 villagers in what it called a ‘preventive’ strike, presumably retaliation against U.N. diplomacy . . . The United States vetoed the resolution, as it did again in 1980.”
Chomsky (The Fateful Triangle) documents that Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, long-planned and killing 20,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, grew out of fears of a peaceful resolution: “The PLO was gaining respectability thanks to its preference for negotiations over terror. The Israeli government’s hope, therefore, was to compel ‘the stricken PLO’ to ‘return to its earlier terrorism,’ thus ‘undercutting the danger’ of negotiations.” As such, this was a “war for the (illegal) settlements.”
The background for the recent American-Israeli destruction of Lebanon was, of course, Israel’s relentless starving and bombing of Gaza (with American weapons), beginning in its current intensified form after the election of Hamas early this year, with an escalation well before Israel’s kidnapping of two Palestinian civilians on June 24th, followed the next day by the capture of an Israeli soldier which “precipitated” full-scale Israeli bombardment. While Hezbollah’s capture and killing of Israeli soldiers two weeks later must also be seen in the context of six years of border violations since Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 (with a ratio of 10 to one in favor of Israeli violations), it was arguably also a response in solidarity with Israel’s assault on Gaza. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have legitimacy as religious, populist, and nationalist resistance movements in a Middle East dominated by American-approved authoritarian regimes. As such, they threaten American/Israeli hegemony if they become viable democratic actors and legitimate negotiating partners.
Israeli Ambitions in and Competition with Lebanon
Israel’s long-term territorial ambitions are discussed in the diaries of the second Israeli Prime Minister, Moshe Sharett (1954-56), in accounts of conflicts with his predecessor David Ben-Gurion. These diaries form the basis for Livia Rokach’s Israel’s Sacred Terrorism.
“The 1982 ‘operation,” as well as its predecessor, the ‘Litani Operation” of 1978, were part of the long-standing Zionist strategy for Lebanon and Palestine. That strategy, formulated and applied during the 1950s, had been envisaged at least four decades earlier, and attempts to implement it are still being carried out three decades later. On November 6, 1918, a committee of British mandate officials and Zionist leaders put forth a suggested northern boundary for a Jewish Palestine ‘from the North Litani River up to Banias.’ (A 1919) proposal emphasized the ‘vital importance of controlling all water resources up to their sources.'”
In the 1960s, as Ron David reminds us, Beirut was the “Paris of the East,” a financial center with a tourist boom. In December 1968, Israel bombed the Beirut airport, destroying 13 civilian airliners in a “retaliatory raid” in response to an attack by two terrorists belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at the Athens airport that killed one Israeli. The UN Security Council condemned the attack, but as David suggests, “Lebanese tourism nosedived; Israel’s tourism went up, and up.” The Lebanese economy was devastated by civil war (1975-90) and Israeli invasions (1978, 1982).
In this context, it’s worth noting the comments of two Lebanese businessmen interviewed on Democracy Now.
Georges Hanna, manager of a factory for prefab housing: “They hit everything: 25,000 square meter coverage area, factories, all of them damaged. We think it’s about — they have also some factories that made the same products like us, and they made this attack to eliminate us from the market.”
And Michel Waked, manager of a larger dairy factory: “You know, this is the third time our factory get destroyed. In ’82, the same thing happened. It’s not the first time. So how can you consider Israeli as a friend, or whatever? You always consider Israel the enemy. And the only dairy who can compete with them is us.”
Among other things, the destruction of Lebanon can be seen as a kind of state-sponsored neoliberal gangsterism.
Massive and Disproportionate Retaliation Against Civilians
The first notorious example of Israel’s doctrine of massive retaliation against civilians was at the Jordanian village of Qibya in 1953, reviewed by Walid Khalidi in an article also based upon Sharett’s diary.
Ariel Sharon’s Unit 101, under orders from Moshe Dayan, responded to the murder of an Israeli mother and her two children by infiltrators into Israel by blowing up 45 houses and killing 69 civilians, two-thirds of them women and children.
Israel’s implementation of this policy based on a racist “language of force” (directed at Arabs who stand accused of understanding no other) does not necessarily require a clear provocation, as in 1982, when the assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London by the Abu Nidal group (sworn enemies of the PLO) provided the pretext for a long-planned invasion into Lebanon, literally a “war against peace” to drive out the PLO, which had scrupulously observed a truce for nearly one year. Nor does the initial action have to victimize Israeli civilians for Israel to “retaliate” primarily against Arab civilians, as recent events in both Gaza and Lebanon demonstrate.
In The Fateful Triangle, Chomsky quotes remarks by General Mordechai Gur regarding the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, as summarized by military analyst Ze’ev Schiff: “In South Lebanon we struck the civilian population consciously, because they deserved it . . . the Army has never distinguished civilian (from military) targets . . . but purposely attacked civilian targets even when Israeli settlements had not been struck.”
U.S.-Israel Military Alliance
The U.S.-Israel military alliance can be traced to the early 1960s, and has been global in nature, especially regarding the support for terrorism in Latin America in the 1970s and 80s. With the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, Israel became even more important as a protector of American interests in the Middle East. This alliance has intensified during recent years with the neoconservative Project for a New American Century, 9/11, and the re-declaration of the 1980s “war on terror” by the Bush administration. The promotion of military solutions and of fear in the general population in both countries directly relates to transfers of wealth to military-industrial sectors. Both countries are thus beset by a vicious cycle of fear, war, and widespread economic desperation, for which invaded and occupied peoples have paid the highest price.
Regarding the specifics of U.S. support for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, Stephen Zunes writes:
“There is increasing evidence that Israel instigated a disastrous war on Lebanon largely at the behest of the United States. The Bush administration was set on crippling Hezbollah, the radical Shiite political movement that maintains a sizable block of seats in the Lebanese parliament. Taking advantage of the country’s democratic opening after the forced departure of Syrian troops last year, Hezbollah defied U.S. efforts to democratize the region on American terms. The populist party’s unwillingness to disarm its militia as required by UN resolution-and the inability of the pro-Western Lebanese government to force them to do so-led the Bush administration to push Israel to take military action.”
Rhetoric and Reality in the “War on Terror”
As American and Israeli efforts to control events in the Middle East become increasingly problematic, there are increased efforts to re-cast the conflict in terms of a “clash of civilizations” between “Judeo-Christians” and “Islamo-fascists.” Such propaganda is obviously intended to invoke both Nazi Germany and the Cold War, reframing power-driven conflicts over land and resources as an essentialized global conflict of culture and religion.
But the ironies inherent in this propaganda may portend changes in violent historical patterns. The Bush and Olmert administrations have proved to be corrupt and deceitful; the relation between their rhetoric and reality evokes none other than fascist propagandists and Pravda. Hezbollah and Hamas have proved to be incorruptible popular movements, unrelated to al-Qaeda, that rightly stand in opposition to the Palestinian Authority, the government of Lebanon, and Israel. Meanwhile, the religious subplot in the secular Jewish State evokes Jacob Talmon’s 1965 assertion (quoted by Chomsky in Middle East Illusions) that “the Rabbinate (in Israel) is rapidly developing into a firmly institutionalized church imposing an exacting discipline on its members. The State . . . has given birth to an established Church.” But the religious Jew stays at home or in the illegal settlements while the secular Jew is conscripted to fight in an American/Israeli war for oil and hegemony that targets civilians and infrastructure, and now invites serious retaliation against his community. One possibility to be hoped for is that the secular Jewish-Israeli conscript and impoverished American “volunteer” will come to see no future in all of this, and realize that their respective states are also (and just as fundamentally) at war against their own citizens.