by Gerry Foley / September 2006 issue of Socialist Action
The month-long war between Hezbullah and Israel, in which Israel tried to hold the entire country of Lebanon as a hostage, was halted by uneasy truce on Aug.14.
It seems that none of the parties involved expected the truce to last. Only days after agreeing to the UN resolution for a cessation of hostilities, Israel staged a commando raid Aug. 19 in the Bekaa Valley near Syria. The Zionist state insisted on its right to continue to carry out such operations despite the protest of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who condemned it as a violation of the truce.
The Israelis claimed that their operation was aimed to prevent Hezbullah from being resupplied from Syria. But Lebananese commentators argued that it was an attempt to capture one of the principal Hezbullah leaders. The Israeli commandos lost one officer in the raid and suffered other casualties but kidnapped some local men that they claimed were Hezbullah fighters.
The Beirut French-language daily L’Orient Le Jour commented in an editorial Aug. 22: “On the one hand, Hezbullah is still refusing to disarm, and is encouraged to hang tough by its relative victory. On the other, it is obvious that Israel is preparing for a second round of fighting.
“By a grim irony, while in the past Israeli intelligence worried about a Lebanonization of the Gaza Strip—that is, a failure of the Palestinian state represented by Fatah in the face of an irresistible rise of Hamas—today the Hebrew state is trying to make Lebanon into another Gaza, by subjecting the country to a pitiless blockade and continuing imperturbably its targeted strikes against Hezbullah.”
The basic reason for the fragility of the ceasefire is that Israel failed to achieve its objectives in the war. It aimed to clear Hezbullah from southern Lebanon and thereby to open up the way for the occupation of the area by an international imperialist force that would spare the Zionist state the material and political expense of holding the Arab resistance at bay. On the last day of the fighting, more than 200 missiles hit northern Israel. Thus, the Zionist military proved utterly incapable of even stopping the rocket fire.
According to the UN resolution, southern Lebanon is to be occupied by Lebanese army troops, backed up by a UN force. But the Lebanese army commanders have made it clear that they have no intention of confronting Hezbullah, which polls show has the support of nearly 90 percent of the Lebanese public.
Moreover, countries offering troops for the UN contingent also evidently are not looking forward to taking on Hezbullah, as reflected by France’s reneging on its initial offer and the European Union’s holding back. On Aug. 23, the French government shifted its stance again, offering to end 2000 troops and to take command of the international force. But the Indian government has declared that it is reconsidering its offer to send troops.
The Syrian government obviously fears that the international force will be an auxiliary of Israel since it has declared that it will consider its deployment on its borders as a hostile act. But it is still uncertain how much power or political maneuvering room the force will have.
French and European Union officials have argued that the UN resolution leaves the rules of engagement for the international force unclear. The Christian Science Monitor noted Aug. 23: “Because of opposition from the Lebanese government, which includes Hizbullah cabinet ministers, the resolution did not give the force broad rules of engagement that would have allowed peacekeepers to take offensive action.”
It quoted French general Brisset as saying: “The problem is, what should the force do? If the Lebanese have a problem disarming Hizbullah, will this force come out and fire on Hizbullah? And if the Israelis send in commandos to assassinate Hizbullah leaders, does the force sit there and let it happen?’”
The Israeli rulers are well aware of the fact that political realities on the ground rule out disarming Hezbullah and that they may not be able to rely on the Lebanese and international forces to combat the resistance organization. Therefore, it is very likely that they are going to continue to prepare for another round of fighting and pursue targeted strikes.
The Aug. 19 Bekaa Valley raid was likely an attempt to wipe out the embarrassment of the failure of their assault by a spectacular commando raid and capture of leading Hezbullah leader. The Zionist government has made it clear that it intends to continue try to murder the resistance leaders, focusing above all on the charismatic Hezbullah chief, Hassan Nasrallah. During the war, the Zionist military systematically targeted the Hezbullah leaders but failed to hit them. That was one of its notable failures.
The leading Israeli military expert, Ze’ev Schiff, wrote in the Aug. 18 Haaretz about the surprises that Hezbullah had dealt the military. It was in strange to talk about surprises when Israel had been preparing for this war for years and it was, according to the experts, the best prepared war that the Zionist state has ever fought.
Schiff talked about the failure of the Israeli Defense Force to consider the effect of the mass deployment of the antitank missiles that it knew Hezbullah had, as well as its failure to estimate the extent of the Hezbullah missile arsenal and the difficulty of preventing the launching of its short-range rockets.
In a second article, published Aug. 22, Schiff pointed to another surprise that was more fundamental than any such military technical problems: “One of the main conclusions of the war against Hezbullah will be the fact that the fighting abilities of the ground forces deployed by the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon have been blunted by years of police action in the territories.
“Most units, in their training and operations, followed fighting doctrines of police forces and not of standing armies. Hezbullah trains, fights, and is equipped as an army, utilizing some of the most advanced anti-tank missiles and other weapons.”
In other words, the Israeli army had gotten used to fighting lightly armed and amateurishly trained resistance fighters, whose main weapon had been their desperation. The Hezbullah fighters had the same desperation—plus modern weapons and training. They were able to inflict sufficient casualties on the Israel army to make the IDF commanders hold back from undertaking large-scale ground operations until late in the war.
Instead, the Israeli military relied on air power, which inflicted terrible damage on the civilian population and economy of Lebanon but had relatively little on the Hezbullah. For that Israel paid a very high political price, a price that apparently ultimately led them to accept a ceasefire before they had achieved their military objectives. And that was despite the avowed determination of the U.S. to support the Israeli assault, regardless of the international horror it aroused, until the Israelis achieved their objectives.
In a report released Aug. 23, the human rights organization Amnesty International condemned Israel for war crimes, specifically for violation of the Geneva Convention’s ban on collective punishment. Haaretz of Aug. 23 cited the report: “‘The widespread destruction of apartments, houses, electricity and water services, roads, bridges, factories and ports,’ which, taken with statements by Israeli officials, ‘suggests a policy of punishing both the Lebanese government and the civilian population in an effort to get them to turn against Hezbollah.’”
The article noted the balance sheet of the Israeli bombings by humanitarian and relief agencies: “The UN’s children’s fund, UNICEF, estimates that some 1183 people died, mostly civilians and about a third of them children, while the Lebanese Higher Relief Council says 4054 people were injured and 970,000 displaced. UN officials reported that around 15,000 civilian homes were destroyed.”
During the war, about a fourth of the population of Lebanon, a million people, were forced to flee their homes. Those now returned to the shattered villages in southern Lebanon find the area littered with exploded bombs and cluster bombs that may continue to kill for years. Even some Israeli soldiers have been killed and wounded since the ceasefire by previously unexploded cluster bombs.
L’Orient Le Jour noted in its Aug. 22 issue: “The work of 15 years reconstruction to repair the damage of the civil war have been wiped out by the recent Israeli bombing, the UN Program for Development announced yesterday. The UNPD estimates the damage at $15 billion, if not more.”
Moreover, the Israeli bombing seriously damaged the environment. A massive oil spill resulting from the blasting of an electricity generating plant may continue to poison the Lebanese coastal waters for a decade.
In the face of such ruin and meager military results, the U.S. could not simply continue indefinitely to back up Israel’s continuation of the war, in particular since the American policy-makers did not want to see the destruction of the Lebanese economy go to the point that it destroyed the basis of the conservative pro-imperialist Seniora government. In fact, the U.S. rulers were playing a complex game.
In an article published by Common Dreams.org Aug. 19, Stephen Zunes referred to an article in the July 30 Jerusalem Post, a right-wing Zionist publication, that claimed that the U.S. had been pressing Israel to expand the war by attacking Syria. Zunes wrote that apparently the Israeli rulers considered that idea “nuts.” In fact, it would have led to a regional war of vast and unpredictable scope, since Syria is in an alliance with Iran.
The U.S. rulers apparently consider the Islamic Republic of Iran as the major danger to their policy in the region, but given its size and power, they are reluctant to confront it directly. The war in Lebanon thus had an aspect of proxy war between the U.S. and Iran, in which Israel was a catspaw that got burned. Zunes wrote: “…numerous Israeli press reports indicate that some Israeli officials, including top military officials, are furious at Bush for pushing [Israeli Premier Ehud] Olmert into war.”
An index of the failure of the Israeli assault is that the Olmert government is facing demands for its resignation, as well as that of top officers, from reserve soldiers and their families. Polls show a majority of the population favors the removal of Olmert.
Recent protests in Israel have generally had an aggressive Zionist character. Their focus has been the claim that Israeli losses were increased by indecisiveness. The protests overlook the fact that although the polls showed that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public supported the war, they also showed that more than a third opposed expansion of the ground assault and its threat of far greater loss of life of Israeli soldiers.
Despite the fact that their discontentment is misdirected, these protests nonetheless reveal the dilemma in which the Zionist rulers find themselves. They do not have the political and military force they need to defeat resistance forces and their clumsy strikes at them only increase their political problems.
In these circumstances, it was not only Israel that suffered a defeat in the Lebanon war but its big brother, the United States. For the U.S., it is a defeat that comes on top of its defeat in Iraq, its inability to crush the resistance there, and the increasing threat it faces of a widening of support for the resistance. Overall, the position of U.S. imperialism and its allies in the Middle East is clearly becoming increasingly precarious.
Unfortunately, as the escalation of the Israeli air war in Lebanon showed, when the imperialists are backed into a corner they can lash out with extreme ruthlessness. To forestall new massacres and atrocities, it is essential to keep the spotlight of publicity and protest on the repression and aggressions of the imperialists and their stooges in the Middle East.