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Friday, August 18, 2006


Middle East conflict II

The Israeli aggressor is let off the hook
by Chandra Muzaffar

The terms of Resolution 1701 are stacked against Lebanon and allow Israel to continue its military operations even after a ceasefire, says CHANDRA MUZAFFAR.

THE United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 is fundamentally flawed. It fails to name Israel as the aggressor in the war between Israel and the Hizbollah.

It does not demand that the aggressor ends its aggression and withdraws its troops — perhaps 30,000 of them — immediately and unconditionally from Lebanese soil.That Israel is the aggressor in the war that erupted on July 12 is an irrefutable fact. True, Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a border skirmish on that day. But there have been numerous skirmishes of this sort along the Israeli-Lebanese border in the last six years.

The British journalist George Monbiot notes that "on several occasions, Hizbollah fired missiles and mortar rounds at IDF (Israeli defence forces) positions, and the IDF responded with heavy artillery and sometimes aerial bombardment. Incidents like this killed three Israelis and three Lebanese in 2003; one Israeli soldier and two Hizbollah fighters in 2005; and two Lebanese people and three Israeli soldiers in February 2006".

Even in May 2006, an alleged Mossad assassination of two Palestinians from the Islamic Jihad in the Lebanese city of Sidon led to a border incident in which "one member of Hizbollah was killed and several wounded, and one Israeli soldier wounded".

Cross-border skirmishes, in the words of the American analyst, Phyllis Bennis, "happen around the world on a daily basis; certainly the Israeli- Lebanon border has seen more than its share". A skirmish need not become a war. It becomes a war only if one of the parties ups the ante.

And Hizbollah was not that party. It sought to exchange the two captured Israeli soldiers with the 15 prisoners of war taken by the Israelis during the 18-year occupation of Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, in breach of Article 118 of the Third Geneva Convention. The Israeli Government was adamant about not negotiating. Instead, it deliberately chose to launch a war by bombing the Beirut international airport and Leba- non’s infrastructure.

There are media reports suggesting that Israel had been planning an assault upon Lebanon for some time. According to the San Francisco Chronicle (quoted by Monbiot in the Guardian of Aug 8), "More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail".

The attack, he said, would last three weeks. It would begin with bombing and culminate in a ground invasion. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the paper that "of all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared... By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we’re seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board."

In any case, Israel’s military campaign in the last month clearly marks it out as the aggressor. More than 1,100 Lebanese civilians — one-third of them children — have been killed by Israeli bombs and artillery fire. Almost a million people have become refugees, with tens of thousands fleeing to Syria. Water supply systems, electricity grids, hospitals, schools, highways, harbours and airports have been destroyed. All major cities and almost all villages have been devastated in one way or another. The death and destruction wrought by Israel upon Lebanon is colossal compared with the number of civilians killed and infrastructure demolished by Hizbollah rocket attacks upon Israel.

And yet Israel’s criminal behaviour — specifically its savage massacre of children — does not even receive a mild reprimand in Resolution 1701. Israel is not held responsible for any wrongdoing. On the contrary, the resolution implies that Hizbollah is the root cause of the death and destruction that have occurred in Lebanon and Israel. It begins, for instance, by "expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hizbollah’s attack on Israel on July 12, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons".

More than absolving Israel of any misconduct, the resolution even allows the aggressor to continue its military operations after the cessation of hostilities. It "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations."

Israel, it appears, would be allowed defensive military operations. Since Israel regards all the wars it has fought from 1948, including the current one, as "defensive", it would be able to argue that any military action it undertakes after the formal ceasefire at 0500GMT on Aug 14 is legitimate under the terms of Resolution 1701.

The likelihood of this happening is real since Israeli troops will remain in southern Lebanon until the Government of Lebanon and UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) "deploy their forces together throughout the south". This could take a few weeks. One should not be surprised if Israel exploits this time gap to "dismantle" the Hizbollah which has been Israel’s primary military objective in Lebanon for decades. It is an objective that has eluded Israel as vividly demonstrated by the current conflict.
The Hizbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, in turn has made it abundantly clear that while his movement accepts the UN call to cease hostilities it will not acquiesce with the presence of Israeli soldiers on Lebanese soil. This sets the stage for a new phase in the Israel-Hizbollah war.
To prevent this from happening, Israeli troops should be required in the name of justice and under international law to withdraw immediately and unconditionally from Lebanon while the Hizbollah should cease all attacks on Israel immediately.

The 15,000-strong Lebanese army and the 15,000-strong UNIFIL, as envisaged by Resolution 1701, should concentrate upon ensuring that the ceasefire holds. It should not try to disarm Hizbollah which in any case is an impossible task. For Hizbollah is in essence a popular resistance movement which embodies the noble aspirations of not only the Lebanese people but also of the Palestinians and the Syrians to be free of Israeli occupation and hegemony.

If anything, the current war which many Arabs and Muslims regard as a triumph for Hizbollah over Israel has further enhanced its image. This is why the question of Hizbollah’s role should be addressed within the larger context of Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands. Israeli occupation is in fact the root cause of the continuing crisis and turmoil in much of West Asia. The sooner the West acknowledges this, the better it would be for world peace.

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