After Lebanon, Israel is Looking for More Wars
by Jonathan Cook
August 21, 2006
Late last month, a fortnight into Israel's war against Lebanon, the
Hebrew media published a story that passed observers by. Scientists in
Haifa, according to the report, have developed a "missile-trapping"
steel net that can shield buildings from rocket attacks. The Israeli
government, it noted, would be able to use the net to protect vital
infrastructure -- oil refineries, hospitals, military installations,
and public offices -- while private citizens could buy a net to
protect their own homes.
The fact that the government and scientists are seriously investing
their hopes in such schemes tells us more about Israel's vision of the
"new Middle East" than acres of analysis.
Israel regards the "home front" -- its civilian population -- as its
Achilles' heel in the army's oppression of the Palestinians in the
occupied territories, its intermittent invasions of south Lebanon, and
its planned attacks further afield. The military needs the
unconditional support of the country's citizenry and media to sanction
its unremitting aggression against Israel's "enemies," but fears that
the resolve of the home front is vulnerable to the threat posed by
rockets landing in Israel, whether the home-made Qassams fired by
Palestinians over the walls of their prison in Gaza or the Katyushas
launched by Hizbullah from Lebanon.
Certainly Israel's leaders are not ready to examine the reasons for
the rocket menace -- or to search for solutions other than of the
The bloody nose Israel received in south Lebanon has not shaken its
leaders' confidence in their restless militarism. If anything, their
humiliation has given them cause to pursue their adventures more
vigorously in an attempt to reassert the myth of Israeli
invincibility, to distract domestic attention from Israel's defeat at
the hands of Hizbullah, and to prove the Israeli army's continuing
usefulness to its generous American benefactor.
If Israel's soldiers ever leave south Lebanon, expect a rapid return
to the situation before the war of almost daily violations of Lebanese
airspace by its warplanes and spy drones, plus air strikes to "rein
in" Hizbullah and regular attempts on its leader Hassan Nasrallah's
life. Expect more buzzing by the same warplanes of President Bashar
al-Assad's palace in Damascus, assassination attempts against Hamas
leader-in-exile Khaled Meshal and attacks on Hizbullah "supply lines"
in Syria. Expect more apocalyptic warnings, and worse, to Iran over
its assumed attempt to join Israel in the exclusive club of nuclear
armed states. And, of course, expect many more attacks by ground and
air of Gaza and the West Bank, with the inevitable devastating toll on
Despite its comeuppance in Lebanon, Israel is not planning to
reconfigure its relationship with its neighbors. It is not seeking a
new Middle East in which it will have to endure the same birth pangs
as the "Arabs." It does not want to engage in a peace process that
might force it to restore, in more than appearance, the occupied
territories to the Palestinians. Instead it is preparing for more
asymmetrical warfare -- aerial bombardments of the kind so beloved by
American arms manufacturers.
The weekend's swift-moving events should be interpreted in this light.
Israel, as might have been expected, was the first to break the United
Nations ceasefire on Saturday when its commandoes attacked Hizbullah
positions near Baalbek in northeast Lebanon, including air strikes on
roads and bridges. It was not surprising that this gross violation of
the ceasefire passed with little more than a murmur of condemnation.
The UN's Terje Roed-Larsen referred to it as an "unwelcome
development" and "unhelpful." The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon,
UNIFIL, whose current job it is to monitor the ceasefire, refused to
comment, saying the attack occurred outside the area of its
jurisdiction -- an implicit admission of how grave a violation it
Meanwhile in the media, the Associated Press called the military
assault "a bold operation," and BBC World described it as a "raid" and
the ensuing firefight between Israeli troops and Hizbullah as
"clashes." Much later in its reports, the BBC noted that it was also a
"serious breach" of the ceasefire, neglecting to mention who was
responsible for the violation. That may have been because the BBC's
report was immediately followed by Israeli spokesman Mark Regev
accusing Hizbullah, not Israel, of violating the ceasefire.
Predictably he accused Hizbullah of receiving transfers of weapons
that the Israeli army operation was supposedly designed to foil.
In fact, this was no simple "clash" during an intelligence-gathering
mission, as early reports in the Israeli media made clear before the
official story was established. Israeli special forces launched the
covert operation to capture a Hizbullah leader, Sheikh Mohammed
Yazbak, way beyond the Litani River, the northern extent of Israel's
supposed "buffer zone." The hit squad were disguised not only as Arabs
-- a regular ploy by units called "mistarvim" -- but as Lebanese
soldiers driving in Lebanese army vehicles. When their cover was
blown, Hizbullah opened fire, killing one Israeli and wounding two
more in a fierce gun battle.
(It is worth noting that, according to the later official version,
Israel's elite forces were exposed only as they completed their
intelligence work and were returning home. Why would Israel be using
special forces, apparently in a non-belligerent fashion, in a
dangerous ground operation when shipments of weapons crossing from
Syria can easily be spotted by Israel's spy drones and its warplanes?)
It is difficult to see how this operation could be characterized as
"defensive" except in the Orwellian language employed by Israel's army
-- which, after all, is misleadingly known as the Israel Defense
Forces. UN Resolution 1701, the legal basis of the ceasefire, calls on
Israel to halt "all offensive military operations". How much more
offensive could the operation be?
But, more significantly, what is Israel's intention towards the United
Nation's ceasefire when it chooses to violate it not only by
assaulting Hizbullah positions in an area outside the "buffer zone" it
has invaded but also then implicates the Lebanese army in the attack?
Is there not a danger that Hizbullah fighters may now fire on Lebanese
troops fearing that they are undercover Israeli soldiers? Does
Israel's deceit not further weaken the standing of the Lebanese army,
which under Resolution 1701 is supposed to be policing south Lebanon
on Israel's behalf? Could reluctance on the part of Lebanon's army to
engage Hizbullah as a result not potentially provide an excuse for
Israel to renew hostilities? And what would have been said had Israel
launched the same operation disguised as UN peacekeepers, the
international force arriving to augment the Lebanese soldiers already
in the area? These questions need urgent answers but, as usual, they
were not raised by diplomats or the media.
On the same day, the Israeli army also launched another "raid," this
time in Ramallah in the West Bank. There they "arrested," in the
media's continuing complicity in the corrupted language of occupation,
the Palestinians' deputy prime minister. His "offence" is belonging to
the political wing of Hamas, the party democratically elected by the
Palestinian people earlier this year to run their government in
defiance of Israeli wishes. Even the Israeli daily Haaretz newspaper
characterized Nasser Shaer as a "relative moderate" -- the "relative"
presumably a reference, in Israeli eyes, to the fact that he belongs
to Hamas. Shaer had only avoided the fate of other captured Hamas
cabinet ministers and legislators by hiding for the past six weeks
from the army -- a fitting metaphor for the fate of a fledgling
Palestinian democracy under the jackboot of Israeli oppression.
A leading legislator from the rival Fatah party, Saeb Erekat, pointed
out the obvious: that the seizure of half the cabinet was making it
impossible for Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, to negotiate
with Hamas over joining a government of national unity. Such a
coalition might offer the Palestinians a desperately needed route out
of their international isolation and prepare the path for negotiations
with Israel on future withdrawals from occupied Palestinian territory.
Israel's interest in stifling such a government, therefore, speaks for
itself. And ordinary Israelis still wonder why the Palestinians fire
their makeshift rockets into Israel. Duh!
On the diplomatic front, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman,
rejected out of hand a peace initiative from the Arab League that it
hopes to bring before the Security Council next month. The Arab League
proposal follows a similar attempt at a comprehensive peace plan by
the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia in 2002 that was also instantly
brushed aside by Israel. On this occasion, Gillerman claimed there was
no point in a new peace process; Israel, he said, wanted to
concentrate on disarming Hizbullah under UN Resolution 1701.
Presumably that means more provocative "raids," like the one on
Saturday, in violation of the ceasefire.
Where does all this "defensive" Israeli activity leave us? Answer: on
the verge of more war and carnage, whether inflicted on the
Palestinians, on Lebanon, on Syria, on Iran, or on all of them. Iran's
head of the army warned on Saturday that he was preparing for an
attack by Israel. Probably a wise assumption on his part, especially
as US officials were suggesting at the weekend that the UN Security
Council is about to adopt sanctions that will include military force
to stop Iran's assumed nuclear ambitions.
In fact, Israel looks ready to pick a fight with just about anyone in
its neighborhood whose complicity in the White House's new Middle East
has not already been assured, either like Jordan and Egypt by the
monthly paychecks direct from Washington, or like Saudi Arabia and the
Gulf states by the cash-guzzling pipelines bringing oil to the West.
The official enemies -- those who refuse to prostrate themselves
before Western oil interests and Israeli regional hegemony -- must be
brought to their knees just as Iraq already has been.
What will these wars achieve? That is the hardest question to answer,
because every possible outcome appears to spell catastrophe for the
region, including for Israel, and ultimately for the West. If Israel
received a bloody nose from a month of taking on a few thousand
Hizbullah fighters on their home turf, what can the combined might of
Israel and the US hope to achieve in a battleground that drags in the
whole Middle East? How will Israel survive in a region torn apart by
war, by a new Shiite ascendancy that makes the old colonially devised
mosaic of Arab states redundant and by the consequent tectonic shifts
in identity and borders?
President Bush observed at the weekend that, although it may look like
Hizbullah won the war with Israel, it will take time to see who is the
true victor. He may be right, but it is hard to believe that either
Israel or the United States can build a missile-catching net big
enough to withstand the fall-out from the looming war.
Jonathan Cook, a British journalist living in Nazareth, is the author
of Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic
State, to be published next month by Pluto Press. His website is:
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