'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Lebanon: Only the Beginning 

UPDATE: Photographs of the devastation in Lebanon can found here, as well as here, with analysis from As'ad Abukhalil.

INITIAL POST: Consistent with British doubts about the effectiveness of the Israeli military campaign:

Israel is overstating the damage its air war has inflicted on the Hezbollah militia, which hides its weapons in tunnels and civilian neighborhoods throughout Lebanon, Bush administration and intelligence officials said yesterday.

Israeli assessments are "too large," said one U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But he added, "We are not getting into numbers."

Jerusalem military leaders have put out numbers such as "50 percent" and "one-third" to assess the damage its combat jets have done to Hezbollah's arsenal of 13,000 rockets, and its mortars, launchers, vehicles and other military equipment.

Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ayalon, told the Associated Press yesterday that bombing has destroyed more than 40 percent of Hezbollah's arms.

A second government source said the amount destroyed is less than one-third.

Meanwhile, if you had any residual doubt that the war in Lebanon is our war, a war of the US against the people of Lebanon, then, consider:

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran’s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel’s request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike.

An indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike. Not a statement of truimphant confidence. But there are two disturbing aspects to this statement beyond the promising prospect of the IDF getting ensnared in another quagmire in southern Lebanon. First, it suggests that the concern of some Beirut Lebanese, as expressed here by Hanady, that Israel is on the verge of a massive bombardment of the country may well be warranted:

Dear Friends,

The fear is growing in Beirut. Beirut is sad, scared, wounded and ... left alone. By yesterday morning, the UN said 150,000 people (foreigners and Lebanese holders of 2nd nationalities) had already left Lebanon. Evacuations are supposed to be completed by Friday. Today has been an exceptionally calm day: the US marines are evacuating US citizens. By tomorrow, the country will be left to its own people and Israeli shelling. In Beirut, by Saturday, there will only be those who have nowhere else to go and the very few who deliberately decided to stay. There were also be those who managed to flee the south and the southern suburb of the capital. What will happen to us on Saturday?

A friend called a few minutes ago, scared and begging me to go hide with her in Baabdat in the mountains. She said her friend who works with the UN and lives in Washington called her to tell her to stay out of Beirut, because she heard that by Saturday, it will be hell, nothing will stop them. The city will be theirs : my city , my dearest city , my only home , is open to their warplanes and shells. Our kids, as of Saturday, will be the targets of Israeli fire. So it's said. What I fear the most is that by Saturday, July the 22nd, Beirut will be cut off from the rest of the country, and the world. Every morning, I rush to the office to make sure the internet is still working. Every day I ask myself: why didn't they stop it?

As of Saturday, I fear every city or region will be cut off from the rest of the country. Maybe they won't bomb us. Maybe they will just leave us in our cities and villages to starve and rot to death. Maybe they will do both.

Worse than not knowing what will happen is knowing that whatever the Israelis decide to do, nobody wants or can stop them.


Not surprisingly, in her most recent post, Hanady remains frightened and alarmed:

So it's Saturday. The day we fear. It seems the Israelis will have to postpone some of whatever plans they might have: the evacuations are not done yet. The French still have people leaving tomorrow, the Canadians too. There are growing reports about the segregation of the US evacuations: they have priorities ... white ones. I'm sorry I can't confirm, but my friends holding US passports keep telling me about it. I don't have time to investigate it. I'm working with the people fleeing their villages and homes.

Hamra (neighborhood in West Beirut, not targeted yet) was almost booming this morning. There were even traffic jams in the streets where some of the embassies asked their citizens to go to to be evacuated. There are also people who are shopping: food, bread, necessities that is. Hamra is hosting loads of displaced people from both the South and the Southern Suburb. There are also people who just need to go out for a walk. I even spotted two lovers walking hand in hand in one of the streets.

All this is happening today because last night Beirut and its suburb were spared air strikes. It's weird, the ability of human beings to cope and go on no matter what. One "calm" evening and it somehow feels like we're back to normal again. We, here in Beirut, can afford it. Some of my friends who live in the Southern Suburb went there yesterday to check on their houses and bring some of their stuff. They weren't able to find their homes. Whole neighborhoods are completely destroyed, they weren't even able to recognize in which streets they were.

Some people were able to reach Beirut from the South over the past couple of days. They tell hideous stories about what they witnessed there, about how they fled and what they encountered on the roads, about the people they left behind, some alive and some buried under the rubble. I feel you should read their stories, but I really don't have time to translate the articles we publish in As-Safir. But for those of you who read Arabic they're all on our website. If any of you wants to use them and translate them, please feel free to do so, but I only need you to mention As-Safir as the source.

When I started writing this message the Israeli fighter jets had just bombed three aerials in the Tourboul in the north, in Sanine in the east and in Fatqa east of Beirut. These are TV and mobile phone aerials.

They might want to cut off the rest of the world. They might not ... but just in case, I'm trying to find a way to keep you posted, at least with pictures. I need you then to spread them as much as possible. And if I don't succeed in doing that, keep checking the wires. I'm sure the reporters on this list have free access to the news agencies. PLEASE CIRCULATE ANY PICTURES YOU GET.

And if all this fails, then keep talking about us. Don't leave us alone in Beirut. Now, in case this conspiracy theory of mine proves to be wrong, and I'd still be able to reach you people, then we'll all laugh together and I'll manage to accept criticism about how naive I am.

Is the eye of the hurricane traveling over Beirut? We will soon know, and the shipment of more US weaponry to Israeli is not an encouraging sign. Of course, many remember what happened last time the Israelis launched a full scale invasion of Lebanon in 1982, with estimates of 17,500 to 20,000 dead Lebanese, so what will happen this time? Juan Cole is pessimistic, as he explains in a passionate, compelling post:

The Orwellian world into which Olmert and his band of manic bombers have plunged ordinary Lebanese is illustrated by Liz Sly's report for the Trib:

' Thousands of Lebanese were trying to flee the south after Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people to leave, stirring fears that an Israeli ground invasion was imminent. But hundreds of thousands more remain stranded in villages and towns across the south, unable to leave their homes because of the intensity of the sustained Israeli bombing campaign. United Nations and Lebanese officials warned of an impending humanitarian disaster unless food and medical supplies are allowed to reach the stricken area and called on Israel to establish a "humanitarian corridor" to allow aid to get through. '

So let's get this straight. The Israelis warn the small town Shiites of the south to flee their own homes and go hundreds of miles away (and live on what? in what?). But then they intensely bombing them, making it impossible for them to flee. The Lebanese have awoken to find themselves cockroaches.

I repeat, this is nothing less than an ethnic cleansing of the Shiites of southern Lebanon, an assault on an entire civilian population's way of life. Aside from ecology, it is no different from what Saddam Hussein did to the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, and the Israelis are doing it for exactly the same sorts of reasons that Saddam did.

Cole has much more to say about the crisis, so I strongly recommend visiting his blog and reading the entirety of his recent posts.

Second, there is another troubling dimension to the emergency shipment of precision-guided munitions, and that is the prospect that it foreshadows direct US military involvement:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she wants a ``robust'' international military force to try to oust Hezbollah forces from southern Lebanon, as she prepares to leave on a diplomatic mission to the region next week.

Rice said she will leave July 23 for meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, and then will meet with other nations in Rome to discuss the fighting in Lebanon.

``We do seek an end to the current violence and we seek it urgently,'' Rice told reporters at the State Department. Still, ``a cease fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.''

The conflict in the Middle East is now in its 10th day and Israel and the Hezbollah militia have vowed to continue the fighting that has left more than 300 Lebanese and 34 Israelis dead since it began July 12 when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers.

Any military force must be ``robust enough'' to supplant Hezbollah in southern Lebanon where it can launch attacks on Israel, she said. If not ``we're going to be back here in the next few months,'' Rice said.

It is impossible to imagine the creation of such a force that doesn't involve the US in a dominant role, because, otherwise, I just can't see other countries participating in the effort. Such a force, would, in effect, be little more than another coalition of the willing, with equally disasterous consequences. Justin Raimondo sounded the alarm about the likelihood of US intervention on Monday, but I was preoccupied with other things:

The question boils down to this: can the Israelis win a war with Hezbollah without American intervention? The answer, clearly, is no: look what happened last time. The Americans, lured into Beirut, suffered 241 casualties – after bombing Beirut's suburbs – and Reagan wisely withdrew. Israel, in the end, was driven out. The neocons are determined that, this time, the Americans will not only stay – they'll go for Damascus.

The call for American military intervention is bound to come up, rather shortly, and get louder as the long "precision" bombing of the Lebanese continues. The Israelis will pound Lebanon in a display of U.S.-backed military power, and the only debate in Washington will be over to what extent we ought to intervene, rather than whether we ought to get involved at all.

In the end, some combination of UN-NATO-American military intervention will do for the Israelis what they could never accomplish on their own: neutralize all opposition to their conquest of Palestine coming from the Levant. The "debate" in Washington is only over how to achieve that goal: the Democrats say we have to do it "multilaterally," and the Republicans, with Jacksonian disdain, say we don't have to answer to anybody (except the Israelis, of course).

Memories of past atrocities raise the nightmarish possibility (or is probability?) that we will see them perpetrated again, this time upon the Lebanese Shia in perversely creative new ways, after all, one need only look to nearby Iraq for inspiration. In 1982, the Israelis established control over West Beirut, sealed off the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and then sent its armed Lebanese Christian allies into them, giving them free reign to slaughter many, if all, of the inhabitants, possibly as many as 3,500 people:

The Israeli military had completely surrounded and sealed off the camps and set up observation posts on the roofs of nearby tall buildings on September 15. The next day Israel announced that it controlled all key points in Beirut. The Israeli military met throughout the day with top Phalangist leaders to arrange the details of the operation. For the next two nights, from nightfall until late into the night the Israeli military fired illuminating flares above the camps.

On the evening of September 16, 1982, the Phalangist militia, under the command of Elie Hobeika, entered the camps. For the next 36 to 48 hours, the Phalangists massacred the inhabitants of the refugee camps, while the Israeli military guarded the exits and continued to provide flares by night.

Are we now about to send American troops into southern Lebanon so that the Israelis and their Lebanese Christian allies can brutalize the Lebanese Shia to such an extent that it reduces the horror of Sabra and Shatila to a historical footnote?

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