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

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Our War 

UPDATE 1: Apparently, the Israelis confidently thought that they would reach the Kremlin in six weeks:

When Marina Kaganovich and her parents moved to the bomb shelter next to their house, they thought they'd be there for a day or two. That was six days ago. Now she says she expects the suffocating shelter 15 feet underground to be home for "at least a few weeks."

The intense fighting between Israel and Lebanese guerrillas has startled many Israelis, who expected a quick and easy victory. "We all thought this would finish in a maximum of one week," says Sammy Yoseph, general manager of Nahariya's Carlton Hotel. "It seems very complicated now." Because it has a bomb shelter, the hotel is one of the few businesses allowed to stay open.

Very complicated now, indeed:

Two IDF soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in heavy clashes with Hezbollah just inside south Lebanon, close to Moshav Avivim, on Thursday afternoon.

Hezbollah fired mortar shells in the area in effort to disrupt the rescue of the wounded. The IDF believes that several Hezbollah guerillas were killed in the confrontation.

Major-General Benny Gantz, who serves as the head of the Ground Forces Command, said on Thursday that ground fighting in limited areas in Lebanon would continue despite the IDF's causalties.

"We hurt every time a soldier falls or is injured, bur soldiers are on the front lines to prevent fire on Israel. Even when there are casualties, the fighting is important, and for that reason we must continue."

Hezbollah bunkers are well-hidden and discernible only from a close distance, said Gantz. "The operation is challenging, difficult and complex. These are very significant battles that the enemy has prepared for, but so have we. Unfortunately, there is the price of casualties, but the other side, unlike us, doesn't report their casualties," he added.

On Thursday morning, three IDF soldiers were wounded in two separate clashes with Hezbollah in the same area. Two of the soldiers were wounded, one moderately and the other lightly, when a rocket hit a tank. A third soldier from a paratroop unit was seriously wounded in fighting with a Hezbollah cell. The soldier sustained head injuries and was taken to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.

The army said Thursday's clashes broke out not far from where Hezbollah killed two IDF troops and wounded nine others Wednesday.

Don't expect a ceasefire anytime soon.

INITIAL POST: Israel's assault upon Lebanon continues unabated with the unequivocal support of the United States, as reported by Robin Wright of the Washington Post on Sunday:

Israel, with U.S. support, intends to resist calls for a cease-fire and continue a longer-term strategy of punishing Hezbollah, which is likely to include several weeks of precision bombing in Lebanon, according to senior Israeli and U.S. officials. . . . .

Hezbollah's cross-border raid that captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others has provided a "unique moment" with a "convergence of interests" among Israel, some Arab regimes and even those in Lebanon who want to rein in the country's last private army, the senior Israeli official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing conflict. Israel and the United States would like to hold out until Hezbollah is crippled.

This is consistent with the analysis provided by long time Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery:

The real aim is to change the regime in Lebanon and to install a puppet government.

That was the aim of Ariel Sharon's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It failed. But Sharon and his pupils in the military and political leadership have never really given up on it.

As in 1982, the present operation, too, was planned and is being carried out in full coordination with the US.

As then, there is no doubt that it is coordinated with a part of the Lebanese elite.

That's the main thing. Everything else is noise and propaganda.

On the eve of the 1982 invasion, Secretary of State Alexander Haig told Ariel Sharon that, before starting it, it was necessary to have a "clear provocation", which would be accepted by the world.

The provocation indeed took place - exactly at the appropriate time - when Abu-Nidal's terror gang tried to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London. This had no connection with Lebanon, and even less with the PLO (the enemy of Abu-Nidal), but it served its purpose.

This time, the necessary provocation has been provided by the capture of the two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah. Everyone knows that they cannot be freed except through an exchange of prisoners. But the huge military campaign that has been ready to go for months was sold to the Israeli and international public as a rescue operation.

And, in case you may have forgotten, the Israeli Defense Force is literally made in America, as Reuters reported yesterday:

Israel's latest military operations reflect a fighting machine bolstered by U.S. weaponry, jet fuel and technology transfers -- and more is on its way.

From 1971 through 2005, U.S. aid to Israel has averaged more than $2 billion a year, two-thirds of which has been military assistance, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

Naturally, these weapons are playing a prominent role in the demolition of Lebanon:

The F-16I, dubbed "Soufa" or "Storm" in Hebrew, features modern cockpit displays with moving maps, "smart" weapons compatibility and updated navigation and targeting systems.

Such warplanes have been battering targets in Lebanon in an eight-day-old siege aimed at degrading the capabilities of Hizbollah fighters raining rockets on Israel.

It is tempting to observe, yet again, that these so-called smart weapons aren't looking very intelligent:

Twelve-year-old Nour lay heavily bandaged and fighting for her life in a hospital in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre. She is one of many children killed and injured in Israeli air strikes on this Mediterranean port in past days.

"We are praying for her," said Fatima, a laboratory technician doubling as a nurse at Jabal Amal hospital, which is overloaded with the victims of the air strikes. Ali, the doctor treating Nour, said he did not know whether she would survive her injuries. "She has large burns all over her body, she is losing a lot of fluids. She probably won't live; her life is now in God's hands."

More ambulances streamed into the hospital and doctors hurried to treat the victims of the latest bombing. Whatever the Israelis' intended target, the bomb fell on a small water canal next to the Qasmia refugee camp, home to about 500 Palestinians. Its victims were 11 children taking an afternoon swim in the canal.

The first blast left a crater nearly four metres deep, burying many of the swimmers deep under the orange earth. Seven of the children were injured, three critically. Three others have not been found.

The scene was littered with small plastic sandals, several caked in blood. Ismael, the father of one of the children, sat on the edge of the crater, his head in his hands weeping. "Children! Children!" he roared through his tears, "Children here! My son here." He stood and looked down into the crater: "Is Hizbullah here? Only children here," he said, referring to the militant Islamist group that kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and which Israel says it is targeting in the wave of attacks.

Another man staggered around behind Ismael, also unable to control his grief.

The children were taken to the intensive care unit, many caked in earth, having been buried deep in the ground. The victims of the blast joined scores of injured from previous attacks across the south of the country.

Ahmed Mrouwe, the hospital's director, said more than 200 wounded people had been brought into the hospital - one of three in the area. "We have received 196 wounded and 25 dead; the majority of them are children and women."

Glibly relying, however, upon the oft-noted inability of weapons manufacturers to develop munitions more effective at avoiding civilian casualties is, in this instance, an example of traveling down the wrong fork in the road, as the death and destruction inflicted upon Lebanon looks quite deliberate.

With each passing day, examples of the indiscriminate killing of Lebanese and the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure abound: at least 500,000 Lebanese displaced, bombing of homes, schools, village centers and vehicles, including ambulances and numerous civilian deaths, as posted throughout the website of As'ad Abukhalil, with over 300 dead and over 1,000 wounded. One-third of them are children.

Israel is generally ordering its troops to direct the weapons precisely where it wants them fired, as Robert Fisk related the remorseless methodology of the IDF during an interview on Democracy Now!:

Even a small example, I’ll give you. Yesterday, something fell out of the sky over a small area of Beirut called Qurashim [sic]. I think it was part of the wing, the wingtip of an F-16. The Israelis say it’s not, but I think it probably was. And it crashed in a fiery volcano glow and burned trees, bushes, the roadway, and decapitated a young man in his car who was driving home to his family.

I got there in about eight minutes. And there were three very friendly Lebanese soldiers. By chance, I knew one of them, the sergeant, who said, “Mr. Robert, you must be very careful. The Israelis will come back and bomb again, but we’ll take you into the fire and show you as much as we can.” And they stood around me and protected me as we went up the road for about a mile walking -- or running, to be very honest with you, because Mr. Fisk here is not a very brave warrior. And I saw parts of what appears to be a wing. I think it was burning fuel all over the road. I think it came out of whatever the aircraft was. I think what actually happened is a Hezbollah missile probably hit an F-16, and the Israelis didn't want to claim it. They said that it was part of a barrel containing propaganda pamphlets and leaflets, which -- well, I didn't see leaflets anyway, and I know they burn on fuel, but anyway, I saw what I could and got away afterwards and said, you know, waved at the soldiers and thanked them.

And the Israelis did come back some hours later and bombed the barracks of these soldiers, which were members of a logistics unit. Their job was to repair bridges and electrical lines. They weren't combat soldiers. And they killed ten Lebanese soldiers, including the three young men who had protected me the previous day. This was outrageous, because the Israelis know what each individual Lebanese army unit is doing. They know if it's a combat unit, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, whatever.

And they picked on this sole barracks to destroy those men, to exterminate them, because, of course, their job was to keep Beirut alive, to keep the power systems running, to repair the bridges which were being destroyed -- 46 bridges now, according to Minister of Finance, who told me this a few hours ago, have been destroyed in Lebanon. This is the inheritance, of course, of former prime minister, assassinated prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was murdered on the 14th of February last year. He rebuilt this country. He rebuilt the city of Beirut. Now, bit by bit the bridges, the lighthouse, the international airport are being destroyed.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has angrily said, "Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the state of Israel is inflicted on us?" Indeed, it can and will. In fact, the international community, if defined as the powerful G-8, implicitly endorsed the Israeli airstrikes last weekend:

Group of Eight leaders on Sunday blamed extremists for an upsurge of Middle East violence and while accepting Israel's right to defend itself said the Jewish state should exercise "utmost restraint."

Setting out conditions for an end to violence, G8 leaders in summit talks in Russia put the onus on Hizbollah militants to restore peace by releasing abducted Israelis and ending attacks on Israel.

Then the Israeli offensive against Lebanon could end, said the statement.

"These extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos," said the text hammered out by the leaders of the world's richest nations.

In doing so, the G-8 has adopted two very dangerous principles, principles that, if pursued, can only escalate the conflict. First, as surgically expressed by Ahmad Samih Khalidi:

But what is at stake here is not proportionality or the issue of self-defence, but symmetry and equivalence. Israel is staking a claim to the exclusive use of force as an instrument of policy and punishment, and is seeking to deny any opposing state or non-state actor a similar right. It is also largely succeeding in portraying its own "right to self-defence" as beyond question, while denying anyone else the same. And the international community is effectively endorsing Israel's stance on both counts.

From an Arab point of view this cannot be right. There is no reason in the world why Israel should be able to enter Arab sovereign soil to occupy, destroy, kidnap and eliminate its perceived foes - repeatedly, with impunity and without restraint - while the Arab side cannot do the same. And if the Arab states are unable or unwilling to do so then the job should fall to those who can.

Khalidi also recognizes, as already discussed here, the dangerous, paradoxical consequences of the perceived omnipotence of the IDF:

Some of this has to do with the paradox of power: the stronger the Israeli army becomes, the more susceptible and vulnerable it becomes to even a minor setback. The loss of even one tank, the capture of one soldier or damage done to one warship has a negative-multiplier effect: Israel's "deterrent" power is dented out of all proportion to the act itself. Israel's retaliation is thus partly a matter of restoring its deterrence, partly sheer vengeance, and partly an attempt to compel its adversaries to do its bidding.

The second principle is even more insidious, as bluntly expressed by Tariq Ali:

In Israel's actions today we can detect many of the elements of hubris: an imperial arrogance, a distortion of reality, an awareness of its military superiority, the self-righteousness with which it wrecks the social infrastructure of weaker states, and a belief in its racial superiority. The loss of many civilian lives in Gaza and Lebanon matters less than the capture or death of a single Israeli soldier. In this, Israeli actions are validated by the US.

Ali errs only to the extent that he uncharacteristically limits the approval of Israeli actions to the US. Perhaps, he missed the communique from the G-8, or, possibly, puts a different gloss on it. In any event, Ali's comment echoes what I recently posted here in response to the anniversary of the London transport bombings:

The bombers responded to our violence with their violence, and there is something culturally demeaning in a perspective, as implied by the authors of the report, that Americans and Britains use violence in a calculated way to achieve allegedly acceptable ends, but that Arabs and Muslims merely exploit current events to justify it. In other words, they, unlike us, lack the human qualities of anger, thought and commitment, and indeed, transformation, such that some may have concluded that they only way to confront the perpetrators of the war and occupation, in both Iraq and Palestine, is through violence.

A lamentable, tragic decision, to be sure, but no less so than the ones by Britain and the United States to invade and, apparently, permanently occupy Iraq, and the insistence of Israel to permanently colonize the West Bank and Gaza. And, of course, the dead in Gaza, Ramadi, Haditha, Jenin, Fallujah . . . they are just numbers, if reported at all, and if there have been flowers laid and tears shed, as they justifiably have been for the victims of 7/7/05, it has failed to capture our imagination.

It is certainly one of the great historical tragedies that Zionism is violently consuming itself in Lebanon and Gaza, killing anyone misfortunate enough to be within the presence of its death throes. It is even more grotesque, however, that the G-8 has voluntarily aligned itself with the psychosis. Needless to say, the consequences could be dire, with the prospect of war with Iran and Syria looming over the horizon, and a newly motivated generation of al-Qaeda suicide bombers.

It increasingly appears that only the defeat of the IDF in southern Lebanon, or, at least, an inconclusive result, can avoid it. Preliminary reports indicate that neither of these outcomes are implausible, if one considers that an IDF military operation that was initially planned to be quick is now, like a Barbarossa in miniature, stretching out from days to weeks, with Hizbullah showing resilience. IDF claims that it has destroyed 50% of Hizbullah's rockets and missiles are rather disquieting given that the British have not recognized any significant degradation of Hizbullah's military capabilities.

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