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

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Partition of Lebanon 

UPDATE: Incisive military analysis by As'ad Abukhalil, Angry Arab News Service, superior to anything on CNN or Fox:

I am no military expert, but I can state this: Israel's campaign against Hizbullah has been an abysmal failure, while Israel's campaign against Lebanese civilians has been a great success. Supporters of Israel should be very proud.

INITIAL POST: It is a rather peculiar aspect of the psychology of war: the greater the resistance, the greater the grandiosity, the more extravagant the anticipated outcome. Perhaps, it has always been this way. One can imagine Roman generals promising more land and more gold in response to unanticipated initial reversals.

Hence, Israel, having lost the war in Lebanon militarily, symbolically and morally, while paradoxically retaining the ability to inflict catastrophic loss of life and property, seeks to partition southern Lebanon through indefinite occupation and the expulsion of the indigenous population. It is remarkable, however, as noted by Ran Ha'Cohen, that much of the G-8, currently operating through the UN, continues to align itself with Israel in this endeavor:

The U.S. has so far blocked any attempt to make Israel cease its fire. Now that Israel is about to reach its desired territorial aims, the U.S. deems it the right time to anchor Israel's occupation in a UN Security Council resolution.

According to the current resolution draft, the UN Security Council "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." Note the asymmetry, as well as the term "immediate." While Israel is occupying Lebanon, Hezbollah – or, as it is often called in Lebanon, "the resistance" (al-muqawama) – is not allowed to take any military action against this occupation. If it does, the resolution draft allows Israel to defend its occupation militarily, as long as it uses "non-offensive" means. Thus the UNSC, perhaps for the first time, waives the moral and internationally accepted legal principle of the right of occupied peoples to resist occupation. The resolution draft not only forbids Hezbollah resistance to the occupation, but also legitimizes Israel's right to defend its occupying forces against any Lebanese resistance.

Of course, as reported here on Sunday, the Lebanese, like Karim Makdisi, recognize the mendaciousness of the UN better than anyone else:

The draft UN resolution proposed by the US and France on Saturday thus seems strangely out of place, as though Israel had won this war decisively and is in a position to dictate the terms. The draft does not reflect either the reality of a balance of terror that clearly exists between Hizbullah and Israel today, or the political unity that this war has created in Lebanon and across the Arab world. As such, it has come as a shock to many people in the region. In the words of the influential Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri (who is mediating between Hizbullah and the Lebanese government), "if Israel did not win the war and it gets all this, what would have happened if it had won the war?"

Here are some preliminary observations on this draft resolution:

1. It clearly adopts the Israeli narrative that this war was begun by Hizbullah"referred to dismissively as an "armed group" "on 12 July when it "abducted" (as opposed to "captured") two Israeli soldiers, and makes clear that to prevent the "resumption of hostilities" Hizbullah must be banned in all areas between the Blue Line and Litani River. Elsewhere, the text refers to the Sheba'a farms as "disputed or uncertain" as opposed to "occupied."

2. It calls for a "cessation of hostilities" until an international force is deployed, as opposed to the "immediate cease fire" that the Lebanese government has repeatedly demanded. This gives Israel the face-saving mechanism it needs to justify the heavy costs of this war to its own public, given its pledge not to stop the war until an international force is in place in southern Lebanon.

3. It further calls on Hizbullah to cease all "attacks" while Israel must only cease "offensive military operations." Given that Israel has all along stated that this war is in self-defense, this phrasing clearly gives Israel the green light to continue to hit Hizbullah targets whenever it interprets the need for self defense.' And since 'Hizbullah targets' apparently includes the full spectrum of civilian installations throughout the country as well as all civilians in Lebanon, Israel could interpret this to mean a green light for the continuation of its onslaught.

4. It refers to the "unconditional release" of Israeli soldiers, but only to "encouraging the efforts aimed at resolving the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel." It says nothing about the exchange of prisoners, a key Lebanese demand.

5. It does not heed Lebanon's demand for an immediate lifting of the Israeli siege of Lebanon. Rather it makes clear that airports and ports will be reopened only for "verifiably and purely civilian purposes." In other words, everyone and everything going in and out of the country will be monitored, thus turning Lebanon into a new Gaza.

6. There is no mention of an international investigation into Israel's savage attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure as Lebanon's Prime Minster has repeatedly demanded. There is moreover no reference to war crimes, international humanitarian laws or the Geneva Conventions.

7. The heart of this draft resolution calls for a permanent ceasefire based on the disarming of "all armed groups in Lebanon" under UN resolution 1559, and the deployment in Lebanon (as opposed to Israel, or both countries) of an "international force" under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to help implement a "long term solution." The Lebanese government has insisted that the disarming of Hizbullah must be part of Lebanon's national dialogue in the context of the Taif Accords, and that the Lebanese army should be the main player in securing southern Lebanon, with an expanded UNIFIL there to assist it as needed.

In other words, the G-8 has expanded upon its determination that only Israel has a right of territorial self-defense to include the extermination of the Shia communities of southern Lebanon, as elaborated by Ahmad Samih Khalidi:

. . . What Israel now seeks is less of a secure border, and more of a major rearrangement of the Lebanese domestic scene that will crush resistance not only in Lebanon, but by extension in Palestine as well, and wherever else it may exist across the seething Arab Muslim world.

If Hizbullah, as many have argued, is indeed the people of south Lebanon and the voice of Shia Lebanese empowerment, then the Israelis seem to believe that the best means of defeating them is to disperse them, uproot the communities in which they thrive, and destroy the infrastructure that sustains them and provides them with their means of livelihood.

That is why Israel has been pounding away at the Shia areas of south Beirut that Hizbullah evacuated even before the bombing began. That is why it is attacking Shia population centres in the Beka'a valley in the east of the country. And that is why it is deliberately depopulating south Lebanon, driving almost a million civilians northwards in the hope of destroying what remains of the area's infrastructure, so as to make it impossible for its residents to return home any time in the near future. As in Gaza - which has been hit by 12,000 artillery shells over the past six weeks - Israel is creating a system of free fire and buffer zones, where it will be free to act in response to any "provocation".

Sadly, there is really not much new here. Depopulation is a longstanding Israeli expedient, used sometimes for grand strategic purposes, as in the 1948 war in Palestine, and at other times for less grandiose aims, but no less painfully, as in Lebanon in the 1978, 1982 and 1996 invasions.

The difference this time is in the purposeful destruction of the social and economic structure of the south, and the rest of the country. With no popular sea to swim in, Hizbullah's fighters will have been denied a secure social base for a long time to come. And now there seems to be the additional goal of creating a new socio-demographic reality in Lebanon, one that will make an impact on the already fragile domestic confessional and sectarian balance. After "cleansing" the south, Israel expects the rest of Lebanon, with support from the international community, to continue the elimination of Hizbullah - politically if possible, but by force of arms if necessary.

But facts on the ground, a favorite phrase of the Israelis in regard to the expropriation and settlement of the occupied territories, appear, in this instance, to be compelling the US, the British and the French to call upon long discredited powers of transubstantiation, the proverbial power to turn lead into gold, to transform a debacle into an opportunity for territorial expansion. Francis Bacon failed, and, likewise, the great powers are failing in Lebanon as well.

Today, for example, 15 IDF soldiers killed, 25 wounded in southern Lebanon, with anecdotal accounts indicating that a mass resistance to the invasion has emerged:

According to Mohammed, some of those keen to join the war have made it south and have been allowed to remain in their villages to defend them. "There is Hizbullah in the villages but there are others there as well. You can go back to your village and defend it if you can reach it, but Hizbullah will not allow you to accompany them on their operations."

A senior Hizbullah member who asked not be named said: "Religiously it is not permitted to waste people's lives by putting them in danger when they are not adequately trained. There are volunteers who help with supplies and other things."

Young women are among those eager to volunteer. Sitting with three friends in one of the Zarif school's empty classrooms recently converted into a women's prayer room, 21-year-old Sanine says: "As a woman I can help in many non-military ways. I can help the wounded; I can provide food and bring supplies. We all want to help in anyway we can."

Despite ideological differences, many young leftists are also now backing the fight against Israel. They see Hizbullah as filling the vacuum left by the largely ineffective Lebanese government and respect what they see as the dedication and competence of the fighters.

Samir, a 21-year-old journalism student and member of the Lebanese communist party, is helping to distribute supplies at the school in Zarif. "Every boy and man here longs to go and fight in the south. We will fight eventually."

Are these echoes of Madrid and Leningrad merely verbose posturing? If not, Israelis may soon find themselves traumatically adjusting to life in the absence of the military superiority of the IDF. As for the US, we can only hope that the war in Lebanon does not reach these shores again.

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