"I hate to say this but I will say it. I think what the Israelis are doing today for example in Lebanon is in effect, in effect – maybe not in intent – the killing of hostages. The killing of hostages. Because when you kill 300 people, 400 people, who have nothing to do with the provocations Hezbollah staged, but you do it in effect deliberately by being indifferent to the scale of collateral damage, you’re killing hostages in the hope of intimidating those that you want to intimidate. And more likely than not you will not intimidate them. You’ll simply outrage them and make them into permanent enemies with the number of such enemies increasing."
Harsh words, but true. Intimidation is what the Israeli blitz is all about: it’s shock-and-awe in Lebanon, with the IDF playing the role of the Americans and Hassan Nasrallah cast as Saddam Hussein. Except Hezbollah is not rolling over and playing dead, like the ragtag Iraqi army: instead, they are fighting the Israelis to a standstill, and the IDF – only a week into the war – is already bogged down.
What to do? Call in the Americans!
Oh, they’re denying it, but, as Ken Silverstein reports in Harper’s, U.S. officials are actively discussing the possibility of U.S. military intervention:
"A well-connected former CIA officer has told me that the Bush Administration is in fact considering exactly such a deployment. … According to the former official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a ‘multinational’ deployment, and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea."
Israeli soldiers are too precious to be used in such a casualty-heavy operation: they’re only good for bullying Palestinian civilians and bulldozing houses. It’s time for the Americans to take bullets for the Israelis – to fight a war that is unambiguously for Israel’s sake.
In the case of the invasion of Iraq, it was possible to obfuscate the War Party’s real objective and motive by throwing in all that stuff about "weapons of mass destruction" and Iraq’s alleged "links" to al-Qaeda. It all turned out to be a lie, of course, a cover story to mask their real motives and intentions: but this time there’s no disguising what the War Party is all about, which is making the Middle East safe for Israel.
This is, of course, a perfectly rational objective for Israeli policymakers – and it is even proper, given our long-standing alliance with Tel Aviv, that this should be a subset of our overall goals in the region. It is, however, a perversion of the policymaking process to make Israel’s security the centerpiece of America’s agenda in the Middle East – which is precisely the course taken by this administration, with disastrous results.
Let us take, for example, our attitude toward Hezbollah, which is no more – nor less – a "terrorist" organization than the Haganah, the Stern Gang, or any of the other outlawed underground Zionist groups that fought for – and won – Israeli independence. God only knows why they are more terrorist than, say, the IDF, as it slaughters defenseless Lebanese civilians and blows up basic infrastructure – or the U.S., as our warplanes conduct underreported aerial bombing campaigns against the Iraqi insurgency and inflict untold "collateral damage" on "liberated" Iraqis.
Pro-Israel war propaganda routinely conflates Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, yet they are two completely different – and competing – organizations. The former is nationalist, and relatively secular in that membership is open to all. There are many Christian Hezbollah operatives who fight on its behalf because they see themselves as Lebanese patriots, not holy warriors embarked on a religious crusade. Yes, it is openly funded by Iran, and the Syrians also give to the cause, which they see as pan-Arabist rather than having much to do with Islam.
Israel’s stateside cheering section characterizes Hezbollah as an Iranian and/or Syrian "proxy." In this view, Nasrallah is the puppet and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pulling the strings. Damascus, too, is relegated to the role of a Persian satrap on account of its mutual defense pact with Tehran.
Follow the money, say the conspiracy theorists, because it tells the whole story. Iran funds Hezbollah. Therefore, Iran controls Hezbollah to such an extent that it directs all military operations, with every attack launched on orders from Tehran. The capture of the two Israeli soldiers, they aver, was carried out at the Iranians’ behest. How do they know this? They don’t, and this just goes to show that Arabs are not the only Middle Eastern constituency for elaborate conspiracy theories.
The Israelis’ cartoonish depiction differs considerably from the complex interplay of national, religious, and ideological loyalties that coalesced into Hezbollah, or the "Party of God." While it is true that the group’s Khomeini-inspired ideology looks to Tehran for inspiration and support, the leaders and cadre are still Lebanese. Don’t be fooled by the religious trappings: Hezbollah was born as a nationalistic reaction to the Israeli invasion of 1982, and its success is due much more to its prowess on the battlefield than to any purely ideological or religious appeal.
This "follow the money" methodology, which makes Hezbollah out to be an Iranian cat’s-paw, aside from its crude reductionism, doesn’t quite fit the facts. My Arab sources tell me Egypt has also made under-the-table contributions. Does this make Hezbollah Hosni Mubarak‘s sock-puppet? I suspect a number of other Arab governments funnel funds to the Lebanese, just as they support the Palestinians materially as well as rhetorically. Yet these governments no more control Hezbollah’s activities on the ground than do the Persians or the Syrians.
This is the only Arab military force to have defeated the IDF and driven them off occupied Arab lands. Winners are always popular, which is why Hezbollah has near-universal support in the southern region – and, now, throughout Lebanon and the Arab world. These Lebanese nationalists have no interest in establishing a Shi’ite super-state dominated by ethnic Persians: they are merely looking to the only regional allies they can count on in any showdown with the Israelis.
What the IDF is fighting is not a "proxy" army, but a homegrown resistance movement. Hezbollah has a political as well as a military presence in Lebanon, boasting three ministers in the government – a government, I might add, once enthusiastically praised by none other than President Bush as an exemplar of his "global democratic revolution."
As I wrote in my last column on this subject, al-Qaeda benefits from the rape of Lebanon almost as much as the Israelis – and in the long run they may reap even greater rewards in terms of winning worldwide support. Bin Laden’s chief aide-de-camp, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was quick to take advantage of the opportunity to inject his two cents and call for holy war against the "Zionists and Crusaders." After all, events seem to confirm, in Muslim eyes, al-Qaeda’s central ideological and strategic thesis, which is that the West, and America specifically, is out to destroy Islam, and must therefore itself be destroyed.
Hezbollah, on the other hand, has in the past disclaimed any intention of attacking America or American interests abroad. Nasrallah has denounced terrorist attacks against the U.S., including the 9/11 attack.
"We reject those methods, and believe they contradict Islam and the teachings of the Quran, which do not permit this barbarity."
Hezbollah’s ire is aimed exclusively at Israel, and yet how long can this continue when their children, their parents, their family and friends are coming under fire from warplanes fueled by shipments from the U.S.? Those bombs falling on their heads are in large part paid for by the American taxpayers. And as Uncle Sam, disdaining all talk of a cease-fire, gives the green light to the Israelis to swallow southern Lebanon, one has to ask: Why are we making enemies of these people?
In giving unconditional support to the invaders, Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. has to answer this question: how does it further American interests?
The answer is, it doesn’t. Quite the contrary: it strengthens the deadliest of our enemies, the terrorist network associated with Osama bin Laden, and threatens to recruit Hezbollah – the "A-team" of Middle Eastern paramilitary factions – into a worldwide Islamic insurgency directed primarily against the United States.
America is not going to cut the Gordian knot of the Middle East’s ethnic and religious conflicts by means of military intervention, and diplomatic efforts can only have a limited and probably temporary effect. The aim of our policy in the region should be avoidance of conflict, instead of provoking or sanctioning it – and, most importantly, we must avoid getting ourselves sucked into the vortex of age-old hatreds that erupt there with such regularity. The American people seem to understand this instinctively: a recent poll shows a majority oppose U.S. participation in a "peacekeeping" force, and they also take a much more evenhanded view of which side is to blame.
The invasion of Lebanon is Israel’s gift to bin Laden, and the U.S. – by appearing to egg the Israelis on – is gift-wrapping it for him. Al-Qaeda has made little or no inroads into the Levant, as far as anyone knows: we have now given them a very big opening.