The USS Cole isn’t engaged in a sightseeing tour of the Eastern Mediterranean: its sudden deployment just “over the horizon” near Lebanon – in tandem with two other warships – is a clear sign that the Americans are preparing for something big. That’s what the Arab world seems to believe, anyway, if you listen to al-Jazeera and the chatter coming from other Arab news outlets. The Saudis, the Kuwaitis, and the government of Bahrain have all warned their citizens to get out of Lebanon, pronto. What’s curious, however, is that, while it’s big news in the Arab world, this “visit” by a guided-missile destroyer and accompanying flotilla has received scant attention in the U.S. news media. What’s going on?
Well, it depends on what U.S. government spokesman is speaking on what day: “I would not specifically relate this to any kind of events in Lebanon or any place else,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey on Friday. However, according to White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, it is “a show of support for regional stability.” Responding to the accusations of Hezbollah, the Muslim resistance organization that sits in the Lebanese parliament, that this amounts to interference in Lebanon’s internal political affairs, Johndroe averred: “I would express some of our own concerns with Hezbollah’s actions.”
These actions consist of opposing the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which has locked the opposition out of all governmental decisions, and essentially defending the country against the Israelis during the 30-Day War.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, was a bit blunter, responding to the question of whether the Cole was showing the flag off the Lebanese coast in order to influence the outcome of elections scheduled for March 11: “To say it is absolutely tied would be incorrect, although certainly we are aware elections are due there at some point in time.” Those elections have already been postponed on no less than 15 occasions, and no one is betting that they’ll come off this time – although that is certainly the result desired by the U.S. Department of State. The idea is that the poll will strengthen the Siniora government and lay Hezbollah low, but this latest move – a provocation, really – is almost guaranteed to have the opposite effect. So much so that Siniora was forced to distance himself from the Americans, denying that the ships were in Lebanon’s territorial waters and declaring that his government did “not ask anyone to send warships.”
Everyone knows which government asked Washington for the warships: the same one that is now slaughtering children in Gaza and has threatened the besieged city with an Arab holocaust, the government whose deputy defense minister recently warned that the response to continued rocket attacks would be a Palestinian “shoah.” The Palestinians, he brayed on state radio, are “bringing upon themselves a greater shoah because we will use all our strength in every way we deem appropriate, whether in air strikes or on the ground.”
The Lobby‘s line is that the whole thing is a misunderstanding based on a mistranslation. National Review‘s Tom Gross espies a radical difference between “a shoah” and “the Shoah.” “It is like confusing a ‘white house’ with ‘The White House,’” he writes – and furthermore, this was no innocent mistake. The whole brouhaha, in his considered opinion, is evidence of an anti-Semitic conspiracy by major American news organizations.
Such an interpretation can only succeed, however, if we wear the special blinders that the Lobby would have us don, which blank out the context in which this rhetoric is being uttered. The use of the word “shoah” against the backdrop of a major military operation in Gaza – one that seems to be escalating in ferocity – amounts to the very real threat of genocide. Any alternative explanation seems on the same factual and moral plane as garden-variety Holocaust denial. If, God forbid, the Israelis ever carry out their deputy defense minister’s threat, these folks will morph into little David Irvings, busily spinning out heavily footnoted disquisitions on why it never happened.
Gaza, however, is just one prong in the U.S.-Israeli “surge.” The main immediate target is Syria, not Gaza or Lebanon – and, standing behind them, Iran. The Americans and their Israeli allies have tried every sort of provocation to stir the Lebanese pot and lure the Syrians back into Lebanon, where a proxy war is brewing. With the Americans supplying cover by sea and air, the IDF may get revenge for its ignominious defeat in the 30-Day War by taking out Hezbollah once and for all, and then hitting Damascus – or so the most optimistic scenario would have it.
The USS Cole and accompanying warships are not merely making a strong gesture; they have also effectively blockaded the Lebanese coast and will surely be intercepting any arms coming from Turkey or elsewhere, readying the battleground for the Israeli incursion.
The first stages of the coming conflict with Iran will be fought as a proxy war in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria, as anticipated in this space on at least one occasion. In terms of predictive ability, however, my prognosis was hardly Nostradamus-like.
After all, the Israelis and their American sympathizers long ago set down in writing, and in plain English, the plan to do just what they are now doing. One need only consult “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” written in 1996 by an influential group of future Bush administration officials as advice for then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to make sense of recent U.S.-Israeli war moves.
While “A Clean Break” famously laid out a strategic rationale for deposing Saddam Hussein, it also offered a blueprint for “securing the northern border” that parallels what is happening and has been happening since the launching of the 30-Day War:
“Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which Americans can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon, including by:  paralleling Syria’s behavior by establishing the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces,  striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.”
That’s what’s on the agenda of the radical Likud wing of the Israeli ruling elite, as represented in America as well as in Israel. The dogs of war are straining at the leash.
The War Party has never been shy about proclaiming its intentions. If only its ostensible opponents were half as bold. Yet we hear nothing – nothing – from either Barack Obama (or Hillary “Bring Them Home” Clinton) about the most significant and ominous American military mobilization since U.S. warships engaged in a massive show of force off the Iranian coast around this time last year. Of course, we don’t have to ask John McCain where he stands on this deployment: he’s for it. What the sudden outbreak of a major war in the Middle East will do for McCain’s presidential prospects – currently rather dim – is a factor that is undoubtedly being considered by this White House.
Both Obama and Clinton have been mum on the Gaza shoah, and the coming storm in Lebanon seems not to have fazed them. Clinton can be relied on to keep her mouth shut, what with her support from the hawkish wing of the party. What we do know about Obama is that he, like Hillary, supported the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, albeit not with a degree of enthusiasm sufficient to impress the Lobby. However, if that invasion was okay, then why not the Gaza sweep? And why not invade Lebanon again? According to the logic of Obama’s past positions, one would expect him to hop aboard the “Clean Break” express and ride it all the way to World War III (or is that IV?). But I guess we won’t know until war breaks out and he gets that 3 a.m. call – from his campaign manager.
None of this is inevitable, of course. We don’t have to wind up in a proxy war with Iran in the Levant, a conflict that could escalate until the entire region is aflame. Public pressure on Congress to hold hearings regarding the looming Lebanon intervention, including an inquiry into U.S. covert meddling in Lebanon’s internal politics, would focus attention on the issue. We also need to pressure the candidates to at least issue statements on this rapidly developing situation.
I suppose we’ll have to wait until the media declares this an official “crisis,” but by that time the shooting will have already started – far too late to do anything about it. Which suits Obama and Clinton just fine – and, ultimately, serves McCain best of all.