Building years of hatred

From the Fanonite

Only last week I had posted Alison Weir’s harrowing account of the strip-searching by Israelis of Palestinian women and children — some as young as 7-10 years of age. Despite its outrageous treatment of the Palestinians, Israel always manages to escape censure thanks to the diplomatic cover provided by the Euro-American alliance. Here the Guardian reports a British diplomat receiving a taste of the same treatment they have frequently defended as long as the victims were Palestinians.

Janet Rogan, who is Britain’s consul general in Tel Aviv, was with a delegation of British Treasury officials, led by Ed Balls, the economic secretary to the Treasury, earlier this month. They arrived at the Jerusalem office of the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, ahead of a meeting with his chief of staff and his political adviser. The names of the visitors had been given in advance, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said yesterday.

But security guards ordered Ms Rogan to undergo a physical search, the paper said. She refused and presented her diplomatic identity card. However, she was then made to step behind a partition and to undergo a physical search, which included removing her blouse. The Yedioth described the search as a “prolonged, needless and humiliating process” and said the diplomat was visibly upset.

Members of the Labour Friends of Israel – the powerful British lobby group best known for the exploits of its financier, Michael Levy – also received a taste of Israeli hospitality during a trip to the Occupied Territories:

One of its visiting members got a first-hand glimpse of IDF tactics when he got shot at in Rafah even though he arrived in a clearly marked UN vehicle. The three British MPs, surrounded by 20 children got shot at in the presence of UN officials, which led to a demand for investigation by the MPs into the IDF’s “outrageous behaviour” bordering on “lunatic”. One of the MPs, Crispin Blunt, concluded “If they are prepared to do this to people who come out of two clearly marked UN cars, what do they do when there is no one there?” He added “They are building up levels of hatred that will take decades, if not centuries, to erase.”

‘Damn proud’ of Blocking ceasefire

More proof, if more was needed that the real reason for war was to destroy the threat of Hezbollah.  That threat being that Hezbollah are capable of defending themselves and standing up to and discouraging Israeli aggression [1].  A problem they believed was only going to get worse in the future.  It was also probable that this was intended to be the beginning of a wider conflict with Israel/USA picking off weaker allies before commiting to an attack on Iran.  This wider conflict is also still possible [2].

[1] Independence and the ability to defend themselves is no good reason for Israel to destroy Lebanon. 

[2] Fanonite – AIPACs war and its bugle boy

Bolton admits Lebanon truce block

 

Israeli bombing in Tyre

Israel was criticised for bombing Lebanese civilian centres

A former top American diplomat says the US deliberately resisted calls for a immediate ceasefire during the conflict in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Former ambassador to the UN John Bolton told the BBC that before any ceasefire Washington wanted Israel to eliminate Hezbollah’s military capability.

Mr Bolton said an early ceasefire would have been “dangerous and misguided”.

He said the US decided to join efforts to end the conflict only when it was clear Israel’s campaign wasn’t working.

Israel was reacting in its own self-defence and if that meant the defeat of the enemy, that was perfectly legitimate under international law

John Bolton

The former envoy, who stepped down in December 2006, was interviewed for a BBC radio documentary, The Summer War in Lebanon, to be broadcast in April.

Mr Bolton said the US was deeply disappointed at Israel’s failure to remove the threat from Hezbollah and the subsequent lack of any attempt to disarm its forces.

Britain joined the US in refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire.

‘Damn proud’

The war began when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, but it quickly escalated into a full-scale conflict.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says the US-UK refusal to join calls for a ceasefire was one of the most controversial aspects of the diplomacy.

British, US and Israeli ambassadors at the UN, August 2006

The UK, US and Israeli were alone in resisting an early ceasefire

At the time US officials argued a ceasefire was insufficient and agreement was needed to address the underlying tensions and balance of power in the region.

Mr Bolton now describes it as “perfectly legitimate… and good politics” for the Israelis to seek to defeat their enemy militarily, especially as Hezbollah had attacked Israel first and it was acting “in its own self-defence”.

Mr Bolton, a controversial and blunt-speaking figure, said he was “damned proud of what we did” to prevent an early ceasefire.

Also in the BBC programme, several key players claim that, privately, there were Arab leaders who also wanted Israel to destroy Hezbollah.

“There were many not – how should I put it – resistant to the thought that the Israelis should thoroughly defeat Hezbollah, who… increasingly by Arab states were seen as an Iranian proxy,” said UN special envoy Terje Roed Larsen.

More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and an unknown number of Hezbollah fighters were killed in the conflict.

Israel lost 116 soldiers in the fighting, while 43 of its civilians were killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks.

Source

Robert Fisk: US power games in the Middle East

As the West looks anxiously at Iraq and Afghanistan, dangerous cracks are opening up in Lebanon ­ and the White House is determined to prop up Fouad Siniora’s government

The spring rain beat down like ball-bearings on the flat roof of General Claudio Graziano’s office. Much of southern Lebanon looked like a sea of mud this week but all was optimism and light for the Italian commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, now 11,000 strong and still expecting South Korea to add to his remarkable 29-nation international army. He didn’t recall how the French battalion almost shot down an Israeli jet last year – it was before his time – and he dismissed last month’s border shoot-out between Israeli and Lebanese troops.

No specific threats had been directed at Unifil, the UN’s man in southern Lebanon insisted – though I noticed he paused for several seconds before replying to my question – and his own force was now augmented by around 9,000 Lebanese troops patrolling on the Lebanese-Israeli frontier. There was some vague talk of “terrorist threats … associated with al-Qa’ida” – UN generals rarely use the word ‘terrorism’, but then again Graziano is also a Nato general — yet nothing hard. Yes, Lebanese army intelligence was keeping him up to date. So it must have come as a shock to the good general when the Lebanese Interior Minister Hassan Sabeh last week announced that a Lebanese Internal Security Force unit had arrested four Syrian members of a Palestinian “terrorist group” linked to al-Qa’ida and working for the Syrian intelligence services who were said to be responsible for leaving bombs in two Lebanese minibuses on 13 February, killing three civilians and wounding another 20.

Now it has to be said that there’s a lot of scepticism about this story. Not because Syria has, inevitably, denied any connection to Lebanese bombings but because in a country that has never in 30 years solved a political murder, it’s pretty remarkable that the local Lebanese constabulary can solve this one – and very conveniently so since Mr Sabeh’s pro-American government continues to accuse Syria of all things bestial in the state of Lebanon. According to the Lebanese government – one of those anonymous sources so beloved of the press – the arrested men were also planning attacks on Unifil and had maps of the UN’s military patrol routes in the south of the country. And a drive along the frontier with Israel shows that the UN is taking no chances. Miles of razor wire and 20ft concrete walls protect many of its units.

The Italians, like their French counterparts, have created little “green zones” – we Westerners seem to be doing that all over the Middle East – where carabinieri police officers want photo identity cards for even the humblest of reporters. These are combat units complete with their own armour and tanks although no-one could explain to me this week in what circumstances the tanks could possibly be used and I rather suspect they don’t know. Surely they won’t fire at the Israelis and – unless they want to go to war with the Hizbollah – I cannot imagine French Leclerc tanks are going to be shooting at the Middle East’s most disciplined guerrilla fighters.

But Unifil, like it or not, is on only one side of the border, the Lebanese side, and despite their improving relations with the local Shia population — the UN boys are going in for cash handouts to improve water supplies and roads, “quick impact projects” as they are called in the awful UN-speak of southern Lebanon – there are few Lebanese who do not see them as a buffer force to protect Israel. Last year’s UN Resolution 1701 doesn’t say this, but it does call for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon”. This was a clause, of course, which met with the enthusiastic approval of the United States. For “armed groups”, read Hizbollah.

The reality is that Washington is now much more deeply involved in Lebanon’s affairs than most people, even the Lebanese, realise. Indeed there is a danger that – confronted by its disastrous “democratic” experiment in Iraq – the US government is now turning to Lebanon to prove its ability to spread democracy in the Middle East. Needless to say, the Americans and the British have been generous in supplying the Lebanese army with new equipment, jeeps and Humvees and anti-riot gear (to be used against who, I wonder?) and there was even a hastily denied report that Defence Minister Michel Murr would be picking up some missile-firing helicopters after his recent visit to Washington. Who, one also asks oneself, were these mythical missiles supposed to be fired at?

Every Lebanese potentate, it now seems, is heading for Washington. Walid Jumblatt, the wittiest, most nihilistic and in many ways the most intelligent, is also among the most infamous. He was deprived of his US visa until 2005 for uncharitably saying that he wished a mortar shell fired by Iraqi insurgents into the Baghdad “green zone” had killed then- Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. But fear not. Now that poor old Lebanon is to become the latest star of US foreign policy, Jumblatt sailed into Washington for a 35-minute meeting with President George Bush – that’s only 10 minutes less than Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert got – and has also met with Condi Rice, Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Gates and the somewhat more disturbing Stephen Hadley, America’s National Security Adviser. There are Lebanese admirers of Jumblatt who have been asking themselves if his recent tirades against Syria and the Lebanese government’s Hizbollah opponents – not to mention his meetings in Washington – aren’t risking another fresh grave in Lebanon’s expanding cemeteries. Brave man Jumblatt is. Whether he’s a wise man will be left to history.

But it is America’s support for Fouad Siniora’s government – Jumblatt is a foundation stone of this – that is worrying many Lebanese. With Shia out of the government of their own volition, Siniora’s administration may well be, as the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud says, unconstitutional; and the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics came violently to life in January with stonings and shooting battles on the streets of Beirut.

Because Iraq and Afghanistan have captured the West’s obsessive attention since then, however, there is a tendency to ignore the continuing, dangerous signs of confessionalism in Lebanon. In the largely Sunni Beirut suburb of Tarek al-Jdeide, several Shia families have left for unscheduled “holidays”. Many Sunnis will no longer shop in the cheaper department stores in the largely Shia southern suburb of Dahiya. More seriously, the Lebanese security forces have been sent into the Armenian Christian town of Aanjar in the Bekaa Valley after a clump of leaflets was found at one end of the town calling on its inhabitants to “leave Muslim land”. Needless to say, there have been no reports of this frightening development in the Lebanese press.

Aanjar was in fact given by the French to the Armenians after they were forced to leave the city of Alexandretta in 1939 – the French allowed a phoney referendum there to let the Turks take over in the vain hope that Ankara would fight Hitler – and Aanjar’s citizens hold their title deeds. But receiving threats that they are going to be ethnically cleansed from their homes is – for Armenians – a terrible reminder of their genocide at the hands of the Turks in 1915. Lebanon likes its industrious, highly educated Armenians who are also represented in parliament. But that such hatred could now touch them is a distressing witness to the fragility of the Lebanese state.

True, Saad Hariri, the Sunni son of the murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri, has been holding talks with the Shia speaker of parliament, Nabi Berri – the Malvolio of Lebanese politics – and the Saudis have been talking to the Iranians and the Syrians about a “solution” to the Lebanese crisis. Siniora – who was appointed to his job, not elected – seems quite prepared to broaden Shia representation in his cabinet but not at the cost of providing them with a veto over his decisions. One of these decisions is Siniora’s insistence that the UN goes ahead with its international tribunal into Hariri’s murder which the government – and the United States – believe was Syria’s work.

Yet cracks are appearing. France now has no objections to direct talks with Damascus and Javier Solana has been to plead with President Bashar Assad for Syria’s help in reaching “peace, stability and independence” for Lebanon. What price the UN tribunal if Syria agrees to help? Already Assad’s ministers are saying that if Syrian citizens are found to be implicated in Hariri’s murder, then they will have to be tried by a Syrian court – something which would not commend itself to the Lebanese or to the Americans.

Siniora, meanwhile, can now bask in the fact that after the US administration asked Congress to approve $770m for the Beirut government to meet its Paris III donor conference pledges, Lebanon will be the third largest recipient of US aid per capita of population. How much of this will have to be spent on the Lebanese military, we still don’t know. Siniora, by the way, was also banned from the United States for giving a small sum to an Islamic charity during a visit several years ago to a Beirut gathering hosted by Sayed Hussein Fadlallah, whom the CIA tried to murder in 1985 for his supposed links to the Hizbollah. Now he is an American hero.

Which is all to Hizbollah’s liking. However faithful its leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, may be to Iran (or Syria), the more Siniora’s majority government is seen to be propped up by America, the deeper the social and political divisions in Lebanon become. The “tink thank” lads, as I call them, can fantasise about America’s opportunities. “International support for the Lebanese government will do a great deal for advancing the cause of democracy and helping avoid civil war,” David Shenker of the “Washington Institute for Near East Policy” pronounced last week. “… the Bush administration has wisely determined not to abandon the Lebanese to the tender mercies of Iran and Syria, which represents an important development towards ensuring the government’s success,” he said.

I wouldn’t be too sure about that. Wherever Washington has supported Middle East “democracy” recently – although it swiftly ditched Lebanon during its blood-soaked war last summer on the ridiculous assumption that by postponing a ceasefire the Israelis could crush the Hizbollah – its efforts have turned into a nightmare. Now we know that Israeli prime minister Olmert had already pre-planned a war with Lebanon if his soldiers were captured by the Hizbollah, Nasrallah is able to hold up his guerrilla army as defenders of Lebanon, rather than provokers of a conflict which cost at least 1,300 Lebanese civilian lives. And going all the way to Washington to save Lebanon is an odd way of behaving. The answers lie here, not in the United States. As a friend put it to me, “If I have a bad toothache, I don’t book myself into a Boston clinic and fly across the Atlantic – I go to my Beirut dentist!”

PACing in the Marionettes: AIPAC In the Spotlight

March 17th, 2007

Gregory Levey, a former speech writer for past Israeli governments, brings some interesting stories from inside the annual AIPAC conference ranging from the outrageous to hilarious, which highlight the almost total grip of the Israel Lobby on US foreign policy. 

To begin with, there is the conservative Christian couple from eastern Tennessee whose son decided to join the Israeli army; they were there because “We just love God, and we just love Israel.”

Amid the “energized and at times almost circuslike atmosphere”, Levey writes, everyone shared ”two main preoccupations: the 2008 U.S. presidential election and confronting Iran.” 

“For those feeling apocalyptic about the turmoil in the Middle East” he writes, “ pastor John Hagee was there to greet them”.

“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awoken!” Hagee proclaimed…The electrified crowd — most of it Jewish — roared in support, pounding on the tables. Hagee went on to declare the United Nations a “political brothel” and asserted that Israel must never give up land…granting part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians would be “tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban.” And, after rebuking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he led the crowd in a chant of “Israel lives!” urging them to “shout it from the mountaintops!”

Hagee reportedly got one of the most enthusiastic receptions — one AIPAC delegate was moved to declare, “I’m going to vote for him instead of McCain.”

Target Iran

Many rank-and-file members of AIPAC seemed to be spoiling for military action against Iran — “We have to do to them what we did to Saddam,” one delegate told me — but AIPAC’s leadership remained strikingly circumspect about it…At times this put them at odds with the grass-roots delegates; Marvin Feuer, AIPAC’s director of policy and government affairs, was verbally attacked by a conference attendee as “weak” when he downplayed military options against Iran during a Q&A session.

But AIPAC leaders are pushing for a different kind of offensive against Iran: a new program of sanctions much harsher than any prior one imposed through the United Nations. The plan, which one panelist called a “quiet campaign” to strike at Iran on the financial battlefield, would include increased pressures on foreign allies who do business with Iran, a U.S.-wide campaign of divestment, and other measures intended to put crippling economic pressure on the Islamic republic…on Tuesday, the organization deployed its army of lobbyists to push for new sanctions against Iran, which are contained in a new bill called the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, introduced by Democrat Tom Lantos and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs… [More on the two warmongers here]

Modus Operandi

When the thousands of lobbyists descended on Capitol Hill, they were greeted by nearly every U.S. senator and more than half the members of the House of Representatives — approximately 500 meetings were held between AIPAC representatives and members of Congress on Tuesday alone. In addition to pushing for the sanctions plan, the goal was to showcase the strength of AIPAC and establish more ties for future communication and lobbying.

The AIPAC activists were aided in their mission by some members of Congress themselves, who advised them how to reach out to their colleagues.

“Our commitment to Israel defines us as a nation,” said Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that the AIPAC lobbyists “help make sure that we don’t forget.”

Strategic Asset?

For a long time, we have heard from Noam Chomsky and legions of others who parrot his every word that Israel is a “strategic asset”. If that is so, then should there be a need to keep stressing this point? 

Nita Lowey, a Democratic representative from New York, said the best strategy toward that goal was to keep pointing out to lawmakers that the relationship with Israel “is in the U.S. interest.”

Is It Effective?

While AIPAC itself has never been modest about its power, some, like As’ad AbuKhalil have suggested that like any other lobby they have an interest in exaggerating their power. Is that really so? 

“I don’t sit behind my desk and come up with this stuff,” Coleman said, stressing that he often consulted AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr for policy advice. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, said that she, too, often spoke to Kohr and others in the AIPAC leadership. “They’re like daily phone calls,” she said, as other Democratic and Republican members of Congress onstage nodded in agreement

Even if Democrats and Republicans bicker on every other issue, AIPAC leaders seemed constantly eager to stress that one thing on which the parties can come together is unswerving devotion to Israel. Tuesday morning…for example, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican Minority Leader John Boehner each addressed the delegates, assuring them of a staunch commitment to Israel’s security…Boehner…got a standing ovation, after saying, “Who does not believe that failure in Iraq is not a direct threat to the state of Israel?”…

Tha Marionettes

The closing gala dinner on Monday night was attended by a who’s who of Washington’s A-list. At that event, AIPAC’s executive members…read what they excitedly referred to as “the roll call” of those in attendance. It took 13 minutes and included the bulk of Congress, as well as high-ranking officials from the White House, the State Department and the National Security Council. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert…waded into America’s debate over Iraq in a manner that the Israeli leadership has avoided until now. He openly urged AIPAC delegates to push Congress to support the Bush administration’s current strategy in Iraq…

Joe Biden made sure his presence was registered. “Hi, I’m Joe Biden!” he said repeatedly, adding several times, “I’ve been hanging out with AIPAC for years!” …

Clinton and Obama held competing dessert receptions in the conference center…both eager to highlight their pro-Israel credentials… “I can’t decide,” one AIPAC delegate said. “I’d really like to see Obama in person, but Hillary is better for Israel”…

Obama had recently said, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people” at a recent event in Iowa — a statement that served to anger some AIPAC delegates. 

Whose President?

Bush’s popularity ratings have recently dropped to record lows. The overwhelming majority of Americans seem to detest him. Is there anyone who still supports this man?

During the opening night’s events, large video screens behind the speaker’s podium showed a chronological slide show of U.S. presidents and their Israeli prime minister contemporaries, and when the display eventually reached George W. Bush, the room erupted into applause — far more applause than the crowd had given for Reagan, Kennedy or even Truman. And when Cheney first appeared on the stage on Monday morning, the crowd immediately rose to its feet and filled the room with loud applause…It seemed a remarkable contrast to the currently dismal public opinion polls regarding Bush and Cheney. As one delegate standing nearby commented during the vice president’s speech, “This has got to be the last crowd that still greets him this way.”

The Levee Breaks

Kudos to Mearsheimer & Walt for finally making discussion of the Israel Lobby’s inordinate influence over US foreign policy part of the mainstream debate. In “Taming Leviathan“, the Economist has a surprisingly critical look at the Lobby’s influence.

These are both the best of times and the worst of times for the American-Jewish lobby

THIS week saw yet another reminder of the awesome power of “the lobby”. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) brought more than 6,000 activists to Washington for its annual policy conference. And they proceeded to live up to their critics’ darkest fears.

They heard from the four most powerful people on Capitol Hill—Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner from the House, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell from the Senate—as well as the vice-president (who called his talk “The United States and Israel: United We Stand”) and sundry other power-brokers…The display of muscle was almost equalled by the display of unnerving efficiency…The only discordant note was sounded by a group of a dozen protesters—Orthodox Jews in beards, side-curls and heavy black coats—holding up signs saying “Stop AIPAC”, “Torah forbids Jews dictating foreign policy”, and “Judaism rejects the state of Israel”.

The lobbyists had every reason to feel proud of their work. Congress has more Jewish members than ever before: 30 in the House and a remarkable 13 in the Senate…Both parties are competing with each other to be the “soundest” on Israel. About two-thirds of Americans hold a favourable view of the place.

Yet they have reason to feel a bit nervous, too. The Iraq debacle has produced a fierce backlash against pro-war hawks, of which AIPAC was certainly one. It has also encouraged serious people to ask awkward questions about America’s alliance with Israel. And a growing number of people want to push against AIPAC. One pressure group, the Council for the National Interest—run by two retired congressmen, Paul Findley, a Republican, and James Abourezk, a Democrat—even bills itself as the anti-AIPAC. The Leviathan may be mightier than ever, but there are more and more Captain Ahabs trying to get their harpoons in…

But so far their performance has been unimpressive…Between 1990 and 2004 Arab-Americans donated $788,968 to candidates and parties, compared with $56.8m from pro-Israeli groups…

Dissenting voices

An even bigger threat to AIPAC comes from the general climate of opinion. It is suddenly becoming possible for serious people—politicians and policymakers as well as academics—to ask hard questions about America’s relationship with Israel…

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser, worries that America is seen in the Middle East as “acting increasingly on behalf of Israel”. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has compared the situation in Palestine to segregation, and argued that there could “be no greater legacy for America than to help bring into being a Palestinian state”. Philip Zelikow, her former counsellor, argues, in diplomatic language, that the only way to create a viable coalition against terrorists that includes Europeans, moderate Arabs and Israelis, is a “sense that Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed”.

SOURCE

Olmert’s testimony reveals the real goal of the war in Lebanon

Global Research, March 13, 2007

Nazareth. 12 March 2007. Israel’s supposedly “defensive” assault on Hizbullah last summer, in which more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed in a massive aerial bombardment that ended with Israel littering the country’s south with cluster bombs, was cast in a definitively different light last week by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

His leaked testimony to the Winograd Committee — investigating the government’s failures during the month-long attack — suggests that he had been preparing for such a war at least four months before the official casus belli: the capture by Hizbullah of two Israeli soldiers from a border post on 12 July 2006. Lebanon’s devastation was apparently designed to teach both Hizbullah and the country’s wider public a lesson.

Olmert’s new account clarifies the confusing series of official justifications for the war from the time.

First, we were told that the seizure of the soldiers was “an act of war” by Lebanon and that a “shock and awe” campaign was needed to secure their release. Or, as the then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz — taking time out from disposing of his shares before market prices fell — explained, his pilots were going to “turn the clock back 20 years” in Lebanon.

Then the army claimed that it was trying to stop Hizbullah’s rocket strikes. But the bombing campaign targeted not only the rocket launchers but much of Lebanon, including Beirut. (It was, of course, conveniently overlooked that Hizbullah’s rockets fell as a response to the Israeli bombardment and not the other way round.)

And finally we were offered variations on the theme that ended the fighting: the need to push Hizbullah (and, incidentally, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians) away from the northern border with Israel.

That was the thrust of UN Resolution 1701 that brought about the official end of hostilities in mid-August. It also looked suspiciously like the reason why Israel chose at the last-minute to dump up to a million tiny bomblets — old US stocks of cluster munitions with a very high failure rate — that are lying in south Lebanon’s fields, playgrounds and back yards waiting to explode.

What had been notable before Olmert’s latest revelation was the clamour of the military command to distance itself from Israel’s failed attack on Hizbullah. After his resignation, Halutz blamed the political echelon (meaning primarily Olmert), while his subordinates blamed both Olmert and Halutz. The former Chief of Staff was rounded on mainly because, it was claimed, being from the air force, he had over-estimated the likely effectiveness of his pilots in “neutralising” Hizbullah’s rockets.

Given this background, Olmert has been obliging in his testimony to Winograd. He has not only shouldered responsibility for the war to the Committee, but, if Israeli media reports are to be believed, he has also publicised the fact by leaking the details.

Olmert told Winograd that, far from making war on the hoof in response to the capture of the two soldiers (the main mitigating factor for Israel’s show of aggression), he had been planning the attack on Lebanon since at least March 2006.

His testimony is more than plausible. Allusions to pre-existing plans for a ground invasion of Lebanon can be found in Israeli reporting from the time. On the first day of the war, for example, the Jersualem Post reported: “Only weeks ago, an entire reserve division was drafted in order to train for an operation such as the one the IDF is planning in response to Wednesday morning’s Hizbullah attacks on IDF forces along the northern border.”

Olmert defended the preparations to the Committee on the grounds that Israel expected Hizbullah to seize soldiers at some point and wanted to be ready with a harsh response. The destruction of Lebanon would deter Hizbullah from considering another such operation in the future.

There was an alternative route that Olmert and his commanders could have followed: they could have sought to lessen the threat of attacks on the northern border by damping down the main inciting causes of Israel’s conflict with Hizbullah.

According to Olmert’s testimony, he was seeking just such a solution to the main problem: a small corridor of land known as the Shebaa Farms claimed by Lebanon but occupied by Israel since 1967. As a result of the Farms area’s occupation, Hizbullah has argued that Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 was incomplete and that the territory still needed liberating.

Olmert’s claim, however, does not stand up to scrutiny.

The Israeli media revealed in January that for much of the past two years Syria’s leader, Bashir Assad, has been all but prostrating himself before Israel in back-channel negotiations over the return of Syrian territory, the Golan, currently occupied by Israel. Although those talks offered Israel the most favourable terms it could have hoped for (including declaring the Golan a peace park open to Israelis), Sharon and then Olmert — backed by the US — refused to engage Damascus.

A deal on the Golan with Syria would almost certainly have ensured that the Shebaa Farms were returned to Lebanon. Had Israel or the US wanted it, they could have made considerable progress on this front.

The other major tension was Israel’s repeated transgressions of the northern border, complemented by Hizbullah’s own, though less frequent, violations. After the army’s withdrawal in 2000, United Nations monitors recorded Israeli warplanes violating Lebanese airspace almost daily. Regular overflights were made to Beirut, where pilots used sonic booms to terrify the local population, and drones spied on much of the country. Again, had Israel halted these violations of Lebanese sovereignty, Hizbullah’s own breach of Israeli sovereignty in attacking the border post would have been hard to justify.

And finally, when Hizbullah did capture the soldiers, there was a chance for Israel to negotiate over their return. Hizbullah made clear from the outset that it wanted to exchange the soldiers for a handful of Lebanese prisoners still in Israeli jails. But, of course, as Olmert’s testimony implies, Israel was not interested in talks or in halting its bombing campaign. That was not part of the plan.

We can now start to piece together why.

According to the leaks, Olmert first discussed the preparations for a war against Lebanon in January and then asked for detailed plans in March.

Understandably given the implications, Olmert’s account has been decried by leading Israeli politicians. Effi Eitam has pointed out that Olmert’s version echoes that of Hizbullah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who claims his group knew that Israel wanted to attack Lebanon.

And Yuval Steinitz argues that, if a war was expected, Olmert should not have approved a large cut to the defence budget only weeks earlier. The explanation for that, however, can probably be found in the forecasts about the war’s outcome expressed in cabinet by Halutz and government ministers. Halutz reportedly believed that an air campaign would defeat Hizbullah in two to three days, after which Lebanon’s infrastructure could be wrecked unimpeded. Some ministers apparently thought the war would be over even sooner.

In addition, a red herring has been offered by the General Staff, whose commanders are claiming to the Israeli media that they were kept out of the loop by the prime minister. If Olmert was planning a war against Lebanon, they argue, he should not have left them so unprepared.

It is an intriguing, and unconvincing, proposition: who was Olmert discussing war preparations with, if not with the General Staff? And how was he planning to carry out that war if the General Staff was not intimately involved?

More interesting are the dates mentioned by Olmert. His first discussion of a war against Lebanon was held on 8 January 2006, four days after he became acting prime minister following Ariel Sharon’s brain haemorrhage and coma. Olmert held his next meeting on the subject in March, presumably immediately after his victory in the elections. There were apparently more talks in April, May and July.

Rather than the impression that has been created by Olmert of a rookie prime minister and military novice “going it alone” in planning a major military offensive against a neighbouring state, a more likely scenario starts to take shape. It suggests that from the moment that Olmert took up the reins of power, he was slowly brought into the army’s confidence, first tentatively in January and then more fully after his election. He was allowed to know of the senior command’s secret and well-advanced plans for war — plans, we can assume, his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, a former general, had been deeply involved in advancing.

But why would Olmert now want to shoulder responsibility for the unsuccessful war if he only approved, rather than formulated, it? Possibly because Olmert, who has appeared militarily weak and inexperienced to the Israeli public, does not want to prove his critics right. And also because, with most of his political capital exhausted, he would be unlikely to survive a battle for Israeli hearts and minds against the army (according to all polls, the most revered institution in Israeli society) should he try to blame them for last summer’s fiasco. With Halutz gone, Olmert has little choice but to say “mea cupla”.

What is the evidence that Israel’s generals had already established the protocols for a war?

First, an article in the San Franscisco Chronicle, published soon after the outbreak of war, revealed that the Israeli army had been readying for a wide-ranging assault on Lebanon for years, and had a specific plan for a “Three-Week War” that they had shared with Washington think-tanks and US officials.

“More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail,” wrote reporter Matthew Kalman.

That view was confimed this week by an anonymous senior officer who told the Haaretz newspaper that the army had a well-established plan for an extensive ground invasion of Lebanon, but that Olmert had shied away from putting it into action. “I don’t know if he [Olmert] was familiar with the details of the plan, but everyone knew that the IDF [army] had a ground operation ready for implementation.”

And second, we have an interview in the Israeli media with Meyrav Wurmser, the wife of one of the highest officials in the Bush Administration, David Wurmser, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s adviser on the Middle East. Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli citizen, is herself closely associated with MEMRI, a group translating (and mistranslating) speeches by Arab leaders and officials that is known for its ties to the Israeli secret services.

She told the website of Israel’s leading newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, that the US stalled over imposing a ceasefire during Israel’s assault on Lebanon because the Bush Administration was expecting the war to be expanded to Syria.

“The anger [in the White House] is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space. They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its [Iran’s] strategic and important ally [Syria] should be hit.”

In other words, the picture that emerges is of a long-standing plan by the Israeli army, approved by senior US officials, for a rapid war against Lebanon — followed by possible intimidatory strikes against Syria — using the pretext of a cross-border incident involving Hizbullah. The real purpose, we can surmise, was to weaken what are seen by Israel and the US to be Tehran’s allies before an attack on Iran itself.

That was why neither the Americans nor Israel wanted, or appear still to want, to negotiate with Assad over the Golan and seek a peace agreement that could — for once — change the map of the Middle East for the better.

Despite signs of a slight thawing in Washington’s relations with Iran and Syria in the past few days, driven by the desperate US need to stop sinking deeper into the mire of Iraq, Damascus is understandably wary.

The continuing aggressive Israeli and US postures have provoked a predictable reaction from Syria: it has started building up its defences along the border with Israel. But in the Alice Through the Looking Glass world of Israeli military intelligence, that response is being interpreted — or spun — as a sign of an imminent attack by Syria.

Such, for example, is the opinion of Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli professor of military history, usually described as eminent and doubtless with impeccable contacts in the Israeli military establishment, who recently penned an article in the American Jewish weekly, the Forward.

He suggests that Syria, rather than wanting to negotiate over the Golan — as all the evidence suggests — is planning to launch an attack on Israel, possibly using chemical weapons, in October 2008 under cover of fog and rain. The goal of the attack? Apparently, says the professor, Syria wants to “inflict casualties” and ensure Jerusalem “throws in the towel”.

What’s the professor’s evidence for these Syrian designs? That its military has been on an armaments shopping spree in Russia, and has been studying the lessons of the Lebanon war.

He predicts (of Syria, not Israel) the following: “Some incident will be generated and used as an excuse for opening rocket fire on the Golan Heights and the Galilee.” And he concludes: “Overall the emerging Syrian plan is a good one with a reasonable chance of success.”

And what can stop the Syrians? Not peace talks, argues Van Creveld. “Obviously, much will depend on what happens in Iraq and Iran. A short, successful American offensive in Iran may persuade Assad that the Israelis, much of whose hardware is either American or American-derived, cannot be countered, especially in the air. Conversely, an American withdrawal from Iraq, combined with an American-Iranian stalemate in the Persian Gulf, will go a long way toward untying Assad’s hands.”

It all sounds familiar. Iran wants the nuclear destruction of Israel, and Syria wants Jersualem to “throw in the towel” — or so the neocons and the useful idiots of “the clash of civilisations” would have us believe. The fear must be that they get their way and push Israel and the US towards another pre-emptive war — or maybe two.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His book “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State” is published by Pluto Press. His website is www.jkcook.net

 Global Research Articles by Jonathan Cook

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Slow recovery in south Lebanon

 

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, south Lebanon

Unifil forces

Unifil hopes to prevent further armed confrontations on the border

A massive French battle tank swings its turret slowly from left to right, its cannon barrel pointing straight at Israel down below.About a dozen French peacekeepers from the United Nationals Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), stand by two other military vehicles parked along the road.

The picturesque, lush green scenery, with rolling fields on either side of the border fence is deceptively peaceful.

But a rare exchange of fire between the Israeli and Lebanese armies took place just a few hundreds meters away, 12 days ago, the first serious incident on the border since the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel ended six months ago.

UN peacekeepers reinforced their presence in the area hoping to make sure it would be the last one.

Under pressure

The reticent French soldiers had little to say other than “Tout est calme”, all is quiet.

If anything happens, people will take off, no-one wants to get stuck here no more

Ali Faraj

A Lebanese army jeep with a couple of officers drove past, heading further down the valley, closer to the border fence.

Lebanese troops hadn’t had a presence in the area for decades, until UN resolution 1701, which ended the 34-day conflict, paved the way for the deployment of about 10,000 Lebanese and 11,000 more UN peacekeepers.

That is why Hezbollah is feeling under pressure in south Lebanon.

Under the UN resolution, only the Lebanese army and Unifil are allowed to carry weapons in the border area.

Gone are the small Hezbollah positions and the yellow and green Hezbollah flags fluttering in the face of Israelis soldiers.

But these were only the visible signs of the Shia guerrilla group’s presence along the border.

Hezbollah forces are still operational in the area, and they work hard to conceal their true strength.

Caught in conflict

In the southern town of Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold, still heavily scarred by the fighting, life is very slowly returning to normal.

Kids play on the street, shops are full of fresh vegetable produce – but memories of the war are still vivid.

A village in southern Lebanon badly damaged by bombing (picture courtesy UNHCR)

Many towns in south Lebanon were left in total ruin

“Everybody went to the gas stations to fill up on gas,” said Ali Faraj, recalling the latest border incident.

“If anything happens, people will take off, no-one wants to get stuck here no more,” he says speaking English picked in Dearborn, Michigan, in the United States.

Thousands of Lebanese emigrated to the US over the years and Dearborn is a popular destination for people from the south.

Ali and his friend do not see any problem if Hezbollah units work alongside the regular army in the south.

“The Lebanese army is not strong enough to defend south Lebanon.

“What the army can do against Israeli planes?” asks his friend, also with a strong American accent.

Many of the locals, like Ali, say they don’t trust the UN peackeepers and see them as protecting Israel instead of Lebanon.

In the last few days, a Spanish patrol was stoned by locals and French soldiers distributing medicine were kicked out by villagers in Maroun el-Ras by the border.

The unusual incidents are a worrying development for the authorities in Beirut. Anger at government

Surrounded by bombed-out buildings, torched cars and a badly damaged mosque, you can really feel the frustration and many people say they’ve been abandoned by their government.

It’s a disgrace, they take our taxes but they don’t even come to see us

Ali Bazzi
Head of Bint Jbeil municipality

“Nobody got any help from the government. In any self respecting country, the government would have come to visit the damaged area, we didn’t see a single minister,” said Ali Bazzi, the head of the Bint Jbeil municipality.

“It’s a disgrace, they take our taxes but they don’t even come to see us. Given the current political situation in Beirut, we have no relations with the central government in Beirut.”

The cash-strapped government has lobbied international donors and brought in international teams to help with reconstruction.

But it was no match for the speed and organisation of Hezbollah, which distributed around $300m in cash straight after the war.

The group’s vast social network is highly appreciated by locals. But if you’re not a Hezbollah supporter you can be left out.

‘Turned away’

“Hezbollah say they don’t differentiate between Lebanese people,” said Sita Balhas, a mother of five in the village of Siddiqine.

Map

“But when my son was wounded in the war, he went to one of Hezbollah’s medical centre, they told him: your legs are not for Hezbollah, so we won’t treat you.”

The Balhas tobacco crop was mostly burned during the conflict, their butchers shop destroyed, but they say they didn’t receive any aid from Hezbollah.

They haven’t received anything from the government either – but their anger seems mostly directed at Hezbollah.

“The government is powerless, they don’t have money. Hezbollah started the war, they should pay us compensation,” said Sita.

Hezbollah wields enormous power and control over the Shia community so it’s unusual to hear criticism of Hezbollah among ordinary people, but disgruntled voices are starting to be heard occasionally.

Widening rift

The nearby Christian village of Ain Ebel is practically a ghost town.

Those villagers who remain blame Hezbollah for the conflict – which started after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers – but are glad about the deployment of government forces in the area.

“After the war it’s so different, after so many years in an area without any Lebanese security forces here we see now the army, we see the checkpoints,” said Emad Lallousse, a translator for Unifil.

He dismisses claims that Hezbollah is needed to “defend” south Lebanon.

“We can live without any war, like the Egyptian, like the Jordanians, like the Syrians, why do we always have to worry about defending south Lebanon?”

Tensions in south Lebanon about who should defend – and control – this region are amplified in Beirut where the political standoff continues between the government and the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Although most people in the south still support the Shia group, the country as a whole is split down the middle and the rift is only widening.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6376733.stm

Origins of the Lebanon war

The Winograd Commission clears up the propaganda myth that Israel was ill prepared for the July War and that it was a quick response to a kidnapping.  Olmerts testimony shows, that at least, several months of planning had taken place and the whole attack was premeditated.  Israel was infact waiting for an excuse to launch their planned war rather than preparing a response to a kidnap as Olmert claims.  Amir Peretz, Israels war minister, had the following to say “Is there anyone who really believes that the capture of the two soldiers in the north was the reason that led to the war? There was an accumulation of the incidents before the war which led us to be very cautious to more serious threats. If we did not confront them, we would have found ourselves, after several years, in front of harsh mounting threats and more dangerous than we have discovered.”[1]  The message to the Lebanese seems to be if you think about building a deterant to Israeli aggression it will be seen as a threat to Israeli hegemony and will have to be dealt with.  In this case Israel was planning a strike on Iran and wanted to weaken a key ally, Hezbollah, by removing its long range missile capacity,  Seymour Hershes article is a good place to learn more [2]
The following is sourced from The Fanonite [3]

Origins of the Lebanon War

March 8th, 2007

Although Seymour Hersh had already revealed that the Lebanon War was preceded by a whole year of planning, some among the “moderate” Arabs had a hard time digesting this. So here is Ha’aretz on the Winograd Commission’s findings in its investigations of last years invasion of Lebanon:

Olmert has told the Winograd Commission that his decision to respond to the abduction of soldiers with a broad military operation was made as early as March 2006, four months before last summer’s Lebanon war broke out.

The Guardian adds that Olmert’s testimony ”contradicted the impression at the time that Israel was provoked into a battle for which it was ill-prepared.”

Unless our “moderate” Arab friends believe in Olmert’s clairvoyance, no further proof should be necessary that Israel’s aggression was premedictated.

The report adds:

Olmert claimed he had held more meetings on the situation in Lebanon than any of his recent predecessors. The first meeting was held on January 8, 2006…Further meetings were held in March, April, May and July, after Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted to the Gaza Strip…

In a meeting in March, Olmert asked the army commanders whether operational plans existed for such a possibility, and they said yes. He asked to see the plans, and they asked why. He responded that he did not want to make a snap decision in the case of an abduction, and preferred to decide at that moment.

The Commission ask Olmert why he decided “to carry out a large-scale ground operation in Lebanon, 48 hours before the cease-fire, in which 33 soldiers were killed”.

Olmert said he had wanted to influence UN Security Council deliberations so that the draft resolution 1701, calling for a cease-fire, would be amended in Israel’s favor.

Olmert said that the morning he made the move, he had received a draft reflecting the French-Lebanese stance, which did not suit Israel. The expanded operation was aimed at pressuring the Security Council members, he said.

When Chicken-Hawks Fall

According to Israeli commentators “Olmert and Amir Peretz, the defence minister, took the opportunity of the kidnapping [sic] to show they could manage a war in spite of their limited military experience.”

Very clever, them two. Their strategy must have sent their popularity through the roof. 

In an opinion poll published this week, only 3% of Israeli voters said they would back Mr Olmert in an election, while 72% said he should resign.

American Response to the War

We all know that US used its diplomatic muscle to delay a ceasefire, and rushed cache’s of weapons to Lebanon via UK during the war. Here is what is less known:

He said that as early as the first day of the war, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Olmert and asked that Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora not be undermined. Israel understood this to mean that Lebanese infrastructure should not be destroyed, even though the IDF had originally planned otherwise.

Conal Urquhart’s usual substandard reports continue to reproduce official Israeli lingo, e.g. the soldier’s being “abducted” or “kidnapped”. However this time, he ventures at least one bold statement.

Many suggested that the army had become accustomed to fighting the ill-equipped Palestinians and was not prepared for Hizbullah’s expertise.

Yes, the Israeli army is a juggernaut, so long as it is confronted with stone-throwing pre-teens.

[1] http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=20070131&articleId=4650
[2] http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/08/21/060821fa_fact
[3] http://fanonite.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/origins-of-the-lebanon-war/

Other links

Report: Interim findings of Lebanon war won’t deal with personal failures – Haaretz – Israel News
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/834572.html

Officers slam PM for planning war but not preparing IDF – Haaretz – Israel News 
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/835045.html