Big Noise: Letters from Beirut – War of 33

Big Noise Film ‘The War of 33’ – An intimate, personal and powerful telling of the story of the 2006 war in Lebanon. A series of letters written by Hanady Salman – a mother living through the war in Beirut – carve a narrative arc through the intense and haunting images of conflict. She tells the stories of her family and the people she lives the war with the refugees, the wounded, and the everyday Lebanese, struggling to maintain their sanity and their humanity during a time of war. The War of 33 is more than a document of a particular historical experience. What emerges is a universal story – a complex picture of love, pain, resistance and survival in the face of uncertainty and violence.


“What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs,”

Israeli commander: “We fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon”

“What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs,” the head of an IDF rocket unit in Lebanon said regarding the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous shells during the war.
Full story at Meron Rappaport in Haaretz

Quoting his battalion commander, the rocket unit head stated that the IDF fired around 1,800 cluster bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets.

In addition, soldiers in IDF artillery units testified that the army used phosphorous shells during the war, widely forbidden by international law. According to their claims, the vast majority of said explosive ordinance was fired in the final 10 days of the war.

The rocket unit commander stated that Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) platforms were heavily used in spite of the fact that they were known to be highly inaccurate.

The use of such weaponry is controversial mainly due to its inaccuracy and ability to wreak great havoc against indeterminate targets over large areas of territory, with a margin of error of as much as 1,200 meters from the intended target to the area hit.

…When his reserve duty came to a close, the commander in question sent a letter to Defense Minister Amir Peretz outlining the use of cluster munitions, a letter which has remained unanswered.

Evidence of Israeli “Cowardly Blending” Comes to Light

War Crimes Airbrushed from History



January 4, 2008


It apparently never occurred to anyone in our leading human rights organisations or the Western media that the same moral and legal standards ought be applied to the behaviour of Israel and Hizbullah during the war on Lebanon 18 months ago. Belatedly, an important effort has been made to set that right.

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The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)

Whose Mission is it fulfilling?

lebanon-flag.gifFranklin Lamb
UN Headquarters
Naquora, Lebanon

Ever since one of this student’s favorite Professors, Dr. Ruth Widmeyer, an accomplished and rare beauty still, who was the first woman to receive a PhD in Soviet Studies from Harvard nearly a half century ago, announced to our Political Science class at Portland State University that our class would be representing France at the Model United Nations Session in San Diego, Lamb was smitten: both with Professor Widmeyer and with the United Nations.

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Franklin Lamb: Driving Miss Condi

It was one of those bleak, wet and cold London mornings back on January 18, 1990 when this observer exited the Marks and Spencer’s store on Oxford Street, having purchased a Scottish Shetland wool cardigan for protection against the damp chill. As he walked to the Underground he noticed that some of the London street corner tabloids were running full page photos of his former boss, the Mayor of Washington DC.

The police photo showed Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr. finally caught in a police sting after a decade of government attempts, pulling hard on a hit of crack cocaine after complaining to his sister, Ms. Hazel ‘Rasheeda’ Moore that she was taking too long in the Vista Hotel bathroom and her presence would be appreciated in the bedroom.

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UK Government report on Lebanon War




“We conclude that the Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. As the Minister [Kim Howells] admitted to us, the option of a dual track diplomatic strategy could have succeeded. We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.”

These words are taken from a report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) published on 25 July 2007 (1). The report, entitled Global Security: The Middle East, is surprisingly critical of recent British foreign policy towards the region, especially with regard to Lebanon but also Palestine. It is also very critical of Israel.

Its criticism of the Government’s failure to call for an immediate ceasefire at the start of Israel’s war on Lebanon is quoted above. It is also critical of the Government’s support for the continued collective punishment of Palestinians by the EU after the formation of the Hamas/Fatah National Unity Government in March 2007. More fundamentally, it recognises that Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine are part of the political fabric and are not going to go away. It recommends that the Government talk to both – which is a radical departure from the Committee’s previous stance.

All-party committee

The FAC is a 14-member all-party committee (8 Labour including its chairman, Mike Gapes, 4 Conservative and 2 Liberal Democrat). In all probability, therefore, the views expressed in this report would be acceptable to the House of Commons as a whole.

The FAC is supposed to scrutinise the Government’s actions in foreign affairs. I have read many of its reports in recent years and none of them would have given the Government any reason for anxiety. This was especially true of its report on The Decision to go to War in Iraq (2), which in July 2003 performed the impossible feat of exonerating the Government for misleading Parliament on the intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”, even though the Government denied it access to the intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”. (See my subsequent evidence to the Committee (3) & (4)).

But this FAC report is a different kettle of fish. For the first time in my experience, the FAC has been seriously critical of important foreign policy decisions. And in the course of doing so, the Committee made Kim Howells, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Middle East, look very foolish. (Howells was appointed to this post by Blair after the 2005 General Election and was retained by Brown when he succeeded Blair in June 2007).

Of course, the Committee was not reporting on the foreign policy actions of the present Brown government but of the previous Blair government. Criticising a past government, which cannot exact revenge, is easier than criticising the current one. It’s possible that Brown let it be known that criticism of his predecessor’s actions in foreign affairs would not be unwelcome. It may be that he and his new ministerial team in the Foreign Office have a mind to shift ground on the Middle East – if so, being advised to do so by the all-party FAC would be an advantage. The Government is constitutionally obliged to give a formal response to Select Committee reports and reply to questions posed by the Committee. The Government’s response to this report will be worth studying.

In the following, I will examine the FAC’s criticism of foreign policy towards Lebanon and Palestine.

Part I Lebanon

Paragraphs 84 to 120 of the FAC report are concerned with policy towards Lebanon.

“It is tragic that so many innocent lives, Lebanese and Israeli, have been lost over the past weeks. … The hostilities on both sides should cease immediately …” (5)

Those were Prime Minister Blair’s words on 12 August 2006 in a statement after the Security Council passed resolution 1701. He had waited a month to make this call, a month in which “many innocent lives” were lost.

The Foreign Affairs Committee interrogated Kim Howells about this delay on 13 September 2006. Chairman, Mike Gapes, asked him if he still believed “the Government was right not to call for an immediate ceasefire” (6). He replied:

“Yes, I do, Chairman. I was out there in the middle of the conflict and I saw for myself the appalling consequences both of the bombing of Lebanon and the rockets that were being fired into northern Israel. It was very distressing and there were a lot of people, in my view, being killed needlessly and a lot of infrastructure being damaged.”

which, one might have thought, made an irresistible case for the Government calling for an immediate ceasefire. Nevertheless, Howells continued:

“However, I also saw very clearly that the only way that this could be stopped was by a UN resolution, and there had to be some real teeth behind any ceasefire that would occur. I believe that was the right decision. … What we needed was a permanent ceasefire.”

One doesn’t need to be a genius to recognise that it was possible to call for an immediate ceasefire and, at the same time, work for permanent arrangements. This point was put to Howells by Conservative MP, Sir John Stanley:

“Minister, in answer to the Chairman’s initial question you seemed to be taking the view that the calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and, at the same time, working for a satisfactory UN resolution were two mutually incompatible policies. Surely, a very much better foreign policy position for the British Government would have been to combine the two; to say that we were wanting an immediate cessation of hostilities and, at the same time, working for an effective UN resolution. Has there not been a foreign policy misjudgement in that by not calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities the British Government gave the clear impression that it was actively supporting the Israeli operations against the whole of Lebanon?”

Howells replied categorically:

“I do not agree with you, Sir John, about the possibility for a dual track diplomatic progress at that time.”

However, pressed shortly afterwards by Labour MP, Ken Purchase, who asked:

“A short period of ceasefire, you say, may just have resulted in people rearming. Could I say that in even a day of a ceasefire hundreds of lives would have been saved?”

Howells “appeared to change his mind” (in the words of the FAC report) and said:

“I am not saying … that a dual approach might not have worked. I am not saying that and I am not dismissing that at all. Maybe it would have worked.”

The FAC sets out Howells’ contradictory positions in paragraph 97. I don’t recall the Committee doing such a hatchet job on a Foreign Office minister before.

Bolton tells it as it was

Worse was to follow. In paragraph 100, the FAC says:

“At the time of the conflict, many believed the United States was obstructing calls for an immediate ceasefire to give Israel a chance to defeat overwhelmingly Hezbollah’s militia.”

The FAC then quoted the words of John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN in July 2006, in an interview with Ed Stourton in a BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast on 22 March 2007. Stourton asked him if the US had been “deliberately obstructing diplomatic attempts” to bring an end to the war so that “Israel could have its head.” Mr Bolton asked “what’s wrong with that?” and added that he was “damn proud of what we did”. (For details of this revealing conversation, see the BBC press statement about the programme (7)).

The FAC wrote to Kim Howells to ask him about John Bolton’s comments. In his reply, Howells stated (see report, Ev 126):

“The UK was certainly not involved in collusion with either the US or Israel to support the continuation of hostilities or to block a ceasefire. Whilst I cannot speak for the US position [on] this matter, I do not believe they acted differently.”

The FAC commented (paragraph 101):

“There are three possible explanations for this discrepancy. The first is that Mr Bolton misled the BBC journalist by suggesting that the US blocked diplomacy at the UN because it wanted to give Israel the opportunity to destroy Hezbollah when in fact this was not the case. The second is that the US did indeed block attempts to find a quick diplomatic solution to bring about a ceasefire, but that the UK, even though it is a permanent member of the Security Council and a close ally of the US, was not brought into or made aware of this collusion with Israel. The third alternative … is that the UK was in fact brought into, or at least aware of, the efforts to obstruct the diplomatic process. Based on the evidence provided to the Committee, we are unable to rule any of these possibilities out.”

In addition, the FAC asked (paragraph 102) that in its response to the report the Government

“clarify on what date the first draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire or cessation of hostilities was presented to members of the Security Council, and what the Government’s response to this draft was.”

Government responses to select committee reports are not known for providing straight answers, but it is difficult to see how the Government can avoid giving straight answers in this case.

(The Security Council had a formal meeting on 14 July 2006 two days after hostilities began and at that meeting a number of states, including France, called for an immediate ceasefire. The French Ambassador to the UN, Jean-Marc De La Sablière, said:

“France, as solemnly stated by President Chirac today, calls upon the parties to immediately cease hostilities, which is the only way to give a chance to mediation efforts.” (8)

Whether by then this sentiment had been expressed in a draft resolution that was presented to members of the Council informally is not known.)

The FAC concluded (paragraph 102) that the Government’s decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire was a mistake:

“We conclude that the Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. As the Minister admitted to us, the option of a dual track diplomatic strategy could have succeeded. We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.”

It is difficult to argue against that. And it’s possible that the Brown Government won’t bother to argue, preferring that the decision not to call for a ceasefire be categorized as a Blairite mistake.

(As far as Blair personally is concerned, it was definitely a mistake since it shortened his stay in 10 Downing Street by at least a year. His failure to call for an immediate ceasefire produced a minor revolt in the Parliamentary Labour Party and, to contain it, he had to announce that he would be stepping down within a year to make way for Brown.)

Israeli action disproportionate

Unusually for a report emanating from the House of Commons, the FAC report is very critical of Israel. Whilst nearly every other state in this world (and the Conservative opposition in Britain) was prepared to use the word “disproportionate” to describe aspects of Israeli military action against Lebanon, Britain wasn’t. The FAC is.

Kim Howells was in Lebanon on 22 July 2006 during the war. While he was there, he strongly criticised Israeli actions, saying:

“I very much hope that the Americans understand what’s happening to Lebanon. The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. And it’s very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they’re chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation.” (9)

Despite having said this, Howells refused to characterise Israeli actions as “disproportionate” when interviewed by the FAC on 13 September 2006. By contrast, the FAC itself was prepared to apply the word, especially to Israel’s use of cluster bombs. In paragraph 108, the FAC says:

“… we conclude that elements of Israel’s military action in Lebanon were indiscriminate and disproportionate. In particular, the numerous attacks on UN observers and the dropping of over three and a half million cluster bombs (90% of the total) in the 72 hours after the Security Council passed Resolution 1701 were not acceptable.”

And it goes on to ask the Government to “explicitly state whether it believes that, in the light of information now available, Israel’s use of cluster bombs was proportionate”.

(The Committee wrote to the Israeli Ambassador in London, asking (see report, Ev 136):

“What was the intended military purpose of using a large number of cluster munitions in south Lebanon at a late stage of the war last summer?”

In his reply, the Ambassador failed to deal with the issue of timing.)

The FAC report also criticised Israel for its continued violations of Lebanese sovereignty since the war (paragraph 112) and for its refusal to provide the UN with full information about where it dropped cluster bombs (paragraph 112).

Shi’as under-represented

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the FAC report as regards Lebanon is the understanding shown of the Lebanese political system, and the fact that the Shi’a community is under-represented within the system (paragraphs 89 & 90). The report describes accurately the question at issue between the March 14 coalition, which dominates the present Lebanese Government, and the opposition led by Hezbollah, which withdrew its ministers from the Government last November and has since been engaged in a protest in the centre of Beirut (paragraph 91):

“Hezbollah and its allies have been demanding the creation of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘1/3 +1’ Government. Under this system, they would return to Prime Minister Siniora’s Government, but with enough Cabinet seats to be able to veto proposals within Cabinet. This solution has been bitterly opposed by the ‘March 14’ coalition.”

The Committee ignored Kim Howells’ crude characterisation of the opposition protests as “trying to subvert the democratic process” in Lebanon.

On 30 May 2007, the Security Council passed resolution 1757 to set up an international tribunal to try individuals accused of the murder of Rafik Hariri, overriding the internal political processes of Lebanon (see my article The Security Council interferes in Lebanon – again (10)). Remarkably, the Committee questions this “bypassing of Lebanon’s state institutions” suggesting that this “only serves to undermine them and thus increase the potential for civil conflict” (paragraph 115).

In paragraph 94, the FAC concludes that

“the tribunal process has brought to the surface important questions regarding the under-representation of the Shi’a population in Lebanon’s political system”

and recommends that

“the Government work with its international allies to help the Lebanese parties find consensus on a more representative and democratic political system”.

Talk to Hezbollah

In paragraph 120, the report describes Hezbollah as “undeniably an important element in Lebanon’s politics” (albeit with the qualification that “its influence, along with Iran’s and Syria’s, continues to be a malign one”). The FAC continues:

“We further conclude that, as the movement will realistically only be disarmed through a political process, the Government should encourage Hezbollah to play a part in Lebanon’s mainstream politics. We recommend that the Government should engage directly with moderate Hezbollah Parliamentarians.”

This would be a major change in policy for Britain. In making a case for such a change, the Committee reported (paragraph 119):

“On our visit, we asked a range of Lebanese politicians whether the British Government should engage directly with the group. No one, including bitter opponents of Hezbollah, told us that the current Government approach was the correct one.”

The FAC made Kim Howells look foolish on this issue as well – see paragraph 118. There, he is quoted as voicing the following opinion to the Committee about engagement with Hezbollah:

“I am not going to go out of my way to talk to people who are trying to subvert the democratic process so that they can enhance the standing and position of an extremist Islamist organisation that does not value democracy at all.”

Paragraph 118 continues:

“However, this apparently clear-cut position was muddied somewhat when, in the same evidence session, Dr Howells told the Committee he believed he had met someone who was ‘essentially Hezbollah’.”

Part II Palestine

Paragraphs 10 to 83 of the FAC report are concerned with policy towards Palestine.

The last FAC report that examined policy towards Palestine was Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, published in July 2006 (11). In it, the Committee endorsed unequivocally the Government’s refusal to deal directly with Hamas, saying (paragraph 192):

“We recommend that, until Hamas accepts the existence of Israel and commits itself to both a two-state solution and exclusively peaceful means of achieving its goals, the Government should continue to refuse to deal with it directly.”

What is more, the Committee endorsed the Government’s policy of applying collective punishment to Palestinians because a bare majority of them voted for Hamas in January 2006 (paragraph 197):

“We conclude that the Government was right to refuse to channel its aid through a Palestinian administration led by Hamas … .”

A year later, the Committee has changed its stance dramatically. True, it cannot quite bring itself to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian Governments formed after the Hamas victory in the elections of January 2006, that is, the Government formed by Hamas on its own in March 2006 (because, pressurised by the US, Fatah refused to join with Hamas in a National Unity Government) and the National Unity Government formed in March 2007 after the Mecca Agreement. Both of these were legitimate governments, having been duly endorsed by the Palestinian Legislative Council in accordance with Article 67 of the Palestinian constitution, aka the Basic Law (unlike the present “government” headed by Salam Fayyad, which hasn’t).

However, the Committee has belatedly come to the conclusion that the establishment of a National Unity Government was a good thing, which should have been established earlier (and without US interference would have been established earlier) and should have been supported by Britain. It concludes (paragraph 41) that

“the unwillingness of the EU to modify the financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority following the Mecca agreement was very damaging”

and (paragraph 50) that

“the decision to boycott Hamas despite the Mecca agreement and the continued suspension of aid to the national unity Government meant that this Government was highly likely to collapse”.

To its credit, the FAC does not repeat the lie broadcast in Britain’s name by the Quartet in a statement on 16 June 2007 (12) that the present “government” was duly established “under Palestinian law”.

It recommends (paragraph 60) that

“the Government urge President Abbas to come to a negotiated settlement with Hamas with a view to re-establishing a national unity Government across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

And, in a radical departure from its previous stance, it recommends that the Government talk to Hamas (paragraph 60):

“Given the failure of the boycott to deliver results, we recommend that the Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles.”

And it recommends that former Prime Minister Blair do likewise (paragraph 67). Since he is a Quartet envoy, that is, essentially a US envoy, it is unlikely that Washington will let him.













(12) See

US Aid Dependency: The Road to Ruin for Lebanon

Protecting Lebanon according to the Bush administration is achieved by undermining its ability to fight Israel


Global Research, October 7, 2007

Electronic Lebanon – 2007-10-0

“We have received only a lot of promises and some ammunition but no equipment, as if they are telling us: Die first and back-up will arrive later.” -General Michael Sulieman, Lebanese Armed Forces, on US support during the summer-long Nahr al-Bared refugee camp battle

Since Israel’s July 2006 war on Lebanon, and up to the current deadlock over electing Lebanon’s next president, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to express its commitment to Lebanese “democracy” and to building a strong and sovereign country that can “stand up” to Syria’s and Iran’s allies within Lebanon’s borders.

Inside those borders, prime minister Fouad Siniora’s March 14 government and the Hizballah-led opposition are sharply split over Washington’s intentions. The March 14 movement has feverishly called on the capital of the “free world” for help and the movement’s civil-war seasoned leaders reassure the Lebanese that the superpower won’t abandon their “cedar revolution.” In response, opposition leaders reiterate their distrust of Israel’s closest ally and accuse its March 14 supporters of holding Lebanon hostage to its enemy’s best friend. In the fog of these accusations and counter-accusations, is it possible to evaluate Washington’s support to Lebanon without resorting to the polemics of either camp?

The true measure of the alliance of any two states or political groups rests on an accurate and fair reading of two forms of support: military aid and economic assistance, and reaching a verdict about these two forms of support is based on the examination of three properties of such aid: the monetary value (size or quantity) of this aid, the declared and hidden objectives of the aid and the conditions attached to it (the quality of the aid). Based on these criteria, what is the truth behind the US support for Lebanon, in numbers and according to Washington’s own sources?

Military Support

One of the main bones of contention between the government and the opposition in Lebanon is the disarming of Hizballah. The March 14 movement does not miss an opportunity to proclaim its intention to build a strong state capable of protecting the country’s borders (particularly the south). And the disarming of Hizballah, the Hariri-led movement claims, is a major step in that direction. So does American military aid provide a realistic alternative to Hizballah’s battle-proven power of deterrence?

From 1946 to June 2006, Lebanon did not receive any significant US military aid except in the years 1981 to 1984. This was the period when the Lebanese army’s official leadership was aligned with forces sympathetic to or allied with Israel, and more importantly it was a period of direct American military intervention in Lebanon. During this period, Lebanon received $148 million in military aid, an average of $37 million per year. This aid surpassed what the country had received in the entire 34 years that preceded; around $128 million (95 percent of this aid was in the form of loans not grants). After 1984 and the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, US military aid declined to its lowest levels (around half a million annually earmarked for training purposes).

The assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, contrary to what some might think, did not lead to a fundamental change in this aid policy. The Bush administration’s request was for just one million dollars in 2006 and around $4 million for 2007. The gigantic increase came on the heels of the summer 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. In the wake of the war, the Bush administration filed an emergency request to congress to provide Lebanon with additional military support valued at $220 million for the single year of 2007.

What we learn from this is that any significant increase in US military aid to Lebanon is temporary and linked to the existence of internal divisions in Lebanon or the outbreak of regional wars or conflicts. And as such, this support is not the product of a strategic alliance akin to that forged between Hizballah and Iran. More importantly though, even when this aid is boosted, the objectives and conditions of its release are far from geared towards building a Lebanese military force capable of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this tiny country.

One wonders about the nature of promises General Sulieman is referring to, but the only binding promises of the US are those stated in the legislative bills tabled by the administration and passed by Congress. And the purpose of budgeting the huge sum of $220 million requested by the Bush administration for this year is very clear in that regard. The State Department has unequivocally declared that the purpose of this aid is to “promote Lebanese control over southern Lebanon and Palestinian refugee camps to prevent them from being used as bases to attack Israel.” (US officials lobbied to spread the fight in Nahr al-Bared to other camps.)

Protecting Lebanon according to the Bush administration is achieved by undermining its ability to fight Israel, the biggest source of threat to Lebanon’s security, and the entity which attempted to invade it in the same year those aid packages were pledged.

Some might argue that America’s above-stated goal is meant to prevent any non-sate organization (Hizballah) from monopolizing the duty of defending Lebanon. But the conditions attached to the aid leaves no doubt that building any force, legitimate or otherwise, is impossible under constraints placed by the US. According to these conditions, any support to Lebanon’s army should be intended for “expanded personal training by private US contractors or provision of spare parts and ammunition for Lebanese forces,” as well as vehicles employed for logistical or patrol purposes. As for equipment and weapons normally used to defend any country’s territory, such as anti-aircraft missiles or tanks or even technologically primitive missiles such as Katyushas, such weapons are out of bounds according to the aid provisions. The administration calls it “non-lethal” assistance. In contrast, permitting Israel to invest a portion of US aid in domestic military research since 1977 was instrumental in the development of the Merkava tank, the primary weapon used for Israel’s land invasion of Lebanon last summer.

Counting on US military aid means transforming the Lebanese army at best to a peacekeeping or patrolling force and at worst an internally oppressive security force. This suggests that the only way to disarm Hizballah without stripping the people of southern Lebanon of the only effective defense force on their land is for the Lebanese government to seek assistance from US adversaries, the same ones possibly Hizballah is allied with.

Economic Aid

The history and present trend of US economic aid to Lebanon mirrors to a great degree that of its military aid. Again, the turning point for an astronomical increase of the aid (much of it remains a pledge) was the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon and not the assassination of Hariri.

Prior to the 2006 war, American economic aid to Lebanon reached its zenith in the first half of the ’80s (around $53 million in 1983). Between 1986 and 2006, it ranged between $8 and $15 million. The annual aid package then jumped to about $35 million between 2000 and 2006 (the increase was partly an incentive for the Lebanese army to deploy in the south following the withdrawal of Israeli troops in 2000). In the wake of the 2006 war, Washington allocated about $180 million in emergency aid and later requested $300 million in supplemental aid. (Most of this aid was in the form of grants.)

The aid is ostensibly earmarked for post-war reconstruction, declared Washington. But the release of the funds is conditional on the the Siniora government successfully implementing a bundle of economic “reforms.” Indeed, even before Congress approved the aid package, Siniora declared his government’s intention to cut social security programs, privatize the electricity and telecommunications sectors, increase value added tax by two percent, and implement other measures he claimed were aimed to reduce Lebanon’s $40 billion national debt. Siniora’s effort to push through these measures however were met with strong popular resistance inside Lebanon that led him to reconsider the timing and strategy of implementing the “reforms.”

American economic aid to Lebanon was and remains part of neoliberal American policies across the globe that aim to construct an unregulated market-based economy by weakening the economic role of the very governments it purports to support.

US aid: Causes and consequences

How can one explain the US policy towards Lebanon?

First, Lebanon may be a “piece of the sky” according to its famous crooner Wadih Assafi, but in the eyes of US policy makers, it is a bargaining chip used to settle other regional conflicts. In fact, Lebanon does not possess any of the properties that constitute vital national interests to a superpower such as oil fields, international waterways or military bases. Hizballah may be the only serious threat.

In recorded history, only two US presidents described Lebanon using the rhetoric of the “national interest” –(Eisenhower in 1958 and Reagan in 1983). And both references coincided with direct US military intervention in Lebanon and not in the vein of drawing up a strategic vision of Lebanon’s place in foreign policy.

Secondly, The US does not trust two of three types of allies in the Middle East, the Siniora government among them.

The first type is that of political forces or governments that represent elites or particular religious or political communities and who exercise limited authority within countries or territories that suffer from partial or total instability. These countries include Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Lebanon. US military and economic aid to their allies in these countries is mostly symbolic, tactical or directed towards internal security and against the interest of the peoples or these countries.

The second category of allies is composed of governments or dictatorial regimes that represent their own interests over and above that of their people and rule in countries that are partially or totally stable. These countries include Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. US aid to this countries is more than symbolic, but often limited and subject to serious constraints.

The last category of US allies in the Middle East is that of governments that speak in the name of the interest of its own people (at least the majority) and rule in internally stable countries. These countries include Turkey and Israel. US aid to these countries makes a significant contribution to the military and economic performance of these countries.

Understanding US aid to Lebanon, and comparing it to similar patterns in Palestine and Iraq in light of this overall map of US aid to the region, leaves little doubt that Lebanese (and by extension Palestinian and Iraqi) politicians betting on the goodwill and unmatched power of Washington to build their country’s defenses, are doing so out of either unintentional or willful ignorance, and both are a recipe for further instability and a disregard for the safety and security of their people.

Hicham Safieddine is a Lebanese Canadian journalist. This is an edited version of an article that appeared recently in Arabic in the Lebanese newspaper
Al-Akhbar and is republished with permission.