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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Why did Israel attack Syria?

Global Research, September 27, 2007

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Israel’s air strike on northern Syria earlier this month should be understood in the context of events unfolding since its assault last summer on neighbouring Lebanon. Although little more than rumours have been offered about what took place, one strategic forecasting group, Stratfor, still concluded: “Something important happened.”

From the leaks so far, it seems that more than half a dozen Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace to drop munitions on a site close to the border with Turkey. We also know from the US media that the “something” occurred in close coordination with the White House. But what was the purpose and significance of the attack?

It is worth recalling that, in the wake of Israel’s month-long war against Lebanon a year ago, a prominent American neoconservative, Meyrav Wurmser, wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney’s recently departed Middle East adviser, explained that the war had dragged on because the White House delayed in imposing a ceasefire. The neocons, she said, wanted to give Israel the time and space to expand the attack to Damascus.

The reasoning was simple: before an attack on Iran could be countenanced, Hizbullah in Lebanon had to be destroyed and Syria at the very least cowed. The plan was to isolate Tehran on these two other hostile fronts before going in for the kill.

But faced with constant rocket fire from Hizbullah last summer, Israel’s public and military nerves frayed at the first hurdle. Instead Israel and the US were forced to settle for a Security Council resolution rather than a decisive military victory.

The immediate fallout of the failed attack was an apparent waning of neocon influence. The group’s programme of “creative destruction” in the Middle East — the encouragement of regional civil war and the partition of large states that threaten Israel — was at risk of being shunted aside.

Instead the “pragmatists” in the Bush Administration, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the new Defence Secretary Robert Gates, demanded a change of tack. The standoff reached a head in late 2006 when oilman James Baker and his Iraq Study Group began lobbying for a gradual withdrawal from Iraq — presumably only after a dictator, this one more reliable, had again been installed in Baghdad. It looked as if the neocons’ day in the sun had finally passed.

Israel’s leadership understood the gravity of the moment. In January 2007 the Herzliya conference, an annual festival of strategy-making, invited no less than 40 Washington opinion-formers to join the usual throng of Israeli politicians, generals, journalists and academics. For a week the Israeli and American delegates spoke as one: Iran and its presumed proxy, Hizbullah, were bent on the genocidal destruction of Israel. Tehran’s development of a nuclear programme — whether for civilian use, as Iran argues, or for military use, as the US and Israel claim — had to be stopped at all costs.

While the White House turned uncharacteristically quiet all spring and summer about what it planned to do next, rumours that Israel was pondering a go-it-alone strike against Iran grew noisier by the day. Ex-Mossad officers warned of an inevitable third world war, Israeli military intelligence advised that Iran was only months away from the point of no return on developing a nuclear warhead, prominent leaks in sympathetic media revealed bombing runs to Gibraltar, and Israel started upping the pressure on several tens of thousands of Jews in Tehran to flee their homes and come to Israel.

While Western analysts opined that an attack on Iran was growing unlikely, Israel’s neighbours watched nervously through the first half of the year as the vague impression of a regional war came ever more sharply into focus. In particular Syria, after witnessing the whirlwind of savagery unleashed against Lebanon last summer, feared it was next in line in the US-Israeli campaign to break Tehran’s network of regional alliances. It deduced, probably correctly, that neither the US nor Israel would dare attack Iran without first clobbering Hizbullah and Damascus.

For some time Syria had been left in no doubt of the mood in Washington. It failed to end its pariah status in the post-9/11 period, despite helping the CIA with intelligence on al-Qaeda and secretly trying to make peace with Israel over the running sore of the occupied Golan Heights. It was rebuffed at every turn.

So as the clouds of war grew darker in the spring, Syria responded as might be expected. It went to the arms market in Moscow and bought up the displays of anti-aircraft missiles as well as anti-tank weapons of the kind Hizbullah demonstrated last summer were so effective at repelling Israel’s planned ground invasion of south Lebanon.

As the renowned Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld reluctantly conceded earlier this year, US policy was forcing Damascus to remain within Iran’s uncomfortable embrace: “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad finds himself more dependent on his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, than perhaps he would like.”

Israel, never missing an opportunity to wilfully misrepresent the behaviour of an enemy, called the Syrian military build-up proof of Damascus’ appetite for war. Apparently fearful that Syria might initiate a war by mistaking the signals from Israel as evidence of aggressive intentions, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, urged Syria to avoid a “miscalculation”. The Israeli public spent the summer braced for a far more dangerous repeat of last summer’s war along the northern border.

It was at this point — with tensions simmeringly hot — that Israel launched its strike, sending several fighter planes into Syria on a lightning mission to hit a site near Dayr a-Zawr. As Syria itself broke the news of the attack, Israeli generals were shown on TV toasting in the Jewish new year but refusing to comment.

Details have remained thin on the ground ever since: Israel imposed a news blackout that has been strictly enforced by the country’s military censor. Instead it has been left to the Western media to speculate on what occurred.

One point that none of the pundits and analysts have noted was that, in attacking Syria, Israel committed a blatant act of aggression against its northern neighbour of the kind denounced as the “supreme international crime” by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal.

Also, no one pointed out the obvious double standard applied to Israel’s attack on Syria compared to the far less significant violation of Israeli sovereignty by Hizbullah a year earlier, when the Shia militia captured two Israel soldiers at a border post and killed three more. Hizbullah‘s act was widely accepted as justification for the bombardment and destruction of much of Lebanon, even if a few sensitive souls agonised over whether Israel’s response was “disproportionate”. Would these commentators now approve of similar retaliation by Syria?

The question was doubtless considered unimportant because it was clear from Western coverage that no one — including the Israeli leadership — believed Syria was in a position to respond militarily to Israel’s attack. Olmert’s fear of a Syrian “miscalculation” evaporated the moment Israel did the maths for Damascus.

So what did Israel hope to achieve with its aerial strike?

The stories emerging from the less gagged American media suggest two scenarios. The first is that Israel targeted Iranian supplies passing through Syria on their way to Hizbullah; the second that Israel struck at a fledgling Syrian nuclear plant where materials from North Korea were being offloaded, possibly as part of a joint nuclear effort by Damascus and Tehran.

(Speculation that Israel was testing Syria’s anti-aircraft defences in preparation for an attack on Iran ignores the fact that the Israeli air force would almost certainly choose a flightpath through friendlier Jordanian airspace.)

How credible are these two scenarios?

The nuclear claims against Damascus were discounted so quickly by experts of the region that Washington was soon downgrading the accusation to claims that Syria was only hiding the material on North Korea’s behalf. But why would Syria, already hounded by Israel and the US, provide such a readymade pretext for still harsher treatment? Why, equally, would North Korea undermine its hard-won disarmament deal with the US? And why, if Syria were covertly engaging in nuclear mischief, did it alert the world to the fact by revealing the Israeli air strike?

The other justification for the attack was at least based in a more credible reality: Damascus, Hizbullah and Iran undoubtedly do share some military resources. But their alliance should be seen as the kind of defensive pact needed by vulnerable actors in a Sunni-dominated region where the US wants unlimited control of Gulf oil and supports only those repressive regimes that cooperate on its terms. All three are keenly aware that it is Israel’s job to threaten and punish any regimes that fail to toe the line.

Contrary to the impression being created in the West, genocidal hatred of Israel and Jews, however often Ahmadinejad’s speeches are mistranslated, is not the engine of these countries’ alliance.

Nonetheless, the political significance of the justifications for the the Israeli air strike is that both neatly tie together various strands of an argument needed by the neocons and Israel in making their case for an attack on Iran before Bush leaves office in early 2009. Each scenario suggests a Shia “axis of evil”, coordinated by Iran, that is actively plotting Israel’s destruction. And each story offers the pretext for an attack on Syria as a prelude to a pre-emptive strike against Tehran — launched either by Washington or Tel Aviv — to save Israel.

That these stories appear to have been planted in the American media by neocon masters of spin like John Bolton is warning enough — as is the admission that the only evidence for Syrian malfeasance is Israeli “intelligence”, the basis of which cannot be questioned as Israel is not officially admitting the attack.

It should hardly need pointing out that we are again in a hall of mirrors, as we were during the period leading up to America’s invasion of Iraq and have been during its subsequent occupation.

Bush’s “war on terror” was originally justified with the convenient and manufactured links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, as well as, of course, those WMDs that, it later turned out, had been destroyed more than a decade earlier. But ever since Tehran has invariably been the ultimate target of these improbable confections.

There were the forged documents proving both that Iraq had imported enriched uranium from Niger to manufacture nuclear warheads and that it was sharing its nuclear know-how with Iran. And as Iraq fell apart, neocon ideologues like Michael Ledeen lost no time in spreading rumours that the missing nuclear arsenal could still be accounted for: Iranian agents had simply smuggled it out of Iraq during the chaos of the US invasion.

Since then our media have proved that they have no less of an appetite for such preposterous tales. If Iran’s involvement in stirring up its fellow Shia in Iraq against the US occupation is at least possible, the same cannot be said of the regular White House claims that Tehran is behind the Sunni-led insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few months ago the news media served up “revelations” that Iran was secretly conspiring with al-Qaeda and Iraq’s Sunni militias to oust the US occupiers.

So what purpose does the constant innuendo against Tehran serve?

The latest accusations should be seen as an example of Israel and the neocons “creating their own reality”, as one Bush adviser famously observed of the neocon philosophy of power. The more that Hizbullah, Syria and Iran are menaced by Israel, the more they are forced to huddle together and behave in ways to protect themselves — such as arming — that can be portrayed as a “genocidal” threat to Israel and world order.

Van Creveld once observed that Tehran would be “crazy” not to develop nuclear weapons given the clear trajectory of Israeli and US machinations to overthrow the regime. So equally Syria cannot afford to jettison its alliance with Iran or its involvement with Hizbullah. In the current reality, these connections are the only power it has to deter an attack or force the US and Israel to negotiate.

But they are also the evidence needed by Israel and the neocons to convict Syria and Iran in the court of Washington opinion. The attack on Syria is part of a clever hustle, one designed to vanquish or bypass the doubters in the Bush Administration, both by proving Syria’s culpability and by provoking it to respond.

Condoleezza Rice, it emerged at the weekend, wants to invite Syria to attend the regional peace conference that has been called by President Bush for November. There can be no doubt that such an act of détente is deeply opposed by both Israel and the neocons. It reverses their strategy of implicating Damascus in the “Shia arc of extremism” and of paving the way to an attack on the real target: Iran.

Syria, meanwhile, is fighting back, as it has been for some time, with the only means available: the diplomatic offensive. For two years Bashar al-Assad has been offering a generous peace deal to Israel on the Golan Heights that Tel Aviv has refused to consider. This week, Syria made a further gesture towards peace with an offer on another piece of territory occupied by Israel, the Shebaa Farms. Under the plan, the Farms — which the United Nations now agrees belongs to Lebanon, but which Israel still claims is Syrian and cannot be returned until there is a deal on the Golan Heights — would be transferred to UN custody until the dispute over its sovereignty can be resolved.

Were either of Damascus’ initiatives to be pursued, the region might be looking forward to a period of relative calm and security. Which is reason enough why Israel and the neocons are so bitterly opposed. Instead they must establish a new reality — one in which the forces of “creative destruction” so beloved of the neocons engulf yet more of the region. For the rest of us, a simpler vocabulary suffices. What is being sold is catastrophe.

Jonathan Cook is a journalist and writer based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the author of “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State” (Pluto Press). His forthcoming book is “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East”. His website is 

Revisiting the summer war – A MUST READ

THIS IS A MUST READ.  Israeli press confess that ISRAEL started the war, not Hezbollah.  Any rational thinker knew this already, but now we have it in print.  Also that the UN cartographer has said the Shebaa farms are lebanese, therefore Israel still occupies Lebanon in violation of UN resolution 425 (although the UN seems to have been muzzled, see Franklin Lambs article for more info).

Jonathan Cook, Electronic Lebanon, Aug 16, 2007

Hizballah supporters hold a rally in south Beirut one year after Israel’s “Second Lebanon War.” Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah addressed the crowd of thousands from a remote location, 14 August 2007. (Matthew Cassel)

This week marks a year since the end of hostilities now officially called the Second Lebanon War by Israelis. A month of fighting — mostly Israeli aerial bombardment of Lebanon, and rocket attacks from the Shia militia Hizballah on northern Israel in response — ended with more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and a small but unknown number of Hizballah fighters dead, as well as 119 Israeli soldiers and 43 civilians.

When Israel and the United States realized that Hizballah could not be bombed into submission, they pushed a resolution, 1701, through the United Nations. It placed an expanded international peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, in south Lebanon to keep Hizballah in check and try to disarm its few thousand fighters.

But many significant developments since the war have gone unnoticed, including several that seriously put in question Israel’s account of what happened last summer. This is old ground worth revisiting for that reason alone.

The war began on 12 July, when Israel launched waves of air strikes on Lebanon after Hizballah killed three soldiers and captured two more on the northern border. (A further five troops were killed by a land mine when their tank crossed into Lebanon in hot pursuit.) Hizballah had long been warning that it would seize soldiers if it had the chance, in an effort to push Israel into a prisoner exchange. Israel has been holding a handful of Lebanese prisoners since it withdrew from its two-decade occupation of south Lebanon in 2000.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who has been widely blamed for the army’s failure to subdue Hizballah, appointed the Winograd Committee to investigate what went wrong. So far Winograd has been long on pointing out the country’s military and political failures and short on explaining how the mistakes were made or who made them. Olmert is still in power, even if hugely unpopular.

In the meantime, there is every indication that Israel is planning another round of fighting against Hizballah after it has “learnt the lessons” from the last war. The new defense minister, Ehud Barak, who was responsible for the 2000 withdrawal, has made it a priority to develop anti-missile systems such as “Iron Dome” to neutralize the rocket threat from Hizballah, using some of the recently announced $30 billion of American military aid.

It has been left to the Israeli media to begin rewriting the history of last summer. Last weekend, an editorial in the liberal Haaretz newspaper went so far as to admit that this was “a war initiated by Israel against a relatively small guerrilla group.” Israel’s supporters, including high-profile defenders like Alan Dershowitz in the US who claimed that Israel had no choice but to bomb Lebanon, must have been squirming in their seats.

There are several reasons why Haaretz may have reached this new assessment.

Recent reports have revealed that one of the main justifications for Hizballah’s continuing resistance — that Israel failed to withdraw fully from Lebanese territory in 2000 — is now supported by the UN. Last month its cartographers quietly admitted that Lebanon is right in claiming sovereignty over a small fertile area known as the Shebaa Farms, still occupied by Israel. Israel argues that the territory is Syrian and will be returned in future peace talks with Damascus, even though Syria backs Lebanon’s position. The UN’s admission has been mostly ignored by the international media.

One of Israel’s main claims during the war was that it made every effort to protect Lebanese civilians from its aerial bombardments. The casualty figures suggested otherwise, and increasingly so too does other evidence.

A shocking aspect of the war was Israel’s firing of at least a million cluster bombs, old munitions supplied by the US with a failure rate as high as 50 percent, in the last days of fighting. The tiny bomblets, effectively small land mines, were left littering south Lebanon after the UN-brokered ceasefire, and are reported so far to have killed 30 civilians and wounded at least another 180. Israeli commanders have admitted firing 1.2 million such bomblets, while the UN puts the figure closer to 3 million.

At the time, it looked suspiciously as if Israel had taken the brief opportunity before the war’s end to make south Lebanon — the heartland of both the country’s Shia population and its militia, Hizballah — uninhabitable, and to prevent the return of hundreds of thousands of Shia who had fled Israel’s earlier bombing campaigns.

Israel’s use of cluster bombs has been described as a war crime by human rights organizations. According to the rules set by Israel’s then chief of staff, Dan Halutz, the bombs should have been used only in open and unpopulated areas — although with such a high failure rate, this would have done little to prevent later civilian casualties.

After the war, the army ordered an investigation, mainly to placate Washington, which was concerned at the widely reported fact that it had supplied the munitions. The findings, which should have been published months ago, have yet to be made public.

The delay is not surprising. An initial report by the army, leaked to the Israeli media, discovered that the cluster bombs had been fired into Lebanese population centers in gross violation of international law. The order was apparently given by the head of the Northern Command at the time, Udi Adam. A US State Department investigation reached a similar conclusion.

Another claim, one that Israel hoped might justify the large number of Lebanese civilians it killed during the war, was that Hizballah fighters had been regularly hiding and firing rockets from among south Lebanon’s civilian population. Human rights groups found scant evidence of this, but a senior UN official, Jan Egeland, offered succor by accusing Hizballah of “cowardly blending.”

There were always strong reasons for suspecting the Israeli claim to be untrue. Hizballah had invested much effort in developing an elaborate system of tunnels and underground bunkers in the countryside, which Israel knew little about, in which it hid its rockets and from which fighters attacked Israeli soldiers as they tried to launch a ground invasion. Also, common sense suggests that Hizballah fighters would have been unwilling to put their families, who live in south Lebanon’s villages, in danger by launching rockets from among them.

Now Israeli front pages are carrying reports from Israeli military sources that put in serious doubt Israel’s claims.

Since the war’s end Hizballah has apparently relocated most of its rockets to conceal them from the UN peacekeepers, who have been carrying out extensive searches of south Lebanon to disarm Hizballah under the terms of Resolution 1701. According to the UNIFIL, some 33 of these underground bunkers — or more than 90 percent — have been located and Hizballah weapons discovered there, including rockets and launchers, destroyed.

The Israeli media has noted that the Israeli army calls these sites “nature reserves;” similarly, the UN has made no mention of finding urban-based Hizballah bunkers. Relying on military sources, Haaretz reported last month: “Most of the rockets fired against Israel during the war last year were launched from the ‘nature reserves.'” In short, even Israel is no longer claiming that Hizballah was firing its rockets from among civilians.

According to the UN report, Hizballah has moved the rockets out of the underground bunkers and abandoned its rural launch pads. Most rockets, it is believed, have gone north of the Litani River, beyond the range of the UN monitors. But some, according to the Israeli army, may have been moved into nearby Shia villages to hide them from the UN.

As a result, Haaretz noted that Israeli commanders had issued a warning to Lebanon that in future hostilities the army “will not hesitate to bomb — and even totally destroy — urban areas after it gives Lebanese civilians the chance to flee.” How this would diverge from Israel’s policy during the war, when Hizballah was based in its “nature reserves” but Lebanese civilians were still bombed in their towns and villages, was not made clear.

If the Israeli army’s new claims are true (unlike the old ones), Hizballah’s movement of some of its rockets into villages should be condemned. But not by Israel, whose army is breaking international law by concealing its weapons in civilian areas on a far grander scale.

As a first-hand observer of the fighting from Israel’s side of the border last year, I noted on several occasions that Israel had built many of its permanent military installations, including weapons factories and army camps, and set up temporary artillery positions next to — and in some cases inside — civilian communities in the north of Israel.

Many of those communities are Arab: Arab citizens constitute about half of the Galilee’s population. Locating military bases next to these communities was a particularly reckless act by the army as Arab towns and villages lack the public shelters and air raid warning systems available in Jewish communities. Eighteen of the 43 Israeli civilians killed were Arab — a proportion that surprised many Israeli Jews, who assumed that Hizballah would not want to target Arab communities.

In many cases it is still not possible to specify where Hizballah rockets landed because Israel’s military censor prevents any discussion that might identify the location of a military site. During the war Israel used this to advantageous effect: for example, it was widely reported that a Hizballah rocket fell close to a hospital but reporters failed to mention that a large army camp was next to it. An actual strike against the camp could have been described in the very same terms.

It seems likely that Hizballah, which had flown pilotless spy drones over Israel earlier in the year, similar to Israel’s own aerial spying missions, knew where many of these military bases were. The question is, was Hizballah trying to hit them or — as most observers claimed, following Israel’s lead — was it actually more interested in killing civilians.

A full answer may never be possible, as we cannot know Hizballah’s intentions — as opposed to the consequences of its actions — any more than we can discern Israel’s during the war.

Human Rights Watch, however, has argued that, because Hizballah’s basic rockets were not precise, every time they were fired into Israel they were effectively targeted at civilians. Hizballah was therefore guilty of war crimes in using its rockets, whatever the intention of the launch teams. In other words, according to this reading of international law, only Israel had the right to fire missiles and drop bombs because its military hardware is more sophisticated — and, of course, more deadly.

Nonetheless, new evidence suggests strongly that, whether or not Hizballah had the right to use its rockets, it may often have been trying to hit military targets, even if it rarely succeeded. The Arab Association for Human Rights, based in Nazareth, has been compiling a report on the Hizballah rocket strikes against Arab communities in the north since last summer. It is not sure whether it will ever be able to publish its findings because of the military censorship laws.

But the information currently available makes for interesting reading. The Association has looked at northern Arab communities hit by Hizballah rockets, often repeatedly, and found that in every case there was at least one military base or artillery battery placed next to, or in a few cases inside, the community. In some communities there were several such sites.

This does not prove that Hizballah wanted only to hit military bases, of course. But it does indicate that in some cases it was clearly trying to, even if it lacked the technical resources to be sure of doing so. It also suggests that, in terms of international law, Hizballah behaved no worse, and probably far better, than Israel during the war.

The evidence so far indicates that Israel:

  • established legitimate grounds for Hizballah’s attack on the border post by refusing to withdraw from the Lebanese territory of the Shebaa Farms in 2000;
  • initiated a war of aggression by refusing to engage in talks about a prisoner swap offered by Hizballah;
  • committed a grave war crime by intentionally using cluster bombs against south Lebanon’s civilians;
  • repeatedly hit Lebanese communities, killing many civilians, even though the evidence is that no Hizballah fighters were to be found there;
  • and put its own civilians, especially Arab civilians, in great danger by making their communities targets for Hizballah attacks and failing to protect them.

It is clear that during the Second Lebanon War Israel committed the most serious war crimes.

Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, is the author of Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State (Pluto Press, 2006). His website is

Did the UN Cave to Israel? Lebanon’s Shebaa Farms


Across the Blue Line from Shebaa Farms, Lebanon.

On July 18, 2001, nearly six years ago to the day, and under intense US pressure, the UN Security Council affixed its imprimatur to the proposition that Israel, after refusing for more than 22 years, finally complied with the provisions of UNSCR 425, and ended its illegal and brutal occupation of Lebanon.

Of course the ‘complete Israeli withdrawal’ language was a fiction, crafted by the new Bush administration to burnish Israel’s image as a reformed international outlaw. In point of fact, Israel to this date has not complied with SCR 425, 1701 or more than 30 other UN Resolutions.

Looking only at UNSCR 425, Israel continues to occupy the roughly 14 square mile water rich area of Shebaa Farms near where Syria’s Golan Heights and the Lebanese border meet. A beautiful area, where on a windless quiet night, dear reader, were you to stand at the eastern cliff edge of the former Israel run Khiam detention camp, facing in the direction of Damascus and Alsheikh Mountain and listen carefully, you could hear the intermittent click and purr of Israeli pumps sucking up hundreds of thousands of liters of Lebanon’s renowned (Bible mentioned) mountain water (the market price in Beirut this afternoon for one liter of bottled water is 1,000 Lebanese pounds or about 68 US cents. In the old days around Avignon, France we could buy a half liter of the annual press of Nouveau Beaujolais for about the same price). The stolen water is channeled to Israel’s illegal colonies/settlements throughout Palestine to help fill the swimming pools and water the plush green lawns of American and European Jewish settlers while the olive groves and farms of those whose lands were stolen become parched. Israel continues to take even more water from Lebanon’s Wazzani River. Why this latter outrage is allowed to continue should be explained to us, the obtuse, by the Bush backed Siniori government and its consigliore, Jeffrey Feltman.

In addition to the occupation of Shebba Farms, unfulfilled UNSCR 425 demands include Israel’s continuing detention of prisoners, the failure of Israel to provide maps to the deminers working to clear nearly one third of Lebanon of landmines and nearly one million remaining cluster bombs despite continual demands for the maps by the UN, including urgent demands by UN Sec-Gen. Moon earlier this month and the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in Tyre, Lebanon just two days ago( every day the 25 teams of de-miners from 20 countries risk their lives trying to clear nearly 1 million remaining unexploded US cluster bombs inch by inch without any maps or idea where they are located until one explodes. As of July 15, 2007 UNMACC teams have found 921 bomb sites which have caused more than 240 injuries and deaths, one-third of them children over the past nearly 12 months.

In addition, Israel conducts nearly daily over flights with aircraft and drones; cross border incursions such as on May 24, 2007, as well as violations of Lebanon’s territorial waters and its continuing occupation of the Lebanese village of Ghajar. This has led several political parties in Lebanon, and NGO’s such as Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, to urge the decertification of Israel’s compliance with UNSCR 425. It should be borne in mind that Israel’s continuing UN SCR 425 Lebanese sovereignty violations also constitute noncompliance with UNSCR 170l, which ushered in the current cessation of hostilities on August 14, 2006

Despite the charade of Israeli compliance with UNSCR 425, Israel’s May 24, 2000 ‘withdrawal’ was hailed as an ‘amazingly generous and high minded humanitarian act’ by it’s amen chorus in the US Congress led on this issue by Congressman Tom Lantos, the founder and chair of the notorious House Human Rights Caucus.

The House Human Rights Caucus, active for more than 27 years as a tool of the Israeli lobby has actively sought out and found hundreds of human rights violations around the World but so far they have not found one suspected human rights violation with respect to Israel or any of its occupations and aggressions. The HHRC did manage a declaration that the Shebaa Farms belonged to Syria and that Israel had every right to occupy it until there was a Syria-Israel peace treaty. (Dear reader, if you would like to fact check this statement please call the House Human Rights Caucus at 202-225-3121 and ask for the Staff Director. Perhaps he will supply you with their remarkable list of Human Rights violations.

That the Shebba Farms belonged to Syria was astounding news to the Syrians as well as the more than 100 Lebanese farmers who daily worked the land and whose families had owned the area for generations going back deep into the Ottoman period. They flooded the UN with their land deeds in protest.

The Lebanese View

During the 1967 War Israeli forces seized the Shebaa Farms, area consisting of 14 farms located south of Shebaa, a Lebanese village. Since Lebanon was not a participant in the 1967 War, they had no voice and UN representatives were pressured by Israel, who falsely claimed that the 1923 Anglo-French demarcation and the 1949 Armistice line designated the area as Syrian territory. Charges of threats and bribes of UN Staff have still not yet been investigated according to UN sources based in Beirut.

Lebanese army maps published in 1961 and 1966 specifically pinpoint several of the Shebaa Farms, including Zebdine, Fashkoul, Mougr Shebaa and Ramta, all of which are designated as being Lebanese. Lebanese Ministry of Tourism maps also show the Lebanese-Syrian border running west of the Shebaa Farms. Lebanese and Syrian officials insist that Syria had officially given the territory to Lebanon in 1951.

Syria has repeatedly officially acknowledged the Farms are Lebanese with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently telling a Paris new conference during a State visit that Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon. Lebanese and Syrian officials also point to the fact that many residents in the area have land deeds stamped by the Lebanese government.

The UN was largely moot on Shebaa Farms as Israel withdrew on May 24, 2000, and under pressure from the While House, which was under pressure from the Congress, which was under control by Israel lobby, finally declared that the Shabba farms was in fact Syrian. This meant Hezbollah could not liberate it and impliedly should disarm.

Unsaid on the House or Senate floors, following Israel’s complete withdrawal from Lebanon, as members nearly tripped over each other, such was their rush to pay homage, was the fact that Israel withdraw for Lebanon for only one reason, that it could not sustain the loses from the Lebanese resistance.

This week Bibi Netanyahu wasted no time attacking his once, and likely future, opponent, Ehud Barak, “for cutting and running” in 2,000 and in Bibi’s view causing the 2006 July war and Israel’s current humiliation. The truth, of little concern to Bibi, but which might be recalled by Israeli voters, is that in 2000 the Israeli public was no longer willing to accept the average of 25 Israel soldiers killed every year of its nearly quarter century ( 1978-2000) of occupation of Lebanon. Once Israel was forced out on May 24, 2000, according to statistics supplied by Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon, the Israeli military suffered only 17 dead soldiers, and 25 wounded between the 2000 withdrawal and the July 2006 War. Nine of the killed were in the Shebaa Farms area and the eight others were killed when they violated the Blue Line or in retaliation for Israeli caused deaths in Lebanon.

To help put Israel’s military position as of May 24, 2000 into perspective, it should be noted that Israel sustained 6,145 militant operations by the Islamic Resistance during it occupation of Lebanon. Between early January 1999 and its withdrawal 16 months later, no fewer than 2,441 operations by Hezbollah and five other resistant groups targeted Israeli forces. The Lebanese Resistance Brigades, set up by Hezbollah, accounted for 167 of these operations or 7%. Congressional kudos to Israel, notwithstanding, the Lebanese Resistance is the only reason Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2,000.

The UN effort to take Shebaa off Hezbollah’s list of unfinished business

Against this backdrop and rising tension over Israel’s garrison at Shebaa, Farms, there was some welcomed, if short lived news the other day.

According to the July 11, 2007 edition of the Israeli journal Haaretz, and confirmed by the UN ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) office here in Beirut, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon transmitted messages to the Israeli government late last month informing them that UN mapping experts have now conclusively determined that the Sheba Farms is indeed Lebanese territory and that international law required Israel’s immediate withdrawal.

Ban Ki-Moon transmitted the UN’s conclusions to PM Olmert during their meeting in New York last month, while the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East, Michael Williams discussed the decision with Israel foreign minister Tzipi Livni at about the same time.

The Secretary-General’s office also notified Olmert and Livni that Israel was to coordinate its expedited departure with UNIFIL, some of whose 13,000 troops received orders to secure Shebaa farms on the tail of the Israel’s withdrawal.

In their discussions, the UN officials also advised Israel that Syria and Lebanon agreed that the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese. This point is very important because by securing it, the UN shrewdly anticipated and precluded Israeli waffling and endless delays. This is because Israel had been objecting that its own recently retained cartographers needed to open the whole border dispute question from the beginning and examine all the work and findings of the impliedly less qualified and trustworthy UN map experts. Such a revised map review process could take several years “to do right” according to Alan Dershowitz’s April 14, 2007 legal memorandum to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. However the amicable Syria-Lebanon agreement confirming Lebanese ownership of Shebaa Farms effectively thwarted Dershowitz and the US Israeli lobby, plan. Or so it appeared for at least a few hours on July 11, 2007.

UN Sec-Gen Ki-Moon’s ‘clarification’

It is not known to what extent UN Sec-Gen. Moon felt last week that he had adjusted to the realities and pressures of his new job, but he was about to be tested. No sooner had his Shebaa Farms news item hit the air waves on the morning of July 11, 2007 than Israel’s Foreign Minister Livni contacted the White House which had already heard from Tom Lantos, founder and chair of the above mentioned US Congressional House Human Rights Caucus.

Following White House intervention, the UN acted with unusual alacrity and clarified (read: gutted) its announcement. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, following a meeting with the UK’s new Prime Minister Gordon Brown, told a news conference that in point of fact the discussion of ownership of the disputed Farms was, well, ah. er..premature. “I have submitted my Report on this issue. My senior cartographer has made some good progress but this report is not mentioning anything about ownership or sovereignty yetThe UN’s cartographer continues his work and will be visiting the area shortly.”

Minutes later a UN official explained from New York: “The secretary-general remains engaged on the issue”.

According to the Country Chief of a UN recognized NGO which is very familiar with this issue and works in the UN’s Beirut Headquarters (ESCWA): “That’s total bullshit! This was the final Report not an interim progress Report. Somebody got to Ban Ki-Moon! The map work on Sheeba has been completed for weeks. Any second year Cartography student could have done that job is less than a month. It’s not complicated”.

In the words of perhaps America’s preeminent student of the workings of the Israel lobby, San Francisco’s Jeffrey Blankfort, when he heard about the switch:

“Is this a surprise to anyone? Israel and its international lobby control the UN as much as they do Washington and the US. When there will be an international movement that will have the guts to stand up to Israel and its supporters and tell them their days of running the show are over?”

The apparent UN throwing in the town, hopefully will be reversed, but its puts pressure on Hezbollah because as Lebanon’s only deterrence to Israeli aggression and the Lebanese resistance’s pledge to liberate Lebanon from Israeli occupation, critics are using Shebaa as evidence that Hezbollah has not completed the job the Lebanese people has entrusted to it.

What particularly alarms Israel is the fact that if the UN decides that the Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon, this clearly implies that the UN cartographer’s findings bestowed international legitimacy on Hezbollah’s continued resistance to Israel’s occupation Sheba Farms. This would also give the Lebanese resistance led by Hezbollah and supported by a clear majority of Lebanese Sunni and Christians, the moral, political, legal, and if Hezbollah chooses to exercise it, the military resistance high ground.

While the Congressional Israel lobby feels it ‘won’ against the UN on this issue the White House is decidedly conflicted. The reason is that if Israel withdraws from Shebaa Farms the Bush Administration believes the withdrawal will strengthen the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora which it needs to keep its regional policies at least on life support.

Shebaa Farms will likely be discussed by Rice at her just rescheduled meeting for the end of this month with Livni. Rice’s concern is that Israel’s failure to withdraw from Shebaa Farms gives Hezbollah more credibility and legitimacy.

Livni thinks if Israel does withdraw it gives Hezbollah yet another victory and even more credibility and legitimacy.

Could both ladies be right or will there be a cat fight in the Holy Land?

Franklin Lamb’s just released book, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons in Lebanon is available at His volume, Hezbollah: a Brief Guide for Beginners is due out in early summer, 2007. He can be reached at