Jul 22 2006

The attack on Lebanon has produced strange Role Reversals

Published by at 4:24 am under Blogs


By Daoud Kuttab

The irony to the present Israeli Lebanese war is in its role reversals. Hizbullah which is called by Israel and the US a terrorist organization acted more and more like a traditional army, and Israel which prides itself with its military is acting more like a terrorist state. Militarily Hizbullah has been more accurate, more credible while the Israeli’s credibility is quickly evaporating. Even traditional Arab governmental lip against Israel and in favor or any anti Israeli attacks has also been reversed to attacks against a group that is actually succeeding in making Israel pain for its aggression.

Ever since the recent post Hariri assassination elections Hassan Nasrallah the leader of the Hizbullah resistance group has been calling on the Lebanese government (which his group is participating in) to help in resolve the two remaining issues of dispute with Israel. The Sheba farms and the need to release the remaining twenty odd Lebanese.  Lebanon’s prime minister Foad Siniora made an appeal during his visit to Washington for the end of the occupation of the disputed Arab farms and the release of the prisoners but to no avail. Israel is holding these strategic small strip of land saying that they belong to Syria and that they will only be evacuated once a negotiated settlement has been made with the remaining major Arab country.

Syria and Lebanon both insist that this farm area is Lebanese but so far no change has happened. The prisoners are also a source of pain to Lebanese. Jailed by Israel during the ’82-2000 occupation of south Lebanon, the Israelis are refusing to release the remaining Lebanese without a peace agreement with Lebanon.

The state of affairs of Palestinians is also an important issue for Hizbullah which considers itself a patriotic Lebanese, Arab and Islamic movement. Under an unjust economic siege ever since the Palestinian people democratically elected a government not to the liking of the Americans and the Israelis, the world single power and its ally arbitrarily imposed an economic siege barring any transfer of money (even from Arab and Muslim counties). Palestinians like Lebanese have a problem with the long term imprisonment by Israel of their citizens. Israeli jails are crowded with nearly 10,000 Palestinians many of them (literally thousands) are held without charge or trial based on ancient British Emergency Regulations. Again as in the case of Siniora, the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has tried in vain to gain the release of any of the Palestinian prisoners, even boys and women as well as many sick individuals continue to be incarcerated without an end in site.

Ever since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza (and thrown the keys to a big prison in the sea) they have refused to deal with the new Hamas government. When the Israeli army withdrew from Gaza they rejected many calls to release the prisoners who were residents of the Gaza strip. Not only have the Israelis refused to allow money in to pay the Palestinian public servants (or even return tax money collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority)  but they have also refused repeated offers by the Palestinians for a cease fire. Israel wanted Palestinians to stop launching their home made Qassam rockets without the Israelis agreeing for their part to stop the assassination of Palestinian leaders.

The Islamic movement who had implemented unilaterally an 18 month cease fire agreement had publicly threatened that they would capture Israeli soldiers if the Israelis don’t agree to release them.

With Lebanon’s weak pro US prime minister unable to attain the aspirations of many Lebanese and with the Israelis over reacting in a brutal way against Palestinians in the Gaza strip following the capture of one of their soldiers, Hizbullah felt the time had come to try once again to move the dormant Middle East lake.

Hizbullah’s charismatic leader has been totally forthright and honest with the Israelis to the degree that public opinion poll have shown that the Israelis trust his words more than those of their own leaders. For some time this year, Nasrallah has been repeatedly stating that if the Israelis don’t release the Lebanese prisoners his group will abduct Israelis soldiers to swap for them. For Nasrallah these statements were based on previous experience in which the Israelis in fact have traded prisoners they were holding for their own soldiers or citizens held by Hizbullah. In fact during this year alone Hizbullah has had two unsuccessful attempts at capturing Israelis.

The latest successful arrest of two Israelis came after a classical military attack in which what the Israelis keep calling ‘terrorists’ in fact attacked a military target causing the destruction of a tank, the killing of eight soldiers and the capture of two.

So with Palestinian and resistance groups who are repeatedly called terrorists acting in a classical military fashion, the Israeli government and army react in a completely exaggerated way. Bridges are blown up, electric generators are destroyed and a total illegal siege barring travel of people and goods have been placed on Palestinians in Gaza and the people of Lebanon.

The Israeli over reaction to a military act took the form of a collective punishment forcing the normally silent Swiss government to declare that the Israeli action are crimes of war and in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.

If terror can be defined as an indiscriminate violent act against civilians aimed at forcing a population to change the position of their governments, then what the Israelis have done in both the Gaza Strip and Lebanon can’t be differentiated from more classical forms of terrorism.

But unlike traditional Arab Israeli conflicts, this latest round of violence has a totally new twist. Iran. Because Hizbullah is a Shiite based resistance movement with  connections to Iran, the case of the Islamic Republic has suddenly been thrust into the middle of this conflict. Timed at a heightened Western-Iranian tensions over the latter’s nuclear plans, what began as a cross border military attack has suddenly taken on regional dimension. The Israelis who have been consistently stating their concerns about the Iranian threats have seized the attack as an opportunity to once and for all cripple what they consider as Iran’s proxies in the region. Hizbullah’s repeated denials have gone unheard and unnoticed as the US is quietly showing support for the Israeli plans to destroy Hizbullah.

Pro US Arab countries are also joining the US in expressing worry about this Iranian angle. After being dead silent on the Israeli attacks against Palestinians in Gaza, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have come out with public statements critical of  what they consider Hizbullah’s “adventures.” The fear of many of these moderate Arab countries is what they consider a potential dangerous axis that includes Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria, Iran as well as possible a pro Iranian government in Iraq.

Innocent Palestinians and Lebanese are caught in the middle of a conflict that suddenly has seen role changes. Former terrorists attacking military locations. Traditional military attacking civilians and infrastructure, Arab countries quiet or opposing, while for a rare moment an Arab guerilla movement has shown courage and success against the powerful Israeli bully. Truly strange times.

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