People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 35

August 27, 2006

Israel After Lebanon: A Failed State


S M Menon


JUST before formally accepting a UN resolution mandating a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon, the Israeli government sent a request to the US, urging that shipments of a particularly lethal brand of anti-personnel munitions be speeded up. Within a week of the fragile and uneasy ceasefire, Israel had already conducted two armed intrusions into Lebanese territory with deeply suspect motives. There may have been, in one instance, an intent to abduct or murder a leader of the Hezbollah militia in the south of the country. In the other instance, the stated purpose was of interdicting an Iranian effort to resupply the militia with missiles. The first of these endeavours was reportedly repelled by Hezbollah fighters, who succeeded in shooting dead an Israeli officer involved. And the latter effort was roundly condemned by top UN officials, who saw it as a serious threat to the fragile ceasefire.


Israel remained unrepentant. It had through five weeks of vengeful destruction, portrayed the UN failure to call for a ceasefire as a sanction to wage war in Lebanon. In similar vein, it now chose to read the ambiguously worded ceasefire resolution as an endorsement of regular cross-border forays. Clearly though, even after a 34-day offensive that reduced much of southern Lebanon to rubble and destroyed the country’s civilian infrastructure, Israel considers its mission unaccomplished.


Hastily put together by the US, which had for the entire duration of the war, thwarted every effort to rein in its terrorist proxy in West Asia, the UN ceasefire resolution was within a week, beginning to be seriously weighed down by its ambiguities. France, which had been expected to lead the mobilisation of men and machines for a 15,000 strong peace-keeping army in Lebanon, had committed no more than 200 troops. Italy, Spain and Finland, were also expressing similar reservations about putting troops into Lebanon, absent a clear mandate and defined rules of engagement.


For its part, Israel firmly sought to discourage potential troop contributions from countries it did not have diplomatic relations with. Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN – famously remembered for his jibe last March that all Muslims may or may not be terrorists, but all terrorists certainly are Muslim – argued in an interview with a prominent news channel, that Muslim countries which had friendly relations with Israel were welcome. But countries that had failed to recognise Israel could hardly be expected to guard its frontiers, said the diplomat who retains his job despite utterances that have clearly been beyond the pale of civilised discourse.




Clearly, the purpose of the UN peacekeeping deployment in Lebanon, in Israeli perceptions, is merely to serve as a surrogate for its own army. Between 1982 and 2000, Israel maintained a self-declared “security belt” within Lebanese territory, as the only available means it had to safeguard its northern towns. The effort proved rather too much for even Israel’s formidable military resources. Its precipitous withdrawal in May 2000 was celebrated all across the Arab world as a long overdue moment of reckoning for an arrogant foe. That vicarious sense of delight did not last long within the regimes that rule the Arab world. Celebration soon turned to concern that Hezbollah, which had led the resistance to the Israeli occupation, would capitalise on the legitimacy it had gained in the successful defence of Lebanese territorial sovereignty, to entrench itself still more deeply within the country’s political order and society.


When the recent hostilities began, the first instinct of collaborationist Arab regimes was to blame Hezbollah. Syria, still regarded a good Arab state, was chided for the alliance of convenience that put it in the dubious company of culturally alien Iran, in joint sponsorship of the Hezbollah. But the effort to prise Syria away from its proximity with Iran came a cropper. And as Hezbollah withstood the undiscriminating and wanton fury of the Israeli assault, defiantly firing rockets into enemy territory to the very moment of the ceasefire, the regimes sought to take out an insurance policy by committing themselves to finance the reconstruction of Lebanon once the guns fell silent.


All this may well have come too late in the day. Defying the continuing threat of Israeli bombing and the lurking danger of unexploded ordnance, almost a million Lebanese displaced by the fighting streamed back to their ruined homes in the immediate wake of the ceasefire. Though the Lebanese army was concurrently being deployed in the devastated south in a bid to reimpose the writ of the national government, there was little uncertainty about whose authority really mattered in the region. No sooner had the ceasefire taken effect than Hezbollah transformed itself from a fighting force into a reconstruction agency, clearing the rubble of the war, salvaging the few dwelling units that remained serviceable, handing out instant and generous cash grants to every family that had suffered.


Resentful murmurs were heard in western circles, about Iran under-writing the entire Hezbollah political project using the rich dollar harvest it was garnering as a consequence of unprecedented peaks in oil prices. Though true, this only served to further magnify the failure of the collaborationist Arab regimes, several of which have benefited in greater measure than Iran from the oil price boom, and chose cynically to blame the victim when a defenceless nation was bombed several decades back into the past.


Hezbollah’s undisputed claims to political pre-eminence were also recognised by the Lebanese national army as it moved into the south. Though the UN ceasefire resolution envisages the disarming of Hezbollah as a mission to be accomplished at the earliest, few in Lebanon – least of all the army – seemed to be taking that project seriously. The consensus within Lebanese political circles and the media rather, was that Hezbollah had proved its mettle as a fighting force in the defence of the country. Far from disarming Hezbollah, the overwhelming priority in Lebanon seemed to be the incorporation of the militia’s fighting prowess into the formal structures of national defence.




Israel has ample reason to worry. As the ceasefire came into effect, the Israeli public remained bitterly divided over the outcome of the war. The stated objective – the destruction of Hezbollah – had widespread public endorsement. But the day the hostilities were suspended, as many Israeli citizens were convinced they had lost the war as believed they had won. And Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert, who commanded almost universal approval within the country at the beginning of the war, had fallen sharply in public esteem in this space of a mere five weeks.


Olmert was perceived for long as an accidental leader, placed in a position of authority only because the sainted Ariel Sharon, hero of some of Israel’s most brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns, had suffered an incapacitating stroke and slipped into coma in January. In elections held in March, Olmert won an endorsement, though of a far more modest magnitude than expected when Sharon split from the Likud Party and floated a new entity, the Kadima, as a vehicle for making a reality of what he saw as Israel’s final destiny. It was to be the Zionist programme’s climactic manoeuvre in the global strategic arena, rivalling in its historic significance, the declaration of the state of Israel by David Ben-Gurion in May 1948 and the conquest of all of the land of Palestine in June 1967. It was Theodore Herzl who conjured up the dream of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and Ben-Gurion who made it a reality. Sharon’s role, as the third in this succession of Zionist prophets, was to work out a final definition of national borders that would safeguard Israel’s identity as a country with a stable and substantial Jewish majority. It was a project that involved the “unilateral separation” of the Jewish people from the Palestinians, on the basis of territorial frontiers to be decided entirely at Israel’s convenience.


Needless to say, Sharon’s project involved the pretence of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the conversion of that tiny, over-populated and devastated strip into the world’s largest prison, garrisoned through air and sea-power. It involved the construction of an apartheid wall across the West Bank that sundered Palestinian communities one from another, destroying lives and livelihoods, and marking out illegal Jewish settlements – and the roadways and tunnels to access them – as eternal parts of the Jewish nation. And finally, it involved securing the northern settlements by bludgeoning Syria and Lebanon into submission.


Israel’s failure in Lebanon is magnified by the collapse of its pretence of a withdrawal from Gaza. Weeks before the crisis in Lebanon, the Gaza situation had erupted in full-blown military savagery, with a daily toll running into dozens of Palestinian lives. Though the carnage in Lebanon momentarily pushed Gaza off world headlines, the two have been linked inextricably in global perceptions as consequences on two different fronts of the same root cause: Israeli military unilateralism backed up by the unswerving support of the US. This unilateralism in turn, is seen to be the direct outcome of the pretence of a peace process that Israel, with the open encouragement of its superpower patron, engaged in since 1993. When stealth and subterfuge failed and the Palestinians refused to be accomplices in their own occupation, Israel unveiled its iron fist. 




Whatever their other failings, top officials of the US administration today do not lack the ability to turn attractive life-cycle metaphors to describe the politics of the region. It was in May 2005 that vice president Dick Cheney – the man who had seen visions of flower-strewn parades as Iraqis greeted invading US troops as liberators – asserted that the insurgency in the country was in its “death throes”. And in mid-July this year, secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, after blithely surveying the wrecked infrastructure of Lebanon and the mounting toll in human lives, made the chirpy prediction that these were the “birth pangs” of a new political order in the region.


John Prescott, the British deputy prime minister, recently used an unflatteringly vivid four-letter epithet to describe US policy in West Asia. Standing in for a vacationing Tony Blair, Prescott complained that the only reason he had gone along with the decision to invade Iraq was the promise held out that the “roadmap” to peace in Palestine would be implemented shortly after victory was sealed on that front. There was in another words, an explicit promise that the US had held out between achieving its ends in Iraq and delivering justice to Palestine.




As with several other western leaders who still only partially realise their idiocy, Prescott fails to understand that the US invasion was intended precisely to create the conditions in the wider region that would allow Israel to implement its unilateral agenda –– drawing its borders according to its own strategic convenience and expelling large numbers of Palestinians, so that the Jewish majority within is not jeopardised for the foreseeable future. This much was suspected and widely spoken of elsewhere in the world well before the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. But in recent times, as public disillusionment within the US has grown, the hitherto taboo subject of Israel’s role in instigating Bush’s misadventure, has re-emerged in public focus. The debate was truly joined in March 2006, when John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors of political science at Chicago and Harvard Universities, published a working paper titled “The Israel Lobby”, arguing with a wealth of documentation, that Israel’s undue influence over US foreign policy had become an insupportable strategic burden.


Mearsheimer and Walt were promptly denounced by Zionist zealots as anti-Semites. But their case has not quite been so easy to dismiss. The strategic partnership between the US and Israel to remake the political geography of West Asia, is clearly in deep trouble. A clear indication to this effect came from Zbigniew Brzezinksi, a top advisor to several past Democratic administrations in the United States. Surveying the miscued judgments that had led the “neo-conservative” lobby that dominates policy today into successive disasters in West Asia, Brzezinski told a recent interviewer that “these neocon prescriptions, of which Israel has its equivalents, (would be) fatal for America and ultimately for Israel”. The “lessons of Iraq”, he said, speak for themselves: “Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well”.


Well into its sixth decade, the Zionist state is yet to define its borders. It sees no way of securing itself, except through random and indiscriminate acts of terrorist violence against its neighbours and those living under its military tyranny. And despite enjoying income levels that puts it in the league of the more affluent European nations, it is still dependent on US aid to the extent of $500 annually for every Israeli citizen.


A state with such a dubious record is by any account, a failed state. And from this perspective, the final outcome that Brzezinski suggests, more in sorrow than anger, may well be the most happy denouement that the world could hope for.