By Franklin Lamb – Beirut
"Well, the two cases that you give, Hamas and Hezbollah, are interesting case studies. Hezbollah has evolved significantly over time. And now it has members of parliament, in the cabinet; there are lawyers, doctors, others who are part of the Hezbollah organization… I’m pleased to see that a lot of Hezbollah individuals are in fact renouncing terrorism and violence and are trying to participate in the political process in a very legitimate fashion…. I think what we’ve done is to demonstrate both in Lebanon and to the Palestinians that we, the United States, are willing to engage and have a dialogue with any organizations or groups that are, in fact, dedicated to realizing peaceful solutions to existing problems. And I think those elements within Lebanon, be they Hezbollah or others, know that the United States has tried to be a very honest broker there, providing support to Lebanese institutions." — John Brennan, White House Adviser on terrorism 8/3/09.
Brennan had told me (before taking a job in the Obama administration, but while serving as Obama’s top adviser on intelligence issues) that "talking to Hamas and Hezbollah is the right thing to do. Obama believes that." — Robert Dreyfuss, Contributing Editor, the Nation Magazine 8/9/09.
It’s becoming tense again down along the ‘Blue Line’, three years after Israel’s 5th war against Lebanon. Israeli Brig. General (Alon Friedman) told the Times of London in an interview this week that border tensions between Israel and Lebanon could "explode at any minute."
If one were to credit the myriad recent threats these past few weeks against Lebanon and President Obama from Israeli officials and AIPAC operatives in Congress, recently swarming around Palestine, it could be disconcerting as one recalls how quiet summers in this region sometimes heat up fast.
Israel has been moving troops back and forth along Lebanon’s southern border and in and out of Ghajar village and Shabaa Farms, which has caused the Lebanese army to move some of its forces towards the borders with Israel while nearby Hezbollah forces remain on full alert.
According to Hilal Khashan, Chairman of the department of political studies and public administration at the American University of Beirut: “It is clear that the Israelis are setting the stage for the resumption of hostilities. For the past year their statements about Hezbollah have been accelerating. They are telling the international community about their intentions. They want to fight another war against Hezbollah.”
On 8/13/09 Israel’s President Shimon Peres, increased the name calling and threats, telling colonists at Kiryat Shmona, within shouting distance of Lebanese villages, that Hezbollah is a "curse!"
Peres accused the Party of "destroying" Lebanon and "bringing calamity on the country and its people through its subservience to Iran.” Surrounded by heavy security, Peres bravely advised the community, marking its 60th anniversary, while continuing to lose its residents due to fear of an uncertain future, not to flee Shmona because “Israeli deterrence has been restored!" According to Hezbollah intelligence sources attending Peres’ feel well’ event, not many of the Israelis attending appeared reassured.
Further west, UNIFIL, which has suffered 272 fatalities since first setting foot in Lebanon on March 18, 1978 wants no part of what its leadership privately view as an impending explosion. UNIFIL has just completed a week long practice ‘pack up and depart Lebanon’ exercise according to the Kuwait’ daily, Al-Rai al-Aam.
When the shooting starts the ‘Peace keeping force’ plans to be gone in 96 hours maximum, if Israel refrains that long from bombing Beirut’s Hariri airport. Otherwise the roughly 13,000 troops from more than a dozen countries will leave by French and German ships with American guarantees of safe passage. Neither Israel nor Hezbollah will decry UNIFIL’s sailing, each believing it does the bidding of the other, while ignoring its enemy’s violations of UNSCR 1701.
The attitude of some southern villagers is summed up in a comment from Muktar, Issam Majed of Khirbet Silm village as reported last week by Robert Fisk: “When the Israelis fire at us with artillery or from the sea, the UN soldiers count the violations and that’s it … Then an explosion happens (of unexploded ordnance or hidden weapons) and it goes all the way to close meetings of the UN Security Council in New York."
The anger of Lebanon’s southern villagers intensifies when, as happened this week in Toulin village, (on the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions designed to protect civilians from the consequences of war) 13 year old Abbas Aawali and his 10 year old brother Hussein, were wounded while gathering fire wood by an American cluster bomb left from the July 2006 war. The youngsters became the latest victims of cluster bombs in Lebanon that to date have killed or wounded a total of 273 civilians and 57 deminers.
In defense of UNIFIL, Andrea Teneti, UNIFIL Deputy Spokesman explained that “We have daily air violation of Lebanese territory (by Israeli planes), we have repeatedly asked the Israeli government to refrain from breaching the UN resolution. How can we force them to stop?”
Why the Hysterics from Israel and Why Now?
Most of Israel threats to destroy Lebanon are directly related to it realization that it has had its five invasions of Lebanon (1978, 1982, 1993, 1996, July 2006) and if it attempts another, that one may be its last.
Some Hezbollah contacts predict that the next Israeli war on Lebanon will not take place for several months but concede that no one can sure. Some Hezbollah military strategists expect that Israeli troops will try to reach as far north as Saida and occupy the area and try to destroy Hezbollah in the south. “They will be annihilated!”, my motorcycle mechanic and friend Hussein told me. “How can they be so stupid? The Zionists must have learned from the 2006 July War, that no matter how fierce they attack us, it will not affect Hezbollah’s and Lebanon’s military ability. I and my friends dream of fighting them again. This time with weapons that will shock them.”
Israel PM Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, IAF commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and other Israeli officials continue to launch a barrage of threats against Lebanon’s government. With language such as “If one hair of any Israeli diplomat or tourist is harmed anywhere in the world, then the Lebanese government will be responsible for the severe consequences”. While, perhaps trying to influence the formation of Lebanon’s new cabinet, Israeli spokespersons are claiming that Israel did not strike at Lebanon’s infrastructure hard enough during the summer of 2006. Israeli officials are claiming that Tel Aviv would use all its force in its next war on Lebanon.
Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of intelligence, told Israel Radio this week that Hezbollah “is purchasing and installing — with Iranian influence and assistance — ballistic systems and other systems of all kinds and we must destroy their stockpiles before they destroy us.”
The mass circulation Israeli newspaper Maariv, on 8/12/09 ran a front-page story quoting an unidentified "senior defense official" as saying Israel believed a military strike could disrupt what it says is an Iranian nuclear arms program with ramifications for Lebanon. While not being talked about publicly, rumors circulate that Hezbollah may already possess as many as three ‘catastrophic warheads’.
Under a photograph of Prime Minister Netanyahu sitting in the cockpit of an F-15I long-range fighter-bomber, Maariv quoted the officer (later identified as Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan), as saying Israel could carry out such a strike without U.S. approval but time was running out for Israel’s air force to be effective
Meanwhile, on August 11, Interior Minister Eli Yishai advised the White House that Israel will go ahead with plans to expand a settlement enclave near Jerusalem despite American objections while his colleague, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, agreed, and added: “If we don’t build here, the Palestinians will. So what choice do we have?”
Threats for Domestic Consumption?
Recent reports in the Israeli media are keeping its population on edge. Some recent reports reveal to the already skittish public the following ‘intelligence”:
Hezbollah has been plotting attacks on Israeli targets, Hezbollah’s political role is just a ‘cover’, Hezbollah can now strike Tel Aviv at will, Hezbollah cells are trying to cause chaos in Egypt, Hezbollah has a ‘True partnership’ with Lebanon’s government, Hezbollah will dominate the new Lebanese cabinet, Hezbollah has set up command posts in Venezuela-It now sends operatives on intelligence missions to neighboring countries, Hezbollah has invested much time and effort in planning attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru (Yedioth Aharonoth 8/12/09), Hezbollah operatives are running ‘fronts’ in Israel’s industrial zones linked to the oil industry, and that Hezbollah has established scores of sleeper cells worldwide, many disguised as charity centers etc.
Meanwhile, Israel’s National Security Council Counter Terrorism bureau issued travel warnings to Israeli businessmen, alerting them of plans by Hezbollah to nab Israeli businessmen visiting Latin American countries and take them to Lebanon.
Barrack Obama: Israel’s Main Target
Israel’s political and psychological targeting of Lebanon and Hezbollah is less, according to Washington sources, than what is has in store for US President Barrack Obama. Weeks away from Obama going public with his Middle East peace plan, some in Tel Aviv and the US Israel lobby are panicked and have just initiated a barrage of threats and political initiatives being aimed the White House.
“Make no mistake. Israel’s ever widening paranoid array of ‘existential threats’ puts Obama ahead of Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas. The American President is now public enemy number one”, according to Lebanese Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil.
Ambassador Khalil added, “They look at Obama and see Jackson, Sharpton, Farrakhan, Rev. Williams, and Professors Khalidi, Finkelstein and Chomsky”. They see Obama as a major enemy of Israeli plans to continue its occupation and expansion”.
It’s not as though candidate Obama did not regularly grovel and genuflect to the Israel lobby during his yearlong presidential campaign. He did what nearly all of the more than 40,000 candidates in America regularly do at election time while seeking public office, from the White House to dogcatcher in Jennings Lodge, Oregon, he praised Israel as the all time indispensable American ally.
Candidate Obama on Israel
“The United States’ special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction,” stressing that Israel has “very real – and very dangerous – enemies.”
President Obama reiterated this in April 2009 when he said that he “looks forward to working with Israel to advance our common interests, including the realization of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, ensuring Israel’s security, and strengthening the bilateral relationship, over the months and years to come.”
A month later in May of 2009, Obama reaffirmed that Israel “is a stalwart ally of the United States. We have historical ties, emotional ties. As the only true democracy of the Middle East it is a source of admiration and inspiration for the American people…It is in U.S. national security interests to assure that Israel’s security as an independent Jewish state is maintained.”
Some in Israel and its US lobby don’t believe a word of it.
Almost from the day he took office on March 31, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been on a collision course with the Obama administration. Washington’s first goal was to wring acceptance of creation of a Palestinian state from the Israeli leader, who has supported Israeli control over the West Bank and expansion of Jewish settlements there for many years. Netanyahu eventually agreed, while posing tough conditions that meant that he did not agree at all.
– Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.