by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 6, Rajab, 1427)
Since launching its murderous assault on Lebanon on July 12, Israel has destroyed 55 bridges, ripped up almost all the major roads in Lebanon, blasted scores of apartment buildings, and bombed Beirut's brand-new $600-million international airport, a power plant, milk factories, grain warehouses and hundreds of homes of the Lebanese: all ostensibly to "expel" Hizbullah, the Islamic resistance movement, from Southern Lebanon. Instead, more than 750,000 people have been displaced from their homes (as of July 25); this figure is likely to exceed a million soon: one third of Lebanon's total population, as Israeli air strikes against civilian targets continue.
During this period, 600 civilians have also been killed in Lebanese cities and towns as far away from Southern Lebanon as Beirut, Tripoli,Hermel and beyond. These are Lebanese government figures; Red Cross officials in Lebanon say that the actual number of deaths is much higher because they have not been able to retrieve bodies from underneath the rubble of houses or those burnt beyond recognition in cars that were destroyed by Israeli bombs. Even Christian neighbourhoods, such as the Ashrafiyya district in Beirut, have not been spared. And on July 25 four UN observers from UNIFIL were killed when four Israeli artillery shells and bombs struck their post near the Lebanese bordervillage of Khiam. Even Kofi Annan, the docile UN secretary general, was forced to say that it seems as if Israel deliberately targeted the post.
Israel's war strategy, backed by the US and European governments, is clear: destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure and killing of a large number of civilians in hopes of turning the survivors against Hizbullah. General Dan Halutz, Israel's military chief, declared that he would turn the clock in Lebanon back by 20 years unless Hizbullah were disarmed. This is the classic definition of terrorism. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has said that his country has been set back 50 years. The zionists' murderous assault, however, has had completely the opposite effect to the one intended: Hizbullah has become even more popular than before because people have realised that it is the only force standing up to the zionist invaders.
Both Israel and the US, its principal financier and backer, have pleaded the excuse that they are implementing UN resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Lebanese militias. Coming from the zionists and their American backers, this is absolutely audacious. There are 69 UN Security Council resolutions—the ones that escaped a US veto—that Israel has refused to comply with. Security Council resolutions 242 (passed on November 22, 1967) and 338 (October 22, 1973) call for Israel's withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands, while Security Council resolution 425 (March 27, 1978) demands Israel's unconditional withdrawal from all Lebanese territory. The zionists have dismissed these with contempt; they continue to occupy Arab lands, including the Sheba'ah Farms in Southern Lebanon. The Arab regimes have not had the courage to free their occupied lands, yet the Hizbullah were successful in driving thezionist invaders out from most of Southern Lebanon in May 2000.
After launching its current attack, Israel demanded that Hizbullah be expelled from Southern Lebanon. It also demanded that the resistance movement be disarmed and disbanded and that the ineffectual Lebanese army be deployed there instead. The Israeli war plan was to ‘ethnically cleanse' the South all the way to the Litani River, some 30 kilometres (almost 20 miles) north of the border. Israelis have been coveting the Litani River for decades: they want to use its waters for illegal Jewish settlements in northern Israel, just as they have done with the Jordan River. Their other aim has been to create a buffer zone in Southern Lebanon from where Israel can control the government and manipulate Lebanese politics. In the seventies the Israelis recruited one major Saad Haddad, a Maronite Christian and a thug, who terrorized the Palestinians and South Lebanese to serve Israel's interests, but ultimately failed to fulfill his purpose.
After two weeks of relentless bombardment and the indiscriminate murder of civilians, of whom one third are babies, the Israeli military machine has discovered that Hizbullah is a far more formidable opponent than it had expected. Despite being lightly armed, Hizbullah fighters are highly motivated; they are not afraid to die because they long for martyrdom: hence their ability to pull off remarkable feats. The zionists have made little headway in their ground offensive in Southern Lebanon because of Hizbullah’s stiff resistance. On July 22 the Israeli army chief claimed that 100 Hizbullah fighters had been killed, a claim dismissed by Hizbullah secretary general Shaikh Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, who said that only 11 of his fighters had been martyred. Unlike the zionists, it is not Shaikh Nasrallah's habit to make false statements; the Israeli claim is clearly intended to assure worried Israelis about the lack of military success, despite their enormous advantage in military hardware. The zionists, of course, are silent about the crimes they are perpetrating against civilians. On a number of occasions they have warned Lebanese villagers to flee their homes, only to bomb them from the air, blowing them to pieces as they try to escape. Twenty members of a single family from Marwaheen village were massacred on July 16 when Israeli planes attacked their convoy; nine of the dead were children. Israeli troops have also used phosphorous bombs, in contravention of the Geneva Conventions. A Canadian family of eight, four of them children, were blown to pieces in their home in Aitroun village by Israeli warplanes.
What prompted the latest Israeli attack on Lebanon? Israeli propaganda, duly parroted by the Western media, alleges that Hizbullah fighters had entered Israel, killing four soldiers and capturing two others. Even if they had done so, they would be fully justified because Israel routinely violates Lebanese sovereignty in land and air; the reality, however, is that Hizbullah ambushed an Israeli tank-column that had entered the village of Aitaa al-Chaab in Southern Lebanon on July 12. Gradually, even Western news sources—Associated Press, Agence France Presse and so on—have started to admit this. One Israeli tank was destroyed as it tried to flee after the ambush, in which four soldiers were killed and two captured. The fact that Israelhas recovered neither the tank nor the bodies of its dead soldiers confirms that they were attacked inside Lebanese territory. This was viewed as a humiliation by Israeli hawks, especially army chief Halutz and the new prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who have to establish their macho credentials after the incapacitation of Ariel Sharon, the butcher of Beirut, who is in a coma and close to death. Their maximalist demands were meant to boost their image with the Israeli public, something that Hizbullah's valiant fighters have prevented.
Ever since Israeli forces were driven out of most of Lebanon in May 2000, barring the Sheba’ah Farms, Hizbullah has demanded the return of hundreds of Lebanese hostages held byIsrael. Some, like Samir el-Qintar, have been held in Israeli prison for 27 years. In the past, Hizbullah has successfully negotiated the release of Lebanese hostages in exchange for captured Israeli soldiers. There is no doubt a similar exchange will have to be worked out this time, regardless of how much the zionists huff and puff. Unlike Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, when Hizbullah did not exist (it emerged in October 1983 after a series of Israeli rampages through Lebanese villages in the South) and an estimated 20,000 Lebanese civilians were butchered, including thousands in the infamous slaughters at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, this time Hizbullah is prepared. Israeli soldiers have admitted that Hizbullah fighters, unlike the soldiers of the Arab armies, are formidable opponents and not afraid to fight.
Hizbullah fighters have also been able to deliver a few "surprises": an Israeli warship was destroyed on June 14 as Shaikh Seyyed Nasrallah's speech was broadcast on al-Manar television, informing people that an Israeli warship had gone up in smoke. There have been other surprises too: Israel's top-secret military air-traffic control-centre at Miron was hit by missiles that destroyed its communications antennas; Haifa, Israel's third largest city, has been subjected to missile attacks, a move undertaken reluctantly by Hizbullah but necessitated by repeated Israeli strikes on Lebanese civilians and infrastructure. Seyyed Nasrullah has also promised that there will ae more surprises.
It is these surprises and Israel's inability to knock Hizbullah out that have forced US president George Bush to send secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to the region. At the same time, Bush also rushed 5,000-pound bunker-busting BGU-28 bombs to Israel, no doubt to continue the non-existent peace process by killing more civilians in their homes. On July 25 Rice met Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut and then flew to Israel, where, in line with America's policy of unconditional support for zionist crimes, she made more ludicrous demands of Lebanon and Hizbullah. But there is a discernible change in the Israeli position: Olmert is no longer talking about destroying Hizbullah, only about removing it from Southern Lebanon.
An international conference on July 27 in Rome, attended by Kofi Annan, secretary general of the UN, repeated the same nonsensical demands about the release of Israeli soldiers and an international force on the Lebanese/Israeli border, but nothing about the thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese held hostage by Israel or the wholesale destruction of civilian infrastructure in Ghazzah and Lebanon, which have been described as war crimes by Amnesty International as well as Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Clearly international force is designed to protect Israel, not Lebanon or its people, as past experience has shown. Also, it does little to help release kidnapped Lebanese civilians held in cruel conditions in Israeli jails. The call for an immediate ceasefire also got nowhere.
Hostage-taking is a long-established zionist practice. After the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, thousands of Lebanese youths were rounded up by the invaders and incarcerated in such concentration-camps as al-Firaa, Atleet and Khiam; Khiam was dismantled in the mid-nineties: hundreds of Lebanese civilians had been brutally tortured there. Throughout their history thezionists have kidnapped, tortured and killed of civilians. In July 1989, Shaikh Abdul Karim Obaid was kidnapped from his home in Southern Lebanon; this was followed in May 1994 by the kidnapping of Dr Mustafa al-Dirani from his village. Together with hundreds of other prisoners, they were finally released in a prisoner-exchange organised by Hizbullah in 2004.
Israel's indiscriminate killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure constitute war crimes and state terrorism. By backing and supporting these crimes, the US and other Western governments are also complicit. This underscores the point that this is not a war only between Israel and the Palestinians or between Israel and Hizbullah; it is the West's war against Islam and Muslims, and has raged for decades. By providing unconditional backing to Israel and even getting the support of some Arab regimes, the US wants to undermine Iran and rearrange the political landscape of the Middle East to suit its and Israel's designs. Hizbullah's steadfast resistance and the Lebanese people's support for it have frustrated these designs.
Unless the US and Israel realise that their murderous policies, far from cowing the Muslims, will only intensify hatred for them, there will be peace neither in the Muslim world nor for the US and its zionist surrogate, Israel. The choice is theirs.