Late last month, a fortnight into Israel's war against
Lebanon, the Hebrew-language media published a story that passed observers by.
Scientists in Haifa, according to the report, have developed a "missile-trapping"
steel net that can shield buildings from rocket attacks. The Israeli government,
it noted, would be able to use the net to protect vital infrastructure
oil refineries, hospitals, military installations, and public offices while
private citizens could buy a net to protect their own homes.
The fact that the government and scientists are seriously investing their hopes
in such schemes tells us more about Israel's vision of the "new Middle
East" than acres of analysis.
Israel regards the "home front" its civilian population
as its Achilles' heel in the army's oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied
territories, its intermittent invasions of south Lebanon, and its planned attacks
further afield. The military needs the unconditional support of the country's
citizenry and media to sanction its unremitting aggression against Israel's "enemies,"
but fears that the resolve of the home front is vulnerable to the threat posed
by rockets landing in Israel, whether the homemade Qassams fired by Palestinians
over the walls of their prison in Gaza or the Katyushas launched by Hezbollah
Certainly Israel's leaders are not ready to examine the reasons for the rocket
menace or to search for solutions other than of the missile-catching variety.
The bloody nose Israel received in south Lebanon has not shaken its leaders' confidence
in their restless militarism. If anything, their humiliation has given them cause
to pursue their adventures more vigorously in an attempt to reassert the myth
of Israeli invincibility, to distract domestic attention from Israel's defeat
at the hands of Hezbollah, and to prove the Israeli army's continuing usefulness
to its generous American benefactor.
If Israel's soldiers ever leave south Lebanon, expect a rapid return to the situation
before the war of almost daily violations of Lebanese airspace by its warplanes
and spy drones, plus air strikes to "rein in" Hezbollah and regular
attempts on its leader Hassan Nasrallah's life. Expect more buzzing by the same
warplanes of President Bashar al-Assad's palace in Damascus, assassination attempts
against Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshal, and attacks on Hezbollah "supply
lines" in Syria. Expect more apocalyptic warnings, and worse, to Iran over
its assumed attempt to join Israel in the exclusive club of nuclear armed states.
And, of course, expect many more attacks by ground and air of Gaza and the West
Bank, with the inevitable devastating toll on Palestinian lives.
Despite its comeuppance in Lebanon, Israel is not planning to reconfigure its
relationship with its neighbors. It is not seeking a new Middle East in which
it will have to endure the same birth pangs as the "Arabs." It does
not want to engage in a peace process that might force it to restore, in more
than appearance, the occupied territories to the Palestinians. Instead it is preparing
for more asymmetrical warfare aerial bombardments of the kind so beloved
by American arms manufacturers.
The weekend's swift-moving events should be interpreted in this light. Israel,
as might have been expected, was the first to break the United Nations cease-fire
on Saturday when its commandos attacked Hezbollah positions near Baalbek in northeast
Lebanon, including air strikes on roads and bridges. It was not surprising that
this gross violation of the cease-fire passed with little more than a murmur of
condemnation. The UN's Terje Roed-Larsen referred to it as an "unwelcome
development" and "unhelpful." The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon,
UNIFIL, whose current job it is to monitor the cease-fire, refused to comment,
saying the attack occurred outside the area of its jurisdiction an implicit
admission of how grave a violation it really was.
Meanwhile in the media, the Associated Press called the military assault "a
bold operation," and BBC World described it as a "raid" and the
ensuing firefight between Israeli troops and Hezbollah as "clashes."
Much later in its reports, the BBC noted that it was also a "serious breach"
of the cease-fire, neglecting to mention who was responsible for the violation.
That may have been because the BBC's report was immediately followed by Israeli
spokesman Mark Regev accusing Hezbollah, not Israel, of violating the cease-fire.
Predictably, he accused Hezbollah of receiving transfers of weapons that the Israeli
army operation was supposedly designed to foil.
In fact, this was no simple "clash" during an intelligence-gathering
mission, as early reports in the Israeli media made clear before the official
story was established. Israeli special forces launched the covert operation to
capture a Hezbollah leader, Sheik Mohammed Yazbak, way beyond the Litani River,
the northern extent of Israel's supposed "buffer zone." The hit squad
were disguised not only as Arabs a regular ploy by units called "mistarvim"
but as Lebanese soldiers driving in Lebanese army vehicles. When their
cover was blown, Hezbollah opened fire, killing one Israeli and wounding two more
in a fierce gun battle.
(It is worth noting that, according to the later official version, Israel's
elite forces were exposed only as they completed their intelligence work and were
returning home. Why would Israel be using special forces, apparently in a non-belligerent
fashion, in a dangerous ground operation when shipments of weapons crossing from
Syria can easily be spotted by Israel's spy drones and its warplanes?)
It is difficult to see how this operation could be characterized as "defensive"
except in the Orwellian language employed by Israel's army which, after
all, is misleadingly known as the Israel Defense Forces. UN Resolution 1701, the
legal basis of the cease-fire, calls on Israel to halt "all offensive military
operations." How much more offensive could the operation be?
But, more significantly, what is Israel's intention toward the United Nation's
cease-fire when it chooses to violate it not only by assaulting Hezbollah positions
in an area outside the "buffer zone" it has invaded but also then implicates
the Lebanese army in the attack? Is there not a danger that Hezbollah fighters
may now fire on Lebanese troops fearing that they are undercover Israeli soldiers?
Does Israel's deceit not further weaken the standing of the Lebanese army, which
under Resolution 1701 is supposed to be policing south Lebanon on Israel's behalf?
Could reluctance on the part of Lebanon's army to engage Hezbollah as a result
not potentially provide an excuse for Israel to renew hostilities? And what would
have been said had Israel launched the same operation disguised as UN peacekeepers,
the international force arriving to augment the Lebanese soldiers already in the
area? These questions need urgent answers, but, as usual, they were not raised
by diplomats or the media.
On the same day, the Israeli army also launched another "raid," this
time in Ramallah in the West Bank. There they "arrested," in the media's
continuing complicity in the corrupted language of occupation, the Palestinians'
deputy prime minister. His "offense" is belonging to the political wing
of Hamas, the party democratically elected by the Palestinian people earlier this
year to run their government in defiance of Israeli wishes. Even the Israeli daily
Ha'aretz characterized Nasser Shaer as a "relative moderate"
the "relative" presumably a reference, in Israeli eyes, to the
fact that he belongs to Hamas. Shaer had only avoided the fate of other captured
Hamas cabinet ministers and legislators by hiding for the past six weeks from
the army a fitting metaphor for the fate of a fledgling Palestinian democracy
under the jackboot of Israeli oppression.
A leading legislator from the rival Fatah Party, Saeb Erekat, pointed out the
obvious: that the seizure of half the cabinet was making it impossible for Fatah,
led by President Mahmoud Abbas, to negotiate with Hamas over joining a government
of national unity. Such a coalition might offer the Palestinians a desperately
needed route out of their international isolation and prepare the path for negotiations
with Israel on future withdrawals from occupied Palestinian territory. Israel's
interest in stifling such a government, therefore, speaks for itself. And ordinary
Israelis still wonder why the Palestinians fire their makeshift rockets into Israel.
On the diplomatic front, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, rejected
out of hand a peace initiative from the Arab League that it hopes to bring before
the Security Council next month. The Arab League proposal follows a similar attempt
at a comprehensive peace plan by the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, in 2002
that was also instantly brushed aside by Israel. On this occasion, Gillerman claimed
there was no point in a new peace process; Israel, he said, wanted to concentrate
on disarming Hezbollah under UN Resolution 1701. Presumably that means more provocative
"raids," like the one on Saturday, in violation of the cease-fire.
Where does all this "defensive" Israeli activity leave us? Answer: on
the verge of more war and carnage, whether inflicted on the Palestinians, on Lebanon,
on Syria, on Iran, or on all of them. Iran's head of the army warned on Saturday
that he was preparing for an attack by Israel. Probably a wise assumption on his
part, especially as U.S. officials were suggesting over the weekend that the UN
Security Council is about to adopt sanctions that will include military force
to stop Iran's assumed nuclear ambitions.
In fact, Israel looks ready to pick a fight with just about anyone in its neighborhood
whose complicity in the White House's new Middle East has not already been assured,
either like Jordan and Egypt by the monthly paychecks direct from Washington,
or like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states by the cash-guzzling pipelines bringing
oil to the West. The official enemies those who refuse to prostrate themselves
before Western oil interests and Israeli regional hegemony must be brought
to their knees just as Iraq already has been.
What will these wars achieve? That is the hardest question to answer, because
every possible outcome appears to spell catastrophe for the region, including
for Israel, and ultimately for the West. If Israel received a bloody nose from
a month of taking on a few thousand Hezbollah fighters on their home turf, what
can the combined might of Israel and the U.S. hope to achieve in a battleground
that drags in the whole Middle East? How will Israel survive in a region torn
apart by war, by a new Shi'ite ascendancy that makes the old colonially devised
mosaic of Arab states redundant, and by the consequent tectonic shifts in identity
President Bush observed over the weekend that, although it may look like Hezbollah
won the war with Israel, it will take time to see who is the true victor. He may
be right, but it is hard to believe that either Israel or the United States can
build a missile-catching net big enough to withstand the fallout from the looming