Creating people's geographies
As southern Lebanon is turned into a wasteland mirroring the Gaza gulag, Washington neo-cons may stridently celebrate the contours of a final solution for the Hamas-Hezbollah “problem”. Or should they?
Israel’s feverish military machine at least conveys the impression it knows exactly what it’s doing – with its made-in-the-USA bombs destroying not just military but civilian targets. But this does not mean Israel is winning its war against Hezbollah.
What Israel wants
In March, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised that he would officially announce Israel’s “new” and in theory “final” borders before 2010. Olmert has committed his government to finish the wall separating Israel from Palestine. Israel will then retreat inside its wall. There was never any intent by Olmert to deal with the duly elected government of Palestine led by Hamas.
As far as Lebanon is concerned, Israel wants nothing less than a permanent buffer zone on its northern flank. And if Lebanon turns into an Iraq, even better – although the Lebanese have learned the hard way about sectarianism and won’t “Iraqify” their own country. Beirut will be rebuilt – again, and again the Hariri clan (with its dodgy deals with the US and the Saudis) will plunge Lebanon in further debt purgatory with regard to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as the clan did in the previous reconstruction process.
There’s also the all-important matter of the waters of the Litani River in southern Lebanon. Israel might as well prepare the terrain now for the eventual annexation of the Litani.
Beyond Lebanon, Israel is mostly interested also in Syria. The motive: the all-important pipeline route from Kirkuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan, to Haifa. Enter Israel as a major player in Pipelineistan.
So Israel wants to grab water (and territory) from Palestine, water (and territory) from Lebanon and oil from Iraq. This all has to do with the inevitable – the 21st-century energy wars.
This is how we do it
Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, says that “of all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared”. Since 2000, in fact, when Hezbollah forced Israel out of occupied southern Lebanon.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, already in 2005 the Israelis circulated a “Three Week War” plan – as it unfolds now, almost to the letter – around selected Washington think-tanks and Bush administration officials. The plan was disclosed by an anonymous Israeli army officer equipped with a PowerPoint presentation.
In this war plan, the first week would be dedicated to destroy Hezbollah’s long-range missiles, bomb its command-and-control centers, and bomb transportation and communication routes. That has already happened, at least in theory; but although southern Lebanon has been turned into a new Grozny, Hezbollah seems never to extinguish its stockpile of 12,000 rockets.
The second week would concentrate on attacks on individual sites of rocket launchers and weapons caches. Instead, we have seen the continuation of non-stop, indiscriminate attacks. Ground forces would enter the war in the third week – that’s where we are now – but only to attack targets discovered during reconnaissance missions (these are ongoing). This plan did not call for a ground invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon. There’s not much to occupy anyway – it’s all been turned to rubble.
Only the foolish or the misinformed may doubt that this war is also a Pentagon war. As their mutual interest is obvious – Hezbollah must be destroyed – the only detail to be established is who wagged the other’s tail first. According to the US-Israel axis’ plan, cutting off Hezbollah from Lebanese society would lead to a vulnerable Syria extricating itself from a close relationship with Iran. That’s pure wishful thinking, because what Syria wants back is the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – and that’s anathema for Olmert and the Likudniks.
A Vietcong master class
Some, but still only a few, Israelis – sometimes in the columns of the daily newspaper Ha’aretz – are beginning to notice that this carnage will lead nowhere. There are no more than 5,000 Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Hezbollah the political party – heavily involved in health, education and social services – is what really matters for Lebanese. It’s absurd to pretend to destroy a movement with such popular support as Hezbollah. Secular democrats may not empathize with the movement, but any serious Middle East observer cannot question its legitimacy.
It’s as if the Israeli military machine were betting on the elimination of the Shi’ites from Lebanon (they’re the majority of the population already) without facing any consequences. Israelis have reasons to believe it’s doable. The mainstream US and European media work as nothing but press offices of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
A ceasefire remains “premature” (the whole world is for it, except the US, Britain and Israel). The House of Saud – supported by the US-Israel axis – has de facto encouraged a Sunni-Shi’ite war in the wider Middle East (that fear of the Shi’ite crescent again). It may take time, but the Arab street – and radical Islam – will renew efforts to try to hang the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait from lampposts sooner rather than later. Fawaz Trabulsi, a professor at the American University in Beirut, said, “Now you risk producing something worse than Hezbollah, maybe al-Qaeda No 2.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s asymmetrical war effort is absorbing everything thrown at it. Resistance is fueled by a mix of beggar’s banquet anger, creative military solutions and Shi’ite martyr spirit. Hezbollah fighters are using olive-green uniforms to confuse the Israelis. According to Jane’s Weekly, Hezbollah has done a perfect Vietcong – its fighters operating in a network of underground reinforced bunkers and command posts near the Lebanese-Israeli border almost unassailable by Israel Defense Force bombs.
The practical result is that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is ever more popular all over the Arab street. Kind of like the new, 21st-century Saladin. Hezbollah’s moral and political cache could not but rise among peoples and movements worldwide who keep being bombed to oblivion but never had a chance to bomb back.
For Hezbollah – as well as for Hamas – “winning” means not being disarmed and/or exterminated, the avowed goal of the State of Israel. Apart from Mao Zedong in China and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Hezbollah may have also learned a lesson or two from the battlefields of Chechnya – as it configures itself, like the Chechens, as one of the only guerrilla groups in the world capable of facing an extremely powerful state army.
In Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was forced to issue a fatwa denouncing the Israeli assault. This means that Sistani knows very well Iraqi Shi’ites may be on the verge of turning all their anger against – who else – the occupying Anglo-American axis.
The fatwa may not be enough to appease them. Israel’s rampage has even unified Baghdad’s parliament; Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds took a unanimous vote condemning Israel and calling for a ceasefire. Fiery nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr, whose rising influence rivals Sistani’s in US President George W Bush’s “democratic” Iraq, hinted what may happen when he said at his Friday sermon in Kufa, “I will continue defending my Shi’ite and Sunni brothers, and I tell them that if we unite, we will defeat Israel without the use of weapons.”
As if the few thousand Sunni Arab guerrillas bogging down the mightiest army in history were not enough, Muqtada’s Mehdi Army has all the potential to make life even more hellish for the Americans in Iraq.
The asymmetricals never sleep
So this is the way the “war on terror” ends – not with a single bang but with the multi-sonic bangs of asymmetrical actors getting re-energized in their fight against the US-Israel axis. The Israeli army could not put down a Shi’ite guerrilla outfit in southern Lebanon – nor a bunch of stone-throwing Palestinian kids, for that matter. The US Army could not cope with a bunch of scruffy Sunni Arabs armed with fake Kalashnikovs. Sunnis or Shi’ites, stateless or in failed states, freedom fighters or “terrorists”, they simply will not go away.
Pursuing their own logic, equally impatient Washington neo-cons and Israeli Likudniks would cherish nothing better than the wholesale destruction of civilian infrastructure in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, and then in Syria and Iran.
What happened in Iraq, and is still happening in Gaza and now in Lebanon, spells that the world will have to get used to a new reality. But against this, the asymmetricals will not only be lurking in the shadows; they will retaliate.