Dangerous liaisons

Israel and the US are playing a typically diabolical double game. They want a regime change in Lebanon and the destruction of Hezbollah by controlling a nation without actual occupation Harsh Dobhal Delhi  A fragile ceasefire is in place in Lebanon following large-scale destruction and bloodshed caused by Israel during the month-long war. Lebanon has been bombed in the past, again and again and it has painfully built and rebuilt its infrastructure, roads and buildings, bridges and landscapes in the past decades, only to be bombarded and destroyed again. A melting pot of diverse cultural heritage, Lebanon always felt the tremors of instability in surrounding countries and paid the price of others' wars as a battlefield. Before launching this war, which even Israeli analysts back home are flaying their generals and politicians for, the Jewish state held that its bombs were aimed at Hezbollah and not civilians, though TV images showed that most victims of the current military ferocity are Lebanese civilians, children, families, and homes. Indeed, it is a deliberate strategy. The hardline Israeli government cares two hoots for international diplomacy, laws or protocol, even as the US quickly dispatched precision bombs to Tel Aviv (followed by Condoleezza Rice).The western governments, also called “international community”, were in complicity with the rogue actions by Israel while helping their own citizens to evacuate from the war-ravaged country, and leaving the locals to their fate.Lebanon's decision to give refuge to Palestinian refugees through the 1970s and Israel's 1982 invasion of that country, subsequent occupation of the southern part, and unilateral, unconditional withdrawal after 18 years under stiff Lebanese resistance and domestic public pressure, is still fresh in public memory in the Middle East. After the invasion, over the years, Israel found itself in a deeply entrenched mess. This, accompanied by wailing of Israeli mothers, had compelled the then Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, to pull back his soldiers. A triumphant Hezbollah had then celebrated its ‘victory’, and the Israeli people, desperate to see their boys back home, had also rejoiced even as the last Israeli tank rolled out of the rugged mountainous region in 2000.Six years on, the situation is very different in the same territory with the same parties involved. While throughout the late 1980s and ’90s most Israelis opposed the invasion of Lebanon and the presence of their army there, during the early days of the current war, surveys showed that over 90 per cent of Israelis supported the offensive and even Israel's anti-settlement movement like “Peace Now” did not take an open stand on the disproportionate use of force against Beirut. As in the past, Israeli politicians and army commanders have always played on the fear of external threat to the Jewish state and a feeling of perpetual threat is always kept alive. Thus, any attack on the country has always united the Israeli public, across the political spectrum, to throw its weight behind their government.  The kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and constant rocket attacks by Hezbollah gave Israel an excuse to embark yet again on a long-cherished dream: the destruction of Hezbollah and a regime change in Lebanon.  Israel asserts that it is exercising its right to self-defence by attacking Hezbollah and ensuring that Lebanese territory, over which Tel Aviv has no claim, does not become a base to launch attacks against Israel. It asserts that Hezbollah has refused to disarm, despite UN resolution 1559 passed in 2004, calling for disarming of the militia. Since when has Israel begun caring for a UN resolution is one question. The other is: has the Israeli Army, the best in the world, managed to finish Hezbollah off during the month-long war, the longest in the history of wars Israel has fought with its neighbour since its creation in 1948? While Israel made boastful claims, the two prisoners, whose capture triggered this war, have not been released. Hezbollah, the prime target that Israel swore to wipe out, is alive and kicking. Not only has it not been disarmed, it has not even been removed from the place it was. Its fighters have proved themselves in battle and its command and communication structure is in place. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has become a hero everywhere in the Arab world and he is still calling the shots despite persistent failed attempts to kill him.The Lebanese Army has been deployed along the border and a proposed expanded international force is being debated to police southern Lebanon. But this can in no way be called a replacement of Hezbollah which is very much in the villages and towns. In fact, according to senior Israeli analyst Uri Avineri, the very presence of the Lebanese Army and the international force depends on Hezbollah's consent and their presence can be seen as a kind of co-existence of the three forces. Also, the fact is that in the face of the civilian population being punished for no fault of theirs, many in Lebanon are now being driven towards Hezbollah.While Hezbollah, a powerful militant, political organisation of Shia Muslims in Lebanon, backed by Iran and Syria, has long engaged in armed conflict with the Jewish state, it is a mystery as to what it exactly expected to gain from its incursion across the Israeli border, where it abducted two Israeli soldiers. On Israel's part, as history indicates, its warmongering does not indicate an absence of strategy. Instead, it is an aggressive military move to create a pro-Israeli puppet regime in Beirut, with the direct support of the US, something Israel has unsuccessfully tried in the past.In the post-1982 occupation of Lebanon, Hezbollah was formed as an organisation of 2,000 Iranian revolutionary guards to offer resistance to the Israeli occupation. The group operated with the support of Iran, and later Syria, which protected its own interests in Lebanon in its confrontation with Israel over its occupation of Golan Heights. But the balance of power changed with the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon last year in the wake of huge anti-Syria protests following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minster Rafik Hariri. Syria was widely blamed for his death. In the ensuring chess game, Hezbollah became extra-cautious about its policies. Gradually, it came to represent a powerful military force in Lebanon while also gaining a seat in the Lebanese cabinet. Hezbollah has continued to support Syria but is discreet when it comes to criticism of the Lebanese opposition. Simultaneously, it stresses on Lebanese unity against ‘western’ interference. This policy is aimed at gaining wider Arab support and to forge affinity with the Palestinian cause in the wake of Hamas becoming popular. The abduction of two Israeli soldiers in northern Israel, soon after Hamas abducted one at the southern end, can be seen as a bid to gain Arab support. Israel's conflict with Hezbollah is closely related to the Palestinian problem. Had the Israeli-Palestinian conflict been solved, Hezbollah would have long been confined to an irrelevant outfit in southern Lebanon with little support from the Arab world.Hezbollah contends that Shaba Farms in the north of Israel is Lebanese territory, but Israel says the farms are on the Syrian side and, therefore, a part of the Golan Heights which Israel has occupied since 1967. If that is so, then why doesn't Israel return these farms to Syria?The questions the international community should ask Israel are straightforward: Has the repeated strikes finally dealt a deathblow to Hezbollah or has it crippled a hapless Lebanese populace, as in the past? Is Israel's strategy of weakening Hezbollah aimed at strengthening the Lebanese government or is it a move towards a regime change which works in Israel's interests? Is Israel targeting Syria and Iran through this aggression or  is the US pushing Israel for its campaign against Iran? The writer is a journalist and was based in Jerusalem for several years. He is currently Managing Editor, Combat Law, a journal on human rights