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The Grave Consequences of Supporting War in Lebanon

The longer we underwrite the ongoing Israeli slaughter of the Lebanese people, the more the United States becomes a legitimate military target.
 
 
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With Israel waging an all-out war against the forces of Hezbollah, and the death toll in terms of civilian casualties mounting on a daily basis, the question of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis takes on an urgency that is being felt around the world. Everywhere, it seems, except in Israel and the United States. One should not be fooled by the "false" diplomacy being waged by the United States, fronted by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

The draft Security Council resolution co-sponsored between the United States and France is but a tragic farce, a smoke screen designed to unilaterally protect Israeli interests at the expense of all others that is so transparent no Arab nation takes it seriously (it has been rejected outright by Lebanon, Syria and Hezbollah).

There are several reasons for this apparent lack of concern on the part of the primary belligerent (Israel) and its No. 1 underwriter (the United States). First and foremost is the fact that the ongoing violence being waged against Hezbollah is not, contrary to popular opinion, a knee-jerk reaction to the attack against Israel by Hezbollah that resulted in several dead Israeli soldiers and two taken prisoner. It is rather part and parcel of a long-planned strike designed not only to neutralize Hezbollah, but also its largest international supporters, namely Syria and Iran. As such, Israel (and by extension, the United States) has certain predesignated goals and objectives that need to be reached, and no cease-fire will be willingly undertaken until they are. These include the military destruction of Hezbollah and its political isolation, along with its major supporter Iran.

But as the global hue and cry over the indiscriminate death and destruction being inflicted on the innocent civilians of Lebanon by the Israeli Defense Force continues to mount, drowning out any legitimate counter Israel may have by citing similar indiscriminate loss of life and property caused by Hezbollah rockets, Israel and its supporters in Washington, D.C., recognize that there is a limit to what the world will be willing to tolerate.

Already Israel and the United States are feeling the brunt of a diplomatic backlash resulting from the horrific devastation rained down on the people of Lebanon as a result of Israel's blind rage and America's misguided support of everything that is done in the name of Israel.

This does not mean that America's support of Israel's legitimate security concerns is bad policy; just the opposite. Supporting Israel's right to exist, and its right to defend itself against those who wish to do it harm, is the soundest possible policy a democracy such as America could embrace. But as a nation built on the belief that all humans are created equal, and that oppression of one party by another represents a tyranny that must be opposed, it is high time that the United States learn to differentiate between what constitutes legitimate Israeli security concerns, and what constitutes regional hegemony, tyranny and oppression.

Knee-jerk reactions aside, there is really no foundation upon which Americans can morally continue to support the Israeli actions in Lebanon. Indeed, many Americans, joined by like-minded people around the world, are increasingly taking a position that opposes the Israeli military assault on Lebanon.

There is a difference between being opposed to Israeli action, and having a viable plan on what to do instead. One of the main problems is the fact that Israel (and its supporters here in the United States) have sagely exploited the lexicon of terror, a politically savvy move in post 9/11 America that makes the formulation of any viable opposition to what the Israelis claim to be a legitimate response in the face of terror virtually impossible.

When evaluating the Israeli position on Hezbollah, we should never forget that it was Hezbollah, alone among the forces in the Arab world, that defeated Israel, compelling the Israeli Defense Force to withdraw from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after a disastrous 18-year occupation. National pride, combined with hegemonic hubris born of out-of-control Zionism, prevents Israel from ever accepting this result or forgiving Hasan Nasrullah or his followers for this "crime."

Israel claims the moral high ground in this current round of conflict, citing the July 12 attack by Hezbollah on an Israeli Army patrol that left eight IDF soldiers dead and two captured. The disproportionality of response aside (Hezbollah fires hundreds of rockets into Israel, and gets thousands of artillery shells and aerial bombs in return; Israel's civilian casualties run in the scores, Lebanon's in the hundreds), Israel's claim as the aggrieved party simply does not withstand the test of history and fact.

Hezbollah is a direct byproduct of the 1982 Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of Lebanon. In the chaos and anarchy that followed, Israel helped facilitate disunity and dysfunction within Lebanon by promoting the interests of the Lebanese Christian minority over Lebanese Muslims, Sunni and Shi'a alike. Hezbollah as an organization grew from this political morass, representing the legitimate aspirations of the Shi'a Lebanese of southern and eastern Lebanon. Albeit largely funded and supplied by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah is not an international organization, but one distinctly Lebanese. Its function has been to liberate Lebanon from Israeli aggression. To call Hezbollah a terrorist organization is not only a misuse of terminology, but also symptomatic of the larger problem that plagues both Israel and the United States when it comes to dealing with the Middle East as a whole.

Israel and the United States have become trapped by the lexicon born of the so-called "Global War on Terror." These two nations have collectively painted in their mind's eye a world of distinct black and white, or good and evil. In doing so, the reality that is the Middle East goes unrecognized, and as such, no viable solution can be found. If Hezbollah were a genuine non-state terror group, one could make an argument that direct military confrontation designed to isolate and destroy that group was viable. But Hezbollah is not a non-state player, but rather a legitimate expression of the legitimate desires of a not-insignificant percentage of the people of Lebanon.

Hezbollah is decidedly anti-Israel, as only a group born from the oppression of Israeli occupation of their homeland could be. This has led to fiery rhetoric on the part of Hezbollah and its supporters, which has been exploited by Israel and the United States to paint Hezbollah as an organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hezbollah has stated that its goals are the removal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon, the Golan Heights and the return of Palestinian refugees to Palestine. Hezbollah also continues to demand the release of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, some of whom have been imprisoned for nearly 20 years.

It was the prisoner issue that led to the most recent outbreak of violence between Israel and Hezbollah. Following Israel's retreat from southern Lebanon in May 2000, hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners were still held by Israel, which refused to release them. In October 2000, Hezbollah fighters disguised as U.N. soldiers captured three Israeli soldiers, as well as an Israeli reserve officer who was in Beirut on private business. Hassan Nasrullah declared that Hezbollah would exchange the Israelis for the Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. In a deal brokered by the German government, Israel agreed to release 430 prisoners in exchange for the bodies of the three captured Israeli soldiers (they had been killed shortly after their capture) and the Israeli reservist.

However, Hezbollah claims that Israel had agreed to release three specific prisoners -- Samir Kuntar (captured in a raid on an Israeli settlement in which four Israelis died, including a 4-year-old girl), Yahye Skaff (captured in 1978 after an attack on Israel by Fatah guerillas left 35 Israelis dead and over 100 wounded) and Nissim Mousa N'isr (an Israeli-Arab accused of spying on behalf of Hezbollah). Israeli Ariel Sharon apparently reneged on the deal at the last second, prompting Hassan Nasrullah to declare that Hezbollah retained the right to capture Israeli soldiers at any time in order to secure the release of these three prisoners. The July 12 attack by Hezbollah was nothing more than Nasrullah keeping his word.

Contrary to popular opinion, Hezbollah is not an "international terrorist organization." It has not been linked to any acts of terror outside the borders of Lebanon (the current shelling of Israel notwithstanding, Hezbollah claims these are legitimate military actions in response to Israeli "aggression"). The United States and Israel often speak of "Hezbollah terror attacks" outside of Lebanon, but in the end cannot trace these attacks to Hezbollah with anything stronger than circumstance and rhetoric. The reality of Hezbollah is that it is a decidedly nationalistic organization that has gone on record condemning the September 2001 terror attacks against the United States, rejecting Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, as well as any killing of innocent civilians in the name of Islam. If it were not for the Israeli angle, the irony is that Hezbollah actually represents the kind of home-grown political party that the United States should be supporting.

Hezbollah is very much a political reality. It is woven into the daily reality of the lives of Lebanese Shi'a, providing medical and education support to impoverished civilians who otherwise would have to go without. Hezbollah has participated in the legitimate political processes of the Lebanese democracy, winning over a dozen seats in the Lebanese Parliament, and holding several cabinet-level positions. The Lebanese government itself recognizes the unique character of Hezbollah, rejecting any notion that it is an illegitimate militia, but rather a legitimate national resistance movement that will continue to exist until Israel stops meddling in Lebanese affairs.

The United States and Israel continue to quote U.N. Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, as well as the disarming of Lebanese militias. However, resolution 1559 does not mention Hezbollah by name, and the Lebanese government itself refuses to categorize Hezbollah as an illegal militia, but rather as a legitimate defender of Lebanese interests. As a result, there is a huge disconnect between the United States and Israel on the one hand, and Lebanon and Hezbollah on the other, in regard to the basic foundational element of any diplomatic resolution to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Lebanon. The fact of the matter is, Hezbollah is a reality that neither the United States nor Israel can negotiate away. To attempt to bomb Lebanon into submission as a proxy for its inability to militarily defeat Hezbollah is not only criminal, but counterproductive.

Hezbollah today has the support of nearly 90 percent of the Lebanese population. Hassan Nasrullah has taken on legendary proportions throughout the Arab world, where his and Hezbollah's ongoing stout resistance to Israel's mighty military stands in stark contrast to the impotence of the rest of the Arab world and its leaders.

If anything, the United States should be well-positioned to whisper advice to Israel as to the futility of its current operations in Lebanon. The United States has for more than three years now conducted similar military operations in Iraq, only to find that not only has the vaunted U.S. military been unable to defeat a popular-based resistance, but that the resistance has grown.

Worse, the misguided policies that embrace a unilaterally military solution have destroyed the basic social framework of Iraq, creating a seething morass of anarchy and chaos from which violence erupts that has no center or focus upon which to zero in for a solution. Iraq is very much a dead country, which exists only for the purpose of killing Americans and its own citizens. If Israel were to ponder its folly in Lebanon, it would realize that its actions, if continued, will ultimately result in a similar outcome for the Lebanese -- a society that exists solely for the purpose of killing Israelis and each other. The difference between Iraq and Lebanon is that eventually America will be able to retreat away from the borders of Iraq. Israel will never be able to retreat away from the disaster it is creating in Lebanon today.

Of course, all of this is basic common sense for anyone who takes the time to study the facts. The problem is the predisposition of the respective publics in Israel and the United States to buy into an ideology based upon semantics that is divorced from reality. Once anything or anyone is labeled "terrorist," the game is pretty much up in so far as forming public opinion is concerned, which means, as an extension, any hope of changing governmental policy is likewise doomed. The actions of the Israeli Parliament and the U.S. Congress prove this point.

Their respective unanimity in supporting the daily murder of Lebanese, while casting the blame for the violence solely on the shoulders of Hezbollah and its supporters in Syria and Iran, are not only reflective of bad policy, but also bad thinking brought on by the inability and unwillingness of the people of Israel and the United States to think critically on any issue involving Israel. The U.S. media is particularly at fault in this regard (it is ironic that the Israeli media, and by extension the Israeli people, have been much more critical of the Lebanese operation than have their counterparts in the United States).

So long as the American media collectively continues to masquerade as journalists, when in fact it serves as little more than the propagandistic arm of the U.S. and Israeli governments, the American people will continue to wallow in their collective ignorance of the world they live in, unable to discern solutions to problems because they are for the most part unable to define the problem itself. This is a very serious matter, one with huge potential consequences.

Take, in closing, the manner in which Israel and the United States have painted Hezbollah's military underwriters in Iran and Syria. If Hezbollah resistance continues (as it seems likely to do), the United States and Israel have stated that Syria and Iran become, by extension, legitimate military targets.

This discussion is offered without any thought or recognition of the "other side of the coin," namely the mindset in much of the Arab and Muslim world that if Iran and Syria are targeted for providing military support for Hezbollah, then the No. 1 underwriter for the ongoing Israeli slaughter of Lebanese, the United States, likewise becomes a legitimate military target.

Every citizen in the United States should take a minute while they sit back and enjoy the relative peace of summer and reflect on what that would mean, and if it is really the direction they want the United States to be drifting at the moment. Just don't ask the mainstream American media to assist with any reflective analysis. It is too busy promoting a larger war.

Scott Ritter served as chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 until his resignation in 1998. He is the author of, most recently, " Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the U.N. and Overthrow Saddam Hussein " (Nation Books, 2005).