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Pierre Tristam: A Savage and Unwinnable Gambit

As Lebanon Bleeds
A Savage and Unwinnable Gambit


By Pierre Tristam
Candide’s Notebooks, July 14, 2006

The irony is that Israel’s conditions for a cease-fire are nothing if not reasonable: Return the two Israeli soldiers. Quit the rocket attacks on Northern Israel. Disarm Hezbollah. Any Lebanese worth his cedars would gladly set out those conditions himself, especially in light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s cowardly mongering for “open war” at Lebanon’s expense. But in the meantime, this? A nation taken hostage? Thirty civilians a day slaughtered in the bombing? An economy finally on its feet, ruined all over again? A blockade? This isn’t just a matter of disproportion. It’s sheer madness, the result of an Israeli prime minister with something of a Kennedyesque inferiority complex (Lebanon as a Bay of Pigs, but without the benefit of invasion interruptus) enabled and just about applauded by an American president who wouldn’t know the difference between a self-defensive war and crimes against humanity if Saint Augustin shouted it in hi s ears, deafened as they’ve been by his predilection for shock and awe.

If Ehud Olmert intends what he says—that the military assault and blockade will end when Hezbollah is disarmed—then this is a repeat of 1982, intended then to end only when the PLO was thrown out of Lebanon. What did that achieve? The creation of Hezbollah and the end of Israel as a nation merely defending itself: From then on it played the untenable pre-emption card, a card it couldn’t hold. It first withdrew to its “buffer” zone in south Lebanon, then withdrew altogether in 2000, wracked from insupportable pressures abroad and at home that thinly spread occupations couldn’t abide. Withdrawal from Gaza was the inevitable result of the same pressures. _The question always was this: when Palestinians and Hezbollah would continue to provoke (and act against their own interests) instead of negotiate, would Israel take the bait or wait them out? The bait it would be. It isn’t just Hamas and Hezbollah who have a knack for self-destruction.

Meanwhile the Thomas Friedman of Beirut—the Daily Star’s Michael Young—writes an op-ed for the Times all but calling for war on Syria, if not Iran. His analysis isn’t wrong, half-way down his column’s Tigris: One line Hezbollah crossed, Young writes, “was its evident coordination of strategy with Hamas; this went well beyond its stated aim of simply defending Lebanon and left Israel feeling it was fighting a war on two fronts.” Another line “was domestic. By unilaterally taking Lebanon into a conflict with Israel, Hezbollah sought to stage a coup d’état against the anti-Syrian parliamentary and government majority, which opposes the militant group’s adventurism.” Fine. So Hezbollah is running its rogue state-within-a-state in South Lebanon. And Syria and Iran play Hezbollah like they’ve played any vigilante milit ia to their advantage. Better spill Lebanese blood than their own.

What’s Young’s solution? Lebanon certainly has nothing to do with it. “It would be far smarter for Israel, and America, to profit from Hezbollah’s having perhaps overplayed its hand.” In other words, enforce the UN Security Council resolution calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament. How he proposes to get that done, not even Young knows, considering President Bush’s squarely war-abetting stance on Israel’s side, rather than on the side of a just solution the United States could perhaps pressure toward. The Israeli attack and Bush’s endorsement have all but ensured that the Hezbollah supermyth as a “resistance” movement is perversely legitimized, in the same way that Iran’s Mullahs have used the American invasion and occupation of Iraq to justify the re-radicalization of Iranian politics toward the West.

True, in so far as Hezbollah is concerned, the fuse is lit in Damascus and in Teheran, and it stretches conveniently far from either, into Lebanon’s heartland, where any blow-up keeps its collateral damage to Lebanese blood. But it doesn’t stop in Teheran and Damascus. The radicalization of the Mideast, its perpetual fall-back into this default compulsion for dead-ended savagery in the name of “self-defense,” takes its ultimate source from the Bush administration’s bomb-first, talk-never attitude that it launched in Iraq and finds itself defending to this day.

There’s an unappetizing parallel here between Hezbollah and America’s neo-cons. Both were on the outs. Hezbollah’s regressive ideology, like Hamas’s, like al-Qaeda’s, cannot exist without war. But Hezbollah’s ideology was rotting in South Lebanon. It had lost its purpose, Israel having retreated in all but one miserly contested stretch of real estate known as the Shebaa Farm. Meanwhile neo-cons’ intellectual base deserted them as their Iraq experiment bankrupted them. But with merely a little provocation, Hezbollah got Israel to pounce back and give Hezbollah the re-charge it needed, just as neo-cons are attempting, with the likes of Michael Young and Bush’s apologia in the face of mayhem, to use the Hamas-Hezbollah axis as reason to expand the mission in the Middle East and go after Syria, if not Iran. Michael Young: “ Israel can brutalize Lebanon all it wants, but unless something is done to stop Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, from exporting instability to buttress his de spotic regime, little will change.” Young might as well have been ghost-writing the words of John Bolton, the American ambassador to the United Nations. “President Bush has made clear that Syria and Iran must be held to account for supporting regional terrorism and their role in the current crisis.” What does that mean, held to account, in Bush administration lingo? “Smoke them out,” as Bush infamously said of the risibly at-large bin Laden posse?

Hezbollah can give up the two Israeli soldiers tomorrow. It won’t disarm unless the Lebanese government forces it to. It’s more likely to press its own latest lunge at savagery with its usual nothing-to-lose brazenness at others’ expense. And the Lebanese government’s shard of legitimacy has just been pulverized by Israel’s assault, which makes the Lebanese government look the impotent knave it’s been all along. Of course Hezbollah needs to be eliminated. But it can’t happen from without. Israel is only reinforcing Hezbollah’s hand and retarding its disintegration, the way the American occupation in Iraq reinforces the insurgency’s hand. Force, that appetizing recourse of the post 9/11era, has been every crisis’ most lethal seductress.

So to suggest that Israel is looking for a solution here, to suggest that it’s playing for peace, is to be as cynical as those imbeciles who claim Israel is being “humanitarian” by raining leaflets of evacuation warnings before dropping its tonnage of barbarism in civilian zones. When rogue goes against rogue, and a rogue-in-chief stands by from his Roman-themed colonnades a Potomac away, a just solution is not only not being sought; it’s a virtual impossibility. What we’re seeing in Lebanon today is what we saw there in 1982: an assault justified by the false rhetoric of self-defense, but actually a seeding of further hatreds and regression. In 1982, Hezbollah bloomed from the seeds. What’s being seeded this time? Heaven help us. Heaven help the Lebanese.

*************

Pierre Tristam is a columnist at the Daytona Beach, Fla., News-Journal and editor of Candide's Notebooks, a Web site. He was born and raised in Lebanon.

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