Casus Belli


A family in Lebanon


The only saving grace of this moronic pissing contest in the Middle East for me is that at least they had the decency to wait until the World Cup ended. The rest of this nasty business is an exercise in stupidity. Israel has now declared that they will no longer be satisfied by the return of their soldiers. Their goal now is to destroy Hezbollah, they say. Well, good luck with that. Seeing how successful Israel was in destroying Hezbollah during the 22 years it spent occupying Lebanon, I won’t exactly hold my breath.

History and common sense have never been barriers to rash action in the Middle East. This time is proving to be no different. In response to the taking of 2 of its soldiers, Israel felt compelled, like it did in Gaza, to exact revenge on the people of Lebanon. The logic appears to be that somehow Hezbollah will cry uncle if Israel bombs enough bridges, destroys every inch of Beirut’s International Airport, blows up a random civilian or a dozen. The hope appears to be that somehow Hezbollah will buckle after seeing the suffering of the Lebanese people – a feat that 22 years of Israeli attacks on Lebanon failed to achieve. So in that vain hope Israel is methodically sending Lebanon back in time one 500-pound bomb at a time. Apparently, Hezbollah did not get the memo. They have responded by declaring "Open War" against Israel and have blown up an Israeli warship using a poor man’s Tomahawk missile.

Almost exactly a decade after the last massive Israeli-Hezbollah spat, the same game plan is playing out. On April 11, 1996, CNN reported the following:

Israeli aircraft launched an intense military assault against the militant Islamic group Hezbollah Thursday, striking targets in Beirut as well as in eastern and southern Lebanon.

It is the first time since 1982 that Israel forces have attacked Beirut.

At least one civilian was killed and at least five were wounded in Thursday’s raid as Israeli helicopter gunships blasted Hezbollah areas in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

The Beirut raids came hours after Israeli aircraft pounded Hezbollah headquarters near the Lebanese cities of Tyre and Baalbek.

Israel officials said all aircraft have returned safely.

The attacks follow weeks of growing tensions between both sides. On Tuesday, about 30 Israelis were injured when Hezbollah rocketed villages in northern Israel.

The situation had deteriorated significantly by April 14, 1996:

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) — Artillery and rocket attacks continued to pound both sides of the Lebanon border Sunday as Israel and Hezbollah militants bombarded targets in south Lebanon and north Israel.

In the United States, the White House called on Hezbollah to cease its "provocative" actions, but the militants vowed to turn northern Israel into "fiery hell" and launched more rockets.

One Hezbollah rocket hit an empty lot at the United Nations peacekeeping force headquarters in Naquora, Lebanon. The Katyusha rocket, believed to have fallen short of its target, caused no casualties.

Israeli forces, attacking areas in Beirut and surrounding suburbs for the fourth day, knocked out a power station, and at least three Lebanese civilians were killed in the air raids on south Lebanon. Some 400,000 people in the area have been forced to flee.

Hezbollah’s rockets, falling at a rate of one every 20 minutes on Sunday, also struck a school, but no casualties were reported.

Hezbollah also announced an expansion of its bombing efforts. Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, said that squads of suicide bombers from a "brigade of martyrdom-lovers" will attack Israeli targets to retaliate against the bombings.

That particular spat came to an end after the United States stepped in to mediate a cease-fire. Years later, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon and subsequently swapped prisoners with Hezbollah.

Some in Israel and the United States viewed the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon as a humiliating defeat and as an act of betrayal. It is a defeat that Ehud Olmert has now set about to rectify, much to the glee of the neo-conservatives in the United States.

During the escalation of 1996, there were grown ups at the White House who delicately talked Israel and Hezbollah (through proxies) off the ledge. There were moderating forces who were able to put the brakes on an all out conflagration. No such forces exist in Washington today. Instead of trying to cool the rhetoric the Bush Administration has been adding fuel to the fire with pronouncements emanating from the White House and from the anti-diplomat John Bolton at the UN Security Council. President Bush blamed Syria for instigating Hezbollah:

And having said that, Israel has a right to defend herself. Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life. It’s a necessary part of the 21st century.

Secondly, we — whatever Israel does, though, should not weaken the Siniora government in Lebanon. We’re concerned about the fragile democracy in Lebanon. We’ve been working very hard through the United Nations and with partners to strengthen the democracy in Lebanon. The Lebanese people have democratic aspirations, which is being undermined by the actions and activities of Hezbollah.

Thirdly, Syria needs to be held to account. Syria is housing the militant wing of Hamas. Hezbollah has got an active presence in Syria. The truth of the matter is, if we really want there to be — the situation to settle down, the soldiers need to be returned, and President Assad needs to show some leadership toward peace.

Mr. Bush’s UN Ambassador took it a step further today at the Security Council and blamed both Iran and Syria:

Syria and Iran must be held accountable for their role in international terrorism, he said.  Syria supported Hamas, while Iran supported Hizbollah.  No reckoning with Hizbollah would be adequate, without reckoning with its sponsor, Iran.  He again called on Syria to arrest a Hamas leader and recognized terrorist that resided on its territory.  He welcomed the decision to send a United Nations team to the region.  His country was engaged as well, with senior officials in the region.  He called on all parties in the region to accept their responsibility for security in the region. 

Israel claims both Iran and Syria are behind the Hezbollah kidnapping. With Washington reinforcing that view, a real possibility exists that Israel will take this opportunity to strike targets in Iran. Israel has repeatedly threatened preemptive strikes on Iran to prevent it becoming a nuclear power. With this latest spat with Hezbollah and Israel’s insistence that Tehran instigated it, Israel can now be seen as defending itself if it chooses to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Already Israel has struck the international airport in Beirut ostensively to prevent the shipment of arms from Iran and to prevent Hezbollah from flying the abducted Israeli soldiers to Iran. The next logical level of escalation is a strike on Iran.

A strike on Iran may sound awfully good on paper to conservative pundits in Washington and in the charged atmosphere in Tel Aviv. However, in the Middle East, actions seldom result in proportionate reaction. In a culture of escalation the likelihood of a major regional conflict looms large. With some in the Bush Administration and neo-conservative circles in Washington salivating at the prospect of an attack on Iran, common sense is in short supply. The United States is likely to sit this one out until it is too late.

Bush may yet get his war on Iran. But as in the case of Iraq, he has probably not thought through the consequences of a feel good attack on the mullahs in Tehran.

Americans should look forward to another nice war brought to us through the lenses of CNN. It would all be great fun except for the inconvenient truth that every thrilling blast that we see on television usually results in the end of many unfinished lives.

This entry was posted in Foreign Policy, Middle East Conflict. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Casus Belli

  1. Kel says:


    I used to think that the Gaza thing was simply because Hamas agreed to recognise Israel and Israel weren’t prepared to negotiate with them despite saying the contrary for all those years.

    Today, for the first time, it occurred to me that all this talk might be a preparation for an attack on Iran and Syria.

    If that happens the Middle East will go up in flames and I fully expect Iran to invade southern Iraq and then… (shudder) it’s too horrible to consider.

  2. Excellent post.

    “The rest of this nasty business is an exercise in stupidity. Israel has now declared that they will no longer be satisfied by the return of their soldiers. Their goal now is to destroy Hezbollah, they say. Well, good luck with that. Seeing how successful Israel was in destroying Hezbollah during the 22 years it spent occupying Lebanon, I won’t exactly hold my breath.”

    That’s a wise decision. We should not forget that the 22 year occupation is what effectively *created* Hizbullah. The definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result’. If we are to believe that the current offensive in Lebanon is aimed at destroying Hizbullah, we must also accept that the government of Israel is clinically insane.

    The very idea that it is possible to ‘destroy’ Hizbullah is ludicrous. Hizbullah is a mass movement, comprising some 1.35 million people. To destroy Hizbullah would require the destruction of Lebanon.

    The Israeli government knows this, which is why the idea that the current operation in Lebanon does not aim to destroy Hizbullah by bombing them out of existence. instead, the Israelis are punishing the population, in the hope that this will turn them against Hizbullah. That explains why the IDF is not attacking Hizbullah missile emplacements in the South, but instead is destroying infrastructure in Beirut.

    Of course, this strategy, aswell as being ineffective, requires that the IDF commit war crimes, and target civilians, which is exactly what is happening.

  3. sunrunner says:

    I am afraid the world has fallen into the hands of a bunch of spoiled little boys — spoiled and impotent little boys.

    Former CIA officer Larry Johnson over at No Quarter has said that Iran is sitting in the catseat; if he is right, we are in for a very very nasty time.

    The image of the man with his two children is heartbreaking.

  4. Alfredo says:

    The unfolding events in the Middle East are neither encouraging nor comforting. At the same time, I cannot help but feel rather frustrated at seeing the same picture being replayed once again.

    More and more, I believe that the lense through which the American media and general public employ when trying to explain the history of conflict between Israel and Arab nations is lacking. It fails to fully and impartially explain the reasons for the never-ending cycle of missed opportunities and violence, and it needs to be re-assessed and challenged before this cycle can come to a full stop.

    Your post is very insightful and most helpful toward providing a rational and impartial perspective on these events. Thanks, Mash.

  5. Milkyway says:

    I heard the other day that if Palestinians capitulate, it is effectively the same thing that the Native American did with the “white” man. 🙂 I suppose the Palestinians should settle for few Reservations and be happy to have them.

    Now, Israel is trying to drag Iran into this battle. Fox News just reported that Iran has 100 soldiers in Lebanon. What is wrong with having soldiers in Lebanon? Doesn’t most countries exchange Military know how? Are we the only country that is allowed to position its soldiers in other countries?

    A simple question is that why American adminstration is the only one that supports Israel. The rest of the world (most of Europe and Asia) see things very differently. I guess that there is no conspiracy in this world.

    Well, I better go start the barbeque. It is fun to just watch the war on CNN & Fox News. As long as it stays in the tubes, we the American can be manipulated.

    My 2 cents.

  6. Zebster says:

    Has a nation ever succeeded in completely exterminating a group of “faith-based” peoples?
    What’s needed to me is for people to stop blaming because they’ve all through the generations done things to be blamed for, start accepting that others have a right to exist and treat them humanely, and then sit down and talk like adults.
    So i guess we’re all screwed.

  7. Mash says:

    Milkyway, it seems to me that Palestinians already live in reservations! :-w

    Zebster, as I recalled Hitler tried to completely exterminate a group of “faith-based” people. There is at least some hope left seeing that the world did not allow him to succeed.

    Kel and Jamie, I think we are headed toward Iran. There is a report from Robin Wright today in the WaPo about the wider goals of the US and Israel. There is a rather simplistic view that Hezbollah can somehow be eliminated along with Iran and Syria. Problem is that to Lebanese Hezbollah is a national liberation organization and is quite popular. So, the Israelis are punishing the Lebanese for thought crimes.

    sunrunner and Alfredo, it does seem like a bunch of spoiled brats are duking it out at the expense of the civilians. Thanks for the heads up on the insightful piece by Larry Johnson. Also check out the reaction of the wingnuts to the deaths of civilians. The General posted some of those on his site. It makes my stomach turn.

  8. Pingback: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying » Preparing The Ground For Iran

Comments are closed.