Flashback: 1993

Exactly 13 years ago some events transpired in Lebanon (as described by Noam Chomsky [don’t shoot the messenger] in the text below), which could, with some minor changes, be mistaken for the current situation. So, 13 years later, we pause and ask once more: what has really changed in Israeli policy?

On July 25, Israel launched what the press described as its “biggest military assault on Lebanon” since the 1982 invasion. The assault was provoked by guerrilla attacks on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, killing seven Israeli soldiers. By the time a US-arranged cease fire took hold on July 31, about 125 Lebanese were reported killed, along with three Syrians and three Israelis, one a soldier in southern Lebanon, while about 500,000 people were driven from their homes according to reports from Lebanon.

Journalists in Lebanon reported that 80% of the 80,000 inhabitants of Tyre joined the flood of refugees northwards. Villages were deserted, with many casualties and destruction of civilian dwellings by intensive bombardment. Nabatiye, with a population of 60,000, was described as “a ghost town” by a Lebanese reporter a day after the attack was launched. Inhabitants described the bombings as even more intense and destructive than during the Israeli invasions of 1978 and 1982. Those who had not fled were running out of food and water but were trapped in their villages, Mark Nicolson reported from Nabatiye in the Financial Times, because “any visible movement inside or outside their houses is likely to attract the attention of Israeli artillery spotters, who…were pounding shells repeatedly and devastatingly into selected houses.” Artillery shells were hitting some villages at a rate of more than 10 rounds a minute at times, he reported, while Israeli jets roared overhead, and in nearby Sidon, “the main Hammoud hospital was admitting new casualties every 15 minutes by late afternoon” of July 27 […] Israeli naval forces bombarded coastal areas near Beirut and intercepted vessels approaching Lebanese ports, though whether they also resumed their longtime practice of kidnapping and killing passengers on the high seas is not reported.

An Israeli army (IDF) spokesperson said that “70 percent of the village of Jibshit is totally destroyed.” The intent is “to destroy the village completely because of its importance to the Shiite population of southern Lebanon”; “The inhabitants of Jibshit will find the town in ruins.” Jibshit, reporter Aharon Klein notes, was the home of Sheikh Obeid, “kidnapped by Israel four years ago” in one of its many terrorist operations n Lebanon. Reporting from Jibshit, a veteran British Middle East correspondent added that Sheikh Obeid’s “home received a direct hit from a missile, although the Israelis were presumably gunning for his wife and three children — after all, they kidnapped the Sheikh in 1989 and still hold him in the Ashkelon prison in Israel.” The general aim is “to wipe the villages from the face of the earth and to sow destruction around them,” a senior officer of the northern command added. “In a cool and analytic manner, the IDF is engaged in ‘population removal’,” Meir Shalev writes, using the official term, borrowed from U.S. counterinsurgency literature in Vietnam.
[…]
The reasons for the attack were made clear at once. Prime Minister Rabin informed the Israeli parliament that after Israeli forces killed Hizbollah leader Sheikh Abbas Mussawi in Lebanon in February 1992 well north of the “security zone,” Hizbollah changed “the rules of the game, adopting the policy that in response to our strikes north of the security zone — it reacts by firing on Israel”; Rabin neglected to mention that the helicopter attack that killed Mussawi on his way to Sidon from Jibshit, where he had spoken at a memorial for another Imam murdered by Israeli forces, also killed his wife and five-year-old child, or that the Israeli helicopters then attacked a Volvo bringing victims of the first attack to a nearby hospital.
[…]
Any indigenous resistance to the rule of Israel and its proxies is considered “terrorism,” which Israel has a right to counter by attacking anywhere in Lebeanon as it chooses (retaliation, preemption, or whatever) — what General Barak chooses to call “firing back at the attackers.” But the resistance has no right to retaliate by shelling northern Israel. These are the rules; one goal of Israel’s July attack was to reestablish them.

The U.S. government agrees that these are to be the operative rules, while occasionally expressing qualms about the tactics used to enforce them — meanwhile providing a huge flow of arms and the required diplomatic support. Given Washington’s stand, it follows that the rules are unchallengeable background assumptions, merely presupposed in reporting and commentary. It is unnecessary to ask what the reaction would be if any state not enjoying Washington’s favor were to carry out comparable atrocities, in gross violation of international law and the UN Charter.

On July 30, Hizbollah announced that rocket attacks on northern Israel could only end “with the complete and permanent half of aggression against villages and civilians and the stopping of Israeli attacks from air, land and sea on all Lebanese territory.” The statement “received a testy response in Jerusalem,” the New York Times reported. Reviewing the Lebanese operation, the Cabinet did not even consider the Hizbollah proposal, the spokesman for the Rabin government said. That is understandable. The rules are that Israel is allowed to strike “villages and civilians” at will, anywhere, if its occupying forces are attacked in southern Lebanon. Since these rules are also accepted by Washington, the Hizbollah statement was dismissed here as well.
[…]
As Operation Accountability (“Din ve-Heshbon”) began, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin informed the Israeli parliament that “we want to create a wave of flight.” The goal is not simply destruction, he explained, “but moving the population north, in the hope that this will signal something to the central authorities about the refugees who are likely to reach Beirut.” He said “that he planned to flood Beirut with refugees to press the Lebanese government to end the attacks,” as the New York Times paraphrased his inimitable prose. “He said Israel would continue to blast villages as long as Katyusha rockets slammed into Israeli settlement towns in Galilee” — in retaliation against Israeli attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon to counter guerilla attacks in the “security zone.” Israel’s plan, Army spokesman Michael Vromen stated, was to “create pressure on the Lebanese government [to rein in the Hizbollah guerillas] by having as many refugees as possible gathered around Beirut.” The “limited war” is “a noisy, frightening ‘message’ in the words of officials [in Tel Aviv] that the south will be uninhabitable unless Hizbollah is stopped” (Bronner). “We believe that the Lebanese government of Rafik Hariri, which has been promising order and stability in Lebanon, will not allow this kind of chaos to continue for very long,” a senior Israeli official explained: “Between the population of the south, the Lebanese government and the Syrians, we are hoping Hezbollah will be stopped.” As the cease-fire was announced, Rabin stated that one of the goals of the operation, now achieved, had been “the use of firepower to create conditions to allow understandings with the power brokers who influence the terrorist organizations in Lebanon.”

A broader goal was outlined by Uri Lubrani, Israel’s coordinator of Lebanese policy. The purpose of the attack, he said, is to induce the Lebanese government to demand Syrian permission to negotiate directly with Israel. “This is an attempt to drive home a point,” Lubrani said. “Lebanese government, you claim you want to exercise authority over all of Lebanese territory. You want us to take you seriously in your negotiations. Go to your masters [in Damascus] and tell them: ‘Let me decide on my own fate’.” According to this conception, Israel is advancing the “peace process” by attacking Lebanon. This is entirely reasonable, if we understand the “peace process” to be a program for imposing U.S.-Israeli dominance over the region by a mixture of violence and diplomacy with a gun visibly cocked — as we should.

Source: Chomsky, Noam. “‘Limited War’ in Lebanon”. In Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and The Palestinians. (Cambridge: South End Press, 1999), 515-532.

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One response to “Flashback: 1993

  1. Hey, I’m a reporter working for the Boston Globe on a story about Global Voices, a Harvard-based blog aggregator that’s compiling and translating blogs from nearly every country in the world. I was hoping to get in touch with some of the bloggers directly, especially those covering the Israel-Lebanon conflict. If you could shoot me an e-mail with your number so we could talk, I would really appreciate it.

    Best,
    Kim-Mai

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