20 days of naval and aerial siege of Lebanon, intensive bombardments throughout the country, world silence, U.S complicity, and weekly assurances by Israel that the war will continue for “another week”. Despite claims that HezbAllah’s back has been broken, rockets – sorry, missiles – continue to rain down on northern Israeli cities and villages. So where are we really heading? And what are Israeli (and American) expectations? How will that shape the next steps they take, and what will the outcome be for us pawns in the U.S-Israeli New Middle East agenda?
There is no doubt that the Israelis and Americans were from the start betting on internal (sectarian) conflict. Noam Chomsky refreshes our memory by discussing an initiative – very similar to the current offensive (though not the same in scale) – that was undertaken by Israel (with approval from the U.S) only 13 years ago:
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.”
It would be naive to think that the Israelis merely aim at pressuring the Lebanese government into taking action against HezbAllah. What might have been true in 1993 is not necessarily applicable – indeed it is not – in 2006. It is highly unlikely that the indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure aim at attaining such an objective. Rather, the purpose of the destruction is to foment sectarian tension by driving the refugees (mostly Shi’ites) into predominantly Sunni and Christian population centers, which have so far been mostly spared from bombardments. That the refugee drive has not resulted – despite many attempts by some “elements” (I will not name them, as they are not worthy of being paid attention to – but we all know their history) at sowing tension – in the break-out of sectarian clashes has disappointed the Israelis, who were counting on such a possibility, believing that it would expose HezbAllah’s back to fire, and possibly help in pushing it north beyond the Litani River – an important and much-needed water source which Israel has been eyeing for decades now. Not only that, but there are also economic (industrial, agricultural, touristic) interests in Israel’s destruction of Lebanon. This coincides with American interests. The enlargement of Iranian economic influence and markets greatly worries the U.S and is perceived as a grave threat to its economic hegemony in the region (the vanguard of which is Israel).
So where do we go from here? How far will Israel and the U.S go to further their interests? If it is any indication of things to come, Israel and the U.S have always gone to extremes for the sake of achieving the goals they have set. It is highly probable that the Olmert government sees in this “crisis” a window of opportunity to strengthen its domestic base and support, which would sooner or later have to face the reality of withdrawal from the West Bank. There is no doubt about that. But I am not sure if I can say with just as much certainty – I hope not – that the offensive in (and on) Lebanon aims at gaining some territory which is extremely valuable for Israel: what other than the waters of the Litani River? There are certainly some elements (I will not say “extremists”, since that is what successive Israeli majority governments have been) that would like to see that plan implemented. Let’s hope that the Olmert government was not this plan waiting to happen. Given the way the Israelis have woven a web of myths in this latest round of fighting, the way they have escalated, and the way they have refused, time and again, unconditional ceasefire, I am starting to pay more attention and apply more thoughts to that far-fetched (is it?) idea.
What does this all mean for us? What should we expect from the coming days and weeks? The above analysis places much emphasis on the idea of sectarian clashes as a tool to further Israeli and U.S interests. What the two powers are faced with now is the question of how to foment sectarian strife given that the reality fell short of their expectations. If Israel and the U.S are determined to come out of this having achieved all or most of their objectives – which seems to be the case – they will take measures that they least expected to take. As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. But such a desperate measure requires careful planning. Israel and the U.S are well aware of the risks and bumpy road that lay ahead, and the regional players they would have to possibly deal with on a wider scale.
How can Israel and the U.S set the stage for civil war? First, let us pay particular attention to one argument put forth by General Michel Aoun – quickly dismissed and criticized by U.S ambassador Jeffrey Feltman – about the reason the Lebanese Army radars at various ports throughout the country were bombarded. The Israeli argument was that the Army had provided HezbAllah with the coordinates for the Saaer-5 gunship. This argument has not been substantiated in any shape or form. Thus, it would be safe to assume that there was a much more sinister reason. The radars are primarily used for spotting arms smugglers. Now of course, there is no way that Syria would ship weapons via the sea given the ongoing naval siege, so the Israeli bombardment would have to be for the purpose of stopping the army from detecting its own arms smuggling attempts. Who would Israel provide arms to? Leaders of sects or militias that are defunct on paper but surely exist underground (leaders of sects are often ex-heads of militias or otherwise candidates for militia-leadership) – preferably Sunni ones. The general idea is that Sunni-Shi’ite clashes would erupt, which would soon spill over to other sects. Or the other way around, namely that an “incident” (more on that soon) would trigger much havoc and unite some sects (Druze and Sunni, as well as a minority of Christians under the leadership of war criminal and Israeli collaborator Samir Jea’jea) against others (Shi’ites) in the name of battling perceived “infiltration” by Syrian elements, the “representatives” of which are HezbAllah (and allegedly by extension the entire Shi’ite sect). What would the Lebanese Army do in all this chaos? The Army would of course face a lot of pressure and the real danger of break-up, but if its leadership is strong, it would be able to cope and hold it together, and possibly impose “law and order” throughout the country. In fact, the continuous statements by the Defense Minister that the Army would be involved seem to be a tacit reference to exactly such a scenario.
What about this “incident”? Let us think of one thing that would cause outrage among some factions in Lebanon and start a massive wave of finger-pointing, insecurity, outrage, and much, much worse things. The Lebanese are extremely attached to their “zu’ama”, namely the elites of their sects. Even the smallest verbal insult directed at a sectarian leader is considered an insult against the whole sect. Think about the domestic implications and impact of the murder of one of those leaders, taking into account the ruling elitist mentality. What I am suggesting might sound too apocalyptic for some; but the situation is complicated, at least two sides (Israel and the U.S) are determined to prevent the guns from falling silent, and as I said before, desperate times call for desperate measures. Far-fetched it might be – and I hope it is – but it is a scenario that must be taken into consideration. I only wish the Lebanese Army has seriously examined such a scenario and laid out a detailed action plan. If the Israelis and Americans do take such a step, and the Lebanese Army proves unable to maintain its existence let alone interfere to stop the fighting, we would surely end up in a situation of absolute chaos.