Israel and Hezbollah: End Game

31 July 2006

Israel and Hezbollah: End Game

By Gwynne Dyer

The kill ratio is becoming a problem: Israel has been killing about forty Lebanese civilians for every Israel civilian who is killed. They are all being killed by accident, of course, but such a long chain of accidents begins to look like carelessness, and even in Israel and the United States many people are getting uneasy about the slaughter. Elsewhere, the revulsion at what is happening is almost universal, and the death of so many women and children at Qana has greatly intensified the pressure on Israel and its de facto allies, the United States and Britain, to stop the war.

They are already making tactical concessions to lessen the pressure. Israel “partially suspended” its bombardment of Lebanon for forty-eight hours, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised to let the United Nations Security Council consider a resolution calling for a ceasefire this week. But Israel’s generals still want another ten days to two weeks of war to batter Hezbollah into submission, and neither Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or his loyal allies in Washington and London are really willing to override them yet.

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told parliament on Monday that Israel cannot accept a ceasefire now, since if it did so then “the extremists (Hezbollah) will rear their heads again.” The US and British governments have to dodge and weave a bit as doubts grow at home about the morality and feasibility of Israel’s actions, but they can certainly arrange for the Security Council resolution to fail this week.

The real trick, in terms of keeping American and British public opinion on side, is to blur the sequence of events that led to the war and present it as a desperate Israeli struggle against an unprovoked onslaught by thousands of terrorist rockets. As Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC, “It cannot be that Israel stops taking the action it’s taking but Hezbollah continue to kill, kidnap, and launch rockets into the north of Israel at the civilian population there.”

The website of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs goes further, claiming that the operation in which Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldier and killed three others and the rain of Hezbollah rockets on Israeli cities were “simultaneous.” Obviously, these are mad terrorists who must be removed from Israel’s border at once by any means possible. But unless “simultaneous” means “on the following day” in Hebrew, the website is deliberately distorting what happened.

There WAS an unprovoked Hezbollah attack on the Israeli army on 12 July, seeking to kidnap soldiers who could be held as hostages and eventually exchanged for Lebanese prisoners who have been illegally held in Israel since the latter ended its eighteen-year military occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. And no doubt the reason Israel held onto those prisoners in the first place was to have them as hostages in some future prisoner exchange with Hezbollah. That’s how the game is played locally.

In the course of grabbing the Israeli hostages on 12 July, Hezbollah fired rockets and mortars at the northern Israeli town of Shlomi as a diversion, but nobody was hurt there. And apart from that, NO Hezbollah missiles struck Israel that day. Indeed, none had been fired at Israel for at least four years, although there were regular skirmishes between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah fighters along the frontier. Hezbollah had the rockets, but they were not mad terrorists.

During the following 24 hours, however, Israel launched massive air strikes and artillery bombardments the length and breadth of Lebanon, striking Beirut airport, Lebanese air force bases, the Beirut-Damascus highway, a power station, and all sorts of other non-Hezbollah targets and killing many civilians. And it was only on 13 July that Hezbollah rockets begin to hit cities all across northern Israel.

Nobody has clean hands here. Israel seized on the kidnap operation as the pretext for a massive onslaught aimed at destroying Hezbollah’s resources and removing it from southern Lebanon — a perfectly legitimate goal, in line with United Nations resolution 1559, but not one that the UN had envisaged as being accomplished by Israeli bombs. Hezbollah may just have been trying to raise its profile in Lebanon and the wider Arab world with a small but successful operation that humiliated the Israelis — or it may have foreseen the likelihood of a massive Israeli over-reaction, and calculated that it could ride it out and win from it.

Whether that was its intention or not, it probably will ride it out and win. Having fired at least ninety missiles at Israeli cities every day but two since the war began — though they only kill an average of one Israeli a day — Hezbollah launched only two rockets on Monday (probably a crew that didn’t get the message to stop in time). If there should be a ceasefire in the next week, it will emerge the victor, since no international peace-keeping force is going to fight the kind of campaign that would be required to dig it and its weapons out of south Lebanon’s hills and villages.

And if there is no ceasefire, then the Israeli Defence Force will be granted a further opportunity to demonstrate that it cannot do so either. At least, not at a cost in Israeli soldiers’ lives that would be remotely acceptable to the Israeli public.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 5. (“Israeli…week”; and “The website…happened”)