At first glance, history seems to repeat itself in Lebanon,
where a lengthy cold war is intermittently interrupted by an extreme show of
violence as traditional players quickly sprint into action, stacking their
support behind one party or the other.
News headlines remind us of past conflicts such as that of
1978, when Israel illegally occupied parts of Lebanon, and 1982, when Israel
unleashed a full scale invasion and most deadly campaign against its small
neighbor to the north, killing tens of thousands, mostly civilians.
But the unreserved significance of the ongoing conflict has
more to do with Israel's military ambitions -- not necessarily colonial, but
rather strategic -- than with Hizbollah's ability to strike deep into Israel.
Let's examine the bigger picture, starting well before
Hizbollah's daring capture of two Israeli soldiers in cross border fighting,
which unfortunately, at least as far the media is concerned, is the solitary
provocation that sparked the current conflict. (A San Francisco Chronicle
investigative report by Matthew Kalman -- Israel Set War Plan More Than a Year
Ago, July 21, 2006 -- sheds more light on Israel's intent to carry a three-week
bombardment of Lebanon as early as 2000.)
For years, Israel's strategic objective has been to break up
the Syria-Lebanon front -- to isolate Syria and meddle as always in Lebanon's
affairs -- while diminishing whatever leverage Iran has in Lebanon through its
support of Hizbollah.
As I argued in the first chapter of my book: the Second
Palestinian Intifada, Israel's military defeat in Lebanon and its army's
abrupt exit in May 2000, has espoused what became increasingly known as
"the spirit of resistance" among Palestinians and Lebanese alike.
Israel has proved once and for all to have serious military shortcomings, and
Hizbollah -- an organization that was comprised mostly of the relatives of
Israel's victims in the invasion of 1982 and subsequent years -- was the single
entity that exposed those limitations.
Thus, Israel upgraded its use of violence to unprecedented
degrees during the Palestinian uprising of September 2000 -- months after the
Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon -- to send a clear message that their military
travesty in Lebanon will not be repeated elsewhere. Moreover, despite its
insistence that it left Lebanon for good, Israel never departed from its
original military goal of destroying Hizbollah or meddling in Lebanese affairs.
Then there was the American attack on Iraq in March 2003 --
clearly a highly dangerous military adventure -- which was lauded by Israeli
and pro-Israeli neoconservative ideologues in Tel Aviv and in Washington as
prudent and indispensable involvement, that would further cement Israel's
security and the US strategic objectives in the Middle East -- thoughtlessly
considered one and the same.
The Iraq war was anticipated to be a 'cakewalk,' which would
be followed -- according to various neocons' documents available on the web --
by a regime change in Syria and Iran, respectively. Though both countries have
proved unequally vital in the US so-called 'war on terror', Israel views both
as imminent and ominous threats, for only these countries, after the collapse
of the Iraqi military front, still possess real armies and potential military
threats. Of course, such a claim, at least in the Syrian case, is highly
Bogged down in Iraq in an impossible war, it became clear
that the US military is simply incapable of taking on more of Israel's foes.
According to Israel's friends in the US Congress and media -- and they are
plentiful -- the mission was not accomplished. This explains the growing neocon
intellectual insurgency against the administration, accusing it of
'mishandling' the Iraq conflict and failing to appreciate the gravity of the
Iran threat. While President Bush is relentless in his anti Iran and Syria
rhetoric, it's becoming more transparent that a full invasion of Iran, or even
Syria are now in the realm of wishful thinking.
With American military ambitions slowly dying out in the
dust of the battlefield in Baghdad and Ramadi, Israel is growing utterly
frustrated. Why? On one hand, despite the intense pressure on Syria to abandon
Lebanon -- as it did -- Hizbollah's military and political influence hardly
faded, as Israel had hoped for an immediate overhaul of the political map of
Lebanon and the dismantling of Hizbollah. Even worse, a movement that is
parallel to Hizbollah in many ways in Palestinian and Arab psyche, Hamas, was
on the rise, this time -- ironically - as part of the US advocated democratic
reforms campaign in the Middle East.
Hamas� advent to power in January 2006, was followed by a
less decisive Israeli election that brought to power a questionable coalition,
whose prime minister and defense minister are known for having no military
prowess, a major diversion from Israel's traditional politics. In other words,
the new Israeli government had a great deal to prove on the battlefield to
receive much needed validation at home.
Similar to its political pressure on Lebanon and Syria --
using Washington as a conduit -- Tel Aviv took on Hamas: a suffocating economic
siege, an international smear campaign and a diplomatic blockade, but also
corrupt ex-Palestinian officials to achieve its goals. That too has failed
terribly, which prompted military strikes against Gaza, killing scores and
wounding hundreds, mostly civilians. In a rare diversion from its political
leadership, the Hamas militant wing responded by capturing an Israeli solider
at the border, vowing to only release him if all Palestinian women and children
in Israeli jails are set free.
As far as Israel and the US administration -- and much of
the Western media -- are concerned, Hamas provoked the Israeli military wrath
that followed, the killing and wounding hundreds of innocent people and
destroying what it has spared in past onslaughts. While Arab governments
carried on with business as usual, Hizbollah -- who must've know that an
Israeli military campaign against Lebanon was inevitable any way -- decided to
take the initiative by opening a war front on Israel's northern border in the
least comfortable times for the Israeli military, with the hope of relieving some
of the pressure on Palestinians. Whether it miscalculated or not is another
Neither Syria nor Iran asked Hizbollah to start a new war on
Israel, though I can imagine that both will likely attempt to reap its benefits
in case Hizbollah manages to survive the Israeli onslaught, which is, according
to US analyst, William Lind, a victory in itself.
Israel doesn't want to occupy Lebanon, but is keenly
interested in destroying Hizbollah, thus sending a clear message to Iran that
it is next. It also wants to broaden the Middle East conflict to force the US
into an uninvited showdown with Iran and Syria. Expectedly, the US is providing
100 percent political, military and financial cover to Israel's adventurism in
Lebanon, but will it go further?
Hizbollah cannot lose if it wishes to survive as a
formidable political force in Lebanon. If Hizbollah is disarmed, it is feared
that Israel will go back to its full scale meddling in Lebanese affairs,
isolating Syria even further, and gaining a strategic battle in its looming
showdown with Tehran.
Tragically, Israel's military adventurism, and the US's
reprehensible backing of Israel's endless quest for regional domination, has so
far seen the death and wounding of thousands of innocent Lebanese civilians, and
the destruction of a nation that has barely recovered from past Israeli wars,
to once again collapse under the rubble of a new one.
Baroud is a US journalist. He is the author of "The Second Palestinian
Uprising: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle," published by Pluto Press in
London. He is also the editor of PalestineChronicle.com.