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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 31st, 2006 - 01:04:41

Lebanon must not become Gaza
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 31, 2006, 01:01

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Hostilities were supposed to be over weeks ago. Both sides have signed up to UN Security Council Resolution 1701. But only one side, Lebanon, is sticking to it.

It�s true that bombs are no longer falling and missile launchers are tucked away from view, but there are still an unspecified number of Israeli troops inside southern Lebanon.

Trigger-happy Israeli soldiers occasionally pick-off locals, describing their approach as �menacing." There is no one to verify this. At the same time Israeli warships and planes ominously patrol Lebanon�s coastline.

This sea and air blockade is not only humiliating; it is crippling Lebanon�s economy that relies on the free passage of people and goods. These bullying moves on the part of Israel infringe Lebanese sovereignty and violate Security Council Resolution 1559 that specifically calls for that sovereignty to be respected.

This is yet another example of one law for Israel and another for the rest of the world. Resolution 1559, which calls for �all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon� was used as a whip to force Syria to end its de facto occupation of that country but hasn�t been applied to Israel�s ongoing occupation.

Israel has said it will withdraw its military personnel behind the blue line and put an end to the blockade once UNIFIL II is 15,000 strong, which could be months away. Israel further insists that UNIFIL must monitor Lebanon�s border with Syria.

But Syria�s President Bashar Assad has been quick to reject this idea, saying his government would consider any such move �a hostile act� detrimental to Lebanese-Syrian relations.

Bashar has warned that unless Beirut refuses this plan, Syria will be forced to seal its border crossing points. This would leave its neighbor completely cut off by land as well as sea. The White House has already indicated it is prepared to ignore Syria�s warning, saying, �Syria is not a party to this discussion." I doubt the US administration would see things in quite that light if, for instance, Mexico or Canada invited 15,000 foreign troops to man their borders with America.

Israel has displayed its own double standards by refusing UN troops from Malaysia, Indonesia or Bangladesh on its own frontier with Lebanon, while at the same time demanding UNIFIL monitor the border with Syria.

After meeting with his Cabinet, Lebanon�s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the only force overseeing his country�s border with Syria would be the Lebanese Army.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has seconded this, saying UNIFIL would only man the Syrian crossings with Beirut�s permission. Israel has called this unacceptable, while threatening to keep up the blockade.

So once again, Lebanon is unfairly caught in the middle; damned if it does and damned if it doesn�t.

It�s an especially heartbreaking scenario when one remembers that from 1982 until 2005 Lebanon was occupied by either Israel or Syria or both. Then, just a year after the country began to joyfully breathe in the fresh air of independence and accompanying prosperity, foreigners are trooping back again in large numbers.

The EU, the UN, Germany and France have urged Israel to lift the blockade forthwith. Their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Last Wednesday, the ever-hopeful Siniora asked US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to pressure Israel into relinquishing its grip over his country�s access points.

Lebanon�s frustrated Labor Minister Tarrad Hamadeh called upon Arab nations to order their ships and planes to defy the blockade. Sounds good in principle, but which suicide-inclined individuals are going to volunteer to fly those aircraft and man those vessels?

It�s evident that the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his sidekick, Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, are not committed to the truce. Condemned by the Israeli public for not dealing Hezbollah a �knock-out blow," the pair are fighting for political survival. With its own credibility uppermost, the Israeli government may be looking for an excuse to go another round. From the point of view of most Israelis, though, there is more at stake than the survival of its government or the desire to save face.

Israel�s regional hegemony and deterrence value has been eroded, resulting in the emboldening of its enemies. In other words, the myth of Israel�s invincibility has been shattered. Some Israelis see this as an intolerable existential threat.

Doubt has also been cast on Israel�s strategic importance to its US backer, which supplies it with billions of dollars each year in cash, loans, loan guarantees, aircraft and arms. If Israel isn�t up to the job, future US governments may have second thoughts when it comes to feeding a dog whose tail fails to wag. According to a headline in the Jerusalem Post, Israelis are well aware of this. It reads �View from America: The United States Prefers a Winner."

Messages coming out of Tel Aviv are more warlike than peaceful.

Last Wednesday, Olmert warned that Israel �must be prepared for all scenarios.� Peretz earlier expressed his commitment to investigating mistakes made during the conflict �in preparation for the next round." There is also talk of escalating the conflict to include Iran with a head military honcho having been tasked to strategize this.

Conversely, Hezbollah, whose reputation both at home and abroad has been enhanced, has little to gain from further hostilities. On Sunday, Hezbollah�s leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said there would be no second round and, in spite of continued �Israeli provocation,� his group would adhere to the cease-fire.

Despite Nasrallah�s good intentions, whether or not the truce will hold is anyone�s guess. The next few weeks until UNIFIL is fully deployed are crucial. By then it should be clear whether Olmert�s government can survive, and, if not, who is poised to follow.

If it turns out that Israel is, indeed, intent on a path of death and destruction, this will likely turn into a region-wide conflagration.

There is another way. It�s called peace. All 22 members of the Arab League have offered it in exchange for a Palestinian state. Israel should grab this olive branch and hold on to it tightly. Now that Arabs are beginning to form a unified front against a common enemy, the day may come when that branch will wither.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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