Lebanon: A critical battle for the new Middle East
By Ramzy Baroud
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Aug 21, 2006, 00:49
Using the July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers -- whose
unit had apparently crossed the Israeli border into Lebanon -- as a pretext,
the Bush administration quickly sprung into action: imagining yet a new Middle
East, where democracy and freedom reigns over militancy and oppression.
Since the neoconservative takeover of America's foreign
policies, it has become apparent that the neocons do not operate with such
impulsiveness. The plan for a new Middle East was introduced as early as 1992
by then less influential neoconservative elements. Those ideals were
accentuated in 1996 by Richard Pearle and company, then advising Israel's Prime
Minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Exploiting the tragedy of the September 11
"terrorist" attacks to achieve what until then seemed unfeasible,
Washington's neocons were hard at work: an invasion of Iraq, then Iran and
Syria, which would naturally lead to the plunging of Lebanon into Israel's
political sphere. Meanwhile, Israel would be entrusted with the ominous task of
imposing whatever solution it finds suitable on defenseless Palestinians. But
when it all seemed set for the advent of a new Middle East, Iraqis exhibited
stiff resistance that bogged down America's military power and stretched its
resources beyond expectations. The tens of billions of initial costs for war
led to tens of millions more, with no end in sight.
It was all but a secret that the neoconservative dream of a
new Middle East would once again be postponed. So the debate, instead, was
tilted toward a much more urgent issue: how to escape Iraq with the least
political damage possible. Yet, as some Americans wrangled with the quandary,
desperate elements with and around the administration insisted that a new
Middle East was still possible.
But that hope too seemed to slowly falter, as Iran insisted
on its right to civilian nuclear technology, with little or no enthusiasm by
America's top military echelon to respond by exporting its military blunders
east of the Iraq border.
Add to this eerie scenario the backfiring of their
championed Middle East democracy project. The project was aimed at rearranging
the region using the back door, with democracy being the new mantra. The advent
of Hamas, Israel's most formidable foe in Palestine -- as a result of one of
the most transparent democratic elections ever held in the Middle East --
exposed the American democracy charade in phenomenal time and most ironic ways:
the same Palestinians who were told to live up to Israel's high democratic
standards were collectively punished, thereafter with the withholding of aid
for doing just that. The democracy nuisance proved yet another embarrassing episode
for the American administration -- the supposed harbinger of democracy. As
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice barefacedly journeyed to world capitals to
ensure the success of its government's sanctions on Palestinians, Israel
unleashed a most violent campaign in the Occupied Territories, killing hundreds
and arresting scores of Palestinian MPs and cabinet ministers.
Now that most of the doors have been shut before a new
Middle East, there remained one unexplored possibility, the reordering of the
original neoconservative plan, starting with Lebanon; but why Lebanon?
The original neoconservative doctrines -- Paul Wolfowitz's
doctrine of 1992, Pearle's foreign policy document of 1996, and those of the
Project for a New American Century in later years -- assured the collapse of
the Lebanese front immediately after the elimination of the Syrian threat.
Syria, it is believed, holds all the cards to Lebanese politics. Syria,
however, is hardly perceived as a military threat the same way Iran is; thus
political channels -- at the UN and US Congress -- were successfully used to
pressure Syria to concede its Lebanese fortress to a pro-American Lebanese
government. The subsequent events were anything but consistent with Israel's
designs: Hizbollah was not disarmed to pave the way for the triumphant return
of Israel to extend its political outreach as a regional power to its neighbor
to the north, and to further push an increasingly isolated Syria into a corner,
which would eventually deport anti-Israeli occupation factions based in
Desperate times call for desperate measures cannot be any
truer than in Israel's war against Lebanon. Media reports suggest that Israeli
war plans against Lebanon were concocted years ago. UN reports indicate that
Israeli forces have crossed the border into Lebanon on numerous occasions in
the past, since the Israeli withdrawal from most Lebanese territories in July
2000, which mostly went unchallenged by the Lebanese resistance. July 12 was
the exception. Why Hizbollah chose to respond to the Israeli provocation at
such a scale on that specific date remains unclear. Did its leadership believe
that capturing Israeli soldiers would strengthen their position when the
predicted Israeli war was unleashed?
The fact of the matter is that the war on Lebanon was
premeditated, with the hope that an easy war would bring an end to the
resistance, coerce the country into an unwanted peace settlement, deliver a
blow to Iran and Syria's regional ambitions, but most importantly downgrade Iran's
regional import, perhaps as a stepping stone toward the long envisioned regime
The defeat of Hizbollah would've indeed breathed life and
enabled the full return of the original neoconservative plans to the Middle
East. It was no wonder that Secretary Rice took the podium and giddily declared
the need for a New Middle East almost immediately after Israel began pounding
Lebanon's civilian infrastructure. Such a Middle East would indeed require time
and patience and anything but an 'immediate ceasefire'.
The war on Lebanon, indeed, is generating a new Middle East,
but hardly the one the US and Israel have long fought for. Arabs, and for the
first time in their recent history, unreservedly speak of a real military
victory. Of course, neither the US nor Israel are prepared to accept such an
outcome. Without a doubt, a decisive battle for a new Middle East is going on
in Lebanon, the question is who will define it and at what cost?
Ramzy Baroud is a US author and journalist, currently
based in London. His recent book, �The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle
of a People�s Struggle� (Pluto Press, London), is now available at Amazon.com.
He is also the editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle.
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