Despite growing international calls for restraint from the Europeans and Russians, Israeli military aggression was last night threatening to unleash even more chaos and bloodshed and ratchet up the tension in the region to a dangerous degree. In harrowing scenes reminiscent of the 1982 build-up when it invaded Lebanon for a second time, Israel has been bombing and shelling Lebanese sovereign territory, has smashed the runways of Beirut Airport, and by blasting away bridges, has effectively cut off the south of the country. The stage could be set for yet another ground invasion, with all the misery and death that this will bring.
Everything about this Israeli response, first in Gaza and now in Lebanon, is utterly disproportionate. Two weeks ago an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas, who demanded the release of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails in return for the soldiers’ freedom. Instead of talking, as has suited them in the past, for two days the Israelis prepared themselves and then launched massive punitive raids into Gaza, none of which brought them an inch closer to finding the captured soldier.
Then Hezbollah seized two more Israeli soldiers and made a similar demand for Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli prisons. Almost immediately the government of Ehud Olmert unleashed a string of assaults into Lebanese territory that had clearly been planned long before. But if this was part of an attempt to save the lives of its two soldiers, it was a misguided maneuver, since in the course of these actions, eight Israeli soldiers were killed.
The truth is that it suits Israel to destabilize its neighbors once more. After false starts, Lebanon had finally achieved a reasonable level of economic and political stability. The process of recovery after the long years of civil war and occupation was well underway. But a newly confident, determined and independent Lebanon is not something Israel wants. So when they had an excuse, the Israeli military pushed the button on a well-oiled scheme to try and pitch the country back into chaos.
With the Palestinians, as Israel’s ruthless economic and political blockade demonstrates, the task of repression is much easier. The speed with which Israel stormed back into Gaza proves that the withdrawal never really took place. It was just window dressing.
The only response from Washington to Israel’s military rampage has been to urge restraint on its allies. Without serious protests from the United States, the Olmert government knows that it can behave pretty well as it likes. By characterizing any action against itself or its soldiers as terrorism while insisting that its own murderous terror tactics are legitimate self-defense, it has Washington firmly on side.
After all hasn’t the war on terror been the defining issue of the two-term Bush presidency? A president as short-sighted and ill-informed as this one is not about to learn from his grievous errors, no doubt in part because the greatest human price is being paid in Arab blood and tears.