14 August 2006

A defeat for Israel, but also for justice

The U.N. resolution is a consolation prize for the Olmert regime, whose failure in Lebanon throws the wider U.S.-Israeli game plan for the region into disarray.

14 August 2006
The Hindu

A defeat for Israel, but also for justice

Siddharth Varadarajan

WHEN ISRAEL attacked Lebanon a month ago, it had two stated and two unstated military objectives. The stated objectives were the unconditional release of two of its soldiers captured by Hizbollah, and the physical destruction of the Lebanese resistance force, its leadership and command structure. As for the unstated objectives, the first was to so totally degrade the civilian infrastructure of the country that the non-Shia population of Lebanon would turn against Hizbollah and the Shias for inviting the wrath of Israel upon them in this manner. And the second, to deny Iran and its supporters the chance of opening a second front against Israel from close quarters — in the event of American airstrikes on Iranian nuclear installations.

In turn, these military objectives were part of a wider political objective: to use Israel's overwhelming military superiority as the basis for implementing the Sharon-Olmert plan of a unilaterally imposed "peace settlement" on the region which would leave Tel Aviv in control of as much Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian land and water as it deems necessary.

Predictable blame-game

When the promised ceasefire takes effect on Monday morning, however, Israel will find that not a single one of its objectives has been achieved.

This failure has ignited a predictable blame-game within the Israeli military and political establishment but the repercussions of military defeat will travel much further afield. The Olmert regime took a big gamble in going to war and the Bush administration backed it to the hilt in the hope that a "New Middle East" could be built on the backs of a military machine that was believed to be invincible. By smashing that myth of invincibility and registering a decisive military and even moral victory over the Israeli Defence Forces, Hizbollah has thrown the neo-conservative agenda for a "New Middle East" into utter disarray.

The Lebanese militia has not only managed to preserve its capability to fight despite the withering bombardment of its strongholds in southern Lebanon but has also inflicted severe losses on the Israeli military. Nor has its ability to fire Katyusha rockets into northern Israel in retaliation for the Israeli bombing of civilian areas been effectively degraded. The IDF's desperate push towards the Litani river following the adoption of a ceasefire resolution by the United Nations Security Council has itself cost the lives of more than two dozen soldiers, taking the number of Israeli troops killed in the war to well over 100.

More than 30 years of enforcing a military occupation and fighting children and poorly-equipped guerrillas have clearly taken their toll on the ability of the legendary Israeli army to fight a full-fledged war. That is why, right at the outset, the IDF had hoped to rely more or less exclusively on air power and deploy ground forces only after Hizbollah had been sufficiently softened up. However, the international outrage that Israel's bombardment of Lebanon provoked, particularly after the Qana massacre, forced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his backers in Washington to change tack. Israel realised it had to commit a more significant detachment of ground troops if Hizbollah was to be defeated. At the same time, it preferred the easier option of an international stabilisation force coming in to finish the job for it.

Since the political balance of power in the Security Council is more decisively in favour of Israel than the military balance is on the ground in southern Lebanon, Washington's priority has been to use its clout at the U.N. to bring in to the region a well-armed military force that could prosecute Tel Aviv's war aims more effectively. UNSC Resolution 1701, passed unanimously on Friday, was originally intended to do just that. Its original version ignited outrage in Lebanon and the Arab world but even as now amended, the resolution is problematic on a number of grounds. At the same time, its military provisions fall somewhat short of the original American-Israeli objective.

Rather than creating a new stabilisation force — which would respond, by default, to the command and control structures of the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) — the Security Council has expanded the mandate and size of the existing U.N. peacekeeping force on the ground, UNIFIL. The new mandate will include monitoring the cessation of hostilities, accompanying and supporting the Lebanese Army as it deploys up to the Israeli border in tandem with the Israeli withdrawal, assisting the Lebanese army "in taking steps towards the establishment" of an area between the border and the Litani river that is free of armed forces not authorised by the Lebanese Government, and assisting the Lebanese Government "at its request" to establish better control over its borders.

In order to discharge this enlarged mandate, UNIFIL has been authorised to "take all necessary action" — a code word for the use of even offensive military action — to ensure that the territory where it is deployed is "not utilised for hostile activities of any kind." In other words, UNIFIL would be authorised to attack Hizbollah if the militia sends fighters south of the Litani to launch rockets into Israel. UNIFIL has also been authorised to use deadly force "to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence," which, at least in theory, could also apply to situations such as Israeli airstrikes and attacks on civilian areas of the kind Lebanon has witnessed this past month.

Whether this expanded mandate will help preserve the peace will depend entirely on UNIFIL's ability to avoid getting caught in the wider American political agenda. If it acts professionally and solely as a facilitator for the Lebanese army, there is no reason why Hizbollah will not cooperate with it. At any rate, Hizbollah, with the consent of the Lebanese Government, is free to preserve its military capability north of the Litani as a hedge against future Israeli aggression.

The problem with Resolution 1701, however, is that it is structured in such a way as to prolong or re-ignite the conflict between Israel and Lebanon rather than to settle it expeditiously on the basis of reason and justice.

The most important shortcoming is the resolution's vague formulation on the need for Israel to vacate the territories in Lebanon it has forcibly occupied over the past month. If Israel takes the view that it will not begin withdrawing until the expanded UNIFIL force is in place, Hizbollah will be perfectly justified in attacking what is after all an army of occupation. But apart from the immediate issue of an Israeli withdrawal, the resolution contains no timeframe for tackling the root causes of the conflict. Israel will remain in occupation of the Shebaa farms, which is Lebanese territory, it will not be obliged to hand over within any specified time period the map of land mines it has laid on Lebanese territory, nor is it obliged to return the Lebanese prisoners it is holding. As for the hundreds of Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and territorial waters which occur every year, no specific mechanisms for redressal have been created to ensure these do not occur again.

Glaring omissions

There are other glaring omissions too. For example, the resolution does not oblige Israel to pay Lebanon any compensation for the destruction of civilian life and property it has wilfully caused since its attack began on July 12.

Unless the international community moves sincerely to address these fundamental questions and finds a way to impose punitive costs on Israel for its wholly disproportionate use of military force, the underlying problem will never go away.

© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu


Anonymous said...

I guess you need to be a self-loathing Hindu, a Marxist and a fan of Iran and Hezbollah to make it to N Ram's team. This guy manages all of them well. The left chickened out of Sense of the House motion fearing it will help the opposition but this guy says the statement by top nuclear scientists "is likely to strengthen the Left's demand for Parliament to adopt a resolution highlighting India's concerns about the deal". Objectivity goes for a toss when these sambhar slurping marxists get into reporting.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you put all the blame on israel, when it was the Hezbolian that could of easly stopped most of this by simply handing the two soldiers that they kidnapped back to Israel. Also what about the damage that the Hezboilah did to Israel, are they not responsible to pay reperation to Israel? All depends on your point of view. War should be the last solution used, but terrorism is never justified, since civilians always pay the price, then the people that cause the problem points at people saying see what happened.

Anonymous said...

Defeat for Israel? What are you smoking?

Anonymous said...

Where have you been, Anonymous? Even the Israelis are saying they lost:

Israel's Verdict: We Lost The War

By Donald Macintyre
in Metulla, Israel

15 August 2006
The Independent

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, was obliged to admit "shortcomings" in the 34-day-old conflict in Lebanon yesterday as he launched what may prove a protracted fight for his own political survival.

Mr Olmert's admission in a stormy Knesset session came in the face of devastating poll figures showing a majority of the Israeli public believes none or only a very small part of the goals of the war had been achieved.

Adding insult to injury, the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, crowed on television that his guerrillas had achieved a "strategic historic victory" over Israel.

The Prime Minister, who was repeatedly heckled by opposition MPs during his address, insisted the international commitments in Friday night's UN resolution would "change fundamentally" the balance of forces on the country's northern border.

But, facing his first major political crisis since winning the election five months ago, he acknowledged "the overall responsibility for this operation lies with me, the Prime Minister. I am not asking to share this with anyone." A number of Knesset members including the Israeli Arab Ahmed Tibi, a furious opponent of the war, were ejected from the chamber.

The opening of what is likely to prove a bitter post-mortem came as the two sides began an uneasy truce. The conflict is estimated to have cost well over 1,000 Lebanese lives as well as those of 156 Israelis - civilians and soldiers.

The fragility of the ceasefire was underlined by four incidents in which Israeli troops shot dead six Hizbollah fighters after the ceasefire began at 8am yesterday. The Israeli military insisted the incidents were within guidelines permitting troops to open fire when threatened and did not jeopardise the truce.

Promising that the government "will have to examine ourselves at all levels," Mr Olmert fought to pre-empt a probable campaign by the political right by declaring that Hizbollah had been dealt a "harsh blow". He added that the guerrilla group was no longer "a state within a state" or a "terrorist organisation that is allowed to act inside a state as an arm of the axis of evil", referring to Syria and Iran.

While refraining from a direct personal attack on Mr Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right- wing Likud opposition, lost little time in declaring "there were many failures, failures in identifying the threat, failures in preparing to meet the threat, failures in the management of the war, failures in the management of the home front."

Critics from right and left were fortified by a Globes Smith poll showing, remarkably given the degree to which the army is embedded in Israeli society, that 52 per cent of electors believed the Israel Defence Forces had been unsuccessful in its Lebanon offensive as opposed to 44 per cent who believed it did well.

Mr Netanyahu also pointedly chose to attack unilateral withdrawals - the issue on which Mr Olmert fought his election in March. Mr Netanyahu said: "We left Lebanon to the last centimetre and they are firing. We left Gaza to the last centimetre and they are firing."

Meanwhile, the Hizbollah leader said he believes the Lebanese army and international troops are "incapable of protecting Lebanon". He also said it was the "wrong time" for a public discussion on disarming the guerrilla group.

At the eastern end of the northern border, heavy artillery barrages and repeated tank machine-gun fire continued yesterday up to the ceasefire deadline.

But as the artillery batteries fell silent and firing stopped, there was a final single explosion at about 8.05pm, sending a plume of grey smoke upwards before the uneasy calm began.

Amid a wave of angry civilian reactions in Israel after more than a month in which an estimated 3,500 rockets were fired into northern Israel, Sam Echahid, the manager of a local supermarket, was asked whether he thought the ceasefire would hold. He said: "I hope not. We haven't done anything yet."

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited