Sat Jul 29th, 2006 at 03:42:47 AM EST
I collected together stuff -- most of it posted in recent threads, but here in logical order -- on two issues: on the nature of Israel's military campaign, and on the reasons that could have triggered the war.
From the front page - whataboutbob
The Israeli campaign
The New York Times quoted an unnamed Israeli official, likely the Chief of Staff himself, saying they:
...try to eliminate Hezbollah military assets and stockpiles, which the Israelis say are distributed and hidden through the civilian population, in houses, garages and apartments.
"We want the freedom to attack these places," the officer said. "I believe in air power. I believe in our ability to destroy Hezbollah without going into Lebanon again the way we did in 1982.
As for example Patrick Lang explains, air power is a military doctrine developed by an Italian fascist in the twenties -- one first put to use in the colonies, then the Spanish Civil War, but one which never really worked --, which holds that air superiority can trump ground forces if applied against the entire state, including destruction of the economy and terror against citizens. Do the Israeli leaders think along these lines?
' According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of the campaign is to "create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters." The message to Lebanon's elite, he said, is this: "If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land." ' [WaPo via Juan Cole]
But he is retired. What about the Chief of Staff?
' Brigadier General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, emphasised that the offensive ... was open-ended. "Nothing is safe (in Lebanon), as simple as that," he said. ' [Times in London via Juan Cole]
But does this thinking translate into actual policy? For one there are the attacks on bridges, airports, ports, refugees who were previously urged to leave their homes, and ambulances:
But they say maybe Hezbollah hides in ambulances... What about some more unquestionably civilian targets? Well, let's look at some other uttering of General Halutz:
A high-ranking IAF officer caused a storm on Monday in an off-record briefing during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa. [Jerusalewm Post, via Billmon]
While the NGO Civil Rights in Israel sent a letter of protest to the defense minister, in which they pointed out that Halutz's claimed order was in line with earlier statements by him, the IDF already issued a denial. On the other hand, if history is a pointer, that doesn't mean much -- here is part of Billmon's Flash From the Past, looking back 24 years:
To the media, Israel stressed its employment of precision weapons against military targets, but general bombing also took place. As described first-hand by retired British Major Derek Cooper ... the shelling and bombing was indiscriminate as building after building was destroyed from sea, land and air."
. . .Claiming a desire to minimize civilian casualties, Israeli spokesmen stressed precision bombing methods targeting only the PLO "terrorists" and denied the use of cluster bombs. Then the truth came out that the IDF was using them. In another case, the IDF blamed Lebanese Christians for the cutting off water and electricity to west Beirut until reporters discovered Israelis helping to man the pumping stations.
So how do surgical strikes look this time? Like levelled apartment blocks:
The second photo is via Lebanese blogger UrShalim, who tells of more building levelling in his non-Hezbollah neighbourhood, and of rumours of "sleeping bombs" dropped into the rubble.
It's not only Beirut -- it is also refugee camps:
...A Palestinian was killed and five others including a baby were wounded in pre-dawn attacks on the refugee camp at Rashidiyeh, medical sources said.
"I was able to pull out the bodies of my nine-year-old daughter Zeinab and my son Mohammed, 11," Munzer Mwannes told AFP by telephone from Hallusiyeh as he called for help to try to dig his two other children out from the debris alive.
"The body of my brother-in-law has also been retrieved," added Mwannes, who was wounded along with his wife in the raids.
Sobbing, he told how Israeli aircraft swooped at least six times on four three-storey apartment blocks, "the highest in the village". [AFP, via Juan Cole]
But maybe all of these buildings had to be levelled because there were Hezbollah bases in them? Doesn't appear so:
Ali Al-Akhrass, a pharmacist who had brought his family back to Lebanon to spend the summer with relatives, died, along with his wife, Amira, and their four children as a result of the July 16 attack. Residents of Aytaroun say a total of 11 people were killed because of the air strike, all of them members of the same extended family.
Just why the Al-Akhrass home was specifically targeted by the Israeli air force is about to become the subject of international scrutiny. The New York-based Human Rights Watch plans to highlight the incident in a forthcoming report about Israel's alleged targeting of innocent civilians during the 13-day-old conflict. "This case is of particular interest to us because this family came from Canada to Lebanon after 15 years away, just a few weeks before the bombing started," said Peter Bouckaert, director of emergencies for the rights group. "It's very clear that they had no Hezbollah links. It just shows how indiscriminate the attacks on villages are." [Globe and Mail]
But, well, levelling buildings makes some sense: if you level them all, Hezbollah guerillas have nowhere to hide. Nor chased-away civilians to return. Stories from the South:
...Kamal Mansour ...A farmer from the eastern village of Aaitaroun, which lies barely 2km from the Israeli border, he had been determined to stay in his home despite the increasing intensity of the air war.
But by yesterday morning he could take no more. "They hit us very aggressively," he said. "They didn't leave a single house standing, and there are still people there, buried under the rubble."
...Hala Abu Olaya, a dental secretary from Bent Jbail who lived with her mother and two sisters, also had no car. As the war wore on, the women were forced to flee to four different houses in succession in the besieged town. None offered any real safety. "First they destroyed our house. We left with only the clothes on our back," she said. "We ran to one house, and the bomb fell in front of the door, so we had to escape that house too. Then we ran away to another house. But then that house got bombed." [Guardian]
It helps of course if there are no witnesses (see for example the continuing case of killed peace activist Tom Hurndall) -- or that's how UN General Secretary Kofi Annan saw the death of four UN soldiers:
Annan said the "co-ordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long-established and clearly marked UN post at Khiam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by prime minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire." [The Independent/AP]
This was an attack with a guided missile -- and the Irish foreign ministry says:
"On six separate occasions he was in contact with the Israelis to warn them that their bombardment was endangering the lives of U.N. staff in South Lebanon," a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.
"He warned: 'You have to address this problem or lives may be lost'," the spokesman said of comments by Lieutenant Colonel John Molloy, the chief liaison officer between U.N. forces in South Lebanon and the Israelis. [Reuters]
Now, Air Power never really worked, and some Isreli brass recognise that for the current attempt already:
"They really cannot be destroyed from the air," said Maj. Michael Oren of the Israeli Defense Forces. "There's really no alternative but to send in ground forces." [ABC News]
But can any improvement be expected of the ground forces? Well, make up your mind:
Now more Israeli soldiers are on the way, including an armored unit being transferred from Gaza to Lebanon. They have been told civilians have left the region where they will fight.
"Over here, everybody is the army," one soldier said. "Everybody is Hezbollah. There's no kids, women, nothing."
Another soldier put it plainly: "We're going to shoot anything we see." [ABC News]
Finally, Angry Arab brings us evidence of yet another aspect of the failure of such tactics -- a shift of Lebanese public opinion:
It was conducted by the reliable Markaz Bayrut li-l-Abhath (and I thank `Abduh and Amal for sharing the unpublished results with me). These are some of the highlights: 70% support the capture of the two Israeli soldiers (73.1 among Sunnis, 96.3 among Shi`ites, 40% among Druzes, and 55 among Christians); 87% support that "the resistance fight Israeli aggression on Lebanon" (88.9 among Sunnis, 96.3 among Shi`ites, 80% among Druzes, and 80% among Christians); 8% think that America adopted a positive position toward Lebanon during this war (7.9% among Sunnis, 4 among Shi`ites, 13.6 among Druzes, and 15 among Christians).
PS Sample size is 800. The overwhelming majority were face-to-face interviews (including all displaced individuals).
(I think Israel would have had more success at fostering Hezbollah's isolation and discrediting in Lebanon had they chosen negotiations for the two soldiers' release and a media campaign. Which would have been better for both Lebanese and Israelis.)
How should one army respond to such a positive development?
Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have agreed to stop firing rockets at Israel and to free a captured Israeli soldier in a deal brokered by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
The deal, agreed on Sunday, is to halt the rocket attacks in return for a cessation of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, and to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured on June 25, in exchange for the freeing of Palestinian prisoners at some point in the future...
"The problem is that both Islamic Jihad and Hamas have to seek the advice of their political bureaux in Damascus and we are waiting for their response," he said.
Ibrahim al-Naja, a Hamas minister in Ramallah, told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz: "This initiative was presented in an attempt to alleviate Palestinian suffering, but now it depends on Israel, which is showing no indication yet of its willingness for a ceasefire." [Guardian]
In the Gaza Strip, scene of another Israeli offensive, Israeli forces killed 24 Palestinians, including at least 12 militants, two children and their mother, and a handicapped man, during fighting.
Israel has killed 141 Palestinians in a month-long campaign to recover a captured soldier and stop rocket fire from Gaza. [Reuters]
What triggered the war?
The short answer is: we don't know for sure and probably won't for years.
It's a given that both sides are heavy on serious propaganda lies. Israel, say, managed to paint its 1967 attack on its neighbours as self-defense and in 1982 Begin blamed an attack ordered by Saddam and executed by the Abu Nidal group on the PLO; while Hezbollah's al-Manar TV was the originator of the notorious "4000 Jews didn't show up for work at the WTC on the morning of 9/11" fake news.
Longer answer: we now have at least three versions.
- The first starts of course with Hezbollah's original version regarding which side of the border they captured two soldiers [here from DPA], which was released before the Israeli version (attack on border patrol by Hezbollah commando that came through a tunnel and then blowing up a tank entering Lebanon on hot pursuit):
'Implementing our promise to free Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, our strugglers have captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon,' a statement by Hezbollah said.
'The two soldiers have already been moved to a safe place,' it added.
The Lebanese police said that the two soldiers were captured as they 'infiltrated' into the town of Aitaa al-Chaab inside the Lebanese border.
Now the San Francisco Chronicle reported (and Juan Cole commented) that
...By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board."
More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail.
So version one would have Israel seizing an opportunity to execute a well-prepared plan of war of aggression. However, the official version of the circumstances of capture is bolstered by the fact that the two captured weren't members of some elite commando, but two reservists on the last day of their service.
- Helen called our attention to an analysis at Liberal Oasis, which focuses on the Shebaa Farms. This small strip of land is important because it is a water source. And it is a thorny issue because it originally belonged to Syria and was recognised so by the UN, was later bilaterally recognised as part of Lebanon, but Israel kept it as part of the Golan Heights. But as Naharnet reported, there were moves for diplomatic solution:
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told French President Jacques Chirac that Israel would pull out of the Shabaa Farms border region after the area officially comes under Lebanese sovereignty, An Nahar newspaper reported Thursday.
Incidentally, it is also Hezbollah's main excuse for maintaining its militia after Israel's 2000 pullout from the rest of Southern Lebanon. This was not lost on Olmert, and he pushed for Lebanon establishing its sovereignity militarily:
Olmert asked Chirac to exert pressure on the Lebanese government to deploy troops along the border with Israel when Tel Aviv pulls out of the last remaining region it still occupies in Lebanon, the paper said.
So in this version, Hezbollah triggered the war precisely to prevent a peaceful solution that would have forced it to give up its militia and thus semi-sovereignity). But against this version speaks that the diplomatic move over the Shebaa Farms was stillborn, because of the third player:
...the Israeli premier also offered to pull his army out of the Shabaa Farms after Lebanon delineates its border with Syria and declares Lebanese sovereignty over the region.
...In May, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1680 urging Syria to respond to the Lebanese government's request to demarcate the frontier and establish diplomatic relations with Beirut.
Syria rejected the resolution saying it was unprecedented international interference in bilateral relations.
- From Hezbollah leader Nasrallah's latest speech, another version arises -- in Angry Arab's paraphrasing:
He said that the plan--if the timing was giving to Israel to execute in September or October--aims at destroying the command and leadership of the party, to cause paralysis in its rank. He said that the capture of the soldiers gave Hizbullah a tactical advantage--my words. That if the timing was left to Israel to determine, the Party would have been caught by surprise... He also said that the timing of the war was determined by the US: he said that the US has been sending one military delegation after another in the last year, trying to determine the ability and willingness of the Lebanese Army to fight against Hizbullah.
That is, Hezbollah now wants to imply that they pre-empted an Israeli attack, so that Israel had to start it not fully prepared. But in this case, they'll have PR problems at home, to say the least, for as Angry Arab points out:
...you get the impression that the party was prepared for this assault, although it is not likely that Hizbullah expected his scale of aggression. But the party can’t go very far with that argument: that the party was prepared for this massively violent eventuality will lead many displaced Lebanese to ask why they too were not prepared, or made to be prepared, for this eventuality.