The U.S., Israel, and Lebanon: Historical Roots and Patterns of Conflict

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The destructive and lethal forces unleashed this past summer by the United
States and Israel upon Lebanon are not surprising in light of their historical
roots in at least four patterns of conflict: First, the unwillingness of Israel and
its American patrons to resolve the question of the Palestinian refugees and
provide for a viable Palestinian state, but rather the exploitation of this conflict
to intimidate other Arab states in the region, especially Lebanon. Second,
Israel’s territorial ambitions in southern Lebanon, especially regarding
water, as well as the economic challenge posed to Israel by a peaceful and
thriving Lebanon as a center of finance and tourism. Third, Israel’s doctrine of massive and illegal
retaliation against civilian populations in response to Arab terrorism and resistance, as a
means of asserting unquestioned military superiority in the region and preventing the establishment
of a deterrent force that would necessitate good faith negotiation. Fourth, Israel’s military
alliance with the U.S., and its willingness to serve American interests in the latter’s efforts
to dominate the region’s energy resources, as defined more recently by both neoconservative
and neoliberal doctrines that have engendered the destruction of not only Lebanon but
Afghanistan, Iraq, and Gaza; and have also justified the increased concentration of wealth and
economic inequality in both Israel and the U.S.
Palestinian refugees have resided in Lebanon since the 1948 war. After the 1967 war, Israel
continued bombing refugee camps in southern Lebanon. Ron David (Arabs and Israel for
Beginners) quotes London Guardian correspondent Irene Beeson (writing in 1978) that
“150 or more towns and villages in South Lebanon…have been repeatedly savaged by the
Israeli armed forces since 1968.” In 1970, PLO leadership was driven from Jordan to
Lebanon. After the 1973 war, Yasser Arafat began to signal that he would accept a two-state
solution to the Palestinian problem, building on an interpretation of UN resolution 242
that called for the formation of a Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza.
According to Noam Chomsky (Middle East Illusions): “The issue reached the UN Security
Council in January 1976, with a resolution incorporating the language of UN 242 but
abandoning its rejectionism, now calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The resolution
was supported by virtually the entire world, including the major Arab states, the
PLO, Europe, the nonaligned countries, and the Soviet Union, which was in the mainstream
of international diplomacy throughout.
“Israel refused to attend the UN session. Instead, it bombed Lebanon once again, killing
more than 50 villagers in what it called a ‘preventive’ strike, presumably retaliation against
U.N. diplomacy…The United States vetoed the resolution, as it did again in 1980.”
Chomsky (The Fateful Triangle) documents that Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982,
long-planned and killing 20,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, grew out of fears of a peaceful
resolution: “The PLO was gaining respectability thanks to its preference for negotiations
over terror. The Israeli government’s hope, therefore, was to compel ‘the stricken PLO’ to
‘return to its earlier terrorism,’ thus ‘undercutting the danger’ of negotiations.” As such, this
was a “war for the (illegal) settlements.”
The background for the recent American-Israeli destruction of Lebanon was, of course,
Israel’s relentless starving and bombing of Gaza (with American weapons), beginning in its current
intensified form after the election of Hamas early this year, with an escalation well before
Israel’s kidnapping of two Palestinian civilians on June 24th, followed the next day by the capture
of an Israeli soldier which “precipitated” full-scale Israeli bombardment. While Hezbollah’s
capture and killing of Israeli soldiers two weeks later must also be seen in the context of six
years of border violations since Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 (with a ratio of
ten to one in favor of Israeli violations), it was arguably also a response in solidarity with the
Palestinians in response to Israel’s assault on Gaza. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have legitimacy
as religious, populist, and nationalist resistance movements in a Middle East dominated by
American-approved authoritarian regimes. As such, they threaten American/Israeli hegemony if
they become viable democratic actors and legitimate negotiating partners.
Israel’s long-term territorial ambitions are discussed in the diaries of the second Israeli
Prime Minister, Moshe Sharett (1954-56), in accounts of conflicts with his predecessor
David Ben-Gurion. These diaries form the basis for Livia Rokach’s Israel’s Sacred Terrorism.
Rokach writes: “The 1982 ‘operation’, as well as its predecessor, the ‘Litani Operation’ of
1978, were part of the long-standing Zionist strategy for Lebanon and Palestine. That strategy,
formulated and applied during the 1950s, had been envisaged at least four decades earlier, and
attempts to implement it are still being carried out three decades later. On November 6, 1918,
a committee of British mandate officials and Zionist leaders put forth a suggested northern
boundary for a Jewish Palestine ‘from the North Litani River up to Banias.’ (A 1919) proposal
emphasized the ‘vital importance of controlling all water resources up to their sources.’”
In the 1960s, as Ron David reminds us, Beirut was the “Paris of the East,” a financial center
with a tourist boom. In December 1968, Israel bombed the Beirut airport, destroying 13 civilian
airliners in a “retaliatory raid” in response to an attack by two terrorists belonging to the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine at the Athens airport that killed one Israeli. The UN
Security Council condemned the attack, but as David suggests, “Lebanese tourism nosedived;
Israel’s tourism went up, and up.” The Lebanese economy was devastated by civil war (1975-
90) and Israeli invasions (1978, 1982).
In this context, it’s worth noting the comments of two Lebanese businessmen interviewed on
Democracy Now. Georges Hanna, manager of a factory for prefab housing: “They hit everything:
25,000 square meter coverage area, factories, all of them damaged. We think it’s about —
they have also some factories that made the same products like us, and they made this attack to
eliminate us from the market.” And Michel Waked, manager of a larger dairy factory: “You
know, this is the third time our factory get destroyed. In ’82, the same thing happened. It’s not
the first time. So how can you consider Israeli as a friend, or whatever? You always consider
Israel the enemy. And the only dairy who can compete with them is us.” Among other things,
the destruction of Lebanon can be seen as a kind of state-sponsored neoliberal gangsterism.
The first notorious example of Israel’s doctrine of massive retaliation against civilians was at
the Jordanian village of Qibya in 1953, reviewed by Walid Khalidi in an article also based
upon Sharett’s diary. Ariel Sharon’s Unit 101, under orders from Moshe Dayan, responded
to the murder of an Israeli mother and her two children by infiltrators into Israel by blowing
up 45 houses and killing 69 civilians, two-thirds of them women and children.
Israel’s implementation of this policy based on a racist “language of force” (directed at Arabs
who stand accused of understanding no other) does not necessarily require a clear provocation,
as in 1982, when the assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London by the Abu Nidal group
(sworn enemies of the PLO) provided the pretext for a long-planned invasion into Lebanon, literally
a “war against peace” to drive out the PLO, which had scrupulously observed a truce for
nearly one year. Nor does the initial action have to victimize Israeli civilians for Israel to “retaliate”
primarily against Arab civilians, as recent events in both Gaza and Lebanon demonstrate.
In The Fateful Triangle, Chomsky quotes remarks by General Mordechai Gur regarding the
1982 invasion of Lebanon, as summarized by military analyst Ze’ev Schiff: “In South Lebanon
we struck the civilian population consciously, because they deserved it . . . the Army has never
distinguished civilian (from military) targets . . . but purposely attacked civilian targets even
when Israeli settlements had not been struck.”
The U.S.-Israel military alliance can be traced to the early 1960s, and has been global in nature,
especially regarding the support for terrorism in Latin America in the 1970s and 80s. With the
fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, Israel became even more important as a protector of American
interests in the Middle East. This alliance has intensified during recent years with the neoconservative
Project for a New American Century, 9/11, and the re-declaration of the 1980s “war on
terror” by the Bush administration. The promotion of military solutions and of fear in the general
population in both countries directly relates to transfers of wealth to military-industrial sectors.
Both countries are thus beset by a vicious cycle of fear, war, and widespread economic desperation,
for which invaded and occupied peoples have paid the highest price.
Regarding the specifics of U.S. support for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, Stephen Zunes
writes: “There is increasing evidence that Israel instigated a disastrous war on Lebanon
largely at the behest of the United States. The Bush administration was set on crippling
Hezbollah, the radical Shiite political movement that maintains a sizable block of seats in
the Lebanese parliament. Taking advantage of the country’s democratic opening after the
forced departure of Syrian troops last year, Hezbollah defied U.S. efforts to democratize the
region on American terms. The populist party’s unwillingness to disarm its militia as
required by UN resolution—and the inability of the pro-Western Lebanese government to
force them to do so—led the Bush administration to push Israel to take military action.”
As American and Israeli efforts to control events in the Middle East become increasingly
problematic, there are increased efforts to re-cast the conflict in terms of a “clash of civilizations”
between “Judeo-Christians” and “Islamo-fascists.” Such propaganda is obviously
intended to invoke both Nazi Germany and the Cold War, reframing power-driven conflicts
over land and resources as an essentialized global conflict of culture and religion.
But the ironies inherent in this propaganda may portend changes in violent historical patterns.
The Bush and Olmert administrations have proved to be corrupt and deceitful; the relation
between their rhetoric and reality evokes none other than fascist propagandists and Pravda.
Hezbollah and Hamas have proved to be incorruptible popular movements, unrelated to
al-Qaeda, that rightly stand in opposition to the Palestinian Authority, the government of
Lebanon, and Israel. Meanwhile, the religious subplot in the secular Jewish State evokes Jacob
Talmon’s 1965 assertion (quoted by Chomsky in Middle East Illusions) that “the Rabbinate (in
Israel) is rapidly developing into a firmly institutionalized church imposing an exacting discipline
on its members. The State… has given birth to an established Church.” But the religious
Jew stays at home or in the illegal settlements while the secular Jew is conscripted to fight in an
American/Israeli war for oil and hegemony that targets civilians and infrastructure, and now
invites serious retaliation against his community. One possibility to be hoped for is that the
secular Jewish-Israeli conscript and impoverished American “volunteer” will come to see no
future in all of this, and realize that their respective states are also (and just as fundamentally)
at war against their own citizens.

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