By Uri Avnery
[This article published in: Zeit-Fragen, July 2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.zeit-fragen.de/.]
The true goal is regime change in Lebanon and insertion of a marionette government. That was Sharon’s goal in his 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Sharon’s invasion failed. However Sharon and his students in the military and the political leadership never really abandoned this objective.
Like the 1982 project, the current operation was planned and carried out in full cooperation with the US. As in 1982, the operation is undoubtedly coordinated with a part of the Lebanese elite. That is the main point. Everything else is noise and propaganda.
On the even of the 1982 invasion, the American secretary of state Alexander Haig told Sharon that a “clear provocation” accepted by the world was necessary before starting this invasion. The provocation actually occurred – exactly at the opportune time – when the Abu Nidal terror gang tried to murder the Israeli ambassador in London. This attempted assassination served its purpose though it had no connection with Lebanon or the PLO.
Hezbollah furnished this time the necessary provocation with the capture of two Israeli soldiers. Everyone knows these soldiers could only be released through a prisoner exchange. However the gigantic military crusade that was prepared for months was sold to Israelis and the international community as a rescue operation. (Strangely enough, the same thing happened two weeks before in the Gaza strip. Hamas and its partner arrested a soldier. This provided the excuse for a massive operation prepared for a long time to destroy the Palestinian government.)
The declared goal of the Lebanon operation is to remove Hezbollah from the border and make impossible capturing more soldiers and shooting rockets at Israeli cities. The invasion in the Gaza strip was also officially intent on removing Ashkelon and Sderot from the range of the Kassams.
This is like the 1982 “Operation Pace for Galilee.” At that time the public and the Knesset were told the goal of the war was “pushing back the Kayyushas 30 miles from the border.” This was a deliberate lie. In the 11 months before the war, not a single Katyusha rocket was shot over the border. The goal of the operation from the start was to strike Beirut and install a collaborator-dictator. As I reported more than once, Sharon himself told me this nine months before the war and I published it at that time with his permission (but without attribution).
The current operation obviously has several secondary goals that do not include the liberation of prisoners. Everyone recognizes his cannot be attained through military means. However destroying the several thousand rockets assembled by Hezbollah over the years may be possible. For this goal, the army leaders are ready to endanger the inhabitants of the Israeli cities exposed to the rockets. They believe this is worthwhile like an exchange of pawns.
Another secondary goal is rehabilitation of the army’s “deterrence power.” This is a code word for restoration of the wounded pride of the army that took a serious blow through the bold actions of Hamas in the South and Hezbollah in the North.
The Israeli government officially demands the Lebanese government disarm Hezbollah and remove them from the border region. This is entirely impossible under the present Lebanese regime, a delicate composition of ethnic-religious communities. The slightest shock can bring the whole structure to collapse and plunge the state into total anarchy, particularly since Americans succeeded in casting out the Syrian army, the only element that has provided for a certain stability for years.
The idea of installing a collaborator-regime in Lebanon is not new. In 1955, David Ben Gurion proposed taking a “Christian functionary” and inserting him as dictator. Moshe Sharett showed that this idea was based on a complete ignorance of Lebanese affairs and torpedoed it. However 27 years later Ariel Sharon tried to make it reality. Bashir Gemayel was installed as president. Soon afterwards he was murdered. His brother Amin took over the succession and signed a peace treaty with Israel. He was removed from office. (The same brother now publically supports the Israeli operation.)
The calculation is as follows: If the Israeli air force carries out sufficiently heavy strikes on the Lebanese population – paralyzing the seaports and airports, destroying the infrastructure, bombing the living quarters and separating the main access road from Beirut to Damascus, the public will be furious with Hezbollah and pressure the Lebanese government to accept the Israeli demands. Since the present government cannot dream of doing this, a dictatorship will be established with Israel’s support.
That is the military logic. I have my doubts. Most Lebanese will react as every other people on earth would react: with rage and hatred against the occupiers. That happened in 1982 when the Shiites in southern Lebanon, until then gentle like a lamb, rebelled against the Israeli occupiers and created Hezbollah that became the strongest power in the whole country. If the Lebanese elite is now stained with the blemish of collaboration with Israel, it will be swept from the map.
American policy is full of contradictions. President Bush wants a “regime change” in the Middle East. However the Lebanese regime was recently subjected to American pressure. In the interim, president Bush succeeded in smashing Iraq and causing a civil war (as predicted). The same thing may happen in Lebanon if the Israeli army does not stop in time. In addition, a devastating blow against Hezbollah could cause anger in Iran and among the Shiites in Iraq. All Bush’s plans for establishing a pro-American regime depend on their support.
What is the solution? It was no accident that Hezbollah carried out its surprise attack to kidnap soldiers at a time when the Palestinians cried for help. The Palestinian cause is popular all over the Arab world. Hezbollah hopes to increase its popularity by helping a friend in distress while all other Arab countries stand aside. If a Palestinian agreement can be reached, Hezbollah will no longer be a local Lebanese phenomenon irrelevant for our situation.
Less than three months after its formation, the Olmert-Peretz government succeeded in hurling Israel into a two-front war whose goals are unrealistic and whose results are unforeseeable.
If Olmert hopes to be seen as a super-macho or as Sharon Number 2, he will be disappointed. This is also true for Peretz’ desperate attempt to act as Mister Security. Everyone sees that these campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon were planned and dictated by the army. The man who now makes decisions in Israel is Dan Halitz. It is no accident that the job in Lebanon was handed over to the air force.
The public is not enthusiastic about this war. It is resigned in Stoic fatalism because it is told there is no alternative. Who cou9ld really be against it? Who doesn’t want the “kidnapped soldiers” to be free? Who doesn’t want the Katyushas to be removed and deterrence to continue functioning? No politicians dare criticize the operation (except for the Arab members of the Knesset who are ignored by the Jewish majority). In the media, the generals prevail, not only the generals in uniform. There is hardly a former general not invited by the media to comment, explain and justify. Everyone speaks with one voice. (As an illustration, Israel’s most popular TV channel invited me to an interview about the war after it heard I participated in an anti-war demonstration. I was rather surprised. But the surprise did not last long. An hour before the broadcast, an apologetic talk show host called me and said there was a dreadful mistake. They really invited professor Schlomo Avineri, a former general director of the foreign ministry. He was expected to justify every act of the government in an airy academic language.
“Inter arma silent musae” – when the weapons speak, the muses fall silent. Or when the cannons roar, the brain stops functioning.
Let me close with a little thought. When the state of Israel was founded in the middle of a cruel war, the walls were plastered with a slogan: “The whole land – one front! The whole people – one army!”
58 years have past and the same slogan is still in effect. What does this say about generations of statespersons and generals?