Antony Loewenstein worries about the cost to Israel of the war with Hizbollah
A country’s soul is uniquely exposed during times of war.
As the conflict rages between Israel, Hizbollah and the Palestinians, and civilians on all sides bear the brunt of the fighting, the world is starting to realise that Israel is fighting an impossible battle.
The Jewish state’s image has been immeasurably damaged by its excessive use of US-made military hardware against a defenceless Lebanese and Palestinian population.
In late July, Israel’s Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, said that “everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah”.
A few days later, the Israeli military massacred dozens of Lebanese civilians at Qana. How many of these people were “terrorists?” Such matters don’t bother editor-in-chief of Israel’s largest paper, Yedioth Ahronoth. Rafi Ginat states Israel “should be allowed to feel good” about its military actions. “May their innocents die instead of ours,” he writes.
Left-wing journalist Gideon Levy argues in Haaretz that, “nobody is taking into account the amount of hatred we are sowing. In international public opinion, Israel has been turned into a monster, and that still hasn’t been calculated into the debit column of this war.
“Israel is badly stained, a moral stain that can’t be easily and quickly removed. And only we don’t want to see it.”
At base, this war has never been about the retrieval of the Hizbollah-abducted Israeli soldiers. That was just the trigger. Washington’s key proxy in the Middle East is attempting to decapitate the two nations not under Western control, Syria and Iran, and in the process prove to the Arab world that any military conflict with Israel will result in overwhelming force against its people.
The US and Israel have made many threatening noises towards Iran and its suspected nuclear program. The powerful Zionist lobby in Washington has kept intense pressure on the Bush administration to take strong action against the Islamic state.
US Vice-President Dick Cheney said in March that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that “the United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime”.
The results of such aggression are clear to see and sadly confound the likelihood of peace any time soon. Israel’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – and its 18-year occupation – only resulted in further politicisation of Arab youth in the region.
Recent polling in Lebanon indicates relatively high support for Hizbollah’s capture of Israeli soldiers and a majority belief that the only way to secure the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails is through the capture of Israeli soldiers and a negotiated prisoner exchange.
Total victory, as outlined by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is impossible to achieve because Israel is fighting an opponent that was born to challenge Israel’s provocations.
Hizbollah has clearly committed war crimes in the past weeks – hurling Katyusha rockets into northern Israel is neither defensible nor justified – though the group cannot simply be seen as a terrorist group (despite the Howard Government’s insistence).
The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn recently explained the potency of the group in the Arab world: “Arabs conscious of their own leaders’ inertia, corruption and incompetence hailed the resolution of Hizbollah fighters.
“(Hizbollah leader Hassan) Nasrallah’s blend of nationalism and religion was shown to be as potent in Lebanon as it had been against the Americans in Iraq.”
Nasrallah has become a symbol of Muslim pride, a man unafraid to stand up to Israeli aggression.
This isn’t how the US sees the situation, of course. Its position has infuriated a world community that has become attuned to Israel receiving overwhelming political, diplomatic and military support over any other nation.
It has allowed continued Israeli bombardment of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and infrastructure. Such imbalance makes a mockery of claims that Washington can ever be an “honest broker”.
When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki criticised Israeli policy in late July, Democrats and Republicans slammed him.
Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean called him an “anti-Semite” and added: “We don’t need to spend $200 billion and $300 billion and $500 billion bringing democracy to Iraq to turn it over to people who believe Israel doesn’t have the right to defend itself and who refuse to condemn Hizbollah.”
Dean seemed bewildered that even a US-puppet regime wouldn’t support Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese civilians.
Al-Maliki had no choice. Any self-respecting Arab leader – and even the ones on the US drip-feed have changed their tune – now realise that blind US support for Israel contributes to destabilisation in the region. Some Arab commentators are calling for the repudiation of diplomatic ties with Israel, in a clear message that the current path is unsustainable.
A growing portion of the world’s population now shares this view.
Sydney based writer Antony Loewenstein is author of My Israel Question (Melbourne University Publishing)