The Other Oil Spill

Leading congressional Democrats are outraged at British Petroleum and others responsible for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But that stands in sharp contrast to their outspoken support of those responsible for a major oil spill in the eastern Mediterranean in 2006, the largest in that region’s history.

On July 13 and 15 of that year, as part of a major bombardment of the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon, Israeli planes bombed the fuel tanks for the Jiyeh power plant on the coast near Beirut, releasing 10,000–15,000 tons of oil. A giant oil slick spread northward by Mediterranean currents, contaminated the Lebanese and Syrian coasts, and went as far as Turkey and Cyprus. Meanwhile, large deposits of the densest parts of the heavy oil dropped to the seabed to form black toxic mats, destroying sea life below.

The ongoing Israeli navy blockade of the Lebanese coast made an emergency response impossible in the critical early hours and days of the disaster. Israeli airstrikes in the immediate area kept firefighters and others away from the disaster site, while damaged roads and bridges from other airstrikes prevented crews and equipment from dealing with the growing spill. With the support of both parties in Congress, the Bush administration blocked efforts at the United Nations to impose a ceasefire for another five weeks. Full-scale operations to contain and clean up the spill therefore did not get underway until well into August, by which time the spill had already stretched hundreds of miles. As a result, two months after the spill, only 3 percent of the oil had been cleaned up. Indeed, it took a full six months before the spill was even contained. It took a full year before most of the beaches had been cleaned, primarily by local young volunteers.

Legacy of the Spill

Lebanese Environmental Minister Yacoub Sarraf called the spill “the biggest environmental disaster in Lebanon’s history.” Scientists, fishermen, and activists were particularly concerned for local marine ecosystems. Eggs from bluefin tuna, a species already driven to the edge by overfishing, are particularly sensitive to such contamination. The oil covered the beaches just as endangered sea turtles were hatching, killing an untold number of hatchlings.

The costs of the disaster, in terms of fishing, tourism, and cleanup, have been estimated at up to $200 million. Although the United States provided Israel with the jets and ordinance that caused the oil spill, the U.S. government refused to contribute more than $5 million to the cleanup effort.

The environmental damage was not restricted to the oil spill. The total fuel capacity of the storage tanks at the Jiyeh plant was approximately 75,000 cubic meters. None of the oil was salvaged, meaning that what did not spill into the sea or seep into the ground burned up. The blaze lasted 10 days, sending toxic fumes into the surrounding area, including greater Beirut, with a population of over two million residents. Plumes of black smoke were visible for over 40 miles. Ash deposits covered a wide area, more than a foot deep in some places.

Contrasting Reactions in Congress

Congressional Democrats in large part recognized the extent of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and were outspoken in their denunciation of BP and others responsible. For example, Rep. Jan Schakowski (D-IL) declared that “the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf region is one of biblical proportions, and the economic and emotional toll on the people there is beyond devastating,” insisting that the “responsible parties must be held accountable.” Similarly, Diana DeGette (D-CO) declared, “This is a massive environmental disaster that we are really going to be living with and dealing with for many years to come…We’re really going to have to hold BP’s feet to the fire and make sure businesses are adequately compensated.” Other members of Congress were clear that they would insure that those at fault would be held responsible, with Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) declaring that “it is important that BP be held fully accountable for their negligence” and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) insisting, “We need to make companies pay.”

Yet when the victims of a massive oil spill are not the predominantly white residents along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, but instead are Arabs living in the eastern Mediterranean, their perspective is very different. Shakowski, DeGette, Clyburn, and DeLauro — along with the overwhelming majority of their House Democratic colleagues — joined their Republican counterparts in not only refusing to demand Israel be held accountable, but actually defending the Israeli assault. Like most targets of the Israeli war on Lebanon that summer, the Jiyeh power plant and its fuel tanks had no relation with the militant group Hezbollah, the alleged target of the Israeli attacks. Just two days after the bombing and the resulting oil spill, however, the U.S. House of Representatives — in a resolution that passed by a 410-8 vote, referred to the Israeli attacks as “appropriate action[s] to defend itself.” Congress even went as far as claiming that such attacks against Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure were “in accordance with international law.”

Such an assertion runs counter to a broad consensus of international legal authorities, however. For example, Amnesty International concluded, after extensive research and analysis that included a review of Israeli interpretations of the laws of war, that the “Israeli forces committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes.” The International Red Cross, long recognized as the guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, declared that Israel violated the principle of proportionality in the conventions as well as the prohibition against collective punishment. Similarly, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour — who served as a prosecutor in the international war crimes tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia — noted how the Israeli government was engaging in war crimes and Jan Egeland, head of United Nations relief operations, referred to the “disproportional response” by Israel to Hezbollah’s provocations — such as the attack on the Jiyeh power plant — as “a violation of international humanitarian law.”

The House resolution also insisted that the Israeli attacks on Lebanon were in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which grants the right of self-defense. None of the congressional offices I contacted, however, was able to explain how this kind of environmental warfare constituted legitimate self-defense. Furthermore, a reading of the UN Charter reveals that Article 33 requires all parties to “first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice,” which Israel had refused to do. John B. Larson (D-CT), speaking in reference to Republican apologists for the major oil companies, declared, “I don’t know how anyone could side with the CEO of BP over the victims of the Gulf oil spill at a time like this.” He has been unable to explain, however, how he and his fellow Democrats could side the Israeli government in this heinous act of environmental warfare.

Political Fallout?

Interestingly, the willingness by such congressional representatives to accept such large-scale environmental destruction and other war crimes as legitimate acts of self-defense did not prompt any major environmental groups or other key liberal constituencies to withdraw their support. Instead, leading environmental groups endorsed the re-election of scores of Democratic supporters of Israel’s attacks on Lebanon, essentially communicating that politicians who defend serious acts of ecological sabotage need not worry about the political consequences of their actions.

One of the most important lessons of environmentalism is the understanding of the interconnectedness of the world’s ecology: that we are living on one planet. The willingness of so many Democrats in Congress to self-righteously decry the negligence of BP for causing a massive oil spill on America’s shores only to defend the wanton destruction of U.S.-provided weaponry that caused a massive oil spill on foreign shores primarily affecting people of color may be indicative of a kind of environmental racism.

If the planet is going to survive, both politicians and self-described environmental organizations must defend the environment whatever the geopolitics of a particular region and whoever the most immediate victims of its destruction may be.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/the-other-oil-spill_b_709029.html

Telling the Lebanese How to Vote

In recent visits to Lebanon, both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear that the United States would react negatively if the March 8th Alliance — a broad coalition of Islamist, Maronite, leftist, nationalist, and pan-Arabist parties — won the upcoming parliamentary elections. These not-so-subtle threats have led to charges of U.S. interference in Lebanon’s domestic affairs. What prompts U.S. concerns is that the largest member of this coalition is Hezbollah, the populist Shiite party which the United States considers to be a terrorist organization.

As senators, both Biden and Clinton insisted that this diverse coalition was somehow controlled by Iran and/or Syria. In reality, there is little evidence to suggest that Syrian and Iranian influence on the populist Shia party and its allies is any greater than U.S. influence on some of Lebanon’s other political factions. While the Iranians played a key role in the early development of Hezbollah’s militia back in the early 1980s when it was fighting the Israeli occupation of the southern part of their country, the party has subsequently emerged as an independent and popular — albeit in many respects fundamentalist and reactionary — force and the only major party not tied to the elite families which have dominated Lebanese politics for generations.

Such interference by top Obama administration officials has not been well-received by the Lebanese. Both Biden and Clinton were outspoken supporters of Israel’s devastating 2006 military offensive in Lebanon, which took the lives of up to 800 civilians and caused billions of dollars of damage to the country’s civilian infrastructure. Much of Israel’s massive bombardments struck areas many miles from any Hezbollah military activities and ended up strengthening popular support for this extremist group beyond its base in the Shia community.

Despite exhaustive empirical studies by Human Rights Watch and other groups which found no evidence that any of the civilian deaths were caused by Hezbollah using civilians as “human shields,” both Clinton and Biden — without providing any contradictory evidence — have insisted that they did and have refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing by the Israeli government. Even moderate and secular Lebanese, who strongly opposed Hezbollah’s provocative actions (used by the Israelis and their American supporters to launch the offensive), still harbor enormous resentment towards the Bush administration and those in Congress who supported this devastating war against their country.

There is particular anger at Biden over his support for Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which led to the deaths of up to 17,000 civilians, as well as his defense of the Israeli occupation of the southern part of that country and the shelling of nearby Lebanese towns and cities, which lasted until May of 2000. Many Lebanese — including some of Hezbollah’s bitterest opponents — wonder why those like Clinton and Biden, who have defended foreign forces wreaking such death and destruction on their country, have any right to tell them how to vote.

In addition, the United States has had a rather fickle history in its support of various factions in Lebanon’s notoriously fratricidal politics. Indeed, the United States has a history of switching sides in terms of who it views as the bad guys and the good guys.

For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, the United States backed right-wing, predominantly Maronite militias such as the Phalangists against the predominantly Druze Progressive Socialist Party. During the 1982-84 U.S. intervention in Lebanon, U.S. forces fought the Socialists directly, including launching heavy air and sea bombardments against Druze villages in the Shouf Mountains. Now, however, the U.S. supports the Socialists, who currently ally themselves with the pro-Western May 14th Alliance.

Similarly, the United States supported the Shia Amal militia in 1985-86 when it was fighting armed Palestinian groups as well as in 1988 when Amal was fighting Hezbollah forces. Today, however, the United States is strongly opposed to Amal, now part of the March 8th alliance, acting as if they are one with Hezbollah.

The United States supported Syria’s initial military intervention in Lebanon back in 1976 as a means of suppressing leftist forces and their Palestinian allies. Similarly, the U.S. supported the bloody Syrian-instigated coup in late 1990 that consolidated Syria’s political control of the country. Subsequently, however, the United States became a leading critic of Syria’s domineering role of the country’s government, which continued until a popular nonviolent uprising during the spring of 2005 forced a Syrian withdrawal from the country.

In a more recent example, as part of a U.S. policy to support hard-line Sunni fundamentalist groups as a counter-weight to the growth of radical Shia movements in Iraq and Lebanon, the U.S. encouraged Lebanese parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri to provide amnesty for radical Salafi militants, who were released from jail. As such militants began causing problems in the northern city of Tripoli in 2006 from a base in a Palestinian refugee camp, however, the U.S. then backed a bloody Lebanese army crackdown.

One of the most bizarre switches in U.S. allegiances involves former Lebanese Army General Michel Aoun, a Maronite, and his Free Patriotic Movement, the most popular Christian-led political group in the country. As an ally to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1990, the United States gave a green light to the Syrians to have Aoun overthrown as interim Lebanese prime minister in a violent coup. Not long afterward, however, the United States then switched sides to support Aoun and oppose the Syrians and their supporters. As recently as 2003, Aoun was feted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies – a neo-conservative group with close ties with the Bush administration, which includes among its leaders Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey, Jack Kemp, and Richard Perle, as well as Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Joseph Lieberman. The group declared him a champion of freedom and democracy. Aoun won similar praise from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress when he testified that year before the House International Relations Committee.

Soon after his return to Lebanon from exile, however, Aoun became one of the most outspoken opponents of the U.S.-backed political leaders and parties which dominate the current Lebanese government and he and his movement are now allied with Hezbollah in the March 8th Alliance. Not surprisingly, he is now considered once again to be one of the bad guys.

If history has proven anything, the United States has little to gain and much to potentially lose in taking sides in Lebanon. It would behoove President Barack Obama to keep hawks like Clinton and Biden on a short leash and allow the Lebanese people to determine their own destiny.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/telling-the-lebanese-how_b_211175.html

Congress and Lebanon

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. military intervention in Lebanon, and 25 years after a second U.S. military intervention which left hundreds of Americans and thousands of Lebanese dead, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a resolution by a huge bipartisan majority which may lay the groundwork for a third one. At a minimum, this move has crudely and unnecessarily inserted the United States into Lebanon’s complex political infighting.

In response to a brief spasm of violence between armed Lebanese factions early last month, the House passed a strongly worded resolution claiming that “the terrorist group Hezbollah, in response to the justifiable exercise of authority by the sovereign, democratically elected Government of Lebanon, initiated an unjustifiable insurrection.” House Resolution 1194 – which was sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Democrats’ chief foreign policy spokesman in the House of Representatives – also called on the Bush administration “to immediately take all appropriate actions to support and strengthen the legitimate Government of Lebanon under Prime Minister Fouad Siniora,” wording which many interpreted as a license for future U.S. military action.

What actually happened during the second week of May was not that simple. The fighting was not between Hezbollah and the Lebanese state, but between various militias allied with some of the parties of the country’s two major rival coalitions. The Lebanese army remained neutral throughout the two days of fighting and Hezbollah and its allied forces quickly and voluntarily handed over areas of Beirut they had briefly seized to the Lebanese army.

The uprising took place during a general strike to protest the Siniora cabinet’s refusal to raise the minimum wage and increase fuel subsidies in the face of rising prices in food and other basic commodities. The tense atmosphere was exacerbated by the politicized firing of a popular brigadier general in charge of security at the Beirut Airport and efforts to close down Hezbollah’s telecommunication network, which had played an important role in mobilizing defenses and relief operations during the massive Israeli bombing campaign against Lebanon in 2006. The Bush administration had been strongly encouraging the prime minister to enact such policies.

Demonizing Hezbollah

According to resolution co-sponsor Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), however, the conflict was simply a matter of the people of Lebanon being “in the throes of having their duly elected government taken away from them by terrorist organizations and rogue regimes.”

Lebanon’s “duly elected government,” a legacy of a complex system of confessional representation imposed by French colonialists as a means of divide-and-rule, consists of a slim majority made up by the May 14th Alliance, a broad coalition consisting of 17 parties dominated by center-right parties led by Sunni Muslims, a center-left party led by Druze, and far-right parties led by Christian Maronites. The opposition March 8th Alliance consists of 41 parties, led by the radical Shia Hezbollah, the more moderate Shia Amal, the centrist Maronite-led Free Patriotic Movement, as well as a various leftist and Arab nationalist parties.

Despite this complex amalgam of movements, the House resolution insists that Hezbollah had provoked “sectarian warfare” in the recent conflict, ignoring the fact that there were Muslims and Christians on both sides. One of the major combatants among the anti-Siniora forces, for example, was the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), a Lebanese movement led by Greek Orthodox Christians.

The resolution also over-simplifies the complicated dimensions of the conflict by putting the onus for the violence exclusively on Hezbollah. For example, the resolution accuses Hezbollah of sacking and burning the buildings housing the television studios and newspaper of a pro-government party, when it fact it was SSNP partisans that did so. Similarly, the resolution also blames Hezbollah for “fomenting riots” and “blocking roads,” when in fact these were actions by trade unionists and others as part of a general strike pressing demands for greater economic justice, an agenda supported by those from across the political and sectarian divide. Such rioting and erection of barricades on major thoroughfares have occurred in dozens of other countries where governments, under pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, have attempted to impose structural adjustment programs and similar unpopular neoliberal economic policies.

Though the military actions by the militias of Hezbollah and its allies were clearly illegitimate, the hyperbolic language of the resolution went to rather absurd extremes. For example, the resolution referred to Hezbollah’s armed mobilization, in which its forces briefly controlled key neighborhoods in West Beirut, as an “illegal occupation of territory under the sovereignty of the Government of Lebanon.” By contrast, not once in Israel’s 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon between 1978 and 2000, which took place in defiance of no less than 10 UN Security Council resolutions, did Congress ever go on record condemning Israel’s actions or even referring to it as an illegal occupation that it was.

The resolution also claimed that “more than 80 Lebanese citizens have been murdered” as result of Hezbollah’s actions. However, independent reports indicate that the majority of those killed were armed combatants and that the vast majority of the killings took place outside the capital in fighting between other factions after Hezbollah ended its offensive in West Beirut. Furthermore, these same reports demonstrate that Hezbollah was far more disciplined than other militias in avoiding civilian targets.

The resolution also called on the European Union – which has already placed Hezbollah’s external security organization on its list of terrorist organizations for its involvement in assassinations overseas – to also designate Hezbollah itself as a terrorist organization. By contrast, there have been no such calls in Congress for other Lebanese parties – such as the Phalangists and the Lebanese Forces, whose militias have been responsible for at least as many civilian deaths as has Hezbollah but which are part of Siniora’s pro-Western coalition – to also be labeled as terrorist organizations.

Blaming Syria and Iran

In an apparent effort to lend support for the Bush administration’s bellicose policies toward Iran and Syria, the resolution – like a number of previous resolutions dealing with Lebanon – grossly exaggerated the influence of those two countries on Hezbollah. In reality, there is little evidence to suggest that Syrian and Iranian influence on this populist Shia party and its allies is any greater than U.S. influence on some of Lebanon’s other political factions. Indeed, many Lebanese blame the United States for much of the political crisis which has paralyzed the government during the past year and which culminated in last month’s violence as a result of the Bush administration’s pressure on Siniora and his allies to resist any compromise with the opposition on economic, political or security issues.

The parties of Siniora’s May 14 Alliance, while certainly benefiting from U.S. support and often amenable to policies pushed by the United States, ultimately make their decisions based upon their own perceived self-interests. Similarly, while Hezbollah certainly benefits from Iranian – and, to a lesser extent, Syrian – support and has often been amenable to those governments’ guidance, the Shia party is a genuinely populist, if somewhat reactionary, political movement whose leadership also makes their decisions based upon what they believe will advance their standing and their cause. Hezbollah in many ways serves as a successor to the left-leaning Arab nationalist parties of an earlier era in their resistance to Western domination and rule by traditional ruling elites.

Despite this, the resolution claims that Hezbollah’s goal in the uprising was not about the plight of the country’s poor and disproportionately Shia majority or a reaction to perceived discriminatory policies by the U.S.-back prime minister, but that it was actually an effort “to render Lebanon subservient to Iranian foreign policy.” The resolution also insists that the diverse group of opposition parties “continue to pursue an agenda favoring foreign interests over the will of the majority of Lebanese.”

The resolution went as far as calling upon the United Nations Security Council to “prohibit all air traffic between Iran and Lebanon and between Iran and Syria” on the grounds that it might be used to bring in arms to the Hezbollah militia, thereby placing a large bipartisan majority in Congress on record calling for the disruption of legitimate commercial activities between foreign countries due to the possibility that a few of the thousands of annual flights may include contraband armaments. This demand is particularly ironic given that the U.S. government transports tens of billions of dollars worth of armaments to repressive governments in the greater Middle East region every year, as well as arming private militias in Iraq and separatist guerrillas in Iran.

Sabotaging Reconciliation

The timing of the resolution, which was passed on May 22, a full two weeks after the fighting ended, appeared to some observers to have been part of a U.S. effort to undermine the sensitive talks between Lebanon’s various political factions then being hosted by the Arab League in Qatar. In passing a resolution endorsing one side and condemning the other, combined with threatening the use of “all appropriate actions” in support of one of the two sides, the House was apparently hoping to harden the negotiation positions of the pro-U.S. May 14 Alliance in order to cause the talks to fail.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) recognized the absurdity of the resolution by pointing out “This legislation strongly condemns Iranian and Syrian support to one faction in Lebanon while pledging to involve the United States on the other side. Wouldn’t it be better to be involved on neither side and instead encourage the negotiations that have already begun to resolve the conflict?”

Similarly, Rep Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), while noting the legitimate concerns regarding Hezbollah’s actions, observed, “We have to be very careful about how we dictate a certain policy in Lebanon for its effect on Lebanon and for its effect on the region,” expressing concern “that it will be seen by some as the United States trying to instigate more civil unrest in Lebanon at the same time that we say that we’re supporting the central government.” Noting correctly that the 2006 U.S.-backed Israeli war on Lebanon resulted in strengthening Hezbollah at the expense of moderate pro-Western elements, the Ohio Congressman went on to observe that “We should be doing everything we can to strengthen a process of dialogue in Lebanon. I don’t believe that this resolution accomplishes that. I think it accomplishes the opposite.”

Kucinich went on to note how U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch went to Lebanon “to basically make sure that the government took a hard-line position and that it would forestall the possibility of any dialogue.” The former presidential candidate also observed, in reference to his visits to Lebanon, that “One of the things that I thought was most telling was that there was a concern about working out an agreement without the interference of outside parties, without the interference of Iran or the interference of the United States.” (Emphasis added.)

Fortunately, despite this apparent effort to undermine a settlement, Arab League negotiators were eventually able to get Lebanon’s two major political alliances to agree to a power-sharing agreement.

Other observers, including Paul, warned of the consequences of further U.S. meddling in Lebanon’s internal conflicts. “This resolution leads us closer to a wider war in the Middle East,” Paul said. “It involves the United States unnecessarily in an internal conflict between competing Lebanese political factions and will increase rather than decrease the chance for an increase in violence. The Lebanese should work out political disputes on their own or with the assistance of regional organizations like the Arab League.”

Paul concluded by cautioning his fellow House members to “reject this march to war and to reject H. Res. 1194.” His colleagues were unwilling to heed his warnings, however, and the resolution passed with only 10 dissenting votes in the 435-member body.

Taking Sides

Though there is more than enough blame to go around on all sides for the longstanding political impasse and the more recent outbreak of violence, the Congressional resolution put the blame entirely on one side.

The resolution correctly observes how “United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701 call for the disbanding and disarming of all militias in Lebanon” but that “Hizballah has contemptuously dismissed the requirements of the United Nations Security Council by refusing to disarm.” However, there is nothing in the resolution regarding militias allied with the U.S.-backed prime minister, which are also required to disarm. Siniora’s Future Movement militia, which Hezbollah fighters battled on the streets of West Beirut, has emerged since these UN resolutions passed without any apparent disapproval from Washington.

The resolution also condemned Hezbollah for attacking buildings of rival parties, but there were no criticisms for similar actions by the other side, such as when pro-government gunmen attacked and seized the SSNP and Baath Party offices in Tripoli and stormed SSNP offices in Halba, killing seven party activists.

Yet, for the Democratic-controlled Congress, as with the Bush administration, the complex cleavages of the contemporary Middle East can be simply understood as a matter of good versus evil. “We have a situation here where a democratic, freedom-loving, sovereign people are insisting on the results of their own self-determined election that they came to through democratic processes and are doing that in the face of outside interference in the form of armed opposition, murders, assassinations that are being sponsored by Hezbollah, financed by the Iranian and Syrian regimes,” Ackerman said.

And Switching Sides

As in Iraq, the United States has a history of switching sides in terms of who is seen as the bad guy and who is seen as the good guy. For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, the United States backed right-wing predominantly Maronite militias against the predominantly Druze Progressive Socialist Party. During the 1982-84 U.S. intervention in Lebanon, U.S. forces fought the Socialists directly, including launching heavy air and sea bombardments against Druze villages in the Shouf Mountains. Now, however, the U.S. supports the Socialists, with the recent House resolution specifically defending the group.

Similarly, the United States supported the Shia Amal militia in 1985-86 when it was fighting armed Palestinian groups as well as in 1988 when Amal was fighting Hezbollah forces. Now, the United States is strongly opposed to Amal, essentially acting as if they are one with Hezbollah.

The United States supported Syria’s initial military intervention in Lebanon back in 1976 and supported the bloody Syrian-instigated coup in late 1990 that consolidated Syria’s political control of the country. Subsequently, however, the United States became a leading critic of Syria’s domineering role of the country’s government, which continued until a popular nonviolent uprising during the spring of 2005 forced a Syrian withdrawal from the country.

In a more recent example, as part of a U.S. policy to support hard-line Sunni fundamentalist groups as a counter-weight to the growth of radical Shia movements in Iraq and Lebanon, Lebanese parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri provided amnesty and released radical Salafi militants from jail. As such militants began causing problems in the northern city of Tripoli last year from a base in a Palestinian refugee camp, the U.S. then backed a bloody Lebanese army crackdown.

One of the most bizarre switches in U.S. allegiances involves former Lebanese Army General Michel Aoun, a Maronite, and his Free Patriotic Movement, the most popular Christian-led political group in the country. As an ally to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1990, the United States gave a green light to the Syrians to have Aoun overthrown as interim Lebanese prime minister in a violent coup. Not long afterward, however, the United States then switched sides to support Aoun and oppose the Syrians and their supporters. As recently as 2003, Aoun was feted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies – a neo-conservative group with close ties with the Bush administration, which includes among its leaders Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey, Jack Kemp, and Richard Perle, as well as Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Joseph Lieberman – which declared him a champion of freedom and democracy. Aoun won similar praise by some of the very members of Congress who supported this latest resolution when he testified that year before the House International Relations Committee.

Soon after his return from exile, however, Aoun became one of the most outspoken opponents of the U.S.-backed political leaders and parties which dominate the current Lebanese government and he and his movement are now allied with Hezbollah in the March 8th Alliance. Not surprisingly, he has gained the wrath of the Bush administration and Congress.

One would think that, with a history like this, Congress would think twice before going on record in support of specific factions in Lebanon’s confusing, messy, and violent political environment. Unfortunately, over 95% of House members apparently believe otherwise.

Hezbollah’s provocative military action in May, which violated its pledge to use its armed militia only in defense of the country from Israel and not against its fellow Lebanese, has hurt its standing among the country’s non-Shia majority, who now see them more as advancing their own parochial interests than serving the role they had previously embraced as a national resistance movement against foreign occupation forces. Washington’s support for Israel’s military attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon and this latest resolution backing rival armed factions, however, does little to encourage Hezbollah to disarm or promote efforts to advance nonviolent conflict resolution and national reconciliation.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/congress-and-lebanon_b_107439.html

U.S. Role in Lebanon Debacle

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continues to resist pressure that he resign following the publication late last month of the interim report by a special Israeli commission on Israel’s war on Lebanon last summer. Military chief Dan Halutz has already been forced to step down and Defense Minister Amir Peretz has announced he will also be resigning shortly.

The report from the Winograd commission concludes that “the decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan.” In making the decision to go to war in Lebanon, the Israeli government “did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of ‘containment.’”

Unlike previous Israeli commissions that critically examined alleged government misdeeds, and were appointed by the Israeli Supreme Court, the Winograd Commission was appointed by the Olmert government itself. That makes its harsh criticism all the more surprising. It is also indicative of how, despite years of military occupations and war crimes against its neighbors by successive governments, as well as the systemic discrimination against the country’s Arab minority, Israeli democracy is strong enough to allow for a rigorous investigation of their leaders’ decision to launch an unnecessary and self-defeating war. It’s more than can be said for the United States.

During the five weeks of fighting in July and August, 119 Israeli soldiers and 43 Israeli civilians were killed. More than 1,100 Lebanese were killed, the vast majority of whom were civilians.

The commission failed, however, to address the fact that the Israeli government went well beyond what constituted legitimate self-defense in its response to Hezbollah’s provocative attack on an Israeli border outpost and kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by targeting major segments of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure unrelated to the radical militia. The report also failed to directly address the large-scale war crimes committed by Israeli forces in its attacks on civilian population centers.

Bush Administration Exerted Pressure

Nor did the commission directly address the reason as to why Israel, in the words of the report, decided to “launch a military campaign and deviate from the policy of containment.” The answer in large part lies in pressure exerted on Olmert by the Bush administration, which had long been pushing the Israelis to launch a war on Lebanon to cripple Hezbollah, the anti-American Shiite Islamist movement allied with Iran.

Seven weeks before the start of the war, in his May 23 summit with Olmert, Bush strongly encouraged the Israeli prime minister to launch an attack on Lebanon soon, offering full U.S. support for the massive military operation. Just three days later, Israeli agents assassinated two Islamic militants in Sidon, leading to a series of tit- for-tat assassinations and abductions which eventually led to Hezbollah’s July 12 seizure of two Israeli soldiers, which was then used as the excuse for a war that had been planned for many months.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh quoted a consultant with the U.S. Department of Defense soon after the outbreak of the fighting as describing how the Bush administration “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.”
A War Planned in Advance

Rather than a spontaneous reaction to Hezbollah’s July 12 attack on Israel’s northern border, as depicted by the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties, Israel and the United States had been planning the war since at least 2004. Israeli officials had briefed U.S. officials with details of the plans, including PowerPoint presentations, in what the San Francisco Chronicle described as “revealing detail.”

Though the Winograd Commission report cited poor planning on logistics, political science professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University was quoted as saying, “Of all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared. In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal…” In addition, Hersh noted how “several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, ‘to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear,’” soon getting the final approval from Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and soon thereafter President George W. Bush.

Some reports indicated that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was less sanguine about the proposed Israeli military offensive, believing that Israel should focus less on bombing and more on ground operations, despite the dramatically higher Israeli casualties that would result. Still, Hersh quotes a former senior intelligence official as saying that Rumsfeld was “delighted that Israel is our stalking horse.”

As Ze’ev Schiff, dean of Israel’s military correspondents put it, “Rice is the figure leading the strategy of changing the situation in Lebanon, not Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or Defense Minister Amir Peretz.”
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Martin Indyk–who served in the Clinton administration as Assistant Secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs and U.S. ambassador to Israel–noted that the United States had no leverage on Hezbollah except “through Israel’s use of force.” As Haaretz analyst Shmuel Rosner wrote during the fighting, “the way has been found for Israel to recompense the administration for its supportive attitudes during the six year of the Bush administration,” illustrating “the regional power’s importance for the great power.”

“America Is Fully Complicit”

As the fighting continued into its third week and with civilian casualties mounting, international and domestic pressure increased on Israel to stop the onslaught, but Rice flew to Israel to push the government to continue prosecuting the war. As veteran Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it, “Rice was back and forth, dictating when to start, when to stop, what to do, what not to do. America is fully complicit…”

By the first week of August, domestic pressure was forcing the Israelis to rethink continuing the war indefinitely. Fearing the Israelis might seek a cease fire, Bush reportedly told them, “You can’t stop now; you’re acting for all of us.” Israel indicated its willingness to accept a 10,000-member NATO force in southern Lebanon as a condition for a cease-fire, but the Bush administration was demanding that Hezbollah accept a 30,000-member force or be defeated militarily first.

However, by the beginning of the second week of August, it was becoming apparent to U.S. officials that Israelis were becoming increasingly resentful of their role as an American proxy. While the worsening humanitarian crisis and international outcry was not enough for the Bush administration to shift U.S. policy, a senior administration official reported that “it increasingly seemed that Israel would not be able to achieve a military victory, a reality that led the Americans to get behind a cease-fire.”

That the war on Lebanon was fought primarily as an effort to advance America’s hegemonic objectives in the Middle East rather than as a defense of Israel’s legitimate security interests is made more apparent by how damaging the war was to Israel’s political and strategic interests.

An Unnecessary War

In the years prior to Israel’s July 12 air strikes on Lebanese cities, which prompted Hezbollah’s retaliatory rocket attacks on Israel cities, the militia had become less and less of a threat. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Hezbollah for more than a decade (with the exception of one accidental fatality in 2003 caused by a Hezbollah anti-aircraft missile fired at an Israeli plane illegally violating Lebanese airspace landing on the Israeli side of the border), and there had been no Hezbollah attacks against civilian targets since well before the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000.

Virtually all of Hezbollah’s military actions between May 2000 and July 2006 had been against Israeli occupation forces in a disputed border region between Lebanon and the Israel-occupied portion of southwestern Syria. Hezbollah’s longstanding policy had been that they would fire into Israel only in response to Israeli attacks on their political leadership or on Lebanese civilians. When the Israeli government, in preparation for the U.S.-backed assault on Lebanon, advised residents in northern Israel to participate in a drill in May 2006, a number of communities reported they could not locate the keys to the bomb shelters since they had been out of use for so long.

Hezbollah was down to about 500 full-time fighters prior to the Israeli assault, and a national dialogue was going on between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government regarding disarmament. As the Winograd Commission report points out, Hezbollah was not enough of a serious threat to Israel’s security that required such a massive strike against it, much less the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon as a whole. Though Hezbollah had hardly renounced their extremist ideology, major acts of terrorism were largely a thing of the past.

War Boosted Support for Hezbollah

The majority of Lebanese had opposed Hezbollah, both its reactionary fundamentalist social agenda as well as its insistence on maintaining an armed presence independent of the country’s elected government. Thanks to the U.S.-backed Israeli attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, however, support for Hezbollah grew to more than 80% according to polls, even within the Sunni Muslim and Christian communities. Within four months of successfully countering the Israeli invasion, Hezbollah was in strong enough a position to launch a civil rebellion to oust Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Sinora’s moderate pro-Western government.

Even Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of State during Bush’s first term and a leading hawk, acknowledged by the third week of the conflict that “the only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

As Israelis began to recognize how deleterious the war was to Israel’s legitimate security interests, a growing awareness emerged of the American role in getting them into that mess. Not long after the beginning of the war, reports began to circulate how a growing number of Israeli leaders, including some top military officials, were furious at Bush for pushing Olmert to war. This was also apparent at the grassroots level. A Haaretz article on an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv July 22 noted how “this was a distinctly anti-American protest” that included “chants of ‘We will not die and kill in the service of the United States’ and slogans condemning President George W. Bush.”

U.S. Congress Still Backing War

Though Israelis on the streets of Tel Aviv may have been declaring their unwillingness to “die and kill in the service of the United States,” an overwhelming bipartisan majority of both houses of Congress passed resolutions that offered unconditional support for Bush’s backing of the war on Lebanon. The Senate version passed on a voice vote, and there were only eight dissenting votes in the House. The House version – co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), whom the Democrats later named to chair the House Foreign Relations Committee – went so far as to praise Israel for “minimizing civilian loss,” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and to claim that the attacks were “in accordance with international law,” despite an a broad consensus of international legal opinion to the contrary.

A number of the otherwise liberal members of Congress who supported the July 20 House resolution responded to constituents’ outraged at their vote by claiming they were simply defending Israel’s legitimate interests. In reality, however, by supporting Bush administration’s support for the massive Israeli attacks and blocking international efforts to impose a cease fire, these self-proclaimed “friends of Israel” were in fact defending policies which cynically use Israel to its detriment in order to advance the Bush administration’s militarist agenda.

Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) – now the front-runner for the 2008 presidential nomination – defended the role of the Jewish state as an American proxy, praising Israel’s efforts to “send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians [and] to the Iranians,” for their opposition to the United States’ and Israel’s commitment to “life and freedom.”

At that time, American journalist Robert Scheer made the far more reasonable observation that “long after Bush is gone from office, Israel will be threatened by a new generation of enemies whose political memory was decisively shaped by these horrible images emerging from Lebanon. At that point, Israelis attempting to make peace with those they must coexist with will recognize that with friends such as Bush and his neoconservative mentors, they would not lack for enemies.”
Overwhelming Bipartisan Support

Even Israelis who recognize the key role the Bush administration had in goading Israel on to attack Lebanon correctly emphasize that rightist elements within Israel had their own reasons independent from Washington to pursue the conflict. And yet, while they certainly believe that Israeli leaders who agreed to serve as American surrogates and prosecuted the war so poorly should be held accountable for their actions, there is still enormous bitterness that the Bush administration – with overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress – was so willing to sacrifice Israeli lives and Israel’s long-term security interests to advance American imperial objectives.

Indeed, given the enormous dependence Israel has on the United States militarily, economically, and diplomatically, this latest war on Lebanon could not have taken place without a green light from Washington. President Jimmy Carter, for example, was able to put a halt to Israel’s 1978 invasion of Lebanon within days and force Israel to withdraw from the south bank of the Litani River to a narrow strip just north of the border. The strident condemnation of the former Democratic president by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean and other leading Democrats in recent months in response to Carter’s recent book in which he reiterates his strong support for Israel but criticizes its occupation policies as contrary to the interests of peace and security is indicative how far to the right the Democratic Party has come under its current leadership.

While the Lebanese people, their infrastructure, and their environment suffered the most from this immoral and misguided U.S. policy, Israel was a victim as well. Just as ruling elites of medieval Europe cynically used some members of the Jewish community as money-lenders and tax-collectors in order to maintain their power and set up this vulnerable minority as scapegoats, so the United States is cynically using the world’s only Jewish state to advance its hegemonic agenda in the Middle East, thereby contributing to the disturbing rise of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments in the Islamic world.

Despite the Winograd Commission’s shortcomings, Israelis should be commended for allowing a serious investigation into their government’s actions. But Olmert and other Israeli leaders did not act alone. Americans who profess to care about Israel should also demand an independent investigation here in the United States as well to examine why the Bush administration, with the support of such a broad bipartisan majority of Congress, goaded Israel into waging an unnecessary war that cost the lives of scores of its citizens and emboldened anti-Israel extremists in Lebanon and beyond.

The United States and Lebanon’s Civil Strife

The ongoing popular challenge to the pro-Western Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora marks yet another setback in the Bush administration’s attempt to impose a new order on the Middle East more compatible with perceived U.S. strategic interests.

The success of the nonviolent people power movement against Syria’s overbearing role in Lebanese politics during the spring of 2005?dubbed the Cedar Revolution?was an impressive triumph of popular democratic forces, forcing the withdrawal of Syrian forces and enabling the country to proceed with parliamentary elections without Syrian interference. However, despite claims by the Bush administration to the contrary, the elections?which, like all Lebanese elections, took place under the country’s colonially-imposed confessional representation system?did not constitute a victory for ?reformers.? Instead, the victors were primarily a group of corrupt pro-Western elite politicians from the same traditional political families who have ruled the country since independence.

Their credibility among the Lebanese people was reduced further this summer when the United States rejected their pleas to use its considerable influence to stop Israel’s brutal 35-day military assault against their country which took the lives of more than 1,000 civilians and caused billions of dollars of damage to the country’s civilian infrastructure.

Little Credibility

The recent U.S. assertion of ?the unwavering commitment of the United States to help build Lebanese democracy and to support Lebanese independence from the encroachment of Iran and Syria? carries little credibility among the Lebanese: The United States has twice intervened militarily in Lebanon during the past 50 years to prop up unpopular minority governments, defended repeated Israeli incursions onto sovereign Lebanese territory?including a full-scale invasion in 1982?and supported Israel’s 22-year occupation of the southern part of that country, which did not end until 2000. (See my article The United States and Lebanon: A Meddlesome History.)

The United States has also tried to blame Syria for the November 21 assassination of Lebanese Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel. Yet, while the Syrians have likely been responsible for a number of assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese political leaders, there are serious questions regarding Bush administration assertions of Syrian responsibility for Gemayel’s death. Given the heavy international scrutiny of Damascus over its likely role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last year, it is improbable they would engage in such a high-profile murder. Furthermore, being assassinated by gunmen in broad daylight is more typical of the method used by rival Lebanese groups; Syrian intelligence has traditionally used timed or remote-controlled bombs as a means of more easily denying their responsibility.

Many Enemies

Perhaps more significantly, Gemayel had plenty of domestic enemies. He was a leader in the Phalangist Party, originally a fascist movement modeled after Hitler Youth, founded by his grandfather and namesake in the late 1930s, which vehemently opposed the left-wing Arab nationalism which swept the Middle East over subsequent decades. The Phalangist militia, led by his uncle, was responsible for the massacres of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians during Lebanon’s civil war, including the infamous 1982 Israeli-backed massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. His father was soon thereafter installed as president under Israeli guns and was forced to suppress a popular uprising in large part through the deployment of thousands of U.S. Marines on the southern outskirts of the capital and U.S. air strikes against anti-government forces. As a result, there were plenty of Lebanese who did not wish to see the continuation of the Gemayal dynasty.

Though Syrian responsibility certainly cannot be ruled out, it is also quite possible that the eagerness by the Bush administration to affix blame on Damascus may be yet another attempt to take advantage of Lebanon’s ongoing tragic political struggles to advance its regional political agenda of isolating the Assad regime.

Similarly, criticism of what the Bush administration refers to as ?attempts by Syria, Iran, and their allies within Lebanon to foment instability and violence? bear little weight in a country against which the United States has supported decades of violent and destabilizing Israeli attacks which have taken many thousands of civilian lives, destroyed many billions of dollars worth of property, and have inflicted serious damage to the country’s fragile environment.

Domestic Issues

Though Syria, and to a lesser extent Iran, undoubtedly hope to take advantage of the country’s instability, the current political crisis is primarily rooted in domestic issues, specifically the ongoing under-representation in government by Lebanon’s Shiites, the largest and poorest of the country’s three major religious communities. The opposition is led by the country’s two largest Shiite parties, the radical Islamist Hezbollah?backed by Iran?and the more moderate Shiite Amal Party, historically backed by Syria. Added to the mix are an assortment of Lebanese leftists and the Machiavellian retired general and former interim Prime Minister Michel Aoun, a Christian who, in previous political incarnations, had been backed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and later by the United States.

What is most worrying to the United States is the leading role of Hezbollah in the opposition campaign. However, it should be remembered that the Bush administration itself is largely to blame for Hezbollah’s ascendancy. The failure of the Lebanese government to fight this summer’s Israeli onslaught, combined with the surprisingly tough resistance by Hezbollah’s militia, shifted the allegiance of many Lebanese?even those who do not support Hezbollah’s extremist brand of Islam?away from the pro-Western government and toward the Hezbollah-led opposition.

The United States, which for many months had goaded Israel into attacking Lebanon (see my article How Washington Goaded Israel), had hoped this summer’s massive military assault would turn the Lebanese population against Hezbollah, which had failed to disarm its militia as required by both the 1990 Taif Accords and a 2005 United Nations Security Council resolution, and which had sparked the Israeli assault by its provocative July 12 attack on an Israeli border post and its seizure of two Israeli soldiers. However, as is usually the case when a powerful armed force wages a devastating air campaign against a guerrilla force and the country’s civilian population, it actually strengthened Hezbollah’s standing by allowing the radical Islamist group to assert its nationalist credentials as defenders of the nation against foreign aggression.

Few Islamist Slogans

Indeed, it is striking how the Hezbollah-led protests in the streets of Beirut have featured few Islamist slogans or Hezbollah colors and have instead been dominated by protestors displaying Lebanon’s national flag. Bush administration officials and congressional leaders who try to lump Hezbollah with mega-terrorist groups like al-Qaida fail to recognize that it is Hezbollah’s nationalist appeal more than its radical brand of Islam that is the basis of its power. And just as Hezbollah’s opponents try to depict them as puppets of Iran and Syria, Hezbollah and its allies are having greater success depicting the Lebanese government as puppets of France and the United States.

As dangerous and reactionary as Hezbollah’s brand of Islamist ideology may be, they represent an important departure from the traditional Lebanese politics of Western-backed Christian and Sunni Muslim elites by also offering a populist economic program that gives priority to the country’s poor majority and challenges the endemic corruption of the government. Prime Minister Siniora, who has strong ties with international finance, is an outspoken supporter of free trade and big business, positions that put him in favor with Washington and Paris, but are not popular with most Lebanese.

In addition, Hezbollah?thanks in part to generous financial support from Iran?has been far more successful in leading reconstruction of the war-ravaged country than the corrupt and inefficient central government. Furthermore, while willing to provide Lebanon’s relatively wealthy neighbor Israel with more than four billion dollars of unconditional aid annually, the Bush administration has offered Lebanon only $230 million in reconstruction aid in response to the estimated $3.6 billion in damage caused primarily by U.S. weapons and ordinance provided to Israel.

Thus, while the growing instability in Lebanon is indeed troubling and any undue Syrian and Iranian influence should indeed be challenged, it would be a mistake to over-simplify the complexities of Lebanese politics through the lens of the Bush administration’s world view or to underestimate the United States’ role in contributing to the conditions which have led to Lebanon’s current crisis.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_united_states_and_lebanons_civil_strife

Falling In Line on Israel

The election of a Democratic majority in the House and Senate is unlikely to result in any serious challenge to the Bush administration’s support for Israeli attacks against the civilian populations of its Arab neighbors and the Israeli government’s ongoing violations of international humanitarian law.

The principal Democratic Party spokesmen on foreign policy will likely be Tom Lantos in the House of Representatives and Joe Biden in the Senate, both of whom have been longstanding and outspoken supporters of a series of right-wing Israeli governments and opponents of the Israeli peace movement. And, despite claims?even within the progressive press?that future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a ?consistent supporter of human rights,? such humanitarian concerns have never applied to Arabs, since she is a staunch defender of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his predecessor Ariel Sharon.

For example, when President George W. Bush defended Israel’s assaults on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure this summer and defied the international community by initially blocking United Nations efforts to impose a cease-fire, the Democrats rushed to pass a resolution commending him for ?fully supporting Israel .? The resolution, co-authored by Rep. Lantos, claimed that Israel’s actions were legitimate self-defense under the UN Charter and challenged the credibility of reputable human rights groups. Although groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented widespread attacks by Israeli forces against civilians in areas far from any Hezbollah military activity, the resolution praised ?Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and welcom[ed] Israel’s continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties.? All but 15 of the House’s 201 Democrats voted in support.

Similarly, the Democrats echoed President Bush’s support for Israel’s 2002 offensive in the West Bank in another resolution co-authored by Lantos. In response to Amnesty International’s observation that the massive assault appeared to be aimed at the Palestinian population as a whole, all but two dozen Democrats went on record supporting the devastating Israeli offensive and claiming that it was ?aimed solely at the terrorist infrastructure.?

In March 2003, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders signed a letter to President Bush opposing the White House-endorsed Middle East ?Road Map? for peace, which they perceived as being too lenient on the Palestinians. The authors insisted that the peace process must be based ?above all? on the end of Palestinian violence and the establishment of a new Palestinian leadership, not an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land seized in the 1967 war. Indeed, there was no mention of any of the reciprocal actions called for in the Road Map?not ending Israel’s sieges and military assaults on Palestinian population centers and not halting the construction of additional illegal settlements. The letter also voiced opposition to the UN or any government other than the United States monitoring progress on the ground.

The Democrats have attacked the International Court of Justice for its landmark 2004 ruling calling for the enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention in Israeli-occupied territories. In a resolution that summer, the Democratic leadership and the overwhelming majority of Democrats in both houses also condemned the World Court’s near-unanimous advisory opinion that Israel’s separation barrier could not be built beyond Israel’s internationally-recognized border into the occupied West Bank in order to incorporate illegal settlements into Israel.

More recently, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have condemned former President Jimmy Carter’s newly-released book criticizing Israeli violations of international humanitarian law in the West Bank. Carter’s use of the word ?apartheid? in reference to Israeli policies of building Jewish-only settlements and highways on confiscated Palestinian land and allowing Palestinians to enter only as laborers with special passbooks proved particularly inflammatory to Pelosi and her colleagues. Meanwhile, they have refused to criticize this policy by any name and insist that the Israeli colonial outposts in the occupied territories?constructed in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a series of UN Security Council resolutions?are legitimate.

Ongoing talks between Fatah and Hamas for a coalition government have raised the hope that the Palestinian Authority will soon have a non-Hamas prime minister and a largely non-partisan, technocratic cabinet. However, the Democrats support Bush’s policy of refusing to resume normal relations with the PA unless the cabinet excludes members of Hamas or any party that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. By contrast, no prominent Democrat has raised any concerns over Olmert’s recent appointment of Avignor Lieberman, who has called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel and much of the West Bank, as a cabinet minister and his new deputy prime minister.

The Democrats have also pushed for increasing U.S. military aid to Israel and have rejected calls to condition the aid on an improvement in Israel’s human rights record. The Democrats have also pushed for an increase in economic assistance to Israel’s rightist government, already the recipient of nearly one-third of all U.S. foreign aid, despite the country’s relative affluence and the fact that Israelis represent only one-tenth of 1% of the world’s population.

The decision by Democratic members of Congress to take such hard-line positions against international law and human rights does not stem from the fear that it would jeopardize their re-election. Polls show that a sizable majority of Americans believe U.S. foreign policy should support these principles. More specifically, regarding Israel and Palestine , majorities support a more even-handed U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and oppose the blank check given by the United States to Israel .

Nor is it a matter of Democratic lawmakers somehow being forced against their will to back Bush’s policy by Jewish voters and campaign contributors. In reality, Jewish public opinion is divided over the wisdom and morality of many Israeli policies endorsed by the Democrats, recognizing that such policies actually harm Israel’s legitimate long-term security interests. Furthermore, the vast majority of Democrats who support Bush’s Middle East policies come from very safe districts where a reduction in campaign contributions would not have a negative impact on Democratic re-election. Contrary to the belief that it is political suicide to condemn the policies of the Israeli government, every single Democrat who opposed this summer’s resolution in support of the Israeli assault on Lebanon was re-elected by a larger margin than in 2004.

Perhaps more damaging than pressure from right-wing PACs has been the absence of pressure from progressive groups that oppose Israeli policies. Indeed, some of the most hard-line Democratic opponents of Israeli peace and human rights groups were endorsed by leading U.S. peace and human rights groups.

Until the progressive community seriously challenges Democratic hawks, there is little hope that the new Democratic majority can be expected to contribute anything to the cause of peace and justice in the Middle East.

http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/11/15/falling_in_line_on_israel.php

The United States, the UN, and the Lebanon Ceasefire

The UN Security Council resolution for a ceasefire to the fighting in Lebanon is certainly good news in terms of ending the carnage. Passed on August 11, Resolution 1701 is also a marked improvement over the original U.S. draft and contains some positive language. Both sides, for instance, are called upon to honor a full cessation of hostilities. And Israel must provide the UN with maps of landmines planted in southern Lebanon during Israel’s 22-year occupation that ended in 2000.

But the ceasefire resolution took longer than necessary to achieve. The fighting could have ended weeks ago, but the United States threatened to veto earlier draft resolutions. Instead, the Bush administration insisted on a version that would have allowed Israel to remain in Lebanon and continue at least some military operations, provisions rejected by other Security Council members. These delays cost the lives of hundreds of civilians and billions of dollars worth of damage to Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, was clearly unperturbed by the additional weeks of killings. “This has been time that’s been well spent over the last couple of weeks,” she said at an August 7 press conference with President Bush.

Perhaps more troubling for the future, Resolution 1701 contains some disturbing ambiguities that may make a permanent peace between Lebanon and Israel elusive.

Close Reading of the Text

The initial UN resolution proposed by the United States would have required Hezbollah to “cease all attacks” but Israel only to cease “all offensive military operations.” Given that Israel and the United States had justified Israel’s attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure as legitimate acts of “self-defense,” such language could have given Israel license to continue fighting. No peacekeeping force would have been able to enter the area under such conditions.

The new resolution calls for “a full cessation of hostilities.” The United States insisted, however, on the inclusion of the wording “based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation of attacks by Hezbollah and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.” Despite this ambiguity, the call for a full cessation of hostilities appears to have been enough to end most of the fighting, despite the Israeli commando attack in eastern Lebanon less than a week after the ceasefire.

The new resolution has some other particularly troubling ambiguities. It calls on Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon “in parallel” with Lebanese army forces as they moved into positions throughout that part of the country. The lack of a timetable, however, has raised concerns that a full Israeli withdrawal might take many months.

Though the Secretary General and other top UN officials have documented extensive violations of international law by the Israeli armed forces, the resolution simply refers to the “conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.” While preliminary estimates indicate that Israel was responsible for far more death and destruction than Hezbollah, the resolution refers to the suffering of “both sides,” implying symmetry in the two countries’ experiences.

In addition, the resolution speaks of the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers. The original U.S. draft referred to the seizure of the Israeli soldiers as the single “root cause” of the crisis. The compromise language of the resolution, while more ambiguous about the conflict’s origins, makes no reference to the widespread evidence that Israel with strong encouragement from the Bush administration had actually been planning this assault on Lebanon for many months or that Israel had repeatedly violated Lebanese air space and engaged in other border violations in the months and years leading up to the July 12 attack by Hezbollah on the Israeli border post.

And though Israel (both in the recent round of fighting and historically) has launched far more attacks against Lebanon than any Lebanese party has against Israel, the United States successfully demanded that the peacekeeping force only be deployed on the Lebanese side of the border. Similarly, and also at the insistence of the United States, the resolution calls for the “unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers” seized by Hezbollah commandoes inside Israel, but only for “encouraging” efforts to settle “the issue of Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel” who were abducted by Israeli commandoes inside Lebanon.

That the resolution would essentially blame Hezbollah for initiating the conflict while not criticizing Israel’s widespread violations of international humanitarian law indicates that, despite compromising on a number of key points, the United States had a heavy hand in shaping the final version of the resolution.

Other Resolutions, Other Violations

The United States has placed great emphasis on the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1559, passed in 2004, which calls for the respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity of Lebanon “under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon,” the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, the extension of Lebanese government control over all Lebanese territory, and the disbanding and disarmament of all militias.

However, statements from the Bush administration and a series of congressional resolutions have only mentioned the disbanding and disarmament of Hezbollah’s militia, even though Israel’s reoccupation of parts of southern Lebanon was also in violation of 1559. Typical was President Bush’s August 7 statement to the press: “Had the parties involved fully implemented 1559, which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, we would not be in the situation we’re in today.”

It is striking how much the administration and an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority in Congress have pressed Hezbollah over which the United States has little leverage to abide by UN Security Council resolution 1559 while not calling on the implementation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions currently being violated by Israel, over which the United States has enormous leverage. These include UN Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471, which call on Israel to withdraw from its settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem; UN Security Council resolution 497, which calls on Israel to rescind its annexation of the Golan Heights; UN Security Council resolutions 252, 267, 298, 476, and 478, which call on Israel to rescind its annexation of greater East Jerusalem; and UN Security Council resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The United States either voted in favor of or abstained on every one of these resolutions. Not included in this list are the 42 Security Council resolutions on Israeli violations of international legal norms that were vetoed by the United States and therefore do not have the force of law.

Furthermore, given that Israel’s Arab neighbors have offered full security guarantees in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, one could make a case that Israel is also violating resolutions 242 and 338, the “land for peace” formulation long held up as the basis for a permanent settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The U.S. government clearly believes that enforcement of UN resolutions depends not on any objective legal standard but on the relations that a given government or party has with the United States.

Ceasefire Implications

Israel has been sufficiently bloodied by its ill-fated ground assault against entrenched Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon that it would not likely try something like that again, even if pressed by Washington. The presence of the Lebanese army and international forces in the south would also likely serve as a deterrent to future Israeli aggression. Further commando raids as well as future air strikes and other forms of collective punishment against the Lebanese people are still quite possible, however, thanks to the successful effort by the Bush administration, with bipartisan support from Capitol Hill, to block the UN from sanctioning or even censuring Israeli war crimes.

Given the political advantages gained by Hezbollah from the recent conflict, the extremist group may again seek to provoke a conflict with Israel. The resolution does not explicitly call for the total disarmament of Hezbollah’s militia nor does it give the multinational force the authority to force such a move. However, it does clearly bar Hezbollah forces from operating south of the Litani River, which would keep the militia at least twenty miles from the Israeli border. It also refers to a previous Security Council resolution (UNSC 1559) and a treaty signed by various Lebanese parties (the Taif Accords) that call for all such militias within Lebanon to disarm and disband. The resolution also bans the “sales or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by the government,” presumably as a means of stopping Iran from providing additional missiles to Hezbollah. It is unclear whether the Lebanese government, even backed by a multinational force, will be able to enforce these edicts.

The inability of the UN to stop the fighting earlier and the weakness of the resulting compromise demonstrate that the power of the United States in the Security Council severely restricts the UN from fulfilling its principal mandate to prevent aggression by one state against another. If a UN member state can get away with launching a full-scale attack on the civilian infrastructure of a neighboring member state following a minor border incident (even when instigated by the militia of a minority party outside the control of the central government of that country), this constitutes a serious breakdown in the international legal order. As with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S.-Israeli war on Lebanon has shown that the United States and its allies can get away with breaking the most fundamental international laws that have provided at least some semblance of global order since World War II.

And if the United States (the most dominant military and economic power the world has ever known) believes that it and its allies do not have to play by the rules, why should Hezbollah or anyone else?

http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_united_states_the_un_and_the_lebanon_ceasefire

How Washington Goaded Israel

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.

In his May 23 summit with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President George W. Bush offered full U.S. support for Israel to attack Lebanon as soon as possible. Seymour Hersh, in the August 21 New Yorker, quotes a Pentagon consultant on the Bush administration’s longstanding desire to strike ?a preemptive blow against Hezbollah.? The consultant added, ?It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.?

Israel was a willing partner. Although numerous Israeli press reports indicate that some Israeli officials, including top military officials, are furious at Bush for pushing Olmert into war, the Israeli government had been planning the attack since 2004. According to a July 21 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Israel had briefed U.S. officials with details of the plans, including PowerPoint presentations, in what the newspaper described as ?revealing detail.? Political science professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University told the Chronicle that ?[O]f all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared. In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal ??

Despite these preparations, the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties tried to present the devastating attacks, which took as many as 800 civilian lives, as a spontaneous reaction to Hezbollah’s provocative July 12 attack on an Israeli border post and its seizure of two soldiers.

Some reports have indicated that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was less sanguine than Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or President Bush about the proposed Israeli military offensive. Rumsfeld apparently believed that Israel should focus less on bombing and more on ground operations, despite the dramatically higher Israeli casualties that would result. Still, Hersh quotes a former senior intelligence official as saying that Rumsfeld was ?delighted that Israel is our stalking horse.?

The recent announcement of a shaky ceasefire may represent only a minor speed bump in U.S. plans. After all, the attack on Hezbollah was only the first stage of what the Bush administration apparently hopes will be a joint redrawing of the Middle East map.

On to Iran and Syria?

On July 30, the Jerusalem Post reported that President Bush pushed Israel to expand the war beyond Lebanon and attack Syria. Israeli officials apparently found the idea ?nuts.?

This idea was not exactly secret. In support of the Israeli offensive, the office of the White House Press Secretary released a list of talking points that included reference to a Los Angeles Times op-ed by Max Boot, senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The article, ?It’s Time to Let the Israelis Take Off the Gloves,? urges an Israeli attack against Syria. ?Israel needs to hit the Assad regime. Hard,? argues Boot. ?If it does, it will be doing Washington’s dirty work.?

Iran, too, was in the administration’s sights. T he Israeli attack on Lebanon, according to Seymour Hersh, was to ?serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations.? But first, the Bush administration needed to get rid of Hezbollah’s capacity to retaliate against Israel in the event of a U.S. strike on Iran, which apparently prompted Hezbollah’s buildup of Iranian-supplied missiles in the first place.

Starting this spring, according to Hersh, the White House ordered top planners from the U.S. air force to consult with their Israeli counterparts on a war plan against Iran that incorporated an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Hezbollah. Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the chief of staff of the Israeli military and principal architect of the war on Lebanon, worked with U.S. officials on contingency planning for an air war with Iran.

The Bush administration’s larger goal apparently has been to form an alliance of pro-Western Sunni Arab dictatorships?primarily Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan?against a growing Shiite militancy exemplified by Hezbollah and Iran and, to a lesser extent, post-Saddam Iraq. Though these Sunni regimes initially spoke out against Hezbollah’s provocative capture of the two Israeli soldiers that prompted the Israeli attacks, popular opposition within these countries to the ferocity of the Israeli assault led them to rally solidly against the U.S.-backed war on Lebanon.

In Israel’s Interest?

In the years prior to Israel’s July 12 bombing of Lebanese cities, Hezbollah had become less and less of a threat. It had not killed any Israeli civilians for more than a decade (with the exception of one accidental fatality in 2003 caused by an anti-aircraft missile fired at an Israeli plane that violated Lebanese airspace). Investigations by the Congressional Research Service, the State Department, and independent think tanks failed to identify any major act of terrorism by Hezbollah for over a dozen years.

Prior to the attack, Hezbollah’s militia had dwindled to about 1000 men under arms?this number tripled after July 12 when reserves were called up?and a national dialogue was going on between Hezbollah and the government of pro-Western prime minister Fuad Siniora regarding disarmament. The majority of Lebanese opposed Hezbollah, both its reactionary fundamentalist social agenda as well as its insistence on maintaining an armed presence independent of the country’s elected government. Thanks to the U.S.-backed Israeli attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, however, support for Hezbollah, according to polls, has grown to more than 80%, even within the Sunni Muslim and Christian communities.

Even Richard Armitage, a leading hawk and deputy secretary of state under President Bush during his first term, noted that ?[T]he only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.?

Despite U.S. encouragement that Israel continue the war, Israel’s right-wing prime minister has come under increasing criticism at home, with polls from the Haaretz newspaper indicating that only 39% of Israelis would support the planned expansion of the ground offensive. Meretz Party Knesset member Ran Cohen, writing in the Jerusalem Post, called earlier moves to expand the ground offensive ?a wretched decision.? Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, which had earlier muted its criticism of the attacks on Lebanon, noted that ?[T]he war has spiraled out of control and the government is ignoring the political options available.?

Not only have a growing number of Israelis acknowledged that the war has been a disaster for Israel, there is growing recognition of U.S. responsibility for getting them into that mess. A July 23 article in Haaretz about an anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv noted that ?this was a distinctly anti-American protest? that included ?chants of ?We will not die and kill in the service of the United States,’ and slogans condemning President George W. Bush.?

Members of Congress who have unconditionally backed Israel’s attacks on Lebanon have responded to constituent outrage by claiming they were simply defending Israel’s legitimate interests. In supporting the Bush administration, however, they have defended policies that cynically use Israel to advance the administration’s militarist agenda.

Who’s Anti-Semitic?

One of the more unsettling aspects of the broad support in Washington for the use of Israel as U.S. proxy in the Middle East is how closely it corresponds to historic anti-Semitism. In past centuries, the ruling elite of European countries would, in return for granting limited religious and cultural autonomy, established certain individuals in the Jewish community as the visible agents of the oppressive social order, such as tax collectors and moneylenders. When the population threatened to rise up against the ruling elite, the rulers could then blame the Jews, channeling the wrath of an exploited people against convenient scapegoats. The resulting pogroms and waves of repression took place throughout the Jewish Diaspora.

Zionists hoped to break this cycle by creating a Jewish nation-state where Jews would no longer be dependent on the ruling elite of a given country. The tragic irony is that, by using Israel to wage proxy war to promote U.S. hegemony in the region, this cycle is being perpetuated on a global scale. This latest orgy of American-inspired Israeli violence has led to a dangerous upsurge in anti-Semitism in the Middle East and throughout the world. In the United States, many critics of U.S. policy are blaming ?the Zionist lobby? for U.S. support for Israel’s attacks on Lebanon rather than the Bush administration and its bipartisan congressional allies who encouraged Israel to wage war on Lebanon in the first place.

Unfortunately, most anti-war protests in major U.S. cities have targeted the Israeli consulate rather than U.S. government buildings. By contrast, during the 1980s, protests against the U.S.-backed violence in El Salvador rarely targeted Salvadoran consulates, but instead more appropriately took place outside federal offices and arms depots, recognizing that the violence would not be taking place without U.S. weapons and support.

Israel is no banana republic. Even those like Hersh who recognize the key role of the Bush administration in goading Israel to attack Lebanon emphasize that rightist elements within Israel had their own reasons, independent of Washington, to pursue the conflict.

Still, given Israel’s enormous military, economic, and political dependence on the United States, this latest war on Lebanon could not have taken place without a green light from Washington. President Jimmy Carter, for example, was able to put a halt to Israel’s 1978 invasion of Lebanon within days and force the Israeli army to withdraw from the south bank of the Litani River to a narrow strip just north of the Israeli border. By contrast, the Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress clearly believed it was in the U.S. interest for Israel to pursue Washington’s ?dirty work? for an indefinite period, regardless of its negative implications for Israel’s legitimate security interests.

Domestic Political Implications

Given the lack of success of the Israeli military campaign, U.S. planners are likely having second thoughts about the ease with which a U.S.-led bombing campaign could achieve victory over Iran. However, the propensity of the Bush administration to ignore historical lessons should not be underestimated. A former senior intelligence official told Hersh that ?[T]here is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this. When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran.? Indeed, on August 14, President Bush declared that Israel had achieved ?victory? in its fight against Hezbollah.

The outspoken support of congressional Democrats for Bush’s policies and Israel’s war on Lebanon portends similar support should the United States ignore history and common sense and attack Iran anyway. Both the Senate and House, in backing administration policy, claimed that, contrary to the broad consensus of international opinion, Israel’s military actions were consistent with international law and the UN Charter. By this logic, if Israel’s wanton destruction of a small democratic country’s civilian infrastructure because of a minor border incident instigated by members of a 3000-man militia of a minority party is a legitimate act of self-defense, surely a similar U.S. attack against Iran?a much larger country with a sizable armed force whose hard-line government might be developing nuclear weapons?could also be seen as a legitimate act of self-defense.

Ironically, political action committees sponsored by liberal groups such as MoveOn.org, Peace Action, and Act for Change continue to support the election or re-election of Congressional candidates who have voiced support for Washington’s proxy war against Lebanon despite massive Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, its serving as a trial run for a U.S. war against Iran, and its being against Israel’s legitimate self-interests. And, unfortunately, on the other extreme, some of the more outspoken elements that have opposed America’s proxy war against Lebanon frankly do not have Israel’s best interest in mind.

As a result, without a dramatic increase in protests by those who see Washington’s cynical use of Israel as bad for virtually everyone, there is little chance this dangerous and immoral policy can be reversed.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/how_washington_goaded_israel

Why the Dems Have Failed Lebanon

The Bush administration’s unconditional support for Israel’s attacks on Lebanon is emblematic of the profound tragedy of U.S. policy in the region over the past five years. The administration has relied largely on force rather than diplomacy. It has shown a willingness to violate international legal norms, a callousness regarding massive civilian casualties, a dismissive attitude toward our closest allies whose security interests we share, and blatant double standards on UN Security Council resolutions, non-proliferation issues, and human rights. A broad consensus of moderate Arabs, Middle East scholars, independent security analysts, European leaders, and others have recognized how?even putting important moral and legal issues aside?such policies have been a disaster for the national security interests of the United States and other Western nations. These policies have only further radicalized the region and increased support for Hezbollah and other extremists and supporters of terrorism.

The Democratic Party could seize upon these tragic miscalculations by the Bush administration to enhance its political standing and help steer America’s foreign policy in a more rational and ethical direction. Instead, the Democrats have once again overwhelmingly thrown their support behind the president and his right-wing counterpart, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Supporting the Israeli Offensive

Soon after Israel began its offensive on July 12, House Republican leader John Boehner, along with House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, introduced a resolution unconditionally supporting Israel’s military actions and commending President Bush for fully supporting the Israeli assault. Despite reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that Israel (and, to a lesser extent, Hezbollah) were committing war crimes in attacking civilians, the resolution praised Israel for its ?longstanding commitment to minimize civilian loss? and even welcomed ?Israel’s continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties.? The resolution also claimed that Israel’s actions were ?in accordance with international law,? though they flew in the face of longstanding, universally recognized legal standards regarding the use of force and the treatment of non-combatants in wartime.

Despite such a brazen attack against the credibility of reputable human rights groups and the UN Charter that limits military action to legitimate self defense, Rep. Tom Lantos signed on as a full co-sponsor. Lantos is the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee and likely to chair the committee should the Democrats win back the majority in November. Even more alarmingly, all but fifteen of the 201 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted in favor or the resolution.

In supporting the Republican-authored resolution, Pennsylvania Democrat Allyson Schwartz invoked the September 11 tragedy and insisted that the United States had a ?moral obligation? to ?stand by? Israel ?on the side of democracy and freedom versus terror and radicalism? since to do otherwise would ?undermine our national security.? Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida praised Israel’s efforts ?to eradicate this global threat? and insisted that Syria and Iran should be held responsible for the violence. Even though the Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel began only after Israel started bombing civilian areas of Lebanon, Democratic Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey insisted that the killings of these Israeli civilians took place ?despite every attempt? by the Israeli government ?to demonstrate their genuine commitment to peace.?

One reason for such broad Democratic support for the resolution may stem from the fact that the Arms Control Export Act forbids arms transfers to countries that use American weapons for non-defensive purposes, such as attacking civilians. Thus, in order to protect the profits of politically influential American arms merchants, the Democrats joined with Republicans in supporting language in the resolution claiming that Israel’s actions were ?legitimate self-defense.?

The Senate endorsed by a voice vote a similar resolution unconditionally supporting Israel’s military offensive. Introduced by Republican Senate leader Bill Frist, the resolution was co-sponsored by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and the majority of Senate Democrats, including Barack Obama and Dick Durbin of Illinois, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, Edward Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, among others.

The Democrats’ support for the Bush administration’s defiance of the international community was most clearly articulated by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, another co-sponsor of the resolution, who claimed that the European community and others who called on Israel to ?show restraint? believed that ?Israel should not be given the ability to defend herself? and that those who advocated ?any other course? than that pursued by the Bush administration and Israeli government would constitute an ?appeasement of Hezbollah.?

Hillary Takes the Lead

Yet another Democratic co-sponsor of the Senate resolution was Hillary Rodham Clinton, a front-runner for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2008. Speaking at a rally in New York City in support of the Israeli attacks against Lebanon, she praised Israel’s efforts to ?send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians [and] to the Iranians,? because, in her words, they oppose the United States and Israel’s commitment to ?life and freedom.?

Clinton’s statements were challenged by her opponent in the Democratic primary for Senate, union activist Jonathan Tasini, who pointed out that ?Israel has committed acts that violate international standards and the Geneva Conventions,? citing reports by a number of reputable human rights organizations, including the Israeli group B’Tselem. Clinton’s spokesperson dismissed Tasini’s concerns about Israeli violations of international humanitarian law as ?beyond the pale.?

Tasini, a former Israeli citizen who has lost close relatives in the Arab-Israeli wars and Palestinian terrorism and whose father fought and was wounded in the Israeli war of independence, correctly observed that ?Hezbollah’s actions violate international law? as well. He argued that his criticism of Israel’s policy of collective punishment and attacks on civilians comes from the perspective of being a ?friend of Israel,? citing the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam, or ?repairing the world.? Facing vicious attacks from Clinton supporters for his liberal views, Tasini has called for a debate with his opponent to demonstrate how her unconditional U.S. support for Israeli militarism actually threatens Israel’s security interests. The Anglo-Saxon Protestant Clinton, who?like the vast majority of the overwhelmingly WASP Democratic Party leadership?has never lost a relative to the region’s violence, has thus far refused the challenge.

Democrats Attack Maliki

The perversity of the Democrats’ Middle East policies can be illustrated in their reaction to the visit to Washington in July by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki’s government, primarily through its Interior ministry, has been responsible for the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Sunni Arabs in Baghdad and elsewhere and the massacre of hundreds more. Amnesty International and other reputable human rights groups have documented gross and systematic human rights violations by Maliki’s government, including torture and ill treatment, arbitrary detention without charge or trial, and the excessive use of force resulting in countless civilian deaths.

With so much blood on Maliki’s hands, one would think that at least some Democrats would have chosen to protest or even boycott his speech before a joint session of Congress on July 26. Yet few concerns were aired. However, once the Iraqi prime minister criticized Israel’s attacks on Lebanon, only then did the Democratic leadership decide to speak out against the Iraqi prime minister.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi stated that unless the Iraqi Prime Minister ?disavows his critical comments of Israel ? it is inappropriate to honor him with a joint meeting of Congress.? Given that the leaders of America’s most important allies have also made critical comments about Israel’s offensive, very few foreign dignitaries will be given such an honor in the coming years if the minority leader’s recommendations are followed.

The Democrats’ offensive against Maliki may have been part of a broader campaign to oppose discontent within their own ranks regarding criticism of the Israeli offensive. For example, Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois declared that the Iraqi prime minister’s comments inflicted ?hate upon another democracy,? linking criticism of a particular Israeli policy with hate against Israel (an important warning, given that he heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.) Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Pennsylvania claimed that Maliki, in criticizing Israel’s attacks against civilian targets in Lebanon, had ?condemned Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism,? an apparent effort to equate criticisms of Israeli war crimes with denying Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense. Senator Schumer claimed that Maliki’s criticisms of the Israeli destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure and the large-scale killings of Lebanese civilians raised questions as to ?which side is he on in the war on terror,? thereby insinuating that those who oppose Israeli attacks against civilians are supporters of al-Qaida. Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, in a speech on July 26, went so far as to insist that Maliki was an ?anti-Semite,? perhaps as a warning to party liberals that anyone who dared criticize any policy of America’s top Middle Eastern ally would be subjected to similar slander.

Ironically, 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry defended his support for the Iraq war by claiming that sacrificing American lives to defend the Iraqi government was worthwhile in part ?because it’s important for Israel.? In other words, the Democrats want it both ways: condemning the Iraqi government for being ?anti-Israel? while justifying the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq because the Iraqi government is ?pro-Israel.?

Behind the Democrats’ Hawkish Stance

The decision by Democratic members of Congress to take such hard-line positions against international law and human rights does not stem from the fear that it would jeopardize their re-election. Public opinion polls show that a sizable majority of Americans believe U.S. foreign policy should support these principles. More specifically, only a minority of Americans, according to a recent New York Times poll, support President Bush’s handling of the situation or agree that the United States should give unconditional support to Israel in its war on Lebanon.

Nor is it a matter of Democratic lawmakers somehow being forced against their will to back Bush’s policy by Jewish voters and campaign contributors. In reality, Jewish public opinion is divided over the wisdom and morality of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. More significantly, the vast majority of Democrats who supported the resolution came from very safe districts where a reduction in campaign contributions would not have had a negative impact on their re-election in any case.

Perhaps more important than pressure from right-wing political action committees allied with the Israeli government to support the Bush administration’s backing of the Israeli attacks has been the absence of pressure from the liberal groups who oppose such policies.

For example, MoveOn not only continues to work for the re-election of many prominent Democratic hawks who backed Boehmer’s resolution, but has not even sent out an alert to its supporters to contact their representatives and senators to protest their defense of Israeli attacks or to support proposed House resolutions calling for a cease-fire. And while Peace Action, the country’s largest peace group, has called on its supporters to encourage their elected officials to back a cease-fire, its political action committee turned back efforts to rescind endorsements of incumbents who supported the House resolution.

This reticence contrasts with other foreign policy issues related to international law and human rights from U.S. intervention in Central America during the 1980s to Iraq today. In these other cases, liberal groups made it a priority to hold their elected representatives in Washington accountable for backing administration policy. However, it appears that if the victims of such policies are Lebanese or Palestinian civilians, there are?with some notable exceptions?few organized protests heard on Capitol Hill. With so little pressure from progressive groups, elected representatives have little inclination to withdraw support for administration policy toward Israel and its neighbors.

In reality, the Democrats’ support for Israeli attacks against Lebanon is quite consistent with their support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In both cases, Democrats rushed to the defense of right-wing governments that have run roughshod over international legal norms, that have gone well beyond their legitimate right to self-defense, and that have taken an incredible toll in innocent civilian lives.

For example, when President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 in violation of the UN Charter, only eleven House Democrats voted against a resolution that ?reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone? could not ?adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.? If such an overwhelming majority of Democrats believe that the United States invading a country disarmed of its offensive military capabilities, overthrowing its government, and indefinitely occupying its territory is an act of self-defense, it would be quite easy for them to believe the same about Israel’s assault against its northern neighbor. Indeed, to this day, despite not finding any ?weapons of mass destruction,? an overwhelming majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress continue to support funding the war despite polls that show a growing majority of Americans now oppose it.

In other words, the Democratic Party’s support for Israel’s attacks on Lebanon is quite consistent with its disdain for international law and human rights elsewhere and its defiance of public opinion on other foreign policy issues. It is not, therefore, something that can simply be blamed on ?the Zionist lobby.? Rather, it indicates that the Democrats’ worldview is essentially the same as that of the Republicans.

This ideological congruence calls into question whether the increasingly likely prospect of the Democrats regaining a majority in Congress in November will make any real difference on the foreign policy front. Many supporters of human rights and international law are debating whether to continue to support the Democratic Party or instead support the Green Party or other minor parties that embrace such principles.

The tragic misdirection in U.S. foreign policy in recent years cannot be blamed on the Bush administration alone.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/why_the_dems_have_failed_lebanon

Was Hezbollah a Legitimate Target?

The Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress have gone on record defending Israel’s assault on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure as a means of attacking Hezbollah “terrorists.” Unlike the major Palestinian Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah forces haven’t killed any Israeli civilians for more than a decade. Indeed, a 2002 Congressional Research Service report noted, in its analysis of Hezbollah, that “no major terrorist attacks have been attributed to it since 1994.” The most recent State Department report on international terrorism also fails to note any acts of terrorism by Hezbollah since that time except for unsubstantiated claims that a Hezbollah member was a participant in a June 1996 attack on the U.S. Air Force dormitory at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

While Hezbollah’s ongoing rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel are indeed illegitimate and can certainly be considered acts of terrorism, it is important to note that such attacks were launched only after the U.S.-backed Israeli assault on civilian targets in Israel began July 12. Similarly, Hezbollah has pledged to cease such attacks once Israel stops its attacks against Lebanon and withdraws its troops from Lebanese territory occupied since the onset of the latest round of hostilities. (The Hezbollah attack on the Israeli border post that prompted the Israeli assaults, while clearly illegitimate and provocative, can not legally be considered a terrorist attack since the targets were military rather than civilian.)

Indeed, the evolution of this Lebanese Shiite movement from a terrorist group to a legal political party had been one of the more interesting and hopeful developments in the Middle East in recent years.

Like many radical Islamist parties elsewhere, Hezbollah (meaning “Party of God”) combines populist rhetoric, important social service networks for the needy, and a decidedly reactionary and chauvinistic interpretation of Islam in its approach to contemporary social and political issues. In Lebanese parliamentary elections earlier last year, Hezbollah ended up with fourteen seats outright in the 128-member national assembly, and a slate shared with the more moderate Shiite party Amal gained an additional twenty-three seats. Hezbollah controls one ministry in the 24-member cabinet. While failing to disarm as required under UN Security Council resolution 1559, Hezbollah was negotiating with the Lebanese government and other interested Lebanese parties, leading to hopes that the party’s military wing would be disbanded within a few months. Prior to calling up reserves following the Israeli assault, Hezbollah could probably count on no more than a thousand active-duty militiamen.

In other words, whatever one might think of Hezbollah’s reactionary ideology and its sordid history, the group did not constitute such a serious threat to Israel’s security as to legitimate a pre-emptive war.

Having ousted Syrian forces from Lebanon in an impressive nonviolent uprising last year, the Lebanese had re-established what may perhaps be the most democratic state in the Arab world. Because they allowed the anti-Israel and anti-American Hezbollah to participate in the elections, however, the Israeli government and the Bush administration ”with strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill” apparently decided that Lebanon as a whole must be punished in the name of “the war on terror.”

Inverse Reaction to Threat

Just as Washington’s concerns about the threat from Iraq grew in inverse correlation to its military capability ”culminating in the 2003 invasion long after that country had disarmed and dismantled its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons program” the U.S. focus on Hezbollah has grown as that party had largely put its terrorist past behind it. In recent years, the administration and Congress ”in apparent anticipation of the long-planned Israeli assault ”began to become more and more obsessed with Hezbollah. For example, not a single Congressional resolution mentioned Hezbollah during the 1980s when they were kidnapping and murdering American citizens and engaging in other terrorist activities. In fact, no Congressional resolution mentioned Hezbollah by name until 1998, years after the group’s last act of terrorism noted by the State Department. During the last session of Congress, there were more than two dozen resolutions condemning Hezbollah.

In March of last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution by an overwhelming 380-3 margin condemning “the continuous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah.” Despite contacting scores of Congressional offices asking them to cite any examples of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah at any time during the past decade, no one on Capitol Hill with whom I have communicated has been able to cite any.

Adding to the hyperbole is the assertion that Hezbollah threatens not just Israel but the United States, despite never having attacked or threatened to attack U.S. interests outside of Lebanon. Cited as evidence in the nearly unanimous March 2005 House resolution is testimony from former CIA director George Tenet (who also insisted that the case for Iraq having offensive weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk,” in which he made the bizarre accusations that Hezbollah is “an organization with the capability and worldwide presence [equal to] al-Qaida, equal if not far more [of a] capable organization” and “[t]hey’re a notch above in many respects” which puts them in a state sponsored category with a potential for lethality that’s quite great.”

In reality, other than a number of assassinations of political opponents in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s, it is highly debatable whether Hezbollah has ever launched a terrorist attack outside of Lebanon. The United States alleges as one of its stronger cases that Hezbollah was involved in two major bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina: the Israeli embassy in 1993 and a Jewish community center in 1994, both resulting in scores of fatalities. Despite longstanding investigations by Argentine officials, including testimony by hundreds of eyewitnesses and two lengthy trials, no convincing evidence emerged that implicated Hezbollah. The more likely suspects are extreme right-wing elements of the Argentine military, which has a notorious history of anti-Semitism.

Not every country has failed to recognize Hezbollah’s evolution from its notorious earlier years. The European Union, for example, does not include Hezbollah among its list of terrorist groups. As a result, in yet another effort to push the U.S. foreign policy agenda on other nations, last year’s House resolution also “urges the European Union to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.” This may be the first and only time the U.S. Congress has sought to directly challenge EU policy on a non-trade issue.

The Europeans have had far more experience with terrorism, are much closer geographically to the Middle East, and historically have had stronger commercial, political, and other ties to Lebanon than the United States and are therefore at least as capable as the U.S. Congress of assessing the orientation of Hezbollah. Furthermore, the European Union has had no problem labeling al-Qaida, Islamic Jihad, or Hamas as terrorist organizations, which suggests that it would have extended the same designation to Hezbollah if the facts warranted it. Both Republican and Democratic House members, however, most of whom have little knowledge of the complexities of contemporary Lebanese politics and apparently fearing European criticism of a U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Lebanon, arrogantly insisted they knew better and that they had the right to tell the European Union what to do.

The Rise of Hezbollah

Hezbollah did not exist until four years after Israel first invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in 1978. The movement grew dramatically following Israel’s more extensive U.S.-backed invasion and occupation of the central part of the country in 1982 and the subsequent intervention by U.S. Marines to prop up a weak Israeli-installed government. In forcing the departure of the armed forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization and destroying the broad, left-leaning, secular Lebanese National Movement, the U.S. and Israeli interventions created a vacuum in which sectarian groups like Hezbollah could grow.

During the early 1990s, following the end of the Lebanese civil war, a revived central Lebanese government and its Syrian backers disarmed most of the other militias that had once carved up much of the country. By contrast, as the Israeli attacks continued, Hezbollah not only remained intact, it grew. Years of heavy Israeli bombardment led hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shiites to flee north, filling vast slums in the southern outskirts of Beirut. From these refugees and others who suffered as a result of these U.S.-supported Israeli assaults Hezbollah received the core of its support. The Hezbollah militia became heroes to many Lebanese, particularly as the U.S.-led peace process stalled.

The Hezbollah also periodically fired shells into Israel proper, some of which killed and injured civilians. Virtually all these attacks, however, were in direct retaliation for large-scale Israeli attacks against Lebanese civilians. The United States condemned Hezbollah not just for occasional attacks inside Israel but also for its armed resistance against Israeli soldiers within Lebanon, despite the fact that international law specifically recognizes the right of armed resistance against foreign occupation forces. The United States was apparently hoping that enough Israeli pressure against Lebanon would force the Lebanese to sign a separate peace treaty with Israel and thereby isolate the Syrians. U.S. officials greatly exaggerated the role of Syria in its control and support for Hezbollah, seemingly ignoring the fact that Syria had historically backed Amal, a rival Shiite militia. By contrast, while the radical Iranian Revolutionary Guards did play a significant role in the initial formation of Hezbollah in 1982, most direct Iranian support diminished substantially in subsequent years. The emphasis by the United States in subsequent years on Hezbollah’s ties to Iran has largely been to discredit a movement that had widespread popular support across Lebanon’s diverse confessional and ideological communities.

By the mid-1990s, greater casualties among Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in occupied southern Lebanon led to increased dissent within Israel. In response to public opinion polls showing that the vast majority of Israelis wanted the IDF to withdraw unilaterally, Martin Indyk ”President Clinton’s ambassador to Israel who had also served as his assistant secretary of state for the Middle East ”publicly encouraged Israel to keep its occupation forces in Lebanon. In other words, the United States, while defending its sanctions and bombing against Iraq on the grounds of upholding UN Security Council resolutions, was encouraging Israel ”against the better judgment of the majority of its citizens”to defy longstanding UN Security Council resolutions demanding Israel’s unconditional withdrawal. In an interesting display of double standards, the wording of the 1978 resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon was virtually identical to the resolution passed twelve years later demanding Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, for which the United States went to war.

The Hezbollah militia finally drove the Israelis and their proxy force out of Lebanon in a hasty retreat in May 2000. In the wake of the failure of those advocating a more moderate ideology and a diplomatic solution, the military victory by Hezbollah greatly enhanced its status.

For more than a dozen years, the Hezbollah militia had restricted its armed activities to fighting Israeli occupation forces, initially in southern Lebanon and ”following Israel’s withdrawal in 2000”in a disputed border region with Syria still under Israeli military occupation. Both the Bush administration and Congress, however, have sought to blur the distinction between armed resistance against foreign occupation forces, which is generally recognized under international law as legitimate self-defense, and terrorism, which”regardless of the political circumstances”is always illegal, since it targets innocent civilians. (Few Americans, for example, would have labeled the sporadic attacks by Kuwaiti resistance fighters against Iraqi occupation forces during the six months Saddam’s army occupied their country in 1990-91 as acts of terrorism. By contrast, had the Kuwaiti resistance planted bombs on buses or in cafes in Baghdad or Basra, the terrorist label would have been quite deserved, however illegitimate Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait may have been. The same holds true for apologists for Palestinian terrorism who attempt to justify the murders of innocent Israeli civilians on the grounds that it is part of the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.)

Despite some unconfirmed reports linking individual Hezbollah operatives with Palestinian terrorist groups, it appears that the movement as a whole had become another one of the scores of former terrorist groups and political movements with terrorist components that have evolved into legitimate political parties in recent decades. These include the current ruling parties or ruling coalition partners of the governments of Israel, Algeria, Uruguay, Zimbabwe, and Afghanistan. Indeed, some prominent leaders of the U.S.-backed Islamic coalition in Iraq were once part of organizations labeled terrorist by the U.S. State Department and a few have even maintained longstanding ties with Hezbollah.

Rather than welcoming Hezbollah’s important shift away from the use of terrorism to advance its political agenda, however, the Bush administration and Congress—in apparent anticipation of a U.S.-Israeli assault against the group and its supporters—instead became increasingly alarmist about the supposed threat posed by this Lebanese political party. And, given the refusal by the Lebanese government to ban the political party and their inability to disband the militia, the United States has given Israel the green light to attack not just Hezbollah militia, but the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon as well.

Why Hezbollah?

Given the number of dangerous movements in the Middle East and elsewhere that really have been involved in ongoing terrorist activities in recent years, why this obsession over a minority Lebanese party that had, prior to last month’s assault by Israel, largely left terrorism behind?

A key component of the Bush Doctrine holds that states supporting groups that the U.S. government designates as “terrorist” are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and are therefore legitimate targets for the United States to attack in the name of self-defense.

This doctrine applies not just to Lebanon, but to Syria and Iran as well, the two countries that the neoconservative architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq have proposed as the next targets for attack. Though outside support for Hezbollah has declined dramatically from previous years, Syria and Iran have traditionally been Hezbollah’s primary backers. By formally designating Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization” and exaggerating the degree of Syrian and Iranian support, the Bush administration and Congress are paving the way for possible U.S. military action against one or both countries some time in the future. Just as Soviet and Cuban control over leftist movements and governments in Central America and Africa during the 1980s was grossly exaggerated in order to advance the Reagan administration’s global agenda, a similar, bipartisan effort is afoot to exaggerate Syrian and Iranian control over Hezbollah.

During the Cold War, nationalist movements that coalesced under a Marxist-Leninist framework, such as the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam, were depicted not as the manifestation of a longstanding national liberation struggle against foreign domination, but part of the global expansionist agenda of international communism. As such, sending more than a half a million American troops into South Vietnam and engaging in the heaviest bombing campaign in world history was depicted as an act of self-defense for “if we do not fight them over there, we will have to fight them here.” Once American forces withdrew, however, Vietnamese stopped killing Americans. Similarly, Hezbollah stopped attacking French and American interests when they withdrew from Lebanon in 1984. As noted above, they largely stopped attacking Israelis when they withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 (with the exception of the Shebaa Farms, which they claim is part of Lebanon).

Therefore, a second reason for the U.S. government’s disproportionate hostility toward Hezbollah may be to convince Americans that radical Islamist groups with a nationalist base will not stop attacking even after troop withdrawal. The Bush administration has insisted that the United States must destroy the terrorists in Iraq or they will attack the United States. But the rise of Islamic extremist groups and terrorist attacks in Iraq came only after the United States invaded that country in 2003. And if Americans recognized that attacks against Americans by Iraqis would stop if U.S. forces withdrew, it would be harder to justify the ongoing U.S. war. Similarly, if Americans recognized that terrorist attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad would likely cease if Israel fully withdrew its occupation forces from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip and allowed for the emergence of a viable independent Palestinian state, they would no longer be able to defend their financial, military, and diplomatic support for the ongoing occupation, repression, and colonization of those occupied Palestinian territories by the right-wing Israeli government. (As with Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad did not come into existence until after years of Israeli occupation and the failure of both secular nationalist groups and international diplomacy to end the occupation.)

This, of course, is not what the Bush administration or Congressional leaders want people to think, however, since it would make it far more difficult to defend the wars in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon. Therefore, it is politically important to convince Americans that Hezbollah is a terrorist group engaged in “continuous terrorist attacks” that constitute an ongoing threat to the national security interests of the United States and its allies.

The tragedy is how easily the mainstream media and the American public are willing to believe these simplistic misinterpretations of the complex Lebanese political situation, and how easily the war on terrorism can be manipulated to justify a U.S.-backed offensive against a small democratic country’s civilian infrastructure.

http://www.alternet.org/story/40009/was_hezbollah_a_legitimate_target/?page=entire

Jihad Against Hezbollah

The Bush administration and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress have gone on record defending Israel’s assault on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure as a means of attacking Hezbollah ?terrorists.? However, unlike the major Palestinian Islamist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah forces haven’t killed any Israeli civilians for more than a decade. Indeed, a 2002 Congressional Research Service report noted, in its analysis of Hezbollah, that ?no major terrorist attacks have been attributed to it since 1994.? The most recent State Department report on international terrorism also fails to note any acts of terrorism by Hezbollah since that time except for unsubstantiated claims that a Hezbollah member was a participant in a June 1996 attack on the U.S. Air Force dormitory at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

While Hezbollah’s ongoing rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel are indeed illegitimate and can certainly be considered acts of terrorism, it is important to note that such attacks were launched only after the U.S.-backed Israeli assault on civilian targets in Israel began July 12. Similarly, Hezbollah has pledged to cease such attacks once Israel stops its attacks against Lebanon and withdraws its troops from Lebanese territory occupied since the onset of the latest round of hostilities. (The Hezbollah attack on the Israeli border post that prompted the Israeli assaults, while clearly illegitimate and provocative, can not legally be considered a terrorist attack since the targets were military rather than civilian.)

Indeed, the evolution of this Lebanese Shiite movement from a terrorist group to a legal political party had been one of the more interesting and hopeful developments in the Middle East in recent years. Like many radical Islamist parties elsewhere, Hezbollah (meaning Party of God) combines populist rhetoric, important social service networks for the needy, and a decidedly reactionary and chauvinistic interpretation of Islam in its approach to contemporary social and political issues. In Lebanese parliamentary elections earlier last year, Hezbollah ended up with fourteen seats outright in the 128-member national assembly, and a slate shared with the more moderate Shiite party Amal gained an additional twenty-three seats. Hezbollah controls one ministry in the 24-member cabinet. While failing to disarm as required under UN Security Council resolution 1559, Hezbollah was negotiating with the Lebanese government and other interested Lebanese parties, leading to hopes that the party’s military wing would be disbanded within a few months. Prior to calling up reserves following the Israeli assault, Hezbollah could probably count on no more than a thousand active-duty militiamen.

In other words, whatever one might think of Hezbollah’s reactionary ideology and its sordid history, the group did not constitute such a serious threat to Israel’s security as to legitimate a pre-emptive war.

Having ousted Syrian forces from Lebanon in an impressive nonviolent uprising last year, the Lebanese had re-established what may perhaps be the most democratic state in the Arab world. Because they allowed the anti-Israel and anti-American Hezbollah to participate in the elections, however, the Israeli government and the Bush administration with strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill apparently decided that Lebanon as a whole must be punished in the name of the war on terror.

Inverse Reaction to Threat

Just as Washington’s concerns about the threat from Iraq grew in inverse correlation to its military capability culminating in the 2003 invasion long after that country had disarmed and dismantled its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. The U.S. focus on Hezbollah has grown as that party had largely put its terrorist past behind it. In recent years, the administration and Congress in apparent anticipation of the long-planned Israeli assault began to become more and more obsessed with Hezbollah. For example, not a single Congressional resolution mentioned Hezbollah during the 1980s when they were kidnapping and murdering American citizens and engaging in other terrorist activities. In fact, no Congressional resolution mentioned Hezbollah by name until 1998, years after the group’s last act of terrorism noted by the State Department. During the last session of Congress, there were more than two dozen resolutions condemning Hezbollah.

In March of last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution by an overwhelming 380-3 margin condemning the continuous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah. Despite contacting scores of Congressional offices asking them to cite any examples of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah at any time during the past decade, no one on Capitol Hill with whom I have communicated has been able to cite any.

Adding to the hyperbole is the assertion that Hezbollah threatens not just Israel but the United States, despite never having attacked or threatened to attack U.S. interests outside of Lebanon. Cited as evidence in the nearly unanimous March 2005 House resolution is testimony from former CIA director George Tenet (who also insisted that the case for Iraq having offensive weapons of mass destruction was a slam dunk), in which he made the bizarre accusations that Hezbollah is an organization with the capability and worldwide presence [equal to] al-Qaida, equal if not far more [of a] capable organization [t]hey’re a notch above in many respects which puts them in a state sponsored category with a potential for lethality that’s quite great.

In reality, other than a number of assassinations of political opponents in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s, it is highly debatable whether Hezbollah has ever launched a terrorist attack outside of Lebanon. The United States alleges as one of its stronger cases that Hezbollah was involved in two major bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina: the Israeli embassy in 1993 and a Jewish community center in 1994, both resulting in scores of fatalities. Despite longstanding investigations by Argentine officials, including testimony by hundreds of eyewitnesses and two lengthy trials, no convincing evidence emerged that implicated Hezbollah. The more likely suspects are extreme right-wing elements of the Argentine military, which has a notorious history of anti-Semitism.

Not every country has failed to recognize Hezbollah’s evolution from its notorious earlier years. The European Union, for example, does not include Hezbollah among its list of terrorist groups. As a result, in yet another effort to push the U.S. foreign policy agenda on other nations, last year’s House resolution also urges the European Union to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. This may be the first and only time the U.S. Congress has sought to directly challenge EU policy on a non-trade issue.

The Europeans have had far more experience with terrorism, are much closer geographically to the Middle East, and historically have had stronger commercial, political, and other ties to Lebanon than the United States and are therefore at least as capable as the U.S. Congress of assessing the orientation of Hezbollah. Furthermore, the European Union has had no problem labeling al-Qaida, Islamic Jihad, or Hamas as terrorist organizations, which suggests that it would have extended the same designation to Hezbollah if the facts warranted it. Both Republican and Democratic House members, however, most of whom have little knowledge of the complexities of contemporary Lebanese politics and apparently fearing European criticism of a U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Lebanon, arrogantly insisted they knew better and that they had the right to tell the European Union what to do.

The Rise of Hezbollah

Hezbollah did not exist until four years after Israel first invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in 1978. The movement grew dramatically following Israel’s more extensive U.S.-backed invasion and occupation of the central part of the country in 1982 and the subsequent intervention by U.S. Marines to prop up a weak Israeli-installed government. In forcing the departure of the armed forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization and destroying the broad, left-leaning, secular Lebanese National Movement, the U.S. and Israeli interventions created a vacuum in which sectarian groups like Hezbollah could grow.

During the early 1990s, following the end of the Lebanese civil war, a revived central Lebanese government and its Syrian backers disarmed most of the other militias that had once carved up much of the country. By contrast, as the Israeli attacks continued, Hezbollah not only remained intact, it grew. Years of heavy Israeli bombardment led hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shiites to flee north, filling vast slums in the southern outskirts of Beirut. From these refugees and others who suffered as a result of these U.S.-supported Israeli assaults Hezbollah received the core of its support. The Hezbollah militia became heroes to many Lebanese, particularly as the U.S.-led peace process stalled.

The Hezbollah also periodically fired shells into Israel proper, some of which killed and injured civilians. Virtually all these attacks, however, were in direct retaliation for large-scale Israeli attacks against Lebanese civilians. The United States condemned Hezbollah not just for occasional attacks inside Israel but also for its armed resistance against Israeli soldiers within Lebanon, despite the fact that international law specifically recognizes the right of armed resistance against foreign occupation forces. The United States was apparently hoping that enough Israeli pressure against Lebanon would force the Lebanese to sign a separate peace treaty with Israel and thereby isolate the Syrians. U.S. officials greatly exaggerated the role of Syria in its control and support for Hezbollah, seemingly ignoring the fact that Syria had historically backed Amal, a rival Shiite militia. By contrast, while the radical Iranian Revolutionary Guards did play a significant role in the initial formation of Hezbollah in 1982, most direct Iranian support diminished substantially in subsequent years. The emphasis by the United States in subsequent years on Hezbollah’s ties to Iran has largely been to discredit a movement that had widespread popular support across Lebanon’s diverse confessional and ideological communities.

By the mid-1990s, greater casualties among Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in occupied southern Lebanon led to increased dissent within Israel. In response to public opinion polls showing that the vast majority of Israelis wanted the IDF to withdraw unilaterally, Martin Indyk?President Clinton’s ambassador to Israel who had also served as his assistant secretary of state for the Middle East?publicly encouraged Israel to keep its occupation forces in Lebanon. In other words, the United States, while defending its sanctions and bombing against Iraq on the grounds of upholding UN Security Council resolutions, was encouraging Israel against the better judgment of the majority of its citizens to defy longstanding UN Security Council resolutions demanding Israel’s unconditional withdrawal. In an interesting display of double standards, the wording of the 1978 resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon was virtually identical to the resolution passed twelve years later demanding Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, for which the United States went to war.

The Hezbollah militia finally drove the Israelis and their proxy force out of Lebanon in a hasty retreat in May 2000. In the wake of the failure of those advocating a more moderate ideology and a diplomatic solution, the military victory by Hezbollah greatly enhanced its status.

For more than a dozen years, the Hezbollah militia had restricted its armed activities to fighting Israeli occupation forces, initially in southern Lebanon and following Israel’s withdrawal in 2000 in a disputed border region with Syria still under Israeli military occupation. Both the Bush administration and Congress, however, have sought to blur the distinction between armed resistance against foreign occupation forces, which is generally recognized under international law as legitimate self-defense, and terrorism, which regardless of the political circumstances is always illegal, since it targets innocent civilians. (Few Americans, for example, would have labeled the sporadic attacks by Kuwaiti resistance fighters against Iraqi occupation forces during the six months Saddam’s army occupied their country in 1990-91 as acts of terrorism. By contrast, had the Kuwaiti resistance planted bombs on buses or in cafes in Baghdad or Basra, the terrorist label would have been quite deserved, however illegitimate Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait may have been. The same holds true for apologists for Palestinian terrorism who attempt to justify the murders of innocent Israeli civilians on the grounds that it is part of the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.)

Despite some unconfirmed reports linking individual Hezbollah operatives with Palestinian terrorist groups, it appears that the movement as a whole had become another one of the scores of former terrorist groups and political movements with terrorist components that have evolved into legitimate political parties in recent decades. These include the current ruling parties or ruling coalition partners of the governments of Israel, Algeria, Uruguay, Zimbabwe, and Afghanistan. Indeed, some prominent leaders of the U.S.-backed Islamic coalition in Iraq were once part of organizations labeled terrorist by the U.S. State Department and a few have even maintained longstanding ties with Hezbollah.

Rather than welcoming Hezbollah’s important shift away from the use of terrorism to advance its political agenda, however, the Bush administration and Congress in apparent anticipation of a U.S.-Israeli assault against the group and its supporters instead became increasingly alarmist about the supposed threat posed by this Lebanese political party. And, given the refusal by the Lebanese government to ban the political party and their inability to disband the militia, the United States has given Israel the green light to attack not just Hezbollah militia, but the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon as well.

Why Hezbollah?

Given the number of dangerous movements in the Middle East and elsewhere that really have been involved in ongoing terrorist activities in recent years, why this obsession over a minority Lebanese party that had, prior to last month’s assault by Israel, largely left terrorism behind?

A key component of the Bush Doctrine holds that states supporting groups that the U.S. government designates as terrorist are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and are therefore legitimate targets for the United States to attack in the name of self-defense.

This doctrine applies not just to Lebanon, but to Syria and Iran as well, the two countries that the neoconservative architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq have proposed as the next targets for attack. Though outside support for Hezbollah has declined dramatically from previous years, Syria and Iran have traditionally been Hezbollah’s primary backers. By formally designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and exaggerating the degree of Syrian and Iranian support, the Bush administration and Congress are paving the way for possible U.S. military action against one or both countries some time in the future. Just as Soviet and Cuban control over leftist movements and governments in Central America and Africa during the 1980s was grossly exaggerated in order to advance the Reagan administration’s global agenda, a similar, bipartisan effort is afoot to exaggerate Syrian and Iranian control over Hezbollah.

During the Cold War, nationalist movements that coalesced under a Marxist-Leninist framework, such as the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam, were depicted not as the manifestation of a longstanding national liberation struggle against foreign domination, but part of the global expansionist agenda of international communism. As such, sending more than a half a million American troops into South Vietnam and engaging in the heaviest bombing campaign in world history was depicted as an act of self-defense for if we do not fight them over there, we will have to fight them here. Once American forces withdrew, however, Vietnamese stopped killing Americans. Similarly, Hezbollah stopped attacking French and American interests when they withdrew from Lebanon in 1984. As noted above, they largely stopped attacking Israelis when they withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 (with the exception of the Shebaa Farms, which they claim is part of Lebanon).

Therefore, a second reason for the U.S. government’s disproportionate hostility toward Hezbollah may be to convince Americans that radical Islamist groups with a nationalist base will not stop attacking even after troop withdrawal. The Bush administration has insisted that the United States must destroy the terrorists in Iraq or they will attack the United States. But the rise of Islamic extremist groups and terrorist attacks in Iraq came only after the United States invaded that country in 2003. And if Americans recognized that attacks against Americans by Iraqis would stop if U.S. forces withdrew, it would be harder to justify the ongoing U.S. war. Similarly, if Americans recognized that terrorist attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad would likely cease if Israel fully withdrew its occupation forces from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip and allowed for the emergence of a viable independent Palestinian state, they would no longer be able to defend their financial, military, and diplomatic support for the ongoing occupation, repression, and colonization of those occupied Palestinian territories by the right-wing Israeli government. (As with Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad did not come into existence until after years of Israeli occupation and the failure of both secular nationalist groups and international diplomacy to end the occupation.)

This, of course, is not what the Bush administration or Congressional leaders want people to think, however, since it would make it far more difficult to defend the wars in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon. Therefore, it is politically important to convince Americans that Hezbollah is a terrorist group engaged in continuous terrorist attacks that constitute an ongoing threat to the national security interests of the United States and its allies.

The tragedy is how easily the mainstream media and the American public are willing to believe these simplistic misinterpretations of the complex Lebanese political situation, and how easily the war on terrorism can be manipulated to justify a U.S.-backed offensive against a small democratic country’s civilian infrastructure.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/jihad_against_hezbollah

Israel Will Create More Terrorists Than It Kills

The Bush administration’s contempt for the United Nations Charter, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the other fundamental principles of international law has once again been laid bare by its defense of the ongoing Israeli assault against Lebanon.

The seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militiamen, apparently taken in retaliation against Israeli attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip, was clearly wrong.

Israel would have a right to engage in a targeted paramilitary action to free the hostages and, if necessary, kill their captors.

However, large-scale attacks against civilian targets unrelated to the kidnapping is an act of collective punishment, a clear violation of international law.

Israel holds thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners seized within the territory of those nations by Israeli forces. Most of these Arab prisoners have not engaged in terrorism and many are non-combatants. How is Israel’s seizure and detention of these people different from Hezbollah’s seizure and detention of the two Israeli soldiers? Does Israel’s refusal to release its hostages give Lebanon or Palestine, if they were capable of it, the right to engage in a massive bombardment of civilian targets in Israel?

Most of the targets of the Israeli air strikes have nothing to do with Hezbollah, which does not control the Lebanese government and is only a minority party in the Lebanese parliament. Israel has bombed the Beirut International Airport, the main seaport of Juniyah and even the historic lighthouse on the Beirut esplanade, none of which is controlled by Hezbollah. Israel has also bombed bridges, power stations, civilian neighborhoods and villages miles from any Hezbollah militia. And, despite insisting that the Lebanese army take stronger action against the Hezbollah militia, the Israelis have bombed Lebanese army facilities as well.

Close to 200 Lebanese civilians have died in these attacks so far, as well as over a dozen foreigners, including a Canadian family on vacation.

The European Union, consisting of 25 democracies, condemned Hezbollah’s seizure of the Israeli soldiers, but also noted that Israel’s military retaliation against Lebanon is “grossly disproportionate.” The United States is virtually alone in the international community in its defense of the Israeli assault.

Despite President George W. Bush’s claim on Monday that the crisis started because Hezbollah decided to “fire hundreds of rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon,” Hezbollah did not attack civilian areas in Israel until after Israel began attacking civilian areas in Lebanon last week.

In fact, until Israel began its recent assault on Lebanon, not a single Israeli civilian had been killed by Hezbollah since well before Israel’s withdrawal of its occupation forces from southern Lebanon in 2000. Virtually all of Hezbollah’s military actions since then have been against Israeli occupation forces in a disputed border region between Lebanon and an Israel-occupied portion of southwestern Syria, not against Israel.

Congressional leaders of both parties have called for tough action against Syria for allowing the transshipment of rockets to Hezbollah forces, which have killed up to a dozen Israeli civilians. However, they have refused to consider suspending the shipments of F-16 jet fighters and other weapons and delivery systems to Israel. These weapons have inflicted far more civilian casualties on the Lebanese side of the border, despite provisions of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which prohibits U.S. arms transfers to countries that use American weaponry against non-military targets.

In short, both Republicans and Democrats recognize that while arming those who kill innocent Israeli civilians is wrong, they support arming those who kill innocent Lebanese civilians. This is racism, pure and simple.

Not only is Israel’s offensive against Lebanon illegal and immoral, it does not increase Israel’s security or curb the threat of Islamic radicalism. In fact, it does the opposite.

Hezbollah gained popular support in the Shiite community in recent decades largely as a result of the failure of the central government to protect the population from Israeli air and naval attacks and the mass kidnapping and imprisonment of thousands of young men.

Israel’s current offensive will only strengthen Hezbollah’s appeal and undermine Lebanon’s pro-Western government.

This is not about Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense. As with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, it will create far more terrorists than it destroys.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/israel_will_create_more_terrorists_than_it_kills

Congress and the Israeli Attack on Lebanon: A Critical Reading

On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives, by an overwhelming 410-8 margin, voted to unconditionally endorse Israel’s ongoing attacks on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The Senate passed a similar resolution defending the Israeli attack earlier in the week by a voice vote, but included a clause that ?urges all sides to protect innocent civilian life and infrastructure.? By contrast, the House version omits this section and even praises Israel for ?minimizing civilian loss,? despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The resolution also praises President George W. Bush for ?fully supporting Israel,? even though Bush has blocked diplomatic efforts for a cease-fire and has isolated the United States in the international community by supporting the Israeli attacks.

The resolution reveals a bipartisan consensus on the legitimacy of U.S. allies to run roughshod over international legal norms. The resolution even goes so far as to radically reinterpret the United Nations Charter by claiming that Israel’s attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure is an act of legitimate self-defense under Article 51 despite a broad consensus of international legal scholars to the contrary.

In short, both Democrats and Republicans are now on record that, in the name of ?fighting terrorism,? U.S. allies?and, by extension, the United States as well?can essentially ignore international law and inflict unlimited damage on the civilian infrastructure of a small and largely defenseless country, even a pro-Western democracy like Lebanon.

Below are the key provisions of the resolution followed by a critical annotation:

Whereas in a completely unprovoked attack that occurred in undisputed Israeli territory on July 12, 2006, operatives of the terrorist group Hezbollah operating out of southern Lebanon killed three Israeli soldiers and took two others hostage;

Though clearly an illegal and provocative act, Hezbollah’s action was not ?completely unprovoked.? Israel has held three Lebanese citizens for several years who were seized by Israeli forces from within Lebanon and Hezbollah had apparently hoped to work out some kind of swap, as both sides have successfully negotiated previously on several occasions. The seizure of the Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border was also apparently done in retaliation for the ongoing Israeli assaults on civilian population centers in the Gaza Strip.

Whereas Israel fully complied with United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 (1978) by completely withdrawing its forces from Lebanon, as certified by the United Nations Security Council and affirmed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on June 16, 2000, when he said, ?Israel has withdrawn from [Lebanon] in full compliance with Security Council Resolution 425;’

Israel’s current re-conquest of Lebanese territory along its northern border places Israel once again in violation of UN Security Council resolution 425 and nine subsequent resolutions demanding the withdrawal of their forces from Lebanon. Furthermore, Israel never fully complied with UNSC 425: While UN Secretary General Annan indeed recognized in his June 2000 statement that Israel had fully removed its ground forces from Lebanese territory, he has also criticized the repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese air space well prior to the recent outbreak of fighting as ?provocative? and ?at variance? with Israel’s fulfillment of the resolution’s demands for a withdrawal of ground troops from Lebanon.

Whereas despite the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, the Government of Lebanon has failed to disband and disarm Hezbollah, allowing Hezbollah instead to amass 13,000 rockets ? and has integrated Hezbollah into the Lebanese Government;

First of all, UN Security Council resolution 1559 does not call for Hezbollah or any other Lebanese political party to be disbanded, only for their armed militias to be disbanded.

Second, the only extent to which Hezbollah has been ?integrated ? into the Lebanese government? is in naming Hezbollah member Mohammed Fneish to the power and hydraulic resources ministry, one of 24 cabinet posts. Representatives of all Lebanese parties that receive more than a handful of seats in parliamentary elections traditionally get at least one seat in the cabinet.

Third, in a UN Security Council meeting this past January that considered a report on the implementation of resolution 1559, the United States and the other members approved a statement that ?notes with concern the report’s suggestion that there have been movements of arms ? into Lebanese territory and, in this context, commends the Government of Lebanon for undertaking measures against such movements.? In other words, the Lebanese government has not ?allowed? Hezbollah to amass new weaponry; the problem is that their small and weak security forces?now weakened further by Israeli attacks?have simply been unable to prevent it.

This clause in the Congressional resolution therefore appears to be designed to try to justify Israel’s decision to attack not just the Hezbollah militia, but Lebanon as a whole.

Whereas Hezbollah’s strength derives significantly from the direct financial, military, and political support it receives from Syria and Iran

Both Syrian and Iranian support for Hezbollah has declined significantly over the past dozen years, particularly since the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from southern Lebanon.

In reality, Hezbollah’s strength derives primarily from popular support within the Shiite Muslim minority in Lebanon which has suffered from heightened poverty and displacement as a result of the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon between 1978 and 2000, the U.S.-backed Israeli bombardment of the Shiite-populated areas of the country from the 1970s through the 1990s, and the U.S.-backed neoliberal economic policies of the Lebanese government that have decimated the traditional economy. As a result of the violence and misguided economic policies, hundreds of thousands of Shiites were forced to leave their rural villages in the south to the vast shantytowns on the southern outskirts of Beirut where many found support through a broad network of Hezbollah-sponsored social services. As a result of gratitude for such assistance and anger at Israel and the United States for their situation, many became backers of Hezbollah’s populist, albeit extremist, political organization. In the wake of the forced departure of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the destruction of the secular leftist Lebanese National Movement by successive interventions from Syria, Israel, and the United States during the 1980s, the radical Islamist Hezbollah rose to fill the vacuum. In other words, ?Hezbollah’s strength? was very much an outgrowth of U.S. and Israeli policy. Indeed, the group did not even exist until a full four years after Israel began its occupation of southern Lebanon.

Whereas Iranian Revolutionary Guards continue to operate in southern Lebanon, providing support to Hezbollah and reportedly controlling its operational activities;

The vast majority of Iranian Revolution Guards returned to Iran years ago. While they played a critical role in the initial setup of Hezbollah’s armed militia in the early to mid-1980s following Israel’s invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, their presence today is quite small and they are certainly not ?controlling Hezbollah’s operational activities.? The number of active Hezbollah combatants declined significantly since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 (until the call-up of reserves following the initial Israeli attacks) and the movement had long since shifted its primary focus to electoral politics and providing social services for the Shiite community. Furthermore, despite claims by the Bush administration and its supporters that Hezbollah is simply acting as a proxy for Iran, it seems highly unlikely that a populist political party would instruct its militia to provoke a devastating war simply to please a foreign backer.

Whereas the House of Representatives has repeatedly called for full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559;

The House of Representatives never called for the full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 425 and nine subsequent resolutions calling for Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon during Israel’s 22-year occupation of the southern part of that country. Nor has the House ever called for the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 446, 451, 465, and 472 calling on Israel to withdraw its illegal settlements from the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights or dozens of other UN Security Council resolutions currently being violated by Israel, Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, or other U.S. allies. As in the Bush administration, there appears to be a strong bipartisan sense in Congress that UN Security Council resolutions should only apply to governments and movements the United States does not like.

Whereas President George W. Bush stated on July 12, 2006, ?Hezbollah’s terrorist operations threaten Lebanon’s security and are an affront to the sovereignty of the Lebanese Government. Hezbollah’s actions are not in the interest of the Lebanese people, whose welfare should not be held hostage to the interests of the Syrian and Iranian regimes,’ and has repeatedly affirmed that Syria and Iran must be held to account for their shared responsibility in the recent attacks;

As the pro-Western government of Lebanese Prime Minster Fuad Siniora has insisted and as recent events have confirmed, the major threat to Lebanon’s security and the most serious affront to its sovereignty is clearly the U.S.-backed Israeli government, not Hezbollah. And Hezbollah’s political and military activities, like that of other Lebanese political parties, are based primarily upon what the movement’s leadership?however wrongly and cynically?believe is in the best interest of advancing their political agenda and not that of the Syrian and Iranian governments (whose interests in Lebanon are often at variance with each other as well.) It is also disappointing that such an overwhelming majority of Democrats would be willing to cite President Bush as an authority on the situation in Lebanon following a series of demonstrably false claims he has made about that country and the current conflict.

Resolved, That the House of Representatives condemns Hamas and Hezbollah for engaging in unprovoked and reprehensible armed attacks against Israel on undisputed Israeli territory, for taking hostages, for killing Israeli soldiers, and for continuing to indiscriminately target Israeli civilian populations with their rockets and missiles;

Though such condemnation is appropriate, it is noteworthy that this resolution does not also condemn Israeli attacks against sovereign Lebanese territory and its targeting of civilian population centers, essentially backing the racist notion that Israeli territory and Israeli civilians are more important than that of Lebanese territory and civilians. It is also important to note that not a single Israeli civilian had been killed from Hezbollah attacks since well before Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago until Israel started killing Lebanese civilians when it launched its attacks on July 12.

further condemns Hamas and Hezbollah for cynically exploiting civilian populations as shields, locating their equipment and bases of operation, including their rockets and other armaments, amidst civilian populations, including in homes and mosques;

This clause appears to be designed to blame the Lebanese, not the Israeli armed forces, for the deaths of innocent civilians. As Human Rights Watch has noted, ?Deploying military forces within populated areas is a violation of international humanitarian law, but that does not release Israel from its obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian property during military operations.? While it is not unusual for outgunned guerrilla movements with popular local support to have equipment in close proximity to civilian population, none of the offices of members of Congress who supported the bill which I have contacted has been able to cite any independently documented cases in the current conflict where Hezbollah has engaged in ?exploiting civilian populations as shields.? (Two offices cited Israeli government claims to this effect, but the Israeli government has previously made similar claims that were later proved false.)

recognizes Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and welcomes Israel’s continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties;

This runs directly counter to reports by international journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations that indicate that Israel has not been committed to ?minimizing civilian loss? or preventing civilian casualties. As of this writing, well over 300 Lebanese civilians have been killed, the vast majority being nowhere near Hezbollah military installations. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court Justice, declared that Israel’s ?indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians. Similarly, the bombardment of sites with innocent civilians is unjustifiable.? (She also correctly criticized Hezbollah’s attacks into civilian areas in Israel.)

None of the Congressional offices I contacted was able to provide me with any data countering these reports. In supporting this resolution, 410 House members have gone on record challenging the credibility of these reputable human rights organizations and UN agencies, which have courageously defended the rights of victims or war and repression for decades. Supporters of this resolution have apparently demonstrated their willingness to misrepresent the truth in order to strengthen President Bush’s efforts to undermine international humanitarian law.

demands the Governments of Iran and Syria to direct Hamas and Hezbollah to immediately and unconditionally release Israeli soldiers which they hold captive;

Regardless of whether Iran and Syria are willing to work for the release of Israeli soldiers, neither government has the power to ?direct? Hamas and Hezbollah to do anything. The decision by Congress to overstate the leverage that Iran and Syria have over these movements?like similar exaggerations of Soviet and Cuban leverage over leftist revolutionaries in Central America during the 1980s?appears to be based less on reality and more on helping to promote the right-wing global agenda of a Republican administration.

affirms that all governments that have provided continued support to Hamas or Hezbollah share responsibility for the hostage-taking and attacks against Israel and, as such, should be held accountable for their actions [and] condemns the Governments of Iran and Syria for their continued support for Hezbollah and Hamas in their armed attacks against Israelis and their other terrorist activities;

This appears to provide the legal justification for future military action against Syria and Iran.

Ironically, however, the biggest supporters of Hamas have not been Syria or Iran but Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-backed monarchies in the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, the ruling parties of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government and their militias have long maintained close ties to Hezbollah. By only mentioning Syria and Iran, however, Congress is clearly not concerned about ?all governments? that support these groups but only governments that the United States does not consider allies.

Furthermore, given that Israeli attacks have taken far more civilian lives than the Hezbollah and Hamas attacks, why should not the Bush administration also be condemned for its support of Israel’s armed attacks against Lebanese and Palestinians?

supports Israel’s right to take appropriate action to defend itself, including to conduct operations both in Israel and in the territory of nations which pose a threat to it, which is in accordance with international law, including Article 51 of the United Nations Charter;

Article 33 requires all parties to first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice,? which Israel has refused to do. Article 51 does allow countries the right to resist an armed attack but not to use a minor border incident as an excuse to launch a full-scale war against an entire country, particularly when the armed group that violated the border was a private militia and not the army of the country in question.

Article 51 also states that self-defense against such attacks is justified only ? until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security,? which may explain why the Bush administration?with the near-unanimous support of Congress?has blocked the UN Security Council from imposing a cease fire or taking any other action. Such a radical reinterpretation of Article 51 allows the Bush administration and future U.S. administrations to justify massive military strikes against foreign countries in reaction to relatively minor incidents provoked by irregular forces within that country.

The International Red Cross, long recognized as the guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, has declared that Israel has been violating the principle of proportionality in the conventions as well as the prohibition against collective punishment. Similarly, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour?who served as chief prosecutor in the international war crimes tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia?has gone on record declaring that the armed forces of both Hezbollah and the Israeli government have been engaging in war crimes. None of the Congressional offices I contacted was willing to provide documentation that challenged these assessments.

commends the President of the United States for fully supporting Israel as it responds to these armed attacks by terrorist organizations and their state sponsors;

President Bush is virtually alone among the United States’ Western allies and the international community as a whole in his unconditional support for Israel’s assault on Lebanon. Since President Bush’s most significant role since the outbreak of the fighting has been to block diplomatic efforts by the United Nations, the European community, and others to arrange a cease-fire, this resolution is essentially an endorsement of indefinite war. It is disappointing that all but seven of the House’s 201 Democrats would once again give their unconditional support for President Bush regarding a Middle East policy based primarily on the use of force. In backing President Bush in this resolution, Congress has gone on record challenging the broad international consensus that, however reprehensible the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas may be, Israel’s actions are excessive and in violation of international legal norms.

urges the President of the United States to bring the full force of political, diplomatic, and economic sanctions available to the Government of the United States against the Governments of Syria and Iran;

Given that the Bush administration and Congress already have implemented strict political, diplomatic, and economic sanctions against Syria and Iran, it is unclear what more could be done. Indeed, with such strict sanctions already in place, it is difficult for President Bush to exercise any additional leverage short of military action.

demands the Government of Lebanon to do everything in its power to find and free the kidnapped Israeli soldiers being held in the territory of Lebanon;

Israel has been bombing Lebanese army and other government facilities and has destroyed virtually every bridge connecting the central part of the country (where most of the central government’s police and military apparatus is based) to Hezbollah strongholds in the south (where the Israeli soldiers are presumably being held). It is hard to understand, therefore, how the Lebanese government could do much at this point to find and free the Israeli soldiers. It is also noteworthy that the resolution says nothing about Lebanese citizens kidnapped by Israeli forces who are currently being held in Israel.

calls on the United Nations Security Council to condemn these unprovoked acts and to take action to ensure full and immediate implementation of United Nations Security Council 1559 (2004), which requires Hezbollah to be dismantled and the departure of all Syrian personnel and Iranian Revolutionary Guards from Lebanon;

First of all, it is the United States that has prevented the UN Security Council from passing a resolution condemning the capture of the Israeli soldiers and the rocket attacks on Israel because of the threat to veto any resolution which is also critical of the Israeli attacks.

Second, UNSC resolution 1559 requires the ?dismantling and disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias,? which would certainly include Hezbollah’s militia, but not Hezbollah’s far more extensive political apparatus and social service networks. With the Lebanese government unable to force the dismantling and disarming of Hezbollah as long as its armed forces and its transportation infrastructure are under U.S.-backed Israeli attacks, it is hard to understand how the Security Council could ?take action to ensure full and immediate implementation? of the resolution other than to authorize the use of force by other countries under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. But such use of force cannot legally be implemented in an internal security issue without the consent of the recognized government.

Third, the report to the UN Security Council on the implementation of UNSC 1559 in January of this year noted that Syria had complied with provisions for the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon and did not note the ongoing presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guard. (There are reports of a small number of Iranian advisers still in the country, though it is unclear whether foreign military advisers constitute ?foreign forces? under the resolution, particularly since a number of Western nations, including the United States, have sent military advisers to Lebanon since the Syrian withdrawal last year.)

In any case, after its forces entered Lebanon last week, Israel clearly violated UNSC resolution 1559. The resolution calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon. Congress, however apparently believes Israel is somehow exempt from this resolution.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/congress_and_the_israeli_attack_on_lebanon_a_critical_reading

The United States and Lebanon: A Meddlesome History

While the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon one year ago was certainly a positive development, claims by the Bush administration and its supporters that the United States deserves credit are badly misplaced. On the first anniversary of the ousting of Syrian forces by a popular nonviolent movement, it is important to recognize that American calls in recent years for greater Lebanese freedom and sovereignty from Syrian domination have been viewed by most Lebanese as crass opportunism. Indeed, few Americans are aware that for decades the United States pursued policies which seriously undermined Lebanon’s freedom and sovereignty.

Due to such misunderstanding, a brief review of the history of the U.S. role in Lebanon is in order:

The First U.S. Incursion

In 1926, France carved Lebanon out of Syria—which it had seized from the Ottoman Turks at the end of World War I—for the very purpose of creating a pro-Western enclave in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1943, France granted the country independence, leaving behind a unique governing system where the most powerful position of president would always go to a Maronite Christian and the second most powerful position, that of prime minister, would always go to a Sunni Muslim. The post of National Assembly speaker would go to a Shiite Muslim and on down through the country’s smaller ethnic communities such as Druzes, Orthodox Christians, and others. Seats in the National Assembly would be apportioned based upon religious affiliation according to a 1932 French census. This was designed to keep Lebanon under the domination of the Maronite Christians, the country’s largest single religious group, who were far more pro-Western and less prone to support radical Arab nationalists than most Lebanese and other Arabs. Indeed, Lebanon’s very existence as a separate state was predicated on Maronite domination.

One part of maintaining this balance of power was limiting the Lebanese president to one six-year term. In 1958, a crisis was sparked by efforts to push through constitutional changes that would allow the pro-Western president Camille Chamoun to seek re-election. Though Chamoun backed down, Arab nationalist forces threatened to topple the archaic neocolonial electoral system imposed by the French. The United States responded by sending Marines briefly into Lebanon to suppress the incipient rebellion.

Palestinian Refugees and the Outbreak of Civil War

Internal cleavages in Lebanon were compounded by the presence of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who had been driven from their homes during Israel’s war of independence in 1948 and were denied Lebanese citizenship or any representation in the political system. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—which essentially served as the Palestinians’ government-in-exile but was denied recognition by the United States—had taken advantage of the relatively weak central government in Beirut to establish Lebanon as its principal military, administrative, and diplomatic base of operations after being forced out of the Kingdom of Jordan by the Hashemite monarchy in that country’s 1970-71 civil war.

Despite these tensions, the Republic of Lebanon—without a monarch or military dictator—enjoyed more political freedom than any other Arab country. The Lebanese capital of Beirut became a popular destination for American and European tourists and investors and became known as “the Paris of the Orient.”

At the same time, the confessional representation system effectively kept elites from various Lebanese clans in control of the country and, while relatively prosperous compared to other non-oil producing states in the region, the government’s laissez-faire economic policies exacerbated the huge gap between the country’s rich and poor. By the 1970s, as a result of demographic changes, the Maronites had long since lost their status as the largest religious community while Shiite Muslims—who were allocated the least political power of the three major religious communities—had become the largest as well as the poorest.

Tensions grew as rival Lebanese factions began forming heavily-armed militias. A full-scale civil war broke out in April 1975 between Maronite Christians and other supporters of the status quo and their predominantly Muslim opponents.

The “Muslim” side of the conflict during its first phase was actually a largely secular coalition known as the Lebanese National Movement (LNM) which, while consisting primarily of Sunnis and Druzes, also included leftists and nationalists from virtually all of Lebanon’s religious and ethnic communities. The LNM in many respects spearheaded an attempt to have Lebanon join the ranks of the other left-leaning Arab nationalist governments which had come to power over the previous 25 years.

Seeking to block the establishment of such a government that would likely enact policies less sympathetic with the West, the United States—along with the French and Israelis—clandestinely supported the Maronites and their Phalangist militia, the largest armed group among the Maronites and their allies. The far right-wing Phalangist Party was founded by Pierre Gemayel during the 1930s, who modeled his party after the fascist movements then on the ascendancy in Europe.

By the end of 1975, armed units of the PLO—based in Palestinian refugee camps throughout the western part of Lebanon—joined forces with the LNM. There were widespread killings of civilians by both sides, particularly by the Phalangists, and the cosmopolitan city of Beirut became a war zone. By the spring of 1976, the Phalangists and other rightist forces were on the defensive. At that point, some pro-Western elements of the Lebanese government—with the endorsement of the Arab League and the quiet support of the United States—invited Syrian forces into the country to block the LNM’s incipient victory, eventually pushing back PLO and LNM forces out of the central, northern, and eastern parts of Lebanon.

The 1982 Israeli Invasion

Beginning in the early 1970s, as the PLO expanded its presence in Lebanon, the Israelis engaged in frequent air strikes against both military and civilian targets, ostensibly in retaliation for terrorist attacks against Israelis by exiled Palestinian groups based in that country. Despite the high civilian death toll and damage to Lebanon’s economy, particularly in the largely Shiite southern part of the country, the United States defended Israeli actions. Meanwhile, with the collapse of the central government and the disintegration of the country’s armed forces into various armed factions with the outbreak of the civil war, fighters from the various PLO factions—particularly those of the PLO’s Palestine Liberation Army and guerrillas of the dominant Fatah movement—came to control much of southern Lebanon.

In March 1978, in retaliation for an amphibious Palestinian terrorist attack that killed dozens of Israeli civilians on a coastal highway north of Tel Aviv, Israel launched a major incursion into southern Lebanon, resulting in large-scale devastation and deaths of hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. The United States voted with the rest of the UN Security Council in support of Security Council Resolution 425, which called upon Israel to cease all military action and withdraw immediately. U.S. President Jimmy Carter threatened to suspend some U.S. aid if Israel did not pull back its forces, resulting in a partial withdrawal to what Israel later referred to as a “security zone,” a 12- to 20-mile strip of Lebanese territory along Israel’s northern border. A United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) was brought into Lebanon to separate the two sides. Within the Israeli-occupied territory, the Israelis allied with renegade Lebanese General Sa’ad Haddad to form the South Lebanese Army (SLA), which effectively became a foreign regiment of the Israeli armed forces. Nine subsequent UN Security Council resolutions over the next several years reiterated the demand that Israel withdraw completely and unconditionally from Lebanese territory, but the United States blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing them.

Throughout the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, Israel and the SLA periodically bombed and shelled Palestinian military positions as well as civilian areas in southern Lebanon. Palestinian militia would then lob shells into northern Israel, resulting in scores of civilian casualties. Israel, with its vastly superior firepower, tended to inflict a lot more damage. In June 1981, following a particularly heavy series of Israeli air strikes in a crowded Beirut neighborhood that resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties, an envoy from U.S. President Ronald Reagan successfully brokered a cease-fire.

Despite the fact that the PLO largely honored this cease-fire during the subsequent year, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered a full-scale invasion of Lebanon in early June 1982 under the leadership of his Defense Minister General Ariel Sharon. Within weeks, Israel occupied nearly half the country and began laying siege to Beirut. Meanwhile, Israel bombed Syrian positions in eastern Lebanon and shot down dozens of Syrian military aircraft. The United States vetoed a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding an Israeli withdrawal; subsequent resolutions simply calling for a cease-fire were also blocked from passage by U.S. vetoes.

In less that two months, heavy Israeli bombardment of residential areas of Beirut and other cities killed as many as 12,000 Lebanese and Palestinian citizens, the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians. Despite the level of carnage and Israel’s violations of international law, Lebanese sovereignty, and U.S. law which prohibits the use of its weapons for non-defensive purposes, the Reagan administration and Congressional leaders of both parties vigorously defended the Israeli invasion and increased military support for the rightist Israeli government.

U.S. Forces Return to Lebanon

In late August 1982, the United States brokered an agreement whereby the PLO would evacuate its fighters and political offices from Beirut to Tunis, capital of the North African country of Tunisia, 1500 miles to the west. In return, Israel pledged not to overrun the city. The agreement included the deployment of a U.S.-led peacekeeping force to oversee the evacuation of Palestinian fighters. Regarding the safety of the now-disarmed Palestinian refugee population, the agreement stated that, along with the government of Lebanon, the “ United States will provide appropriate guarantees of safety.” Of particular concern to Palestinian civilians was t he Phalangist militia, which had engaged in a series of attacks against Palestinian civilians during the first phase of the civil war, the most infamous being the 1976 massacre of as many as 2,000 Palestinians at the Tal al-Zaatar refugee camp in East Beirut.

Three days following the signing of the August 20 agreement, a rump Lebanese national assembly—under the gaze of Israeli artillery in nearby hills—met to choose a new president. Despite the Phalangist movement’s fascist leanings and its history of atrocities, Bachir Gemayel—the Phalangist militia leader and younger son of the movement’s founder—was chosen as president.

Within two weeks, U.S. forces withdrew from Lebanon, far earlier than anticipated. Three days later, President-elect Gemayel was assassinated in a bombing of Phalangist headquarters, which many have since blamed on Syrian intelligence operatives. Israel used the assassination as an excuse to break its pledge by ordering its armed forces to occupy Beirut. Though this was the first time since World War II that the capital of an independent state had been conquered by a foreign army, the Reagan administration issued only a mild rebuke. The Israelis then sent Phalangist militiamen into Sabra and Shatila, two Palestinian refugee camps on the southern outskirts of the city. There, the Phalangists massacred over 1,000 civilians under the watch of Israeli occupation forces, who did nothing to stop the ongoing atrocity and even launched flares into the camps so to allow the Phalangists to continue their assaults into the night.

In Israel, the growing popular opposition to their right-wing government’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon greatly intensified when Israeli complicity in the massacres became apparent, prompting massive demonstrations calling for a withdrawal of Israeli forces and accountability for Israelis responsible. (An independent Israeli commission, in a February 1983 report, singled out General Sharon for responsibility and his political career at that point was thought to be over. However, he later served as Israeli prime minister from 2001 until his debilitating stroke early this year with the strong support and praise by both President George W. Bush and Congressional leaders of both parties.)

Also controversial was the premature U.S. withdrawal which left the defenseless Palestinian refugee camps vulnerable to the Israeli-backed Phalangist massacre. Secretary of State George Schultz acknowledged to colleagues, “The brutal fact is we are partially responsible.” Deputy National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane went as far as to privately claim that the early departure of U.S. forces was “criminally irresponsible.”

Joined by smaller contingents of French and Italian forces, U.S. troops returned to Beirut by the end of September and Israeli forces withdrew to positions just south of the Lebanese capital. Bachir Gemayel’s older brother Amin, the political leader of the Phalangists, assumed power as president and was soon faced with a popular uprising against his far right-wing government. While France saw its military presence as part of “a mission of maintaining peace and protecting the civil population,” the United States insisted that its troops were there to “ provide an interposition force ” and to provide the military presence “requested by the Lebanese Government to assist it and the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

By that fall, it became apparent that the United States hoped to use its military presence to pressure the Lebanese government to negotiate a permanent peace agreement with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal and to force the withdrawal of Syrian forces in the eastern part of the country as well as the remnants of armed Palestinian groups in the northwest. The Reagan administration even pledged that U.S. forces would remain until the Lebanese army had reconstituted itself and foreign forces withdrew.

Lingering resentment at the U.S. support for the devastating Israeli invasion that summer compounded by anger at the increased military role of U.S. forces in the country resulted in a terrorist backlash: In April 1983, suicide bombers struck the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people.

Under heavy U.S. pressure and with Israeli forces still occupying much of the central and southern parts of the country, the Phalangist-led Lebanese government signed a peace treaty with Israel the following month. The agreement was never ratified, however, due to popular opposition and was formally canceled soon thereafter.

By the end of the summer of 1983, as popular resistance to the country’s Phalangist leadership installed under Israeli guns gained ground, U.S. forces began intervening more directly in support of the rightist government, exchanging fire with Shiite rebels in suburban Beirut slums and bombing and shelling Druze villages supportive of the Socialist-led resistance in the Shouf Mountains. The American air strikes and the utilization of big guns from the battleship New Jersey resulted in large-scale civilian casualties. Despite concerns by peace and human rights groups in the United States, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives joined with the Republican-controlled Senate to authorize the continued presence of U.S. forces in Lebanon for an additional 18 months.

Fighting between U.S. forces and the Lebanese resistance continued into the fall, resulting in scores of American and hundreds of Lebanese casualties. In October, a suicide bomber attacked a Marine barracks near the Beirut Airport, killing 241 servicemen.

Fighting escalated still further in the winter months, with U.S. warplanes bombing Syrian positions in eastern Lebanon. Using rhetoric similar to that now being used to justify the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq, administration officials insisted in the face of growing anti-war sentiment in the United States that a withdrawal of American forces from Lebanon would threaten the peace and stability of the entire region and would be seen as victory for terrorists.

By early 1984, however, as a result of growing opposition within the United States to a counter-insurgency war which appeared to be creating more terrorism and instability than it was suppressing, the United States finally withdrew its forces from Lebanon.

The damage to America’s reputation had been done, however. As a result of U.S. support for the Israeli invasion and its subsequent intervention on behalf of what was widely seen as an illegitimate right-wing minority government, Lebanon had evolved from being perhaps the most pro-American country in the Arab world to, by the mid-1980s, perhaps the most anti-American country in the Arab world.

Ongoing Anti-American Terrorism

The rebuilt U.S. embassy was blown up again in September 1984, killing 54 people. What had once been one of the safest Middle Eastern countries in which Americans could travel became the most dangerous. Despite almost all American residents of Lebanon departing the country, several fell victim to assassinations and nearly a dozen others were kidnapped and held hostage. Reagan administration efforts to buy Iranian influence to pressure the Lebanese hostage-takers to release their American captives led to the arms-for-hostages deals which later came to light during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Despite the enormous attention given to the American hostages, and much to the consternation of human rights groups, the U.S. government expressed little concern regarding the fate of thousands of young Lebanese and Palestinian men seized by Israeli occupation forces and sent to prisons in Israel and Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon. Hundreds were held without charge for more than 15 years and many later reported they had been routinely tortured.

Another U.S. response to Lebanese terrorism was counter-terrorism, including the formation of a CIA-backed Lebanese intelligence unit designed to target suspected Shiite radicals. In March of 1985, in an unsuccessful effort to assassinate the anti-American Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, this U.S.-trained and -funded hit squad planted a bomb in a working class Beirut neighborhood which killed 80 civilians.

In June of 1985, Lebanese hijackers—including a man whose family had been killed by shells launched from the battleship New Jersey— seized a TWA airliner and forced it to Beirut, holding the passengers and crew hostage on the airport tarmac for 17 days. A U.S. Navy officer on board was executed.

In an interview with the New York Times, former President Jimmy Carter observed, in regard to Lebanon, “We bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers, women and children and farmers and housewives, in those villages around Beirut. As a result, we have become a kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of hostages and that is what has precipitated some terrorist attacks.”

The Rise of Hizbullah

By the summer of 1985, guerrilla warfare by Lebanese Communists, the Lebanese Shiite Amal militia, some Palestinian factions, and other guerrilla movements forced the Israelis to withdraw their occupation forces from central Lebanon back into the far southern part of the country originally seized in 1978. Meanwhile, Syrian forces—which still controlled most of the eastern part of the country—were turning their guns against Maronite strongholds in the east and in mountain regions of the north, shelling a number of Christian towns and villages.

The Lebanese terrorists who had targeted Americans included both Sunni and Shiite extremists. Many of the latter coalesced into the Hizbullah (Party of God), developed with the assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Much the movement’s support was drawn from the hundreds of thousands of Shiites who, following years of Israeli attacks, were forced from southern Lebanon into the shanty towns on the southern outskirts of Beirut. In the wake of the forced departure of the PLO and the destruction of the LNM by successive interventions from Syria, Israel, and the United States, Hizbullah and older Shiite militias like Amal rose to fill the vacuum.

In the parts of southern Lebanon north of the Israeli-occupied sector, Hizbullah came to exercise almost full control and began an armed struggle against the remaining Israeli occupation forces. Israel, with American military, financial, and diplomatic support, continued its defiance of the UN Security Council by maintaining its occupation of the southernmost strip of Lebanon, now claiming it was necessary to protect Israelis from the Hizbullah. Yet this threat from Hizbullah was very much an outgrowth of U.S. and Israeli policy: the group did not even exist until a full four years after Israel began its occupation of southern Lebanon.

Through the remainder of the 1980s, Lebanon remained under the control of the Syrian army, the Israeli army, and a myriad of Lebanese militias. With Lebanon’s central government, which had still not re-formed a standing army, unable to challenge the Israeli occupation, the Hizbullah—despite its radical brand of Shiite Islamic ideology—was thereby able to take the lead in the nationalist resistance to the Israeli occupation.

The End of the Civil War

In 1989, an agreement was signed in the Saudi Arabian city of Ta’if which would end the civil war by disarming the militias and revising the French-imposed Constitutional structure to lessen Maronite dominance. The settlement was initially blocked by General Michel Aoun, who had been serving as interim prime minister since September 1988 of one of two rival Lebanese governments which had been set up at the end of President Gemayel’s term. In March 1989, he had declared a “war of liberation” against the Syrian presence in his country. Aoun was supported by Iraq, one of the few Arab governments to speak out against the ongoing Syrian military presence in Lebanon. (When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Saddam Hussein declared that Iraqi forces would not leave that occupied emirate unless Syria also withdrew its forces from Lebanon.)

In October of 1990, Syrian forces in Beirut led an attack on Aoun’s stronghold, ousting the general and finally ending Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. The senior Bush administration backed the Syrian attack against Saddam’s most regionally important ally, with State Department officials acknowledging that the assault and resulting Syrian domination of subsequent Lebanese governments would not have been possible without the U.S. government’s support. (Ironically, despite his earlier alliance with Saddam Hussein and his role in a number of notorious massacres, General Aoun has been widely feted and praised by both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill as a hero for his anti-Syrian stance.)

During the early 1990s, a revived central Lebanese government and its Syrian backers disarmed most of the militias that had once carved up much of the country. Due to the ongoing Israeli occupation in the south, however, the Israeli-backed SLA remained intact, as did Hizbullah, whose low-level guerrilla warfare against Israeli occupation forces had strengthened its popular support. Despite Lebanese participation in the U.S.-organized Madrid peace conference in 1991, it became apparent that an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon was not a high priority for the United States.

With the U.S. veto power preventing the United Nations from enforcing its resolutions calling for an Israeli withdrawal, the UN was largely powerless to deal with the situation. Even on the ground, the UN’s role was limited: Israel had long refused to allow United Nations peacekeeping forces, initially dispatched to Lebanon in 1978, to take up positions on the Lebanese side of the Israeli-Lebanese border as the Security Council demanded, so they were forced to patrol a “no man’s land” just north of the Israeli-occupied zone between Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the SLA on one side and Hizbullah on the other side. Caught in the crossfire, scores of UN soldiers—with only side-arms at their disposal—were killed, primarily by the SLA.

Hizbullah and the Balance of Power

Through most of the 1990s, Hizbullah periodically fired shells into northern Israel, killing and injuring a number of civilians. Hizbullah claimed it was in retaliation for Israeli attacks against civilian areas in southern Lebanon which had taken a far greater number of civilian lives and pledged to cease such shelling once Israel ended its occupation. Meanwhile, the United States condemned Hizbullah not just for its occasional attacks inside Israel but also for its armed resistance against Israeli soldiers within Lebanon, despite the fact that international law recognizes the right of armed resistance against foreign occupation forces. The United States was apparently hoping that enough Israeli pressure against Lebanon would force the Lebanese to ratify a separate peace treaty with Israel and thereby isolate the Syrians. Similarly, the Syrians saw an advantage of allowing Hizbullah to fight Israel in Lebanon as a means to pressure Israel to withdraw from the Golan region of Syria, which had been seized by the Israelis in the 1967 war and had been under Israeli military occupation ever since.

In an effort to discredit Hizbullah’s efforts to free Lebanon from foreign military occupation, U.S. officials began to portray the populist Shiite movement as simply a proxy of the Syrians. In reality, Syria had originally backed Amal, a more moderate Shiite movement which had previously clashed with Hizbullah. As Hizbullah, despite its fundamentalist ideology, gained in popularity among the Lebanese as a result of leading the resistance against the Israeli occupation, Syria increased its support as well, though more through allowing them freedom of action than through substantial military or financial support.

Throughout this period, much of the ordinance and delivery systems used by the Israeli forces against Hizbullah and civilian targets in Lebanon were from the United States, part of the more than two billion dollars of taxpayer-funded military assistance sent annually to the Israeli government. Successive U.S. administrations rejected demands by human rights groups that such military aid be made conditional on an end to Israeli attacks on civilian areas.

The United States repeatedly defended the Israeli assaults, vetoing UN Security Council resolutions condemning the violence as well as questioning the credibility of human rights groups and UN agencies that exposed the extent of the humanitarian tragedy. To cite one notable case from 1996, the Israelis launched a mortar attack against a UN compound near the Lebanese village of Qana that was sheltering refugees from nearby villages which had been under Israeli assault for several days, killing more than 100 civilians. Reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other investigators all indicated that the bombardment was probably intentional. However, despite the failure of the Clinton administration to provide any evidence to challenge these findings, the United States insisted that it was an accident. Some reports have indicated that the U.S. decision to veto the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s re-election the following year was related to his refusal to suppress or tone down the UN’s findings on the Israeli assault on Qana.

By the late 1990s, increasing casualties among Israeli soldiers in occupied Lebanon led to growing dissent within Israel. In response to public opinion polls showing that the vast majority of Israelis wanted their forces to pull out of Lebanon, Martin Indyk, President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel who had also served as his assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, publicly encouraged Israel to keep its occupation forces in Lebanon indefinitely. In other words, the United States was encouraging Israel—against the better judgment of the majority of its citizens—to defy longstanding UN Security Council resolutions that called for Israel’s unconditional withdrawal. When veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas asked about his ambassador’s comments at a press conference the following day, President Clinton replied, “I believe it is imperative that Israel maintain the security of its northern border and therefore I have believed that the United States should be somewhat deferential under these circumstances.” Given the Clinton administration’s demands during that period that the United Nations impose strict sanctions against Arab countries like Iraq, Libya, and Sudan for their violations of UN Security Council resolutions, President Clinton’s public defense of Israel’s ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions reinforced the widespread perceptions in the Middle East and elsewhere of rampant American double standards in its approach to international law.

The Israeli Withdrawal

In May 2000, ongoing attacks by Hizbullah against the IDF and SLA forced the Israelis and their proxy force to make a hasty retreat out of Lebanese territory. In the wake of the failure of those advocating a diplomatic solution to end the Israeli occupation, this perceived military victory by the Hizbullah greatly enhanced the status of the movement among the Shiites and others. Many cite the failure of the United States to allow diplomatic means to succeed in ending the occupation, either through the U.S.-led peace process or through the United Nations system, as a key factor in convincing many Palestinians that the only way to end Israeli occupation of their lands was through armed struggle led by radical Islamists. Indeed, the violent Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began just four months later.

Since then, except for a few minor incidents, the Israeli-Lebanese border has been quiet. The small number of shelling incidents from the Lebanese side appears to have come from small leftist and Sunni groups, not from Hizbullah. There has been periodic fighting, however, between Hizbullah militia and Israeli occupation forces in the disputed Shebaa Farms area along Lebanon’s border with the Israeli-occupied Golan in southwestern Syria.

Though Israel has continued to violate Lebanese air space in violation of UN Security Council resolution 425 and related resolutions—actions which Secretary General Kofi Annan has labeled as “provocative” and “at variance” with what was required of Israel by these Security Council mandates—a nearly-unanimous 2003 Congressional resolution praised Israel’s “full compliance” with the resolution.

Hizbullah never disarmed its militia as required and neither did the Lebanese government nor the Syrians attempted to force them to do so. However, since Israeli forces were withdrawn and the SLA disbanded in 2000, the numbers of Hizbullah fighters are down to around 1,000. The movement functions today primarily as a political party with elected representatives serving in the Lebanese parliament. A detailed report published in July 2003 by the International Crisis Group, an independent organization with close ties to the U.S. foreign policy establishment, described the Hizbullah of today as “maintaining the rhetoric and armed capability of a militant organization but few of its concrete manifestations.” Despite the fact that Hizbullah had not been implicated in any terrorist attacks for more than a decade, the Bush administration’s insistence that they should be treated as a “terrorist group” rather than a political party was therefore greeted with widespread skepticism in Europe and elsewhere.

A Hizbullah-sponsored rally in Beirut on March 8 of last year in opposition to Western pressure against the Syrian and Lebanese governments forced Bush administration officials to acknowledge that they are indeed a powerful force in Lebanese politics which could not be simply dismissed as a band of terrorists. In response, despite reports from the State Department and Congressional Research Service which confirmed the absence of any terrorist attacks by Hizbullah over the past dozen years, the U.S. House of Representatives six days later passed a resolution by an overwhelming 380-3 margin condemning “the continuous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah.”

In Lebanese parliamentary elections that May, a slate led by Hezbollah won 80% of the vote in southern Lebanon and ended up with approximately 25 seats in the 128-member national assembly.

The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act

In a 2003 bill signed by President Bush and passed with only eight dissenting votes in both houses of Congress, the United States strengthened sanctions against Syria. The legislation cited, as one of its key grievances against Damascus, the ongoing Syrian violation of UN Security Council resolution 520, passed in September of 1982, which called for “strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon through the Lebanese Army throughout Lebanon.” A reading of the full text on the UN resolution, however, reveals that it was primarily directed not toward Syria but at Israel, which had launched a major invasion of Lebanon three months earlier and at that point held nearly half of the country, including the capital of Beirut, under its military occupation. Indeed, while one could certainly make the case that this resolution also applied to Syria, Israel was the only outside power mentioned by name in the resolution.

It is interesting to note that none of the supporters of the Syrian Accountability Act had ever called upon Israel to abide by UN Security Council resolution 520, much less called for sanctions against Israel in order to enforce it. Indeed, virtually all of the backers of this resolution who were then in office voted in support of unconditional military and economic aid to the Israeli government during this period when Israel was in violation of this very same resolution for which they later voted to impose sanctions on Syria for violating. Annual U.S. aid to Israel went from $1.7 billion at the time Israel began its occupation of southern Lebanon in 1978 to $4.1 billion in 2000, the final year of Israel’s 22-year occupation, effectively rewarding Israel for its violation of Lebanese sovereignty and international law.

The Syrian Accountability Act and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act did not give Syria any incentive to withdraw from Lebanon since the bill required that sanctions be maintained even if Syria completely pulled out of Lebanon due to other policy differences. The bill also imposed sanctions on Syria until the Syrian government agreed to a series of additional demands which most international observers found unreasonable, such as the insistence that Syria unilaterally disarm itself of certain weapons and delivery systems that hostile neighbors such as Israel and Turkey were allowed to maintain.

The Final Chapter

In September 2004—nine months after the sanctions bill against Syria was signed into law—the United States and France pushed resolution 1559 through the UN Security Council, which reiterated the call for all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon. Syria’s violations of these two resolutions were frequently cited by President Bush, the mainstream media, and Congressional leaders of both parties to highlight Syria’s status as an international outlaw. However, given the U.S. tolerance of the Israeli government’s violations of UNSC resolution 520, 425, and eight other resolutions during Israel’s 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon calling for Israel’s withdrawal—as well as the U.S. veto of several other resolutions challenging Israel’s occupation of and attacks against Lebanon—it again raised questions regarding the sincerity of the United States’ commitment to the Lebanese people’s right of self-determination.

Popular Lebanese anger at the continued Syrian presence in their country and the widespread belief that Syrian intelligence operatives were responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 led to a series of massive nonviolent protests in Beirut—nicknamed the “Cedar Revolution”—which compelled Syrian forces to finally leave Lebanon at the end of April. Elections in June led to a victory by an anti-Syrian coalition and the overbearing influence on the Lebanese government long wielded by Syrian intelligence has waned considerably.

Though the Bush administration expressed its enthusiastic support for last year’s popular anti-Syrian uprising, efforts by the United States to portray itself as a champion of Lebanese freedom and sovereignty are disingenuous in the extreme. For nearly a half century, the United States—like the French, the Syrians, the Palestinians, and the Israelis—has used Lebanon to advance its own perceived strategic interests largely at the detriment of the Lebanese people themselves.

As a result, it is unlikely that the widespread anti-American sentiment in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world will change as long as U.S. demands that principles of self-determination, human rights, and international law be respected only when the violator of these principles is not allied with the United States.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_united_states_and_lebanon_a_meddlesome_history

The Dangerous Implications of the Hariri Assassination and the U.S. Response

The broader implications of the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was seen by many as the embodiment of the Lebanese people’s efforts to rebuild their country in the aftermath of its 15-year civil war, are yet to unfold. A Sunni Muslim, Hariri reached out to all of Lebanon’s ethnic and religious communities in an effort to unite the country after decades of violence waged by heavily armed militias and foreign invaders.

The assassination took place against the backdrop of a growing political crisis in Lebanon. This began in September 2004, when Syria successfully pressured the Lebanese parliament, in an act of dubious constitutionality, to extend the term of the unpopular pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, a move roundly condemned by the international community. Washington was particularly virulent in its criticism, which can only be considered ironic, given that the United States attempted a similar maneuver back in 1958 to extend the term of the pro-American president Camille Chamoun. The result was a popular uprising suppressed only when President Dwight Eisenhower sent in U.S. Marines.

Hariri had his critics, particularly among the country’s poor majority whose situation deteriorated under the former prime minister’s adoption of a number of controversial neo-liberal economic policies. A multi-billionaire businessman prior to becoming prime minister, there were widespread charges of corruption in the awarding of contracts, many of which went to a company largely owned by Hariri himself. A number of treasured historic buildings relatively undamaged from war were demolished to make room for grandiose construction projects.

The size and sophistication of the explosion which killed Hariri, his bodyguards, and several bystanders have led many to speculate that foreign intelligence units may have been involved. Initial speculation has focused on the Syrians, who had previously worked closely with Hariri as prime minister. That relationship was broken by the Syrians’ successful effort to extend the term of President Lahoud, with whom Hariri had frequently clashed as prime minister. As a result, Hariri was poised to lead an anti-Syrian front in the upcoming parliamentary elections in May.

Hariri made lots of other enemies as well, however, including rival Lebanese groups, the Israeli government, Islamic extremists, and powerful financiers with interests in his multi-billion dollar reconstruction efforts. A previously-unknown group calling itself “Victory and Jihad in Syria and Lebanon” claimed responsibility for the attack, citing Hariri’s close ties to the repressive Saudi monarchy. As of this writing, there is no confirmation that they were responsible for the blast or if such a group even exists.

While Syria remains the primary suspect, no evidence has been presented to support the charge. Damascus has publicly condemned the killings and denied responsibility. Syria’s regime, while certainly ruthless enough to do such a thing, is usually not so brazen. They would have little to gain from uniting the Lebanese opposition against them or for provoking the United States and other Western nations to further isolate their government.

The United States, however, has indirectly implicated Syria in the attack and has withdrawn its ambassador from Damascus.

Syria’s Role in Lebanon

Syrian forces first entered Lebanon in 1976 at the invitation of the Lebanese president as the primary component of an international peacekeeping force authorized by the Arab League to try to end Lebanon’s civil war. The United States quietly supported the Syrian intervention as a means of blocking the likely victory by the leftist Lebanese National Movement and its Palestinian allies. As the civil war continued in varying manifestations in subsequent years, the Syrians would often play one faction off against another in an effort to maintain their influence. Despite this, they were unable to defend the country from the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion in 1982, the installation of the Phalangist leader Amin Gemayel as president, and the U.S. military intervention to help prop up Gemayel’s rightist government against a popular uprising. Finally, in late 1990, Syrian forces helped the Lebanese oust the unpopular interim Prime Minister General Michel Aoun, which proved instrumental in ending the 15-year civil war. (Given that General Aoun’s primary outside supporter was Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the United States quietly backed this Syrian action as well.)

The end of the civil war did not result in the end of the Syrian role in Lebanon, however. Most Lebanese at this point resent the ongoing presence of Syrian troops and Syria’s overbearing influence on their government.

The Bush administration, Congressional leaders of both parties, and prominent media commentators have increasingly made reference to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Strictly speaking, however, this is not an occupation in the legal sense of the word, such as in the case of the Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara or Israel’s occupation of Syria?s Golan region and much of the Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank (including East Jerusalem), all of which are recognized by the United Nations and international legal authorities as non-self-governing territories. Lebanon has experienced direct foreign military occupation, however: from 1978 to 2000, Israel occupied a large section of southern Lebanon and from June 1982 through May 1984 much of central Lebanon as well, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Lebanese civilians.

A more accurate analogy to the current Syrian role would be that of the Soviets in the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe during much of the Cold War, in which these nations were effectively client states. They were allowed to maintain their independence and distinct national institutions yet were denied their right to pursue an autonomous course in their foreign and domestic policies.

Currently, Syria has only 14,000 troops in Lebanon, mostly in the Bekaa Valley in the eastern part of the country, a substantial reduction from the 40,000 Syrian troops present in earlier years. This does not mean that calls for an immediate withdrawal of Syrian forces and an end to Syrian interference in Lebanon’s political affairs are not morally and legally justified. However, the use of the term “occupation” by American political leaders is an exaggeration and may be designed in part to divert attention from the continuing U.S. military, diplomatic, and financial support of the real ongoing military occupations by Israel and Morocco.

In September of last year, the United States along with France and Great Britain sponsored a resolution before the UN Security Council which, among other things, called upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon. UN Security Council resolution 1559 was adopted with six abstentions and no negative votes and builds upon UN Security Council resolution 520, adopted in 1982, which similarly calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

The Bush administration, with widespread bipartisan Congressional support, has cited Syria’s ongoing violation of these resolutions in placing sanctions upon Syria. Ironically, however, no such pressure was placed upon Israel for violating UNSC resolution 520 and nine other resolutions (the first being adopted in 1978) calling on Israel to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. In fact, during the Clinton administration, the U.S. openly called on Israel to not unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon as required, even as public opinion polls in Israel showed that a sizable majority of Israelis supported an end to the Israeli occupation, during which hundreds of Israeli soldiers were killed.

Today, many of the most outspoken supporters of a strict enforcement of UNSC resolution 1159 such as Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California were also among the most prominent opponents of enforcing similar resolutions when they were directed at Israel. In short, both Republicans and Democrats agree that Lebanese sovereignty and international law must be defended only if the government challenging these principles is not a U.S. ally.

(Israel was finally forced out of Lebanon in May 2000 as a result of attacks by the militant Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Four months later, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began. Militant Palestinians claim they were inspired by the fact that Israel ended its 22-year occupation not because of the U.S.-led peace process and not because of the United Nations which was blocked by the United States from enforcing its resolutions but because of armed struggle by radical Islamists. Though, for a number of reasons, such tactics are unlikely to succeed in the occupied Palestinian territories, the support of extremist Islamist groups and their use of violence by large sectors of the Palestinian population under Israeli occupation can for the most part be attributed to the United States refusing to support an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon through diplomatic means.)

What Next?

Whether or not the Syrians played a role in Hariri’s assassination, his death will likely escalate pressure by the Lebanese to challenge Syria’s domination of their government. Once centered primarily in the country’s Maronite Christian community, anti-Syrian sentiment is growing among Lebanese from across the ethnic and ideological spectrum. Ultimately, the country’s fate will be determined by the Lebanese themselves. If the United States presses the issue too strongly, however, it risks hardening Syria’s position and allowing Damascus to defend its ongoing domination of Lebanon behind anti-imperialist rhetoric.

While there are many areas in which the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad should indeed be challenged, such as its overbearing influence in Lebanon and its poor human rights record, there is a genuine fear that increased U.S. efforts to isolate the regime and the concomitant threats of military action against Syria will undermine the efforts of Lebanese and Syrians demanding change.

One major problem is that most charges against the Syrian government by the Bush administration and the Congressional leadership of both parties are rife with hyperbole and double standards.

For example, the United States has demanded that Syria eliminate its long-range and medium-range missiles, while not insisting that pro-Western neighbors like Turkey and Israel with far more numerous and sophisticated missiles on their territory similarly disarm. The United States has also insisted that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons stockpiles, while not making similar demands on U.S. allies Israel and Egypt which have far larger chemical weapons stockpiles to do the same. The United States has demanded an end to political repression and for free and fair elections in Syria while not making similar demands of even more repressive and autocratic regimes in allied countries like Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Contrary to U.S. charges that Syria is a major state supporter of international terrorism, Syria is at most a very minor player. The U.S. State Department has noted how Syria has played a critical role in efforts to combat al-Qaida and that the Syrian government has not been linked to any acts of international terrorism for nearly twenty years. The radical Palestinian Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have political offices in Damascus, as they do in a number of Arab capitals, but they are not allowed to conduct any military activities. A number of left-wing Palestinian factions also maintain offices in Syria, but these groups are now largely defunct and have not engaged in terrorist operations for many years.

Much has been made of Syrian support for the radical Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. However, not only has Syrian support for the group been quite minimal in recent years, the group is now a legally recognized Lebanese political party and serves in the Lebanese parliament. During the past decade, its militia have largely restricted their use of violence to Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon and in disputed border regions of Israeli-occupied Syria, not against civilians, thereby raising serious questions as to whether it can actually still be legally considered a terrorist group.

Currently, the Bush administration has expressed its dismay at Russia’s decision to sell Syria anti-aircraft missiles, claiming that it raises questions in regard to President Vladimir Putin?s commitment against terrorism. The administration has been unable to explain, however, how selling defensive weapons to an internationally-recognized government aids terrorists.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Congressional leaders have also accused Syria of threatening the Arab-Israeli peace process. However, Syria has pledged to provide Israel with internationally-enforced security guarantees and full diplomatic relations in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from Syrian territory seized in the 1967 war, in concordance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, long recognized as the basis for peace. They have also called for a renewal of peace talks with Israel, which came very close to a permanent peace agreement in early 2000. However, the right-wing U.S.-backed Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refused to resume negotiations and pledges it will never withdraw from the Golan, thereby raising questions as to whether it is really Syria that is primarily at fault.

Another questionable anti-Syrian charge is in regard to their alleged support of Saddam Hussein and ongoing support of anti-American insurgents in Iraq. In reality, though both ruled by the Baath Party, Syria had broken diplomatic relations with Baghdad back in the 1970s and was the home of a number of anti-Saddam exile groups. Syria and Iraq backed rival factions in Lebanon’s civil war. Syria was the only country to side with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and contributed troops to the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield in reaction to Iraq?s invasion of Kuwait. Syria, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2002, supported the U.S.-backed resolution 1441 demanding Iraqi cooperation with UN inspectors or else face severe consequences. The Syrian government has substantially beefed up security along its borders with Iraq and U.S. military officials have acknowledged that relatively few foreign fighters have actually entered Iraq via Syria. Most critically, there is no reason that Syria would want the insurgents to succeed, given that the primary insurgent groups are either supporters of the old anti-Syrian regime in Baghdad or are Islamist extremists similar to those who seriously challenged the Syrian government in 1982 before being brutally suppressed. Given that Assad’s regime is dominated by Syria’s Alawite minority, which have much closer ties to Iraq’s Shiites than with Sunnis who dominate the Arab and Islamic world, and that the Shiite-dominated slate which won the recent Iraqi elections share their skepticism about the U.S. role in the Middle East, they would have every reason to want to see the newly-elected Iraqi government succeed so U.S. troops could leave.

Despite the highly-questionable assertions which form the basis of the Bush administration’s antipathy toward Syria, there have essentially been no serious challenges to the Bush administration’s policy on Capitol Hill. Indeed, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid have strongly defended President George W. Bush’s policies toward Iraq and Lebanon and helped push through strict sanctions against Syria based upon these same exaggerations and double standards. During the 2004 election campaign, Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, criticized President Bush for not being anti-Syrian enough.

Among the few dissenters is Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who expressed his concern to Secretary of State Rice during recent hearings on Capitol Hill that the tough talk against Syria was remarkably similar to what was heard in regard to Iraq a few years earlier. One of only eight members of Congress to vote against the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act in the fall of 2003, he warned his fellow Senators that the language was broad enough that the administration might later claim it authorized military action against Syria.

As long as the vast majority of Democrats are afraid to appear soft toward the Syrian dictatorship and as long as so few progressive voices are willing to challenge the Democrats, President Bush appears to have few obstacles in his way should he once again choose to lead the country to war.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_dangerous_implications_of_the_hariri_assassination_and_the_us_response

Crediting Bush for Growing Lebanese Demands for Freedom Misplaced

In a mirror image of those who blame everything wrong in the world on President George W. Bush, a surprising number of people are now giving him credit for the recent show of force by hundreds of thousands of Lebanese protestors demanding an end to Syria’s overbearing influence in their country.

It is extremely doubtful that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has had anything to do with the inspirational “people power” demonstrations in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.

Many leading members of the Lebanese opposition–such as the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose assassination prompted the recent wave of anti-Syrian protests–were outspoken opponents of U.S. policy in the region, including the invasion of Iraq. Hariri’s government chaired the emergency Arab League meeting in Cairo just prior to the March 2003 U.S. invasion in which the 22-member body expressed its “total rejection of the threat of aggression on Arab nations, in particular Iraq.”

The recently completed Iraqi or Palestinian elections, which were repeatedly praised by the Bush administration, did not play much of a role either. Lebanon has held competitive elections for many years, though–like in Iraq and Palestine–they have taken place under a foreign military presence that strictly limits the elected government’s ability to act independently. The newly elected Palestinian government is unable to exercise its administration in most of the West Bank, which is still under the control of Israeli occupation forces in violation of several UN Security Council resolutions–which call on Israel to withdraw from areas controlled by the Palestine Authority prior to September 2000.

In Iraq, six weeks after that country’s election, violence and instability continue unabated and the new government–which is yet to be formed–has its power limited by a series of Transitional Administrative Laws and regulatory agencies imposed under the U.S. occupation. If the Iraqi election actually did influence recent events in Lebanon, it may be for different reasons than the Bush administration would like to recognize: parties calling for an end of American domination of Iraq and for a withdrawal of American forces won an overwhelming majority of votes, perhaps inspiring Lebanese who want an end of Syrian domination of their country and for a withdrawal of Syrian forces.

If foreign influence did play a positive role, at least as much credit would belong to France–the former colonial power, which still exerts significant influence in the country–as well as to the United Nations, which last year passed a Security Council resolution calling on all foreign forces to leave Lebanon and will likely play a major role in overseeing an eventual Syrian withdrawal.

Instead, Washington’s attempts to gain support for ridding Lebanon of Syrian domination may have been counter-productive. The pro-government forces became mobilized and the anti-government/anti-Syrian movement appeared to stall as soon as the United States started taking credit for it.

Just as the Bush administration was trumpeting its alleged role of inspiring demonstrations over previous weeks by tens of thousands of supporters of the Lebanese opposition, a counter-demonstration brought hundreds of thousands to the streets to denounce U.S. interference and show support for the pro-Syrian Lebanese government, and pro-Syrian prime minister Oman Karami, who had been dumped last month, was returned to power.

The pro-government rally was primarily organized by the Shiite Hizbullah party but was also supported by Amal (another Shiite party), as well as segments of the Sunni population loyal to Karami. Interestingly, Hizbullah’s leaders have not openly called for the Syrians to remain, but have instead insisted that the withdrawal be carried out according to the guidelines of the Taif Accords (signed by the Syrian and Lebanese governments in 1989), and not as a result of foreign pressure.

Some observers believe that the protest–rather than being against a Syrian withdrawal–was meant more as a show of strength by Hizbullah and others to bargain for a place in a future Lebanese government. The connection the fundamentalist Lebanese Shiite movement has with the secular Syrian Baathist government has always been primarily an alliance of convenience.

Anti-Syrian sentiment has been growing in Lebanon for some time and has become increasingly widespread throughout the country’s diverse religious and ethnic communities. The major problem has not been the presence of Syrian troops per se, which are far less visible and numerous than in previous years, but the effective control Syria wields through its secret police in Beirut, who effectively intimidate government officials into not challenging the wishes of Damascus. It has become less of an issue of ideology or ethnicity as one of nationalism. The New York Times and other news outlets noted that many of the protestors not only opposed Syrian intervention, but opposed French, Israeli, and American intervention as well.

At the same time, the presence of large numbers of affluent Maronite Christians at the earlier opposition rallies led many to dub the effort “the Gucci uprising” or “the BMW revolution.” Lebanese leftist Ghassam Makarem, in noting the high visibility at the anti-Syrian rallies of parties affiliated with the far right and various warlords, observed, “There is absolutely no question that the Syrian presence in the country and their sponsorship of this ruling class should end. But there should also be no question that we cannot allow the genuine calls for peace and freedom to be hijacked by fascists and war criminals.”

The fact that the United States has supported a number of prominent Lebanese “fascists and war criminals” over the years has added to the backlash. The growing American calls for greater Lebanese sovereignty is viewed by most Lebanese as crass opportunism on the part of Washington, which for decades has undermined Lebanon’s sovereignty.

The bottom line is that the complexity of Lebanese politics and the new dynamics on the ground in reaction to Hariri’s killing precludes any premature claim of American credit for whatever positive developments have emerged in that war-ravaged country challenging the undue influence of Syria. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the widespread anti-American sentiment in Lebanon will change as long as U.S. demands that Lebanese sovereignty be respected appear to be limited only to situations where the violator of that sovereignty is not allied with the United States.

http://www.fpif.info/fpiftxt/473

The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony

On October 15, the U.S. House of Representatives, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, passed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, which imposes strict sanctions against the Syrian government. (A similar bill was introduced earlier this year in the Senate and is pending.)

Both Republican and Democratic leaders in the House International Relations Committee agreed to not allow for any witnesses opposing the bill to testify at the committee hearings for the bill, which a major shift away from previous U.S. policy that stressed engagement with the nationalist government in Damascus.

Given the already somewhat limited trade between the United States and Syria, as well as Syria’s growing commercial ties with western European countries, the impact of the sanctions will minimal. What is noteworthy about the vote, however, is that a careful reading of the bill reveals a rather frightening consensus in support of the Bush Administration’s unilateralist worldview.

Only four of the 435-member House of Representatives cast a dissenting vote.

Ironically, both politically and economically, Syria has liberalized significantly over the past decade or so. The level of repression is far less than it was during its peak in the 1970s and is significantly less than a number of other Middle Eastern countries, including close U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the size and power of Syria’s military has been reduced dramatically from its apex in the 1980s as a result of the dissolution of its Soviet patron. Syrian links to international terrorism have also declined markedly.

This begs the question as to why this resolution was passed now?

The answer may lie in today’s unipolar world system where the United States, rather than supporting comprehensive and law-based means of promoting regional peace and security, insists upon the right to impose unilateral demands targeted at specific countries based largely upon ideological criteria. As the one-sidedness of the vote on this resolution indicates, both the Republicans and the Democrats, including the most liberal wing of the party, now accept this vision of U.S. foreign policy.

There are still many reasonable criticisms that can be directed at the authoritarian regime of Bashar Assad and its policies. However, the resolution imposing the sanctions is so filled with hyperbole and double-standards that it undermines its own credibility. In fact, its real purpose may be to simply demonize a government whose main offense appears to be its refusal to support the Bush Administration’s foreign policy agenda in the Middle East.

The primary grievances expressed in the legislation against Syria are in regard to the regime’s alleged support for international terrorism, its ongoing military presence in Lebanon, its hostility toward Israel, the alleged military threat from its weapons of mass destruction, its alleged support for the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and those Iraqis resisting the U.S. occupation, and its status as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Below are some excerpts from the recently-passed legislation, sorted by category, followed by an analysis:

Support for International Terrorism

Among the Findings listed in the resolution include:

(4) The Government of Syria is currently prohibited by United States law from receiving United States assistance because it has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism, as determined by the Secretary of State for purposes of section 6(j)(1) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. App. 2405(j)(1)) and other relevant provisions of law.

(5) Although the Department of State lists Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism and reports that Syria provides “safe haven and support to several terrorist groups,” fewer United States sanctions apply with respect to Syria than with respect to any other country that is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

According to the State Department’s most recent annual Report on Global Terrorism, “the Syrian Government has not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986.” With the exception of Cuba (which is kept on the list for purely political reasons), all the other countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism (North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Libya) are either currently or were in the very recent past involved in direct support and sponsorship of terrorist activities.

It is noteworthy that, during the Syrian-Israeli peace talks in the 1990s, the Clinton Administration offered to remove Syria from its list of states sponsoring terrorism if it agreed to terms offered by Israel. During that period, State Department officials admitted that keeping Syria on this list was not a result of direct Syrian support for international terrorism, but as a means of political leverage against the regime.

According to the same State Department report,

The Syrian Government has repeatedly assured the United States that it will take every possible measure to protect US citizens and facilities from terrorists in Syria. During the past five years, there have been no acts of terrorism against US citizens in Syria. The Government of Syria has cooperated significantly with the United States and other foreign governments against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations and individuals. It also has discouraged any signs of public support for al-Qaida, including in the media and at mosques.

In 2002, Syria became a party to the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, making it party to five of the 12 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.

Furthermore, Syria has passed on hundreds of files crucial data regarding Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups in the Middle East and Europe to U.S. officials, including information on the activities of radical cells and intelligence about possible future terrorist operations. Seymour Hersh reported in the July 28, 2003 New Yorker that the CIA had told him that “the quality and quantity of information for Syria exceeded the agency’s expectations” but that Syria “got little in return for it.”

Congress has now decided to risk a suspension of such important cooperation in the struggle against international terrorism by imposing sanctions against the Syrian government. This is the same Congress that has continued to support close military and economic ties to the government of Saudi Arabia despite its lack of such cooperation.

Another Finding in the bill noted:

6) Terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, maintain offices, training camps, and other facilities on Syrian territory, and operate in areas of Lebanon occupied by the Syrian armed forces and receive supplies from Iran through Syria.

Syria’s role in promoting international terrorism is not as extensive as this finding makes it appear.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is a Marxist-Leninist group which peaked in their popular support and in their terrorist activities in the 1970s and has been in decline ever since. The PFLP is now a legal opposition political party within areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Their limited military activities in recent years (which have been targeted primarily but not exclusively against Israeli police and military) have been launched from within the West Bank and Gaza Strip in areas controlled by Israeli occupation forces and the Palestine Authority. No military operations appear to have come from Syria.

The terrorist activities by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) have also declined markedly since their apex in the 1970s. There have been some minor incidents attributed to the PFLP-GC in recent years, such as two attacks on illegal Israeli settlements, one in the occupied Golan Heights in 2001 and the other in the Gaza Strip in 2003. There have also been some incidents along the Lebanese border that some reports link to the PFLP-GC, though these have not been confirmed. There is no evidence that Syria had any connection with the clashes, which originated in southern Lebanon in areas that are outside of direct Syrian military control.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the only two groups mentioned in the resolution that do engage in major ongoing terrorist activities, are based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in areas controlled by Israeli occupation forces and the Palestine Authority. It appears that all of their terrorist attacks have originated within the areas under PA and Israeli control and none from areas of Syrian control. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have political offices in Damascus, as they do in the capitals of a number of Arab countries, and have done some political organizing in some Palestinian refugee camps, including those in Syria. Most of Hamas’ outside support has come from individuals and organizations based in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf. Islamic Jihad has received most of its outside support from Iran. The Damascus regime has brutally suppressed Syrian Islamists that espouse similar ideological views as these two extremist Palestinian groups.

The alleged Islamic Jihad “training base” located in a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus that was bombed by Israel in early October appears to have actually been an abandoned PFLP-GC facility. The Bush administration defended the attack by claiming that there were active military facilities on site, though they could only show evidence of some anti-aircraft batteries, which are usually considered to be defensive weapons rather than instruments of terrorism. Given that Islamic Jihad’s mode of operations is strapping explosive devices to the bodies of suicide bombers who walk into public areas with high concentrations of civilians, it is unclear why they would need a training base in a foreign country anyway.

State Department reports of some limited Syrian logistical support for these groups may indeed be accurate. However, there is little to back the resolution’s claim that Syria, at least at any time in the past decade and a half or so, “has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” Syria is at most a very minor player in this regard.

The only group mentioned in the resolution that has received significant Syrian support for its operations is the extremist Lebanese Shiite group Hizballah, though Syria’s principal Shiite ally in Lebanon has traditionally been the rival Amal faction. Most of Hizballah’s support has come from Iran and even that has declined markedly since the early 1980s.

During the 1982-84 U.S. military intervention in Lebanon, terrorist cells that later coalesced into Hizballah engaged in a series of kidnappings and assassinations of Americans as well as bombings against the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks, among other terrorist operations. However, Hizballah has since become a legally-recognized Lebanese political party and serves in the Lebanese parliament. During the past decade, its armed components have largely restricted their use of violence to Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon and in disputed border regions, not against civilians. Since attacks against foreign occupation forces is considered legitimate under international law, it is unclear as to why Congress still considers Hizballah to be a “terrorist” group.

Military Presence in Lebanon

Among the Findings of the resolution is the following:

Article 7: United Nations Security Council Resolution 520 (September 17, 1982) calls for “strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon through the Lebanese Army throughout Lebanon.”

A reading of the full text of this resolution reveals that this was actually in reference to Israel, which had launched a major invasion of Lebanon three months earlier and at that point held nearly half of the country, including the capital of Beirut, under its military occupation. Indeed, Israel was the only outside power mentioned by name in the resolution. Though the Israelis pulled out of Beirut shortly thereafter and withdrew from most of central Lebanon by the following year, Israel kept its occupation forces in southern Lebanon until May 2000 in violation of this Security Council resolution and nine others calling for their unconditional withdrawal.

At the time UN Security Council resolution 520 was passed, there were also Syrian troops in the country. (Palestinian forces had been withdrawn shortly beforehand.) These Syrian forces entered Lebanon six years earlier as the primary component of an international peacekeeping force authorized by the Arab League to try to end Lebanon’s civil war. The United States quietly supported the Syrian intervention as a means of blocking the likely victory by the leftist Lebanese National Movement and its Palestinian allies.

Having already abused their mandate by that time, one can certainly make the case that this resolution applied to Syria as well and, given that Syrian troops remain in Lebanon to this day, that Syria is still in violation of this resolution. While not formally an occupying army, the Syrian military presence makes it possible for Damascus to exercise an enormous amount of influence on the Lebanese government, particularly in foreign affairs, in a manner similar to that of the Soviet Union in relation to the Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

It is interesting to note, however, that none of the supporters of the Syrian Accountability Act, the vast majority of whom were in office during at least some of the nearly eighteen years that Israel was in violation of this resolution, ever called on Israel to abide by UN Security Council resolution 520, much less call for sanctions against Israel in order to enforce it. Indeed, virtually all of the backers of this resolution then in office were supporters of unconditional military and economic aid to the Israeli government during this period when Israel was in violation of this very same resolution for which they have now voted to impose sanctions on Syria for violating.

It is also worth noting that there are currently over 90 UN Security Council resolutions being violated by countries other than Syria, the vast majority of which are by governments for which this same Congress has allocated billions of dollars worth of unconditional military and economic aid.

In short, virtually the entire Democratic Party in the House of Representatives has joined its Republican colleagues in supporting the Bush Administration’s contention that UN Security Council resolutions should only be acknowledged or enforced in regard to governments the United States does not like, but UN Security Council resolutions should not be enforced or even acknowledged in regard to America’s allies.

The operational part of the bill reads:

(3) the Government of Syria should immediately declare its commitment to completely withdraw its armed forces, including military, paramilitary, and security forces, from Lebanon, and set a firm timetable for such withdrawal;

While this is a very reasonable demand in itself, given the support by the vast majority of this resolution’s supporters of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, it would be naïve to think that most sponsors of the bill actually care about Lebanese sovereignty. If they did care about Lebanese sovereignty they would have demanded that Israel abide by UN Security Council resolution 520 and nine other resolutions demanding Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon prior to Israel’s long-overdue pullout in May 2000. They did not, however. This seems to indicate that Congress is using the ongoing presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon as an excuse to isolate one of the few countries in the Middle East that dares challenge Washington’s policy prerogatives in the region.

In a final irony, the star witness in the House International Committee hearings in support of this bill, particularly in regard to the Syrian role in Lebanon, was Michel Aoun, the Lebanese general who seized the post of prime minister of a military government in 1988 and unsuccessfully tried to block the Taif Accords which brought an end to that country’s bloody 15-year civil war. He was ousted by Lebanese troops with the help of Syrian forces in the fall of 1990, just prior to the launch of the 1991 Gulf War. What none of the committee members bothered to point out during his testimony was that the United States quietly supported the Syrian assault against his regime since Aoun’s chief foreign backer during his time in power was none other than Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Relations with Israel

Among the Findings of the resolution, is the following:

(13) Even in the face of this United Nations certification that acknowledged Israel’s full compliance with Resolution 425, Syria permits attacks by Hizballah and other militant organizations on Israeli outposts at Shebaa Farms, under the false guise that it remains Lebanese land, and is also permitting attacks on civilian targets in Israel.

The Shebaa Farms is on a disputed border region between Lebanon and Syria that Syria (perhaps opportunistically) now acknowledges is part of Lebanon. In any case, it is not part of Israel: the area was seized by Israeli armed forces during its 1967 invasion of Syria’s Golan plateau and they have held the territory under military occupation ever since. Armed resistance against foreign occupation forces is considered legal under international law. In any case, there have been no attacks against Israeli forces since January 2003.

Furthermore, while the United Nations has acknowledged Israeli withdrawal of ground troops from Lebanon, the Secretary General’s most recent report on the situation in June 2003 denounced Israeli violations of Lebanese air space as “provocative” and “at variance with Israel’s otherwise full compliance with Security Council resolution 425.”

There have been virtually no border clashes on the Lebanese-Israeli border involving Hizballah since the 2000 Israeli withdrawal, though this past July shells from Hizballah anti-aircraft fire against Israeli planes illegally encroaching onto Lebanese airspace fell into Israeli territory, injuring three Israeli civilians. Furthermore, there are no Syrian forces near Lebanon’s border with Israel, thereby making it unclear as to how Syria could “permit” or not permit such attacks other than by entering the territory and attempting to forcibly disarm them, likely provoking a series of armed clashes they would wish to avoid.

Another Finding observes:

(15) The Israeli-Lebanese border and much of southern Lebanon is under the control of Hizballah, which continues to attack Israeli positions, allows Iranian Revolutionary Guards and other militant groups to operate freely in the area, and maintains thousands of rockets along Israel’s northern border, destabilizing the entire region.

This clause is misleading on several counts:

With a few very minor incidents, Hizballah attacks against Israeli positions since the withdrawal of Israeli occupation troops from southern Lebanon have been restricted to Israeli occupation forces in the Shebaa Farms region on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Iranian Revolutionary Guards had a visible presence in the area during the early 1980s, but sightings subsequently have been quite rare.

Furthermore, Israel has far more powerful, accurate, and lethal military hardware on its side of the border. Israeli attacks in Lebanon over the years have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, while Hizballah attacks have killed less than two dozen civilians on the Israeli side, none for at least five years. The only apparent increases in armaments on the Lebanese side appear to be the placement of additional anti-aircraft batteries, which are defensive in nature. No part of northern Israel has been subjected to military occupation by Lebanese, though Israel illegally occupied parts of southern Lebanon and beyond for 22 years between 1978 and 2000.

Congress, however, apparently believes that it is this Lebanese militia inside Lebanon, not an Israeli army that has invaded, occupied and repeatedly bombed its neighbors, that is responsible for “destabilizing the entire region.”

The operational clause of the bill states:

(6) the Governments of Lebanon and Syria should enter into serious unconditional bilateral negotiations with the Government of Israel in order to realize a full and permanent peace;

First of all, it is unclear why Congress insists that Lebanon and Syria must enter into bilateral negotiations as opposed to multilateral negotiations as called for by the United Nations in Security Council resolution 338, particularly given the interrelatedness of the concerns of these three nations.

The Syrian and Lebanese governments have offered full diplomatic relations with Israel and strict security guarantees in return for a total Israeli withdrawal from occupied Syrian territory in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which successive U.S. administration have insisted should be the basis for Arab-Israeli peace. However, the U.S.-backed Israeli government of Ariel Sharon has categorically rejected an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Syrian territory, even in return for full diplomatic relations and strict security guarantees.

Syria has expressed its willingness to resume peace talks with Israel where the discussions left off in 2000. Israel’s right-wing government has refused, however, saying the talks must start from scratch. By insisting that Syria must enter new talks “unconditionally” rather than resume them from the two parties’ previous negotiating positions, where both sides made major concessions, took several years to reach and came very close to success, Congress is effectively rejecting the position of the more moderate former Israeli government of Ehud Barak and instead embracing the rejectionist position of current right-wing leader Sharon.

As a result, it is unclear how entering into such negotiations with an occupying power that categorically refuses to withdraw from conquered land would “realize a full and permanent peace” unless the intent of Congress is to force complete Syrian capitulation in accepting Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan region. This would be an unreasonable demand, however, since the UN Charter expressly forbids any nation from expanding its territory by force and UN Security Council resolution 497 declares the Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan is illegal and must be rescinded.

Military Threat

Among the Findings, the resolution includes:

(18) The Government of Syria continues to develop and deploy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

(19) According to the December 2001 unclassified Central Intelligence Agency report entitled `Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat through 2015′, `Syria maintains a ballistic missile and rocket force of hundreds of FROG rockets, Scuds, and SS-21 SRBMs [and] Syria has developed [chemical weapons] warheads for its Scuds’.

What Congress fails to mention is that Israel has a vastly superior missile capability relative to Syria, fielding short-range Jericho I and medium-range Jericho II missiles, both of which use solid propellant and are nuclear-capable. Israel’s missiles are significantly more advanced technologically, are more accurate, have a wider range and can carry a larger payload than the Syrian missiles.

Meanwhile, Syria’s northern neighbor Turkey has at least 120 MGM-140 tactical missiles as well as cruise missiles. Egypt has intermediate-range Badr 2000 missiles, not to mention an array of short range missiles, including the Harpoon, the Ottomat, the CSS-N-2, and the Project T.

It should not be surprising to Congress that in such a strategic environment Syria would also opt to develop short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

Another Finding observes:

(25) Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention or the Biological Weapons Convention, which entered into force on April 29, 1997, and on March 26, 1975, respectively.

This is true, yet Israel and Egypt, which are the world’s two largest recipients of U.S. military aid, are not parties to these conventions either. Congress apparently believes that while it is legitimate for Israel and Egypt to refuse to ratify these important arms control conventions, Syria’s refusal to ratify these same two conventions is grounds for strict economic sanctions.

Similarly, another Finding in the bill notes:

(20) The Government of Syria is pursuing the development and production of biological and chemical weapons and has a nuclear research and development program that is cause for concern.

While it is widely acknowledged that Syria, like several other countries in the region, has a chemical weapons program, there is no evidence that Syria currently has any biological weapons. Furthermore, it is unclear why Syria’s civilian nuclear program is of such “concern” for Congress: Syria is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has “accepted the full scope safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency to detect diversions of nuclear materials from peaceful activities to the production of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that they have any kind of nuclear weapons program.

Yet another finding observes:

(22) On May 6, 2002, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, John Bolton, stated: “The United States also knows that Syria has long had a chemical warfare program. It has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin and is engaged in research and development of the more toxic and persistent nerve agent VX. Syria, which has signed but not ratified the [Biological Weapons Convention], is pursuing the development of biological weapons and is able to produce at least small amounts of biological warfare agents.”

The Defense Department has pointed out that while Syria has a biotechnical infrastructure capable of supporting limited agent development, it has not begun a major effort to produce biological agents or to put them into weapons and Syria would need significant foreign assistance to manufacture large amounts of biological weapons.

Finally, it should be noted that Bolton has very little credibility among the intelligence community, which was reportedly “fed up” with his assertions regarding Syria. (During this same testimony, Bolton claimed that Cuba also had a biological weapons program, which was roundly dismissed as pure fantasy.) That Congress would cite Bolton rather than more credible reports from other U.S. government agencies regarding Syria’s chemical and biological capabilities is indicative of the continued willingness by both Republicans and Democrats, exhibited most prominently in the buildup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to believe whatever the Bush administration wants to tell them.

The operational clause of the resolution states:

(5) the Government of Syria should halt the development and deployment of medium- and long-range surface-to-surface missiles and cease the development and production of biological and chemical weapons;

Syria’s development of its advanced missile programs and WMDs came only after other countries in the region first developed theirs, programs which still exist today and from which the Syrians still feel threatened:

The first country in the Middle East to obtain and use chemical weapons was Egypt (which used phosgene and mustard gas in the mid-1960s during its intervention in Yemen.) There is no indication Egypt has ever destroyed any of its chemical agents or weapons and it is believed that the U.S.-backed Mubarak regime is continuing its chemical weapons research and development program. Similarly, it is widely believed that Egypt began a program that produced weaponized biological agents as far back as the early 1960s. As of 1996, U.S. officials publicly acknowledged that Egypt had developed biological warfare agents and there is no evidence that they have since been eliminated. Egypt is considered a major U.S. ally and Congress annually grants over two billion dollars worth of military and economic assistance to the Mubarak government.

Israel is widely believed to have produced and stockpiled an extensive range of chemical weapons and is engaged in ongoing research and development of additional chemical weaponry. Israel is also believed to maintain a sophisticated biological weapons program, which is widely thought to include anthrax and more advanced weaponized agents and other toxins. Israel also has a sizable nuclear weapons arsenal with sophisticated delivery systems.

Unlike the case of Iraq, there are no UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Syria cease its development of WMDs or missile programs. The only UN Security Council resolution addressing WMD proliferation in this part of the Middle East is UN Security Council resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israel is still in violation of this resolution, though this does not seem to bother Congress.

Syria has called for a weapons of mass destruction free zone for the entire Middle East, similar to what already exists in Latin America and the South Pacific. By imposing strict sanctions on Syria for failing to disarm unilaterally, however, Congress has roundly rejected this concept or any other kind of regional arms control regime. Instead, Congress has gone on record supporting the idea that the United States has the authority to say which country can have what kind of weapons systems, thereby enforcing a kind of WMD apartheid, which will more likely encourage, rather than discourage, the proliferation of such dangerous weapons.

Support for Iraq

The Findings of the resolution includes the following:

(30) On March 28, 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned: `[W]e have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles . . . These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts, and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments’.

(34) On April 13, 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld charged that `busloads’ of Syrian fighters entered Iraq with `hundreds of thousands of dollars’ and leaflets offering rewards for dead American soldiers.

There has been absolutely no independent confirmation of either of these charges.

These clauses and other parts of the resolution imply that the Syrian government has been a major backer of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In reality, despite being ruled by the Ba’ath Party, Syria has historically been a major rival of Iraq’s Ba’ath regime. Syria broke diplomatic relations with Baghdad in the 1970s and never renewed them. Damascus was the base of a number of exiled anti-Saddam Iraqi leaders and organizations. Syria was the only Arab country to back Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. It was one of the only non-monarchical Arab states to have backed the United States against Iraq during the first Gulf War, dispatching troops to support Operation Desert Shield. Iraq and Syria backed rival factions in Lebanon’s civil war. As a member of the United Nations Security Council, Syria voted this past November in favor of the U.S.-backed resolution 1441 that demanded full cooperation by the Baghdad government with United Nations inspectors, with the threat of severe consequences if it failed to do so. Most recently, Syria voted in favor of the U.S.-backed resolution 1511 on post-war Iraq.

In reality, the problem Congress seems to have with Syria is not that Damascus really has supported Saddam Hussein’s regime and its remnants, but that it, like most nations in the world, simply opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In addition, it seems rather extraordinary that Congress would make statements by Donald Rumsfeld part of their findings on this resolution, given the Defense Secretary’s history of misinformation on issues related to Iraq:

For example, on March 30, 2003, Rumsfeld confidently stated, in reference to Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, that “We know where they are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, north and south somewhat.” On March 23, 2003, he said that American intelligence reports indicate that Iraqi forces “have chemical and biological weapons, and that they have dispersed them, and that they are weaponized, and that, in one case at least, the command and control arrangements have been established.”

Both of these claims have since been shown to be utterly false.

Similarly, on November 14, 2002, Rumsfeld claimed “Two sons-in-law of Saddam Hussein defected, went into Jordan, and the word came out and they told where these inspectors could go look, they went and looked, and they found weapons of mass destruction.”

This is also untrue. When the two men defected to Jordan in 1995 they told UNSCOM inspectors, among other things, that “All weapons: biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed.” The information they provided UNSCOM was obviously useful, but it did not lead inspectors to find any weapons since they no longer existed.

Membership in the UN Security Council

From the Findings of the resolution:

(31) According to Article 23(1) of the United Nations Charter, members of the United Nations are elected as nonpermanent members of the United Nations Security Council with `due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to the contribution of members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to other purposes of the Organization’.

(32) Despite Article 23(1) of the United Nations Charter, Syria was elected on October 8, 2001, to a 2-year term as a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council beginning January 1, 2002, and served as President of the Security Council during June 2002 and August 2003.

In the operational clause of the resolution, it declares that:

(8) as a violator of several key United Nations Security Council resolutions and as a nation that pursues policies which undermine international peace and security, Syria should not have been permitted to join the United Nations Security Council or serve as the Security Council’s President, and should be removed from the Security Council.

It is interesting that Congress raised no objection when the Suharto regime of Indonesia served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 1995-96. At that time, Indonesia was engaged in an illegal military occupation of the island nation of East Timor in direct violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding its immediate withdrawal and recognition of the right of the people of East Timor to self-determination. In the course of Indonesia’s 26-year occupation, more than 200,000 people, one-third of the country’s population, died as a result of massacres, forced relocation and related atrocities.

Similarly, there was no objection raised in Congress to Morocco serving as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 1992-93. At that time and to this day, Morocco has been engaged in an illegal occupation of the nation of Western Sahara, placing the kingdom in direct violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding its immediate withdrawal and recognition of the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination. Morocco has even refused to move forward with a UN-sponsored resolution on the fate of the territory despite a series of UN Security Council resolutions calling for their cooperation.

In other words, Congress believes that if a regime is allied to the United States, it is okay to serve as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, even if that government is “a violator of several key United Nations Security Council resolutions” and “pursues policies which undermine international peace and security.” However, in the case of Syria, even though its violations of UN Security Council resolutions and its threats to international peace and security are significantly less substantial than that of Morocco or Indonesia, Congress believes they must be removed from that body.

Finally, it should be noted that this resolution is from the same Congress that in October 2002 authorized President George W. Bush to invade and occupy a sovereign country despite it being a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and a threat to international peace and security. Needless to say, there are no suggestions from Congress that the United States should be denied its seat on the UN Security Council.

Conclusion

The purpose of this critical overview is not to defend Assad’s regime in Damascus. Given the nature of the Syrian government and its policies, a case could be made that strict sanctions such as those enacted in this legislation might be appropriate under certain conditions.

What is so disturbing about this bill and its near-unanimous support, however, is that the language of the resolution is emblematic of the new bipartisan consensus in Washington in favor of a hegemonic world order led by the Bush Administration. In the near-unanimous passage of this bill, Republicans and Democrats alike are on record in their conviction that the United States has the right to punish particular nations for certain policies while providing military, economic and diplomatic support for allied nations that engage in very policies. Both Republicans and Democrats alike are on record trusting unsubstantiated claims by neo-conservative ideologues who have lied repeatedly about so-called “rogue states” in order to justify increased U.S. militarism and foreign wars. Both Republicans and Democrats alike are on record rejecting multilateral arms control treaties in favor of forcing unilateral disarmament by some governments while sending billions of dollars worth of sophisticated weaponry to neighboring states. Both Republicans and Democrats alike are manipulating popular concern regarding international terrorism to justify policies which actually weaken the United States’ ability to counter this very real threat.

The Syrian Accountability Act is not a reflection of popular concern for the Lebanese people, for non-proliferation, for preventing terrorism, or for defending the United Nations. It is a reflection of an imperial world view. Those politicians who support such a role for the United States through such legislation, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, must be held accountable.

http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1030-01.htm

U.S. Must Insist Israel Return to the Peace Talks and Withdraw from Lebanon

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to pull out of the peace talks with Syria is a shameless capitulation to Israel’s far right and raises serious questions as to whether the Israeli government is seriously interested in peace. President Clinton must demand that Israel return immediately to the negotiation table and come into full compliance with UN Security Council resolutions or risk an immediate cutoff of U.S. military and economic aid.

The Israeli government broke off the talks following an attack by Lebanese guerrillas against Israeli occupation forces inside Lebanon. Israel has insisted that Syria somehow stop these Lebanese fighters from engaging in such attacks before negotiations can resume. However, the Hezbollah militia is not controlled by the Syrian government; they operate independently and have relied on Iran as their major backer. Indeed, throughout the 1980s, the Hezbollah engaged in a series of bloody clashes with a Syrian proxy militia known as Amal. While some of the Hezbollah’s arms supplies come through Syria and Syrian forces are stationed in other parts of Lebanon, the Syrians correctly note that international law recognizes the right of those under foreign military occupation to armed resistance against the forces of the occupation army.

Indeed, Syrian president Hafez al-Assad would never agree unilaterally to disarm the Hezbollah while Israel continues to occupy any part of Lebanon or Syria. The Israelis no doubt know this and were probably looking for an excuse to break off the talks, even as the Syrians had agreed to most of their demands. Nonetheless, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright still condemns the Lebanese for fighting Israeli occupation forces on their land while refusing to criticize Israel for backing out of the talks.

Even if the Syrian dictator was willing to attempt to reign in the guerrillas, neither Hezbollah nor the Lebanese people would let him do so without a fight. With the United States blocking enforcement of a series of UN Security Council resolutions ordering Israel’s unconditional withdrawal from Lebanese territory, most Lebanese now see armed struggle as necessary. Even the pro-Western, conservative Lebanese government supports the Hezbollah’s right to resist.

If Barak is serious about protecting Israeli soldiers, he should withdraw them from Lebanese territory. The majority of Israelis, including the right-wing opposition Likud bloc, support Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, seeing it has a hopeless quagmire that has cost the lives of hundreds of soldiers. Almost all of the Hezbollah attacks against Israelis had been against Israeli soldiers in occupied Lebanon-not civilians in Israel itself. It is thus the so-called “security zone” in which Israelis are most vulnerable. Neither the U.S. nor the Israeli governments appear willing to consider such a withdrawal, preferring instead to blame Syria for the situation.

The occupation is also illegal. UN Security Council resolution 425 and nine subsequent resolutions demand that Israel withdraw from all Lebanese territory unconditionally. However, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East Martin Indyk has publicly called on Israel to remain in Lebanon anyway, effectively calling on a U.S. ally to defy resolutions supported by previous U.S. administrations. It is ironic that the Clinton administration is willing to starve Iraqi children for their government’s noncompliance with UN Security Council resolutions while at the same time it continues to openly support Israel’s ongoing defiance of the world body.

Israel first seized control of southern Lebanon in 1978, following a bloody attack by Palestinian commandos on the Israeli coast. With the assistance of a right-wing Lebanese militia-which has essentially evolved into a foreign regiment of the Israeli army-Israel has controlled a six-to twelve-mile strip of Lebanon along its northern border ever since, representing about 10 percent of Lebanon’s territory. The resistance fighters of the Hezbollah are composed mostly of Shiite Muslims native to the farming villages adjacent to the Israeli-held territory. Even those who do not agree with the militia’s fundamentalist ideology see them as freedom fighters, trying to liberate their country from a foreign military occupation.

Islamic extremists were never much of a factor in Lebanon until after the 1982 U.S.-backed Israeli invasion and the subsequent direct U.S. military intervention in support of a rightist Lebanese government installed under Israeli guns. During this period, the more moderate Islamic and secular groups were largely destroyed, from which the Hezbullah has filled the vacuum.

This fundamentalist movement, which was responsible for the kidnapping of several Americans and other Westerners in the 1980s, has come from nowhere a little more than fifteen years ago to become one of Lebanon’s most powerful political groupings. It is from the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shiites who have fled north from years of Israeli attacks into the slums of the greater Beirut where Hezbollah receives the core of its support. Indeed, Hezbollah did not even exist until four years after Israel began its occupation and heavy bombardment of southern Lebanon. It is very much a manifestation of US and Israeli policy.

The Hezbollah is not just anti-occupation, but anti-Israel. However, there is little question that their popular support would considerably lessen as soon as the Israelis withdrew. At that point, the Lebanese and Syrian authorities could disarm them, as they have other militias.

However, Israel-with U.S. backing–continues to try to resolve the situation by force. Israel has repeatedly bombed civilian targets throughout Lebanon, targeting bridges, dams, power plants, and other segments of the country’s civilian infrastructure many miles from areas of Hezbollah control. The Israelis have killed many hundreds of Lebanese civilians in their bombing and shelling attacks, including a1996 raid on a UN compound sheltering refugees in which more than one hundred civilians were killed; reports by the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other investigators indicate that the bombardment was deliberate. The Clinton administration has repeatedly defended such Israeli attacks, vetoing UN resolutions condemning the violence and slandering human rights groups and UN agencies which have exposed the extent of the humanitarian tragedy.

Through its massive attacks on Lebanon, Israel has resorted to the same tactics for which it accuses its Hezbollah enemy: terrorizing innocent civilians in order to influence government policy. Just as the attacks by Arab extremists against Israeli civilians have hardened Israeli attitudes towards the peace process, so have Israel’s attacks against Lebanese civilians, which have resulted in far more casualties and will likely make it all the more difficult for Lebanon and Syria to compromise further with Israel. The U.S. has acknowledged that Syria has already agreed to demilitarize the Golan Heights, allow for international monitors, sign a nonaggression pact, and pursue normal diplomatic relations with Israel. Yet is not willing to insist that Israel move forward with the peace process. The Clinton administration, by arming and funding Israeli occupation forces and refusing to insist Israel return to the negotiating table, severely weakens the credibility of the United States as an honest broker.

With the Clinton administration rendering the UN ineffective, the Lebanese government-whose foreign affairs are largely dictated by Syria-is left only with the hope of negotiating an Israeli withdrawal through the U.S.-brokered peace talks which must focus first on a peace agreement between Syria and Israel. Given that Israel has now broken off these talks, the Lebanese victims of Israeli occupation and attacks (as well as the Israeli conscripts risking their lives for the sake of a tragically misguided US-Israeli policy) have little for which to hope.

If the United States is truly Israel’s friend, the Clinton administration must be willing to pressure Israel to abide by its international obligations, withdraw its forces from Lebanon, and negotiate a peace settlement with Syria that returns all Syrian territory in exchange for security guarantees. Only then will Israel find the security it so desperately wants and deserves.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/us_must_insist_israel_return_to_the_peace_talks_and_withdraw_from_lebanon