For the past two weeks Israel has wreaked havoc on Lebanon by indiscriminately bombing not only Hezbollah's stronghold in the south but civilian targets in the north of the country as well. The abduction and capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, the stated reason for this onslaught, appears to have happened inside Lebanon.
After two weeks of relentless ground, sea, and air assault, the success is far from certain.
It is a replay of what Israel has done many times. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon to kick the Palestinians out of the country. It was accomplished at the cost of 18,000 Palestinian and Lebanese lives and destruction of much of Beirut. The present invasion has already killed more than 400 Lebanese men, women, and children and has left more than 600,000 homeless.
Hezbollah was born during Israel's 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon and it was Hezbollah that eventually forced Israel to quit Lebanon in 2000. It is a grass-roots organization that enjoys widespread public support in Lebanon and across the Arab world. The current operation might cripple it to some extent but will not be enough to eliminate it completely. In fact Moshe Arens, former Israeli foreign minister, thinks Hezbollah could emerge from the conflict unscathed.
It is ironic that Israel refuses to negotiate with Hezbollah for the release of captured soldiers even though Israel has done so in the past and has exchanged prisoners. The negotiations will eventually take place, but much more damage to Lebanon will have been done by then.
It is bound to further inflame the Arab and Muslim world against Israel and its main supporter and benefactor, the United States. These events will push more young Arab men and women into the arms of militants and terrorists.
The irony is that the kidnapping of soldiers and civilians has been a common occurrence in the Middle East. The issue has always been resolved by direct or indirect negotiations and the exchange of prisoners. Israel has been kidnapping Lebanese and Palestinians citizens at will. There are an estimated 9,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, including members of the Palestinian parliament and some Hamas ministers. There are also a small number of Lebanese in Israeli captivity. These captured men, women, and children have no recourse. Why did Israel respond so ferociously?
Hezbollah has been a constant source of worry and irritation for Israel because of its military prowess, its links with Iran and Syria, and its influence and power in Lebanese politics. According to a recent report by Mathew Kalman in the San Francisco Chronicle, Israel started planning for the current operation soon after its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. The plan, shared with the United States and other key allies, spelled out the current three-week operation in great detail.
Israel had expected worldwide condemnation of its exaggerated and out of proportion response to Hezbollah's provocation. It is, as it has always been, oblivious to and dismissive of world opinion. Thanks to the awesome influence of the Jewish lobby in America, Israel can get away with anything. The Bush Administration's callous attitude to the carnage in Lebanon and a lopsided 410-8 vote in the House of Representatives cheering Israel for its actions speaks volumes about the impotence of the United States.
Israel wishes to redraw the map of the Middle East at the expense of Arabs and Palestinians. On her recent visit to the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice justified the widespread destruction caused by Israel as the birth pangs of a new Middle East. Unless the world finds an equitable and honorable solution to the 58-year-old conflict, this is going to be a long, protracted, and fruitless labor.