In his last interview – after the 1967 six-day war – the historian Isaac Deutscher, whose next-of-kin had died in the Nazi camps and whose surviving relations lived in Israel, said: “To justify or condone Israel’s wars against the Arabs is to render Israel a very bad service indeed and harm its own long-term interest.” Comparing Israel to Prussia, he issued a sombre warning: “The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase ‘Man kann sich totseigen!’ ‘You can triumph yourself to death’.”
In Israel’s actions today we can detect many of the elements of hubris: an imperial arrogance, a distortion of reality, an awareness of its military superiority, the self-righteousness with which it wrecks the social infrastructure of weaker states, and a belief in its racial superiority. The loss of many civilian lives in Gaza and Lebanon matters less than the capture or death of a single Israeli soldier. In this, Israeli actions are validated by the US.
The offensive against Gaza is designed to destroy Hamas for daring to win an election. The “international community” stood by as Gaza suffered collective punishment. Dozens of innocents continue to die. This meant nothing to the G8 leaders. Nothing was done.
Israeli recklessness is always green-lighted by Washington. In this case, their interests coincide. They want to isolate and topple the Syrian regime by securing Lebanon as an Israeli-American protectorate on the Jordanian model. They argue this was the original design of the country. Contemporary Lebanon, it is true, still remains in large measure the artificial creation of French colonialism it was at the outset – a coastal band of Greater Syria sliced off from its hinterland by Paris to form a regional client dominated by a Maronite minority.
The country’s confessional chequerboard has never allowed an accurate census, for fear of revealing that a substantial Muslim – today perhaps even a Shia – majority is denied due representation in the political system. Sectarian tensions, over-determined by the plight of refugees from Palestine, exploded into civil war in the 1970s, providing for the entry of Syrian troops, with tacit US approval, and their establishment there – ostensibly as a buffer between the warring factions, and deterrent to an Israeli takeover, on the cards with the invasions of 1978 and 1982 (when Hizbullah did not exist).
The killing of Rafik Hariri provoked vast demonstrations by the middle class, demanding the expulsion of the Syrians, while western organisations arrived to assist the progress of a Cedar Revolution. Backed by threats from Washington and Paris, the momentum was sufficient to force a Syrian withdrawal and produce a weak government in Beirut.
But Lebanon’s factions remained spread-eagled. Hizbullah had not disarmed, and Syria has not fallen. Washington had taken a pawn, but the castle had still to be captured. I was in Beirut in May, when the Israeli army entered and killed two “terrorists” from a Palestinian splinter group. The latter responded with rockets. Israeli warplanes punished Hizbullah by dropping over 50 bombs on its villages and headquarters near the border. The latest Israeli offensive is designed to take the castle. Will it succeed? A protracted colonial war lies ahead, since Hizbullah, like Hamas, has mass support. It cannot be written off as a “terrorist” organisation. The Arab world sees its forces as freedom fighters resisting colonial occupation.
There are 9,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli gulags. That is why Israeli soldiers are captured. Prisoner exchanges have occurred as a result. To blame Syria and Iran for Israel’s latest offensive is frivolous. Until the question of Palestine is resolved and Iraq’s occupation ended, there will be no peace in the region. A “UN” force to deter Hizbullah, but not Israel, is a nonsensical notion.