Over 300 people killed, most of them civilians. 1,000 wounded. Half a million and rising displaced from their homes. A third of these Lebanese casualties, according to the UN, have been children. These estimated figures dwarf in scale the terror and tragedy that paralysed London almost around the same time last year, when 52 were killed and over 700 wounded in a coordinated bomb attack on the commuter transport system.
What’s happening in Lebanon is six times the devastation, six times the agony, six times the trauma, six times the terror of the 7/7 terrorist attacks. But our leaders in UK, US and European governments don’t seem to think so. They have all unanimously fumbled their fingers and mumbled meaninglessly as Israel has proceeded to respond to Hizbollah’s capture of IDF combatants — an action in concordance with legitimate military resistance against illegal occupation — by ruthlessly smashing civilian life and infrastructure in Beirut. IDF operations have targeted key civilian installations, including water and sanitation systems, destroyed Lebanon’s largest dairy farm and pharmeceutical plant, shelled UN posts sheltering civilians, flattened whole villages, and turned mosques, churches and houses into rubble. They have cut off roads and bridges, blocking urgently needed humanitarian assistance.
But such terrorist attacks, when targeted against the Other, no longer constitute terrorism at all; in our Orwellian world of media double-speak, they become instead laudable acts of valour. In fact, when an Israeli air strike killed 8 Canadian citizens in southern Lebanon, US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton emphasized that such deaths due to IDF operations are morally different to the deaths of Israelis due to attacks by Hizbollah. “I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts,” he said. In contrast, Israeli military operations constituted only “self-defense”, with the “the tragic and unfortunate consequence of civilian deaths.”
Dead Lebanese are unworthy victims. They don’t count. But Israeli lives do. The moral distinction drawn by Bolton is not in fact moral at all; it is political, a political decision to view the lives of one group of human beings as sacred, and another group as functionally irrelevant. Such “moral” distinctions are central to the legitimization of large-scale systematic violence against a particular human group.
The Beirut bombings are not the result of a fundamentally religious conflict. Israel Defence Force raids are indiscriminately murdering Lebanese and non-Lebanese Muslims, Jews and Christians. It’s difficult, caught in the horror of the bloodied bodies left in the wake IDF air strikes, to remind ourselves of the context of the crisis, and its strategic trajectories. But the broad ramifications must be understood.
Israeli policy-planners have long envisaged a protracted wider regional conflict as a potentially useful way for Israel to achieve longstanding historical objectives. Israeli spokesmen have been at pains to characterize the conflict as a regional conspiracy against Israel hatched by Iran and Syria. But this obscures the fact that, although the latter indeed provide support for Hizbollah, the Lebanese resistance group remains an autonomous and outspoken organization rooted firmly in its national homeland. US and Israeli officials, however, see the drastic escalation of the conflict as an opportunity to explore the prospects for US-Israeli military expansionism.
The invasion of Iraq was, we ought to remind ourselves, merely the first stage in a rolling strategy for the reconfiguration of the Middle East whose existence is now well-documented and indisputable. Reporting for Time Magazine in February 2003, Joe Klein â€“ a member of the Council on Foreign Relations â€“ observed that: â€œIsrael is very much embedded in the rationale for war with Iraq. It is part of the argument that dare not speak its name, a fantasy quietly cherished by the neo-conservative faction in the Bush and by many leaders of the American Jewish Community.â€ The US war on Iraq was intended to be the beginning of a whole new era in the Middle East, designed to â€œsend a message to Syria and Iran about the perils of support for Islamic terrorists,â€ bring an end to the Palestinian problem, and shake the â€œwobbly Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.â€ We are now seeing the next stages of this “new era” in construction.
Need we also remind ourselves of the influential 1996 strategy paper authored by David Wurmser published by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS) based in Jerusalem and Washington D.C.? It advised: “The battle to dominate and define Iraq is, by extension, the battle to dominate the balance of power in the Levant over the long run… The United States must support moves to challenge Syriaâ€™s position in Lebanon, to undermine Iran, to ensure Turkeyâ€™s long-term pro-Western tilt and integration into Europe, to support Jordanâ€™s efforts in Iraq, and to understand better the dynamics of Saudi succession as they relate to its foreign policy.”
The overwhelming danger is plain for all reasonable observers to see. Israel is escalating its aggression, in both diplomatic rhetoric and military conduct, against Beirut, Damascus and Tehran, knowing full-well that this is dramatically increasing the probability of a wider conflict. Tehran has loudly confirmed its solidarity with Damascus in the event of a serious Israeli assault there. As the IDF continues to terrorise Lebanon with impunity while our own governments continue to supply military and financial aid to Israel, Hizbollah is left with little option but to escalate its own responses with support from Iran and Syria. As usual, Hizbollah’s responses are in turn cited by Israel as ample justification for the increasing its own indiscriminate massacres of Lebanese civilians, which further aggravates and escalates Hizbollah’s retaliations.
As the cycle widens and deepens, US leaders and experts increasingly blame Iran, albeit without evidence, for engineering Hizbollah’s initial operation to capture the IDF soldiers. The danger that the increasing involvement of Iran and/or Syria in the conflict could be exploited by Israel to convert it into a full-scale regional war should not be underestimated. As the late Professor Israel Shahak of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote years ago in his Open Secrets (London: Pluto, 1997):
“The wish for peace, so often assumed as the Israeli aim, is not in my view a principle of Israeli policy, while the wish to extend Israeli domination and influence isâ€¦ Israel is preparing for a war, nuclear if need be, for the sake of averting domestic change not to its liking, if it occurs in some or any Middle Eastern states… Israel clearly prepares itself to seek overtly a hegemony over the entire Middle East…, without hesitating to use for the purpose all means available, including nuclear ones.”
There could perhaps be no better time to heed Shahak’s warning than now, when both the US and Israel, with British complicity and European duplicity, are maneuvering themselves into a position where they can legitimize the opening of multiple military confrontations with Lebanon, Iran and Syria. The nuclear implications have never been lost on our leaders. Both Britain and the United States have adopted first-strike nuclear policies, and are actively pursuing tactical nuclear weapons to make such unconventional warfare strategically viable. Vice-President Dick Cheney continues to spend most of his time in secret nuclear bunkers where he oversees the establishment and functioning of an unelected network of unknown officials, planned to immediately come into power in the event of a nuclear strike against the United States.
For the last few decades in the Middle East, armageddon has long lingered on the horizon, but in light of recent events, its shadow looms closer. Our leaders are not rational, trustworthy individuals, and we are not safe in their hands. We do not want to experience 7th July 2005 a thousand times over. So we must take action, now; which means making the voices of we, the people, heard so clearly and overwhelmingly that those who kill and support killing in our name can do so no longer.
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is the author of The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (London: Duckworth, 2006). He teaches courses in International Relations at the School of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, where he is doing his PhD studying imperialism and genocide. Since 9/11, he has authored three other books revealing the realpolitik behind the rhetoric of the “War on Terror”, The War on Freedom, Behind the War on Terror and The War on Truth.