The real aim is to change the regime in Lebanon and to install a puppet government. That was the aim of Ariel Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It failed. But Sharon and his pupils in the military and political leadership have never really given up on it. That’s the main thing. Everything else is noise and propaganda.
On the eve of the 1982 invasion, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig told Ariel Sharon that, before starting it, it was necessary to have a ‘clear provocation’, which would be accepted by the world. The provocation indeed took place – exactly at the appropriate time – when Abu-Nidal’s terror gang tried to assassinate the Israeli Ambassador in London. This had no connection with Lebanon, and even less with the PLO (the enemy of Abu-Nidal), but it served its purpose.
This time, the necessary provocation has been provided by the capture of the two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah. Everyone knows that they cannot be freed except through an exchange of prisoners. But the huge military campaign that has been ready to go for months was sold to the Israeli and international public as a rescue operation.
Of course, the present operation also has several secondary aims, which do not include the freeing of the prisoners. Everybody understands that that cannot be achieved by military means. But it is probably possible to destroy some of the thousands of missiles that Hizbullah has accumulated over the years. For this end, the army chiefs are ready to endanger the inhabitants of the Israeli towns that are exposed to the rockets. They believe that that is worthwhile, like an exchange of chess figures.
Another secondary aim is to rehabilitate the ‘deterrent power’ of the army. That is a codeword for the restoration of the army’s injured pride that has suffered a severe blow from the daring military actions of Hamas in the south and Hizbullah in the north.
Officially, the Israeli Government demands that the Government of Lebanon disarm Hizbullah and remove it from the border region. That is clearly impossible under the present Lebanese regime, a delicate fabric of ethno-religious communities. The slightest shock can bring the whole structure crashing down and throw the state into total anarchy – especially after the Americans succeeded in driving out the Syrian army, the only element that has for years provided some stability.
‘when the weapons speak, the muses fall silent’. Or rather, when the guns roar, the brain ceases to function
The calculation now is that if the Israeli Air Force rains heavy enough blows on the Lebanese population – paralyzing the sea- and airports, destroying the infrastructure, bombarding residential neighborhoods, cutting the Beirut-Damascus high road – that the public will get furious with Hizbullah and pressure the Lebanese Government into fulfilling Israel’s demands. Since the present government cannot even dream of doing so, a dictatorship will be set up with Israel’s support.
That is the military logic. I have my doubts. It can be assumed that most Lebanese will react as any other people on earth would: with fury and hatred towards the invader. That happened in 1982, when the Shi’a in the south of Lebanon – until then as docile as a doormat – stood up against the Israeli occupiers and created Hizbullah, which has become the strongest force in the country. If the Lebanese élite now becomes tainted as collaborators with Israel, it will be swept off the map.
The American policy is full of contradictions. President Bush wants ‘regime change’ in the Middle East, but the present Lebanese regime has only recently been set up under American pressure. In the meantime, Bush has succeeded only in breaking up Iraq and causing a civil war. He may get the same in Lebanon, if he does not stop the Israeli army in time. Moreover, a devastating blow against Hizbullah may arouse fury not only in Iran, but also among the Shi’a in Iraq, on whose support all of Bush’s plans for a pro-American regime are built.
So what’s the answer? Not by accident, Hizbullah has carried out its soldier-snatching raid at a time when the Palestinians are crying out for succour. The Palestinian cause is popular all over the Arab world. By showing that they are a friend in need, when all other Arabs are failing dismally, Hizbullah hopes to increase its popularity.
Less than three months after its formation, the Olmert-Peretz Government has succeeded in plunging Israel into a two-front war, whose aims are unrealistic and whose results cannot be foreseen. If Olmert hopes to be seen as Mister Macho-Macho, a Sharon # 2, he will be disappointed. The same goes for the desperate attempts of Peretz to be taken seriously as an imposing Mister Security. Everybody understands that this campaign – both in Gaza and in Lebanon – has been planned by the army and dictated by the army. The man who makes the decisions in Israel now is Dan Halutz – Chief of Staff and formerly Air Force commander.
The public is not enthusiastic about the war. It is resigned to it, in stoic fatalism, because it is being told that there is no alternative. And indeed, who can be against it? Who does not want to liberate the ‘kidnapped soldiers’? Who does not want to remove the Katyushas and rehabilitate deterrence? In the media the generals reign supreme, and not only those in uniform. There is almost no former general who is not being invited to comment, explain and justify, all speaking in one voice. Inter arma silent Musae – ‘when the weapons speak, the muses fall silent’. Or rather, when the guns roar, the brain ceases to function.
When the State of Israel was founded in the middle of a cruel war, a poster was plastered on the walls: ‘All the country – a front! All the people – an army!’
Some 58 years have passed, and the same slogan is still as valid as it was then. What does that say about generations of statespeople and generals?