Déjà Vu in Lebanon

IN early June, 1982, the Reagan administration in Washington gave Israel's then defence minister, Ariel Sharon, a green light to invade Lebanon. The pretext was retaliation for the attempted assassination of Israel's ambassador in London and cross-border shelling. Sharon's real agenda was to crush the PLO and thus a Palestinian state for good.

By Eric S Margolis

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Published: Sun 16 Jul 2006, 10:11 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:43 PM

Twenty-four years later, the Bush Administration and Israel have provided the world - and this writer -- a remarkable feeling of déjà vu as Israeli forces ravage Lebanon and threaten to once again invade its southern portion.

Ronald Reagan's inept Secretary of State, Gen. Alexander Haig, believed an Israeli invasion of Lebanon would eliminate the PLO and impose Pax Americana on the Mideast. Instead, the US got a full-scale war, the deaths of hundreds of its Marines and CIA officers, chaos in Lebanon and the national resistance movement, Hezbollah.

Americans have never been told by their government-guided media that in a speech, Osama bin Laden asserted that the 9/11 attacks on the US were revenge for Israel's cruel destruction of Beirut with artillery and bombs in which up to 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians died.

Ironically, we now see what may become a repeat of the 1982 invasion, regarded by all involved, including Israel, as a disaster. With further irony, we are now watching the democratically elected Hamas and Hezbollah battling Israel's democratic government.

According to George Bush, wasn't democracy supposed to solve the Mideast's problems and end its violence?

In 1975, I arrived in Beirut for the first day of Lebanon's 15-year civil war. Seven years later, I accompanied Israeli troops as they invaded Lebanon, and was with an Israeli armoured unit in Nabatiyah when it shot its way through a procession of Shia worshippers marking Ashura. This notorious event was said to have sparked the birth of Hezbollah.

Trained by Iran and aided by Syria, Hezbollah's tough fighters became the only Arab military force ever to defeat Israel and shatter its record of military invincibility. Israel swore revenge.

Claims by the US, Israel, and some Arab states that the abduction of two Israel troops at Shebaa Farms, land that belongs to Syria, was organised by Iran and ally Syria to divert attention from Teheran's nuclear programme may have some merit. But Hezbollah is no mere cat's paw of Teheran and mostly operates independently of its allies.

Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah made clear that Hezbollah's border operation, which also killed eight other Israeli soldiers, was done for two reasons. First, to support embattled Palestinians in Gaza, who are being ravaged by Israeli air, land, and sea attacks. Second, to secure release of some of the hundreds of Hezbollah prisoners and 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners being held by Israel.

So far, Hezbollah is the only Arab force that has taken any concrete action to help the Palestinians suffering devastating collective punishment by Israel. Such collective punishment, now also being inflicted by Israel on a national scale on Lebanon, is a crime under international law and the Geneva Conventions.

Hezbollah made its point by the border operation. Firing hundreds of inaccurate rockets into northern Israel was military and politically pointless. So, even more, was the firing of homemade rockets by Palestinian militants into Israel. Both acts gave Israel a perfect excuse to vent its fury and try to destroy Hezbollah and Hamas.

All parties involved are to blame for this frightful mess and carnage: Palestinians and Hezbollah for provoking Israel at a time when its new leaders were anxious to show they could blast Arabs as effectively as Ariel Sharon, and Israel for its brutal repression of Palestinians and assassination of their leaders. But most at blame is the Bush administration whose disastrous Mideast policies allowed this crisis to erupt.

The White House has been too obsessed with its lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Under Bush, US Mideast policy has fallen into the hands of far rightists, called neoconservatives, and fundamentalist Protestants. Both groups are closely aligned to Israel's expansionist right wing, leaving would-be peacemakers on both sides out in the cold, and the Muslim World with the impression that Israel controls US foreign policy.

After more killing and destruction, Israel will eventually talk to its enemies. It's only a question of how many civilians will have to die before this happens.

Eric S Margolis is a veteran US journalist and contributing foreign editor of the Toronto Sun. Write to him at margolis@foreigncorrespondents.com

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