Lebanese unity behind victory
In every conflict, morale is a material factor. Often it is the decisive factor.
Now that a cease-fire has gone into effect—on Aug. 14—after Israel’s brutal 30-day bombing and invasion of Lebanon, it is clear that Lebanon has emerged more united than at any time in its history. Hezbollah has a new standing and wide popularity all over the country.
The entire war, in which Israel had full U.S. support, was based on arrogant assumptions of technological superiority and a political miscalculation that the bombing of whole towns, reservoirs, fuel storage depots, roads, ports, bridges and hospitals would divide the Lebanese people and force Hezbollah to disarm.
Instead, the ruthless attack united the population as nothing else has in Lebanon’s long history. It is Israel that has emerged divided, consumed by infighting and purges, with its reputation as an invincible military machine shattered before the whole world.
The U.S. and Israel wanted to teach the Lebanese people a lesson through “shock and awe.” The people organized, mobilized and learned through their own experience a very different lesson.
The struggle is far from over.
The most important point to know regarding the UN Security Council cease-fire resolution on Lebanon is that Israel has never abided by any UN resolutions or been restrained by UN forces stationed for 58 years along its borders.
Just hours before the cease-fire was to go into effect, Israel used more than 50 helicopters to ferry hundreds of commandos into Lebanon in the largest Israeli military operation since the October 1973 war. Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, Israel’s military chief of staff, had already said on Aug. 12 that he had tripled the number of his troops in Lebanon to 30,000. (New York Times, Aug. 13) Halutz said he expected the fighting to continue despite the cease-fire resolution.
The heaviest attack on Beirut since the war began came on the last day. Israeli bombers struck repeatedly at the working class Haret Hreik neighborhood in south Beirut. A hospital in Tyre was bombed repeatedly and fire brigades were unable to reach it. They struck in the Bekaa Valley and hit a power plant near Sidon.
A convoy of 500 vehicles of fleeing Christian Lebanese civilians, led by soldiers of the Lebanese army who had announced their plans to the Israeli forces, were targeted north of Merj’ Uyun.
After signing the UN cease-fire resolution, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, head of the ground forces branch of the Israeli army, told reporters that the-cease fire was not a cessation of Israeli army activity in the Lebanon arena. According to an Aug. 13 Reuters news report, Israeli officials said operations that were “defensive” in nature were permissible. Of course, Israel asserts that all its military actions are defensive.
U.S. and other Western diplomats asserted that they would not object to “mopping up” operations to “clear out” Hezbollah fighters.
Setbacks breed divisions in Israel
Israeli political, military and intelligence forces are in the midst of a deadly struggle to apportion blame for their fiasco in Lebanon. Although this war was more highly planned than any other offensive in Israel’s history, the military was completely unprepared and untrained for what it encountered.
Israeli miscalculation, like the U.S. underestimation of the Iraqi resistance, was based on imperial arrogance. The Israeli military had functioned as a colonial police force for years against an unarmed Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli onslaught was intended to divide Lebanon and reignite civil war. The failure of U.S./Israeli plans is pulling Israel apart politically. The media there is full of attacks on military leaders and politicians, demands for wholesale resignations, inquiries, investigations and charges. A vicious debate on failures in training, preparations, analysis and intelligence has emerged. The attacks and counter attacks are the best indication that the war has not gone well.
The military had promised that the entire war could be accomplished in a week or two, largely with air power.
In Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, columnist Nahun Barnea wrote: “We did not win. … Israel comes to the cease-fire announcement bruised, conflicted and disturbed.”
Channel 2 of Israeli television reported on Aug. 11 that several of the most senior military officials wrote a letter to chief of staff Halutz complaining that “the war plans were in chaos.”
An article by Uri Avnery, a journalist and writer with the liberal Zionist peace group Gush Shalom, has been circulating widely on the group’s Internet site. Entitled “What the hell has happened to the army?” it says Israeli officers were completely unaware of the defense system built by Hezbollah—the complex infrastructure of hidden bunkers with stockpiles of food, equipment and weapons.
Avnery makes the point, “If a lightweight boxer is fighting a heavyweight champion and is still standing in the 12th round, the victory is his—whatever the count of points says.”
In summing up the reason for Israel’s failure, Avnery makes the point that “the common denominator of all the failures is the disdain for Arabs, a contempt that has dire consequences. It has caused a total misunderstanding; a kind of blindness of Hezbollah’s motives, attitudes, standing in Lebanese society, etc. ... Even a strong army cannot defeat a guerrilla organization, because the guerrilla is a political phenomenon.”
The strongest attacks within Israel are coming from right-wing politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party and the far-right forces of Avigdor Lieber man. They are pushing for a wider war and no removal of the thousands of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
All the Zionist forces—the hardcore right-wing, the centrists and the liberals—fear that the real damage from the war is that it has endangered their strategic relationship with U.S. imperialism as its attack dog in the region. This is the source of millions of dollars in U.S. military, economic and technical aid, investments and credits that flood into Israel on a daily basis and sustain an artificial economy.
Almost every article and attack in the Israeli media points out that the Israeli military was given time, support, equipment and diplomatic coverage to destroy Hezbollah and failed in its assignment. Itamar Rabinovich, a former ambassador to Washington, said, “Part of the reckoning will be our reputation as a strategic partner, when we tell the Americans, ‘Give us the tools and we’ll do the job.’”
Llamas in Lebanon
The Israeli media has been full of stories of bad planning, shortages and soldiers’ complaints of lack of food, water and equipment. Exhausted soldiers had to be rotated out every three days because the scale of Hezbollah attacks made it impossible to erect barracks, showers, field kitchens or command centers.
According to the Aug. 12 Washington Post, the Israeli military “was having so much trouble moving supplies over the rough terrain that it experimented with using llamas as pack animals. The experiment failed when an entire train of llamas sat down on the job, forcing the military to abort an expedition.”
The 60-ton Merkava tank is considered the world’s most advanced and the most able to provide protection for ground troops. It is the pride of the Israeli army. With deadly efficiency, Hezbollah fighters destroyed more than 20 tanks with anti-tank weapons. They also downed an Israeli air force helicopter with a new missile called the Wa’ad—Arabic for “promise.” And early on they destroyed one of Israel’s most important high-tech ships. Hezbol lah claims to have hit three Israeli ships.
One of the few journalists permitted to accompany Israeli forces into Lebanon was Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli political commentator. He reported in embarrassing detail the misfortunes of the unit he accompanied and made an analogy that will be recognized worldwide. “The battle between the IDF and Hezbollah is reminiscent of the famous Tom and Jerry cartoons. … Tom is a strong ambitious cat. Jerry is a weak but clever mouse. Jerry teases Tom. Tom fights back. In every conflict between them, Jerry wins.”
Barnea’s advice to Prime Minister Olmert is: “There is no sense in investing in a lost cause. Adding more ground forces to those already stuck in Lebanon will not bring about the hoped-for turnabout in the Lebanese gamble. With American support, Israel still has a chance of getting out of this war with decent accomplishments. Take what they are offering you, Ehud Olmert. Take it and run.”
One day after the cease-fire began, Hezbollah’s extensive social services system shifted from a war footing to the huge task of rebuilding. The leader of Hezbol lah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, promised that “the brothers, who are your brothers,” will take on the reconstruction.
The instructions to the whole population are clear. Each family should fill out a claim form listing address, size of house, scale of damage and furniture lost. Immediate payments will be distributed. Nasrallah promised to pay a year’s rent for those with destroyed homes, saying Aug. 14 that “we can’t wait for the government.”
Hezbollah’s immediate promise to aid in the rebuilding—along with widespread confidence that the resistance won a victory over Israel—is shaping a determined and united mood across Lebanon.
For more than two decades, Hezbollah’s social networks provided needed services, especially to Lebanon’s poor Shia population, that the weak, divided government could not fulfill. Before the Israeli attack, Hezbollah already ran a whole series of hospitals, clinics, schools and social centers.
When the Israeli bombing began, Hezbollah social services responded when the government could not. They provided the ambulances and the scores of searchers who pulled people from the rubble. They helped organize the placing of tens of thousands of refugees in schools, public parks and private homes. (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 16)
In Beirut alone, Hezbollah organized 10 mobile medical teams that cared for 14 schools each, in two-day rotations. This aid helped 48,000 people; another 70,000 were treated in houses by other professionals.
In a Hezbollah kitchen near downtown Beirut, volunteers worked shifts over vats of rice and stew to provide 8,000 hot meals a day—part of a 50,000 daily total they distributed across Beirut.
It is this mobilization of the whole population that made it possible for those fighting at the front to have the will and the means to successfully resist an all-out attack that both Israel and the U.S. had thought would be irresistible.