Lebanon cannot stand on its feet anymore. It is overwhelmed, frightened and broke.
It stands at the frontline, facing Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS/ISIL) in the east and north, hostile Israel in the south and the deep blue sea in the west. One and a half million (mostly Syrian) refugees are dispersed all over its tiny territory. Its economy is collapsing and the infrastructure crumbling. ISIS is right on the border with Syria, literally next door, or even with one foot inside Lebanon, periodically invading, and setting up countless “dormant cells” in all the Lebanese cities and all over the countryside. Hezbollah is fighting ISIS, but the West and Saudi Arabia apparently consider Hezbollah, not ISIS, to be the major menace to their geopolitical interests. The Lebanese army is relatively well trained but badly armed, and as the entire country, it is notoriously cash-strapped.
These days, on the streets of Beirut, one can often hear: “Just a little bit more; one more push, and the entire country will collapse, go up in smoke.”
Is this what the West and its regional allies really want?
One top foreign dignitary after another is now visiting Lebanon: the UN chief Ban Ki-moon, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. All the foreign visitors are predictably and abstractly expressing “deep concern” about the proximity of ISIS, and about the fate of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees now living in Lebanon. “The war in neighboring Syria is having a deep impact on tiny Lebanon”, they all admit.
Who triggered this war is never addressed.
And not much gets resolved. Only very few concrete promises are being made. And what is promised is not being delivered.
One of my sources who attended a closed-door meeting of Ban Ki-moon, Jim Yong Kim and the heads of the UN agencies in Beirut, commented: “almost nothing new, concrete or inspiring was discussed there.”
The so-called international community is showing very little desire to rescue Lebanon from its deep and ongoing crises. In fact, several countries and organizations are constantly at Lebanon’s throat, accusing it of “human rights violations” and of having weak and ineffective government. What seems to irritate them the most, though, is that Hezbollah (an organization that is placed by many Western countries and their allies in the Arab world on the “terrorist list”) is at least to some extent allowed to participate in running the country.
But Hezbollah appears to be the only military force capable of effectively fighting against ISIS – in the northeast of the country, on the border with Syria, and elsewhere. It is also the only organization providing a reliable social net to those hundreds of thousands of poor Lebanese citizens. In this nation deeply divided along sectarian lines, it extends its hand to the ‘others’, forging coalitions with both Muslim and Christian parties and movements.
Why so much fuss over Hezbollah?
It is because it is predominantly Shia, and Shia Muslims are being antagonized and targeted by almost all the West’s allies in the Arab world. Targeted and sometimes even directly liquidated.
Hezbollah is seen as the right hand of Iran, and Iran is Shia and it stands against Western imperialism determinately, alongside Russia, China and much of Latin America – countries that are demonized and provoked by the ‘Empire’ and its client states.
Hezbollah is closely allied with both Iran and Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria. It combats Israel whenever Israel invades Lebanon, and it wins most of the battles that it is forced to fight. It is openly hostile towards the expansionist policies of the West, Israel and Saudi Arabia; its leaders are extremely outspoken.
“So what?” many people in the region would say, including those living in Lebanon.
Angie Tibbs is the owner and senior editor of Dissident Voice who has been closely watching events in the Middle East in recent years. She believes a brief comparison between events of 2005 and today is essential for understanding complexity of the situation:
“In a country where, since the end of civil wars in 1990, outward civility masks a still seething underbelly wherein old wounds, old wrongs, real and imagined, have not been forgotten or forgiven, the military and political success of Hezbollah has been the most stabilizing influence. Back in 2005, following the bomb explosion that killed former Premier Rafiq al Hariri and 20 others, the US and Israel proclaimed loudly that “Syria did it” without producing a shred of evidence. The Syrian army, in Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese government, was ordered out by the US, and UN Resolution 1559 stated in part that all Lebanese militias must be disarmed. The plan was clear. With Syrian forces gone, and an unarmed Hezbollah, we had two moves which would leave Lebanon’s southern border completely vulnerable, and then – well, what would prevent Israel from barging in and taking over?”
Ms Tibbs is also convinced the so-called international community is leaving Lebanon defenseless on purpose:
“A similar devious scenario is unfolding today. Hezbollah is busy fighting ISIS in Syria; the Lebanese army, though well trained, is poorly armed. Arms deals are being cancelled, the UN and IMF, and, in fact, the world community of nations are not providing any assistance, and little Lebanon is gasping under the weight of a million plus Syrian refugees. It’s a perfect opportunity for ISIS, the proxy army of Israel and the West, to move in and Lebanon’s sovereignty be damned.”
Indignant, several Lebanese leaders snapped back. The Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil refused to meet with Ban Ki-moon during his two-day visit of Beirut and the Bekaa Valley.
One of Lebanon’s major newspapers, the Daily Star, reported on March 26, 2016:
“Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Saturday accused the international community of approaching the Syrian refugee crisis with a double standard; hours after UN chief Ban Ki-moon departed Beirut following a two-day visit. ‘They create war, and then call on others to host refugees in line with human rights treaties,’ he said in a televised news conference from his residence in Batroun.”
Lebanon is collapsing. Even its once lavish capital Beirut is experiencing constant blackouts, water shortages and garbage-collection dramas. Economically the country is in a sharp decline.
Dr. Salim Chahine, Professor of Finance, at the American University of Beirut, is usually at least moderately upbeat about the country. Recent developments have worn down his optimism.
“Although the Coincident Indicator issued by the Lebanese Central Bank, BDL, has recently suggested a slight enhancement in economic activity, several officials are sending clear warnings about further deterioration in the situation. The regional geopolitical tensions, the civil conflict in Syria, as well as their implications internally have impacted tourism, trade, and the real estate sectors. According to HSBC, deposits from Lebanon’s largest expatriate population – that usually provide the necessary liquidity for government borrowing – may grow at a slower rate in the near future given the worsening conditions in the Gulf. As the country enters into its sixth year of economic slump, HSBC remains skeptical about a short-term recovery. The public deficit is currently rising by around 20 percent per year, and the GDP growth rate is close to zero.”
Yayoi Segi, an educationalist and the Senior Program Specialist for UNESCO’s Arab Regional Office based in Beirut, works intensively in both Syria and Lebanon. The education sector is, according to her, struggling:
“The public education sector is very small in terms of its coverage in the country, reaching only about 35 percent of the school age population. The state allocation to education is less than 10 percent while the world average or benchmark is 18-20 percent. The situation is further compounded by the current ongoing crisis in the region whereby Lebanon has had to accommodate a large influx of refugees. The public provision of education has expanded and continues to expand. However, it is impacting on quality and contributes to an increasing number of vulnerable Lebanese students dropping out of school, while it can only reach 50 percent of Syrian refugee children.”
Nadine Georges Gholam (not her real name), working for one of the UN agencies, says that lately she feels phlegmatic, even hopeless:
“What has been happening to Lebanon particularly these past five years is really depressing. I used to actively take part in protests to voice my anger and frustration. But now I don’t know if they make any difference or change anything at all. There is no functioning government in sight. Three hundred thousand tons of unprocessed trash accumulated in just eight months. There is sectarian infighting. Regional conflicts… What else? Lebanon can’t withstand such pressure, anymore. All is going down the drain, collapsing…”
“But worse is yet to come. Recently, Saudi Arabia cancelled a $4 billion aid package for Lebanon. It was supposed to finance a massive purchase of modern weapons from France, something urgently needed and totally overdue. That is, if both the West and the KSA are serious about fighting ISIS.”
“The KSA “punished” Lebanon for having representatives of Hezbollah in the government, for refusing to support the West’s allies in the Arab League (who define Hezbollah as a terrorist group), and for still holding a Saudi prince in custody, after he attempted to smuggle two tons of narcotics from Rafic Hariri International Airport outside Beirut.”
These are of course the most dangerous times for this tiny but proud nation. Syrian forces, with great help of Russia, are liberating one Syrian city after another from ISIS and other terrorist groups supported by Turkey, KSA, Qatar and other of the West’s allies.
ISIS may try to move into Iraq, to join its cohorts there, but the Iraqi government is trying to get its act together, and is now ready to fight. It is also talking to Moscow, while studying the great success Russia is having in Syria.
For ISIS or al-Nusra, to move to weaken and almost bankrupt Lebanon would be the most logical step. And the West, Saudi Arabia and others are clearly aware of it.
In fact, ISIS is already there; it has infiltrated virtually all the cities and towns of Lebanon, as well the countryside. Whenever it feels like it, it carries out attacks against the Shia, military and other targets. Both ISIS and al-Nusra do. And the dream of ISIS is blatant: a caliphate with access to the sea, one that would cover at least the northern part of Lebanon.
If the West and its allies do nothing to prevent these plans, it is because they simply don’t want to.
Tiny Lebanon is finding itself in the middle of a whirlwind of a political and military storm that is consuming virtually the entire Middle East and the Gulf.
In recent decades, Lebanon has suffered immensely. This time, if the West and its allies do not change their minds, it may soon cease to exist altogether. It is becoming obvious that in order to survive, it would have to forge much closer ties with the Syrian government, as well as with Iran, Russia and China.
Would it dare to do it? There is no united front inside Lebanon’s leadership. Pro-Western and pro-Saudi fractions would oppose an alliance with those countries that are defying Western interests.
But time is running out. Just recently, the Syrian city of Palmyra was liberated from ISIS. Paradoxically, the great Lebanese historic cities of Baalbek and Byblos may fall soon.
Naftali Bennet, Israel’s minister of education was the first public official to come out in support of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who executed Abdel Fatah Alsharif as he lay wounded in Hebron. Bennet was critical of the government of which he is a member for not standing up for the soldier. I was listening to the interview with Bennet on Israeli television where he made the argument that the government and the press judged the soldier harshly and prematurely. Then he said something I never thought I’d hear.
“Maybe the soldier did make a mistake; you know I also made a mistake. During Grapes of Wrath, Operation Grapes of Wrath I was apparently mistaken and a very difficult thing happened.” A very difficult thing happened. Interesting choice of words and interesting timing: It is exactly twenty-years since the massacre in Qana village in Southern Lebanon, a massacre for which Bennet was responsible. He then went on to explain that, “in my case, I received the full backing of the commanding general and the army chief of staff.” In fact he was backed by the entire chain of command going all the way up to the Prime Minister (and Nobel laureate), Shimon Peres.
Bennet was talking about the shelling by Israeli forces of the UN compound in the southern Lebanese village of Qana. It took place on April 18, 1996 when hundreds of local Lebanese were seeking shelter at the compound. Of the 800 Lebanese civilians who had taken refuge in the compound, a reported 106 were killed and 116 were injured. The attack occurred amid fighting between the Israeli army and Hezbollah during operation “Grapes of Wrath.” There was evidence that an Israeli drone was spying on the compound before the shelling, making the argument that this may have been an error, unlikely at best. Clearly all levels of the IDF command knew that the compound was there and that it served as shelter for refugees escaping the fighting. The building was clearly marked as a UN compound and was even marked on the Israeli maps. Bennet who was commander of an Israeli army reconnaissance unit called for massive artillery shelling of the site.
The BBC described the massacre as: “one of the deadliest single events of the whole Arab-Israeli conflict.” Robert Fisk who reported from the site wrote, “Not since Sabra and Chatila had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this.”
Fisk’s descriptions of what he saw are not for the weak at heart but must be read and remembered. Over and over we hear the phrase “never again,” yet Israel commits one heinous massacre after another and gets away with it, usually absolved by the US. In this case the main culprit is known, he admits his responsibility and yet not only did he go unpunished, he is unrepentant and is now in charge of the Israeli ministry of education. How ironic. Again Fisk’s description, “The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their hands or arms or legs missing, beheaded or disemboweled. There were well over a hundred of them […] The Israeli shells had scythed through them as they lay in the United Nations shelter, believing that they were safe under the world’s protection. Like the Muslims of Srebrenica, the Muslims of Qana were wrong.” And Fisk continues, “Now the Israelis are stained again by the bloodbath at Qana, the scruffy little Lebanese hill town where the Lebanese believe Jesus turned water into wine.”
Naftali Bennet was quoted as saying that he had killed many Arabs in his time and feels no remorse, and in his view “a soldier in the battlefield can not commit murder.” In a speech in the Knesset Bennet said he killed many terrorists during his military service and he wishes he had killed more. Bennet never saw an Arab he did not consider to be a terrorist, and therefore fair game. “Arabs are murdering Jews every day,” he said as he defended the execution in Hebron. An important piece of information that is completely ignored is that another soldier shot Abdel Fatah first, even though he was unarmed and his hands were raised, and only later did Elor Azaria execute him. Bennet called the scene as a “battle ground” and the shooting perfectly legitimate because according to him “Viscous Palestinian terrorists are coming out every day to kill Jews.”
The result of Bennet’s call for the shelling in Qana, according to Fisk, was “The blood of all the refugees ran quite literally in streams from the shell-smashed UN compound […] in which the Shiite Muslims from the hill villages of southern Lebanon – who had heeded Israel’s order to leave their homes – had pathetically sought shelter.” Once the news of the shelling had got out, relatives started arriving from other parts of Lebanon to look for loved ones. Their grief and anger were forceful, “we had suddenly become not UN troops and journalists but Westerners, Israel’s allies” Fisk writes, and he continues, “one bearded man with fierce eyes stared at us, his face dark with fury: […] “I would like to be made into a bomb and blow myself up amid the Israelis” the man cried.
The story of the Qana massacre was brought up during the Israeli elections of 2015, because Bennet was the head of one of the parties running. Claims were made that the “incident” was evidence that he had “poor judgment.” Today, twenty years and countless massacres later a man who knowingly brought about the gruesome killing of countless innocents is in charge of educating Israeli children and is defending the execution of a young Palestinian. And yet, the one man that everyone is calling a terrorist is one who committed no act violence at all: the young Abdel Fatah Alsharif, may he rest in peace.
Taking the measure on Tuesday, Nilesat alleged that Al-Manar had “violated the contract by broadcasting shows that provoke sectarian strife and sedition.”
The company is also to stop its operations in Lebanon as of Wednesday when its contract expires.
Saudi-based satellite provider Arabsat had stopped broadcasting Al-Manar in December 2015, a month after it took Al Mayadeen TV, another Lebanon-based channel, off air.
Late last week, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV shut its offices in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and dismissed the local staff over “security reasons.”
Saudi Arabia has been adopting a raft of measures against Lebanon in reaction to the latter country’s refusal to side with Riyadh against Iran.
It has been targeting Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, which has been fighting Saudi-backed extremism inside both Lebanon and Syria.
Earlier in the year, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil refused to back a motion crafted by Saudi Arabia against the Islamic Republic, prompting Riyadh to retract a $4-billion aid pledge to Lebanon and demand an apology, which Lebanon refused to give.
The motion had sought to condemn Tehran over January attacks on vacant Saudi diplomatic premises. The attacks occurred during otherwise peaceful protests against Saudi Arabia’s execution earlier of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Saudi Arabia has also ordered its citizens not to travel to Lebanon and imposed sanctions on four Lebanese firms and three individuals it accuses of having links to Hezbollah.
There are also reports that Saudi Arabia may expel the Lebanese nationals working on its territory.
Some local media reports in Lebanon have, meanwhile, said the Saudis may be applying pressure to secure the release of a member of the royal family held in Lebanon since last October on drug charges.
Abdul-Mohsen al-Waleed Al Saud was detained in Beirut after authorities seized two tons of amphetamine Captagon pills before they were loaded onto his private plane.
Al-Akhbar newspaper revealed that France has been involved in spying on the internet cable that transmits the cyber services from the French city of Marseille to Lebanon, passing through Egypt.
The Lebanese daily explained that the French intelligence services monitor all the telecommunications operated in Lebanon, knowing that Orange company that is very close to the Zionist entity also supervises the entire process.
Accordingly, the experts urged the Lebanese to take extreme cyber security measures to secure their telecommunication activities.
Now that the Syrian armed forces have liberated Palmyra, President al Assad has thanked Vladimir Putin and the Russian people for the substantial support they provided to his country. Side by side, Syria and Russia have been fighting against the ISIS and other terrorist groups operating in the region – mainly the implants from the staunch allies of the West: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
After recent victories in Syria, the myth of invincibility of the terrorism has collapsed, smashed to pieces. It has become clear that if fought honestly and with full determination, even the most fanatical ones can be defeated.
It has also become obvious that the West has very little interest in defeating these groups. First: they were invented in the Western capitals, at least conceptually. Second: they serve numerous purposes and in many different parts of the world; they brutalize rebellious countries in the Middle East, and they are spreading fear and frustration amongst the European citizens thus justifying increasing ‘defense’ and intelligence budgets, as well as grotesque surveillance measures.
It is so obvious that the West is unhappy about the marvelous success of both the Syrian and Russian forces in the Middle East. And it still does all it can to undermine it, and it is belittling and even smearing it using its propaganda apparatus.
Now that the ISIS has been pushed away, further and further from all key strategic locations inside Syria, the question comes to mind: if finally defeated, where is it going to go next? Its fighters are, of course, in neighboring Iraq, but Baghdad has also been forging a closer and closer alliance with Russia, and the terrorist groups may soon not be safe there, either. By all accounts, the easiest place for the ISIS to expand is Lebanon.
Because the ISIS is already there! Its dormant cells are spread across the entire country, from Bekaa Valley, and even to some of the posh (and not necessarily Muslim) neighborhoods of Beirut.
Historically, Syria and Lebanon are a single entity. The movement of people between these two countries is substantial and constant. After the war in Syria began, hundreds of thousands of refugees, poor and rich, entered tiny Lebanon, some settling in the makeshift camps in Bekaa Valley, others renting lavish apartments on the Corniche in Beirut.
Officially, Lebanon (a country with only 4.5 million inhabitants) is “hosting” around 1.5 million refugees, mostly Syrians, but also those from Iraq and elsewhere. That is in addition to approximately 450,000 ‘permanent Palestinian refugees’ who are living in several large camps administered by UNRWA.
On some occasions, when the fighting got too vicious, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon spiked (unofficially) to over 2 million. For many years, the border between Lebanon and Syria has been porous, and even checks at the border crossings were relatively lax. It began to change, but only recently.
With the refugees (mostly families escaping from battles and from the extreme hardship caused by the conflict), came a substantial number of jihadi cadres – fighters from the ISIS, Al Nusrah and other pro-Saudi and pro-Turkish terrorist groups. They took full advantage of the situation, infiltrating the flow of legitimate émigrés.
Their goal has been clear and simple: to regroup in Lebanon, to create strong and effective cells, and then to strike when the time is ripe. The ‘dream’ of the ISIS is a mighty Caliphate in the north of Lebanon, preferably with full access to the Mediterranean Sea.
In recent history, Lebanon has become an extremely weak state, divided along the sectarian lines. For almost two years it has been unable to elect a President. To date, the government has been dysfunctional, almost paralyzed. The country is suffering from countless lethal ailments: from never-ending ‘garbage crises’ to constant electricity shortages, and problems with water supply. There is no public transportation, and public education is underfunded, inadequate and serves only the poorest part of the population. Corruption is endemic.
From time to time, Israel threatens to invade. It has attacked Lebanon on at least 5 separate occasions; the last time was as recent as in 2006. In the northeast of the country, on the Syrian border, both Lebanese military and Hezbollah are engaged in fighting the ISIS.
But the Lebanese military is under-staffed, badly armed and terribly trained. In the end it is Hezbollah, the most prominent military, social and ideological force in Lebanon, which is holding the line. It is fighting a tremendous, epic battle, in which it has already lost more men than it did when combating the most recent Israeli invasion in 2006.
So far, Hezbollah’s combat against the terrorist groups is successful. But in addition to providing defense, it is now the only political force in Lebanon that is willing to reach across the sectarian divides. It is also offering much needed social support to hundreds of thousands of poor Lebanese citizens.
In Lebanon and in fact all over the Middle East, Hezbollah is deeply respected. But it is Shi’a; it has been closely linked with Iran and Syria, and it is known to be fiercely critical of the West and its murderous actions in the Middle East and the Gulf. It is fighting precisely those terrorist groups that are armed and supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Therefore, it is antagonized.
The Lebanese government persistently refuses to place Hezbollah on the ‘terrorist list’, something that has already been done by many Western countries and by most of the pro-Western members of the Arab League. To the dismay of Saudi Arabia, both Iraq and Lebanon refused to vote in favor of declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Syria would also refuse, but predictably it was not invited to vote.
Lebanon is increasingly critical of the West, of the international organizations and of the Arab League countries. It is outraged over the double standards related to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’. It is also unusually outspoken. One of Lebanon’s major newspapers, the Daily Star, reported on March 26th, 2016:
“Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Saturday accused the international community of approaching the Syrian refugee crisis with a double standard; hours after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon departed Beirut following a two-day visit.
Bassil pointed to the inconsistency of countries that back Syria’s armed insurrection to call on Lebanon to put human rights first, noting that many of those states were removing refugees by force – a move Beirut has not taken.
“They create war, and then call on others to host refugees in line with human rights treaties,” he said in a televised news conference from his residence in Batroun.”
The Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and his party are in fact in a coalition with Hezbollah. He was extremely critical of the top ranking visitors who are lately overwhelming Lebanon: U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Mr. Bassil even refused to meet Ban Ki-moon in person.
One of my sources that attended the closed-door meeting of Ban Ki-moon, Jim Yong Kim and the heads of the U.N. agencies in Beirut, commented: “almost nothing new, concrete or inspiring was discussed there.”
In Beirut, it is often mentioned that while Turkey and Jordan are able to negotiate billions of dollars for hosting the refugees on their soil, Lebanon is only given empty promises from the EU and the rest of international community. It is also being threatened with legal consequences, in case it were to decide to remove the refugees by force (the West’s allies like Thailand regularly remove refugees by force, often even killing them, but there are never any substantial threats delivered. Several European countries are also forcing refugees to leave).
How a country of 4.5 million will manage to cope with 1.5 million immigrants is uncertain. What is clear is that Lebanon’s infrastructure is collapsing or, as some say, is already gone.
It appears that there is a plan, a reason for choking Lebanon. Several Beirut-based experts are claiming that the country will soon become indefensible. The Saudis cancelled more than U$4 billion in aid earlier promised to the Lebanese military forces. Robert Fisk wrote for the Independent on March 2nd, 2016:
“Now Saudi Arabia, blundering into the civil war in Yemen and threatening to send its overpaid but poorly trained soldiers into Syria, has turned with a vengeance on Lebanon for its unfaithfulness and lack of gratitude after decades of Saudi largesse.
After repeatedly promising to spend £3.2bn on new French weapons for the well-trained but hopelessly under-armed Lebanese army, Saudi Arabia has suddenly declined to fund the project – which was eagerly supported by the US and, for greedier reasons, by Paris. Along with other Gulf states, Riyadh has told its citizens not to visit Lebanon or – if they are already there – to leave. Saudi Airlines is supposedly going to halt all flights to Beirut. Lebanon, according to the Saudis, is a centre of “terror”.”
The fact that last year Lebanon dared to arrest a Saudi Prince at Rafik Hariri International Airport, as he was trying to smuggle two tonnes of Captagon amphetamine pills bound for Saudi Arabia on a private jet, did not help. The Prince was also smuggling cocaine, but that was, most likely, for his personal consumption. Captagon amphetamine is also called the ‘combat drug’, and was, most likely, destined for pro-Saudi fighters in Yemen.
So what will happen if the Lebanese military gets no new weapons? Maybe Iran could help, but if not? Then Hezbollah would be the only force facing the ISIS that will soon be pouring out of the liberated cities in Syria in all directions, particularly towards the coast of Lebanon. But Hezbollah is ostracized, choked and demonized by the West and the Gulf.
One tiny new Israeli invasion and almost all Hezbollah forces would be tied up in the south, the ISIS would attack from the north, the dormant cells would be activated in Beirut, Tripoli and other cities, and Lebanon would collapse within few days. Is this a plan? After all, Israel and Saudi Arabia are two close allies, when it comes to their ‘Shi’a enemies’.
Then this tiny, proud and creative country would basically cease to exist.
The Gulf States (their rulers, not the people) would rejoice: another bastion of tolerance gone. And one more Shi’a stronghold – Hezbollah areas inside Lebanon – would be plundered and destroyed.
The West might be officially expressing its ‘concern’, but such a scenario would fit into its master plan: one more rebellious country would be finished, and Syria would for years be threatened from the western direction. After all, Damascus is only 30 minutes drive from the Lebanese border.
The “Paris of the Middle East” as Beirut used to be called, would then be ‘decorated’ with those frightening black flags of the ISIS. Lebanon as a whole would experience total collapse, year zero, the end.
This is not some phantasmagoric scenario. All this could happen within one year, even within a few months.
Right now, Lebanon has only two places from which to ask for help, for protection: Teheran and Moscow. It should approach both of them, without any delay!
Militants shot at a Lebanese army surveillance tower in the border town of Hneider early on Saturday, al-Manar correspondent reported.
Our reporter said that following the attack two army soldiers withdrew the surveillance tower to a nearby checkpoint, adding that the army fired flare bombs and targeted the militants with machine guns and artillery fire.
The army soldiers then returned to the surveillance tower, according to our correspondent.
Meanwhile, the National News Agency reported that the Lebanese army “upped security measures in the border town of Hneider and its neighboring towns in the region of Wadi Khaled, following an attack by Syrian gunmen on a surveillance tower on Saturday.”
The surveillance tower which is under construction and aims at observing and controlling the border is under the joint control of the Lebanese Armed Forces, Internal Security Forces and General Security, NNA added.
Since the start of 2016 the mainstream media in the US and the countries that are in Washington’s sphere of influence have been talking about fallout between Russia and Iran over the conflict in Syria. These media reports continuously talk about Russia becoming afraid of Iran or vice-versa, Iran becoming afraid of Russia. These reports constantly talk about competition and rifts between the Iranian and Russian governments over Syria.
Here are two examples. The Financial Times reported that Iran should be afraid of Russia on February 24, 2016. A few weeks later, Bloomberg reported that the Russian military downsizing in Syria risks a rift with Iran in an article by Ilya Arkhipov, Dana Khraiche, and Henry Meyer, published on March 16, 2016.
For months, however, the steady streams of reports about a Russo-Iranian split have been utterly wrong. They are part of a campaign of misinformation (wrong information and analysis) and disinformation (propaganda). The relations between Moscow and Tehran are stable, and their cooperation is strategically oriented. In fact, Russia is supporting Iran against the US initiative at the United Nations Security Council to say that Iranian ballistic missile tests are a violation of Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCAP) signed between Iran and the US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia (the P5+1 or EU3+3).
By the same token, other misleading and deceiving reports have been released about Iranian and Russian tensions. Some have been over the levels of Iranian oil production exports. Others have been about fallout between Moscow and Tehran over an Iranian transfer of Russian arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Many have also been about the deal and delivery of the Russian-manufactured S-300 anti-missile system to the Iranian military.
In regards to a Russo-Iranian rift over Iranian oil production, these reports focus on demands by Saudi Arabia and Russia that Iran cut back its oil production. Moscow, however, has said that Iran is a special cases and it understands that Iran is working to regain lost energy markets. It has exempted Iran from its call to cut back global oil exports under a global output freeze as part of an initiative to raise the price of oil. While visiting his counterpart in Tehran in mid-March 2016, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak even announced that the Russian government understands and accepts the Iranian position, which demands that Iran be allowed to regain its pre-sanction output levels.
In regards to Israeli media reports that there has been fallout between Iran and Russia over Russian arms being transferred to Hezbollah, no signs of this have manifested themselves empirically anywhere. The Russian government has made no statements against Iran. Nor have the Israeli reports been verified in any substantive way.
It was reported in Kuwait that the S-300 deal had been annulled on March 9, 2016. On the same day Sputnik interviewed an Iranian military spokesperson, who rejected the claim. While, from what the public knows, the delivery of the S-300 system to Iran by Russia has been delayed, this does not automatically insinuate tensions between Moscow and Tehran. Both Iranian and Russian officials have repeatedly denied reports saying that the deal has been cancelled. Delays have taken place due to legal provisions and technical matters, according to officials in Moscow and Tehran. Rostec, the government-owned national arms manufacturer of Russia, has even announced that the first orders of the S-300 will be delivered to Iran sometime running from August to September 2016.
Russo-Iranian Cooperation in Syria
About three weeks after a cease-fire agreement for Syria officially started (on February 27, 2016), Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would begin to partially withdraw from Syria on March 14, 2016. The next day the Russian military began downsizing its presence in Syria. This began being presented as a stumbling block between Tehran and the Kremlin.
Reports were published that claimed that Tehran was upset at the Russian move. The Russian withdrawal is portrayed in these reports as a surprise to the Iranian side. The Iranian government, however, has announced that the reduction of the Russian military force in Syria is a positive sign of success, which means that Iran and Russia have achieved their key objectives inside Syria. Moreover, if the Russian move hurt Iranian interests inside Syria, it would not have resulted in Israeli President Reuven Rivlin making a request on March 16, 2016 to Moscow to ensure that Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah do not benefit from the Russian decision to reduce its military presence.
Nor was Iran caught off guard by the Kremlin’s decision to reduce its military presence in Syria. Iranian and Russian generals and officials have been shuttling back and forth from one another’s capitals for months speaking on and strategizing over the conflict Syria. It is highly unlikely that Moscow’s decision to reconstitute its military position in Syria was not coordinated with either the Iranian or Syrian governments. Tehran, Moscow, and Damascus have been constantly consulting one another about the military operations in Syria.
If it was not for Iranian and Russian cooperation and resoluteness in Syria, the cease-fire agreement in Syria would not have materialized. The most recent wave of false reports about Russian and Iranian tensions in Syria are aimed at creating suspicion and managing the perception of US clients. This discourse is not only aimed at misleading people or targeting Iran and Russia, it is aimed at deceiving US clients and Syrian opposition figures in the Middle East about the reality of the situation on the ground in Syria, which is that the camps supported by the Iranians and the Russians in the Middle East are the ones on top.
Any ideas about some type of Russo-Iranian fallout are wishful thinking. Both powers are moving towards even deeper cooperation across the Eurasian landmass from the Mediterranean littoral and Iraq to the Caucasus and Central Asia. They are not only cooperating militarily together, but both Tehran and Moscow are also deepening their industrial, agricultural, financial, political, and economic ties too. This is no temporary alliance, but part of a long-term engagement and strategic partnership.
If you’d have said a year ago that the US State Department, Google, and Al Jazeera had been collaborating in pursuance of regime change in Syria, chances are you’d have been casually dismissed as a ‘crank’ and a ‘conspiracy theorist’.
Syria was a people’s uprising against a wicked genocidal Russian-backed dictator and the West had nothing to do with the bloodshed which engulfed the country. If you thought otherwise then you were considered an ‘Assad apologist’.
However, thanks to Wikileaks, the Freedom of Information Act, and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a private, non-secure email server, we can see what was really going on behind the curtain.
Overall, 30,322 emails and attachments dating from June 30, 2010 to August 12, 2014, including 7,570 written by Clinton herself, have been published.
They haven’t made much of an impact in the mainstream media, which is not surprising considering their explosive content.
The emails reveal how the US State Department, ‘independent’ media and Silicon Valley have worked together to try and achieve foreign policy goals.
Particularly damning is a communication from Jared Cohen, the President of ‘Google Ideas’, (now called ‘Jigsaw’), which was sent on July 25, 2012.
“Please keep close hold, but my team is planning to launch a tool on Sunday that will publicly track and map the defections in Syria and which parts of the government they are coming from,” Cohen wrote.
“Our logic behind this is that while many people are tracking the atrocities, nobody is visually representing and mapping the defections, which we believe are important in encouraging more to defect and giving confidence to the opposition,” he went on.
The head of Google Ideas added that his organization was partnering with al Jazeera “who will take primary ownership over the tool we have built.”
Cohen finished his email by repeating his warning: “Please keep this very close hold… We believe this can have an important impact.”
The email was sent to three top officials, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns (a former Ambassador to Russia), Alec Ross, a senior Clinton adviser on innovation; and Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan forwarded the email to Hillary Clinton with the message: “FYI-this is a pretty cool idea.” On August 4, 2012, Clinton sent the information to her aide Monica Handley. The title heading was: Syria Attachments: Defection Tracker.PDF.
“The Silicon Valley’s technotronic oligarchy have been exposed as a mere extension of the CIA in terms of playing a role in Washington’s state policy of regime change in Syria,” was the verdict of 21st Century Wire.
If you think it’s surprising that a top man at Google should be so interested in a ‘tool’ which could help the ‘opposition’ take power in Syria, then a closer look at Jared Cohen’s career background helps shed some light on the matter.
A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Cohen was a bright guy who was clearly fast-tracked for big things. After an internship at the US State Department, he became a member of Condoleeza Rice’s Policy Planning Staff in 2006 when he was just 24 years of age. That same year he had a book published on the Rwandan genocide, while a year later his ‘Children of Jihad – A Young American’s travels among the Youth of the Middle East’ was published.
In 2009, it’s claimed that Cohen personally asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey not to interrupt his company’s service in Iran for maintenance. Tehran at the time was preparing for elections and it was apparently believed that the opponents of President Ahmadinejad would be hindered without access to social media.
Since 2010, Cohen has been an Adjunct Senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2013, Time magazine listed the then 32-year-old as one of its 100 Most Influential People in the world.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who met Cohen and Google chairman Eric Schmidt when he was under house-arrest in 2011, has written about Google’s role in assisting US foreign policy goals. “Whether it is being just a company or ‘more than just a company,’ Google’s geopolitical aspirations are firmly enmeshed within the foreign-policy agenda of the world’s largest superpower,” Assange said.
The Wikileaks founder discovered that Jared Cohen had “quietly worked” in Lebanon “to establish an intellectual and clerical rival to Hezbollah, the Higher Shia League.” In Afghanistan, Cohen had tried “to convince the four major Afghan mobile phone companies to move their antennas onto US military bases.”
In June 2010, when Syria was a country still at peace, Cohen traveled to the Arab Republic with Alec Ross. “I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappuccino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus,” he tweeted. Ross, in a more serious mood, tweeted: “This trip to #Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of#netfreedom”.
In an email dated September 24, 2010, entitled ‘1st known case of a successful social media campaign in Syria’, and which was later forwarded to Hillary Clinton, Ross wrote:
“When Jared and I went to Syria, it was because we knew that Syrian society was growing increasingly young (population will double in 17 years) and digital and that this was going to create disruptions in society that we could potential harness for our purposes”
Those “purposes” were of course “regime change” and break Syria’s alliance with Iran.
We already know, courtesy of Wikileaks, that Washington’s plans to destabilize Syria long pre-dated the so-called ‘Arab Spring’.
A 2006 cable from US Ambassador to Syria William Roebuck discussed “potential vulnerabilities” of the Assad administration and the “possible means to exploit them”.
One of the “possible means” was to seek to divide the Shia and Sunni communities in Syria. In a section entitled PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE, the Ambassador writes:
“There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business.”
Another was listed as ‘ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING’. This would increase “the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction” from the Syrian government.
Lo and behold when the protests against the Assad government did kick off in early 2011, the US was quick to accuse the Syrian authorities of over-reacting – which is exactly what they had wanted.
The earlier Wikileaks revelations on Syria tie in with what we learn from Clinton’s emails.
While Western leaders and their media stenographers feign horror and outrage over what’s been happening in Syria, Wikileaks shows us that the possibility of the country being torn apart by sectarian conflict was actually welcomed by Syria’s enemies.
“The fall of the House of Assad could well ignite a sectarian war between the Shiites and the majority Sunnis of the region drawing in Iran, which, in the view of Israeli commanders would not be a bad thing for Israel and its Western allies” Sidney Blumental wrote in a 2012 email to Hillary Clinton.
Blumenthal does point out that not all in Israel’s governing circles thought that way, with concern expressed that the spread of “increasingly conservative Islamic regimes” could make Israel “vulnerable”.
We must remember that if the US and UK got their way in August 2013 and bombed the Assad government, then its likely that IS and al-Qaeda affiliates would have taken control of the entire country. And the most bellicose voices calling for the bombing of a secular government that was fighting IS and al-Qaeda in 2013 were American neocons. This was the same group of hawks who had pushed so hard for the invasion of Iraq 10 years earlier and who had also propagandized for the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011.
Wikileaks confirms that – as was the case in Libya and Iraq – almost everything about the official “western establishment” version of the war in Syria was false.
Far from being an innocent bystander, the US went out of its way to destabilize the country and exploit ethnic and religious divisions.
A huge amount of weaponry was provided -via regional allies -to violent jihadists, euphemistically referred to as ‘rebels’, to try and achieve the goal of ‘regime change’. The rise of ISIS can be directly attributed to the destructive, malignant policies of the US and its allies towards Syria. Don’t forget we’ve already seen a US Intelligence report from August 2012, which stated that “the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria” was “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime”.
In 2006, the same year that Ambassador Roebuck sent his cable on how the US might exploit the “potential vulnerabilities” of the secular Assad administration, the Syrian authorities foiled a terrorist attack on the US embassy in Damascus.
You might have thought that it would have earned Syria some brownie points with the State Department and its collaborators. But as the HRC emails confirm, it counted for absolutely nothing.
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at http://www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
An article titled It’s Time to Seriously Consider Partitioning Syria published recently by Foreign Policy raises serious concerns.
The author writes that the war in Syria has devastated entire cities, the death toll is 470 thousand (there are no reliable statistics to confirm the figure) and 6 million people have become displaced. As a result, religious communities in Syria cannot live together in one state anymore. He believes that Syria should be divided into parts populated by Alawites (for some reason it includes Damascus) and Sunni Muslims. The options include a partition of the country into independent states or forming some kind of loose confederation like Bosnia and Herzegovina. James Stavridis is a four-star Admiral and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. He is an influential person in military and political circles.
The Admiral made public his views on Syria soon after US State Secretary John Kerry referred to plan B in Syria in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 1.
According to the US top diplomat, he will move towards a plan B that could involve a partition of Syria if hostilities continue because the political forces cannot coexist in one state.
The idea of dividing Syria, Iraq and other states in the Middle East has been considered by US strategic thinkers since the 1980s. Bernard Lewis, the patriarch of American oriental studies, was the first to suggest it. For many years he has been a member of and consultant to the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Formally an independent think tank, the Council exerts great influence on shaping US foreign policy.
In The Roots of Muslim Rage, an essay published in 1990, Bernard Lewis describes a ‘surge of hatred’ rising from the Islamic world that “becomes a rejection of Western civilization as such.” The thesis became influential.
The essay inspired Samuel Huntington, the author of the clash of civilizations hypothesis. Lewis is a widely read expert on the Middle East and is regarded as one of the West’s leading scholars specialized in that region. His advice has been frequently sought by policymakers, including the Bush Jr. administration in the early 2000s. Jacob Weisberg, a prominent US journalist, writes that Bernard Lewis was perhaps the most significant intellectual influence behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In 1979, Bernard Lewis first unveiled his project aimed at reshaping the Middle East to the Bilderberg Meeting in Baden, Austria. The goal was to counter Iran after the Islamic revolution and the Soviet Union with its military deployed to Afghanistan the same year. According to him, the anti-Iranian policy was to include the incitement of an armed Sunni-Shia confrontation and support of the Muslim Brothers movement. The Soviet Union was to be countered by creating an «Arc of Crisis» in the vicinity of its borders. The national states of the Middle East were to be ‘Balkanized’ along religious, ethnic and sectarian lines.
The Lewis project was advanced further after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1992 the scholar’s article titled Rethinking the Middle East appeared in Foreign Affairs, the US leading forum for serious discussion of foreign policy and international affairs published by the Council on Foreign Relations.
There he presented a new map of the Middle East. The plan envisaged breaking Syria up into small fragments with the territories populated by the Druze and Alawites separated to become independent mini-states. Lewis wanted to establish new entities: a tiny state on the territory of Lebanon populated by Maronites, an independent Kurdistan comprising the Kurds-populated areas of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, an independent Shia state in Iraq, an Arab state in the Iranian province of Khuzestan – the major oil-producing region of Iran. The plans also envisaged the creation of independent Balochistan.
Bernard Lewis advocated a policy called ‘Lebanonization’. According to him, “A possibility, which could even be precipitated by Islamic fundamentalism, is what has late been fashionable to call ‘Lebanonization’. Most of the states of the Middle East – Egypt is an obvious exception – are of recent and artificial construction and are vulnerable to such a process. If the central power is sufficiently weakened, there is no real civil society to hold the polity together, no real sense of common identity… The state then disintegrates – as happened in Lebanon – into a chaos of squabbling, feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions, and parties,” the scholar wrote.
The main goal of such projects is to prevent the emergence of regional forces able to challenge the hegemony of the United States [or Israel]. That’s what made the US add fuel to the fire of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). Washington succeeded in making the war last for eight years. By provoking the hostilities, the US killed two birds with one stone: it prevented Iran from growing stronger and weakened Iraq ruled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.
The West launched Operation Desert Storm to keep Iraq weak. In 2003 it concocted a false pretext (the possession of weapons of mass destruction) to occupy Iraq and deprive it of sovereignty. By and large, the same fate awaited Syria.
In 1990 Syrian troops remained in Lebanon as peacekeepers in accordance with the Taif Agreement. The US gave its consent because Damascus took part in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq. Besides, the Syrian government of Hafez Assad effectively committed itself not to take hostile actions against Israel. In ten years the situation changed. Damascus launched the policy of strategic partnership with Iran. It supported the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. Washington changed its stance to say the Syrian military in Lebanon was an occupying force. Using the imposition of sanctions as a weapon, the United States made Syria withdraw from Lebanon. In 2011 the US started to undermine the Syria’s national sovereignty.
The most faithful US allies – Saudi Arabia for instance – have no guarantees they will not become part of such plans. Nowadays, the United States does not depend on the oil supplies from the Middle East. It has put an end to the policy of direct confrontation with Tehran. As a strategic partner, Riyadh is not as important as it used to be. It’s hardly a coincidence that US media outlets started to publish maps with Hejaz (a region in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia) drawn as part of Jordan with the eastern part of the Saudi Kingdom together with South Iraq shown as part of Shia Arab state. Actually, a genuine settlement to the problems faced by the Arab world is something quite opposite from what the United States has to offer.
The partition of the Middle East into tiny powerless states will give rise to new crises accompanied by ethnic and religious cleansing. It will lead to a ‘war of all against all’ (bellum omnium contra omnes) – the term coined by Thomas Hobbs.
In case of such a war, the small principalities will need someone for arbitration. Washington will offer itself for this role.
In the future, the creation of large Arab space (Grossraum) may lead the region out of the deep crisis it faces, but that’s a different and a very serious matter to be discussed some other time.
Haaretz Columnists Propose Genocide In Lebanon, Promote Right of ‘Artists’ To Rape Young Girls ‘For Their Art’
Haaretz’s original headline for an article by Amitai Etzioni, a noted Israeli-American academic.
SEATTLE — Haaretz is famed in many circles as Israel’s leading liberal newspaper. In 2011, the New Yorker’s managing editor, David Remnick, deemed it “easily the most liberal newspaper in Israel and arguably the most important liberal institution in a country that has moved inexorably to the right in the past decade.”
The newspaper is part of an Israeli journalistic dynasty founded in the 1930s by Gershom Schocken, a Jewish-German immigrant. His son, Amos, is now publisher. Remnick had these glowing things to say about Amos:
“He is … a singular force in Israeli journalism on issues such as free speech, equal rights for Israeli Arabs, the independence of the Supreme Court, and the exposure of military abuse.”
However, analysis of two recent opinion columns published by Israel’s “most important liberal institution” reveals another side to the story.
Distinguished Israeli-American academic calls for annihilation of Lebanon
Amitai Etzioni, a noted Israeli-American academic, published an alarming piece last month arguing that Israel should not endanger its own troops, who he claimed would be expected to identify and dismantle many of Hezbollah’s 100,000 rockets before they could be fired. Rather, Israel should use a devastating weapons system that would save Israeli lives while annihilating large swaths of territory in which Lebanese civilians live.
Etzioni, 87, is the University Professor at George Washington University, where he serves as director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, a think tank. The noted sociologist is best known for his advocacy of communitarianism, an academic theory which, in some ways, is a perfect distillation of Israeli attitudes toward individual rights. Etzioni argues that while such rights are important, they must be carefully calibrated so they don’t interfere with the interests of society as a whole. This is precisely the way in which the Israeli national security state persuades citizens that protecting their security is a greater good that justifies sacrificing the interests of the individual.
Etzioni’s Haaretz op-ed was originally titled, “Should Israel Flatten Beirut to Destroy Hezbollah’s Missiles?” That title has been significantly softened to tone down the genocidal content of the piece itself; it now reads: “Should Israel Consider Using Devastating Weapons Against Hezbollah Missiles?”
From this brief excerpt, perhaps you can judge for yourselves which title is more accurate and why it was changed:
“I asked two American military officers what other options Israel has. They both pointed to Fuel-Air Explosives [FAE]. These are bombs that disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel which is ignited by a detonator, producing massive explosions. The resulting rapidly expanding wave flattens all buildings within a considerable range.
Such weapons obviously would be used only after the population was given a chance to evacuate the area. Still, as we saw in Gaza, there are going to be civilian casualties.”
Etzioni vastly understates the lethality of what are otherwise known as FAEs or thermobaric weapons. The Guardian quotes a clinical description of their impact from the Marine Corps Gazette :
“Thermobaric, or ‘fuel-air’ weapons … form a cloud of volatile gases or finely powdered explosives. ‘This cloud is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure. … Personnel under the cloud are literally crushed to death. Outside the cloud area, the blast wave travels at some 3,000 meters per second. … As a result, a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation. … Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Further, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolism within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal hemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets.’”
Russia used FAEs in Chechnya, and the United States employed them in Fallujah. Some experts on the laws of war have declared the use of FAEs a war crime. In 1992, Michael Ratner, founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the world’s leading legal experts on these matters, noted that FAEs violate international law:
“The use of asphyxiating gases is prohibited. The U.S. violated this by its use of fuel-air explosive bombs on Iraqi frontline troops; these bombs are terror bombs which can burn the oxygen over a surface of one or two square kilometers, destroying human life by asphyxiation.”
He further noted that FAEs are “outlawed by the Hague and Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the use of weapons causing unnecessary harm to combatants.”
It should’ve been clear to Haaretz editors that they were publishing an op-ed that not only urged Israel to commit war crimes in the next Lebanon war, but that these weapons would also open Israel to charges of genocide given the extraordinarily high death toll that would ensue.
The Israeli Defense Forces itself has developed a similar military strategy for its attacks against Hezbollah. The Dahiya Doctrine, developed by Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who would go on to become chief of staff of the IDF, argued that Israel must wreak maximum damage on the civilian neighborhoods of Beirut in which Hezbollah was based. Such devastation would force the Islamist group to pay a maximum price for its attacks on Israel, he asserted. This is precisely what happened during the 2006 Lebanon war, when the Shiite neighborhood of Dahiya, in which Hezbollah’s leadership took refuge, was reduced to rubble. Over 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed in that conflict.
The strategy appears to have had little deterrent effect. Hezbollah now possesses more than double the rockets it did in 2006 and poses an even fiercer threat to Israeli targets when the next war breaks out.
Etzioni’s claim that FAEs would be used only after civilians were warned to evacuate the target area is pure sophistry. Civilians in war zones have no shelter or refuge. There is nowhere they can go to escape the military onslaught. This has been proven repeatedly both in Gaza and Lebanon.
Israel makes no attempt on the battlefield to provide sites where civilians may shelter safely. It has repeatedly attacked locations such as U.N. schools, killing massive numbers of civilians. In Lebanon, it has attacked convoys of civilians fleeing combat zones and U.N. facilities where civilians have taken refuge. Faced with such a dilemma, many civilians would prefer to take their chances and remain in their homes.
Further, Israel’s attempts at “warning” civilians are feeble at best: The IDF sends targeted communities SMS messages and drops fliers from airplanes warning them to flee. How does a frightened resident whose cellphone battery has died or who is too frightened to venture out of his or her home learn about Israeli orders to flee?
The most cruel and calculating portion of Etzioni’s essay is his call for Israel to recruit pro-Israel “experts” to join war games in which they would be called upon to use these diabolical weapons:
“ … The time to raise this issue is long before Israel may be forced to use FAEs. One way this can be achieved is by inviting foreign military experts and public intellectuals, who are not known to be hostile to Israel, to participate in war games in which they would be charged with fashioning a response to massive missile attacks on Israeli high rise buildings, schools, hospitals, and air bases.
In this way, one hopes, that there be a greater understanding, if not outright acceptance, of the use of these powerful weapons, given that nothing else will do.”
This would supposedly condition the world for future Israeli use of FAEs. Etzioni is essentially calling for pre-approval of war crimes. These enablers would be offering Israel a kind of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for genocide.
Etzioni: Falsification of historical memory and Nakba denial
Amitai Etzioni has long served as a mouthpiece for the whitewashing of Israel’s moral sins. In March 2014, he wrote an op-ed in the Daily Forward in which he attempted to recount the history of the village where his family settled after fleeing Germany in 1935 and arriving in pre-state Israel:
“In 1935, as Nazi influence grew, my family escaped, joining four other families of the same background to form a new settlement in Palestine in 1936. They named it Kfar Shmaryahu (it’s next to Herzliya). The five families… cleared the rocks, drilled a water well, paved a road before erecting a bunch of modest homes and farming the land. All this was done on previously unoccupied land — land that was lying fallow next to an Arab village called Sidney Alley. …
The relationship between my parents’ village and Sidney Alley varied over the years, ranging from comfortable to tense. However, as far as I recall, no shots were fired, and most assuredly, no one was driven off land or out of a home. Those who lived unmolested in Sidney Alley until 1948 left at that point. We were told that they took with them keys to our homes that they somehow acquired, and had agreed among themselves who will get which of our homes after the seven Arab militaries that attacked the weak and newborn Israel defeated it. I never saw any evidence that supports this tale, but I know firsthand that no Israeli forces drove out the people of Sidney Alley.”
Soon after Etzioni’s account was published, Maher Mughrabi, a Palestinian-Australian foreign news editor for the Australian Age, exposed how woefully inadequate Etzioni’s account and his memory are. In a Letter to the Editor of the Forward, which he also shared with me via email, he wrote:
“Etzioni recalls the neighbouring village’s name as ‘Sidney Alley.’ This surely must strike anyone with an ear for Arab idiom as improbable. … However, if you think a bit about what this place might be called in Arabic, it turns out the mosque is of Sidna (or Sayyidna, meaning ‘our lord’) Ali. And it turns out that if you are not Etzioni, you can remember a history of displacement from this place.”
The mosque of the ethnically-cleansed Palestinian village of Sidna
Further, the Palestinians of Sidna Ali were indeed driven from their homes not just by “shots fired” but by cold-blooded murder.
Zochrot, an Israeli NGO dedicated to memorializing Palestinian villages destroyed in the Nakba, offers a fuller account of the events leading to the tragedy of Sidna Ali. A family in the village owned a dairy and orchard on its outskirts. Their Jewish tenant invited Lehi militants to train on the farm. Someone appears to have reported this to British authorities, who then raided the farm, resulting in the killing of four Jewish militants and a commander.
Villagers of Sidna Ali drawing water from communal well (source: Palestine Remembered)
To exact revenge, Lehi returned to Sidna Ali, captured five family members, lined them up against a wall and executed them. The killers deliberately permitted a few members of the family to flee so they could spread the word of the massacre among the Palestinian population. At that point, many remaining villagers saw the handwriting on the wall and fled in terror (this was in the period before the war and ensuring mass expulsions had happened). Those who did not flee were forced to flee later by menacing gunfire sprayed by Jewish forces.
You can see that one of America’s towering academic figures leaves much to be desired when recounting Israeli history. If he wrote as sloppily in his own field as he does on these subjects, he would be labelled a fraud. But instead, the pages of Israel’s leading liberal newspaper are opened wide for him to call for mass murder against Lebanese civilians.
One has to wonder how a newspaper editor decides a contribution from Etzioni about Hezbollah is even relevant. He is not a philosopher of war or ethicist like Asa Kasher or Princeton’s Michael Walzer. He is not an expert on military strategy or Israeli Defense Forces affairs. What is Etzioni’s expertise on the subject?
And even if he had expertise, how does one justify publishing an op-ed calling for genocide? It would appear that Haaretz has, in some fundamental way, gone off the rails.
Haaretz literary editor approves of rape in pursuit of artistic ‘excellence’
This becomes even more clear in the second example of a woefully misguided piece published by Haaretz. In 2013, a popular Israeli entertainer, Eyal Golan, was investigated for allegedly raping teenage girls. His father was later convicted of pimping girls to his cronies, though no charges were ever brought against Golan. In response to an Israeli TV interviewer excoriating him last month for his dissolute personal life, he responded that he made no claim to be a moral exemplar or, as he put it, “the Pope.” On the other hand, and paradoxically, he called himself a “moral man.”
Eyal Golan enjoying the lush life with female admirer
On March 5, Benny Ziffer, the newspaper’s literary editor, responded to a particularly pugnacious recent Israeli TV interview with Golan by a noted female program host. Ziffer’s column launched a crusade not just to redeem Golan’s reputation, but to claim that it is the right of all artists to engage in antisocial behavior (like raping young girls) as long as they do so for their art. Further, he claims that societies which persecute such creative souls are suppressing freedom of expression and the artistic impulse (my translation is from the Hebrew piece):
“Cultured nations know that in order for art to exist and creativity to flourish, artists must enjoy moral privileges and freedoms not available to others. Even tyrants harboring no tolerance for individual freedom understand that artists must be permitted to live a Bohemian existence; and that this is part of the unwritten agreement between a society and its artists, who are offered extensive latitude under ethical norms which permit wild behavior, especially in the sexual realm.
Artists from Goethe to Eyal Golan hover intoxicatedly in the air above the heights of artistry and creativity. They must feel most intensely those things that are considered the basest sexual urges in life, like intercourse with young female admirers. Without this, there would be no creativity, despite all the pain this is liable to cause these young women, whose lives may have been damaged.”
The journalistic crime committed here is rendered even more severe by the fact that the author is neither freelancer nor columnist, but senior editorial staff.
Again, one must wonder what Ziffer’s editor was thinking when he or she approved such journalistic trash for publication. Besides the claims in this passage being pure intellectual bunkum (since when did Goethe ever justify raping young girls in order to delve deeper into his artistic impulses?), did no one at the paper stop to consider the backlash that would stem from this rape apologia?
Haaretz readers have started a petition (Hebrew) calling for the firing of Ziffer. It’s doubtful this will have any impact on Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, whose approach to criticism is to dismiss it with hurt indignation.
I can attest to this personally. In 2012, the newspaper published an expose about Israeli museums which did not offer Arabic-language inscriptions for exhibits, as required under a law guaranteeing multi-lingual accessibility for publicly-funded cultural institutions. I wrote to the reporter, asking why Haaretz itself never published in Arabic. I argued that doing so would offer a pioneering statement from the nation’s leading liberal daily about the critical importance of embracing the Arabic-speaking Palestinian minority. I suggested, to that end, Haaretz consider publishing an Arabic-language supplement.
Instead of a response from the reporter, Schocken himself replied disdainfully that if I thought such a project was so important that I should find him funding to support it. It was a response, doubtless to say, I found disingenuous, as it wasn’t my job to secure investments in his newspaper.
The following year, Haaretz published its first article in Arabic, an editorial urging Palestinians to “get out and vote.” Ironically, many members of the Palestinian minority do not vote precisely because the institutions of the Jewish majority (like Haaretz ) are largely closed to them. Generally they enjoy second or third-class rights within society, thanks in part to the patronizing approach of elite Ashkenazi Jewish institutions like it.
Haaretz refuses to publish Ziffer’s column in English edition
It should come as no surprise that Ziffer’s op-ed was not translated into English or published in the paper’s English edition. The editors there perhaps had a better understanding of their own readers and determined there was no need to inflame them. But in truth, this is a form of self-censorship. If you want to publish misogynist trash, why only publish it in Hebrew? Why not proclaim proudly to the rest of the English-speaking world what your journalistic values are?
If, as David Remnick argues, Haaretz is the best of Israeli journalism, what does that tell us about Israeli society in general and its Fourth Estate in particular? It tells us that the weight of being a garrison nation in a state of perpetual war has corroded whatever liberal values Haaretz may have once championed. It tells that no matter how much higher are the standards Haaretz upholds than those of their competitors, they are indelibly stained by historical sins of the their society.
Breaking: Managing editor cancels Ziffer’s weekly column
When reached for comment on this story, Aluf Benn, the newspaper’s managing editor, declined, but he did allude to a major forthcoming development.
Shortly thereafter, on Wednesday, Israeli business news site Globes reported than Benn had decided to cancel Ziffer’s weekly column in response to the March 5 piece.
In his final column, published on Wednesday, Ziffer apologized for what he wrote. He added, oddly, that it was all part of a twisted game he played on behalf of his audience:
“I entered into the role of provocateur [Author’s Note: literally, “playful devil”], and the game was good and yielded rewards. The audience was enthusiastic and begged for more and more columns in which I played the the game of provocateur. I reaped success. Together with the intoxication of success, this blurred within me the boundaries between the game and reality.”
Haaretz later published Ziffer’s apology in its English edition. But without the context of the original article (published only in Hebrew), readers of the English edition have no idea what “monstrosity” Ziffer is apologizing for. And that’s probably the way Haaretz’s editors prefer it. Rather than being fully transparent, it has the effect of further concealing the original offense.
Still, Ziffer remains as literary editor of the paper. He will also continue writing other articles for the paper. Presumably, Benn believes that by giving Ziffer a lower profile and “disappearing” his byline, readers — especially female readers — will be able to forget this disaster. In the past heyday of Israeli macho behavior, perhaps Haaretz could’ve gotten away with this. But can you imagine the Washington Post or New York Times in this day and age permitting its literary editor to write such swill and not firing him? The very thought seems preposterous.
“AL decision to adopt the Gulf Cooperation Council is rightful and represents a positive shift,” Israeli daily, Maariv quoted Livni as saying.
Livni meanwhile, called for concluding an alliance between Israel and “moderate Muslim countries” including Gulf states and some Arab countries which blacklisted Hezbollah, the Israeli paper said.
On the other hand, the Israeli politician called for preventing Hezbollah from taking part in the parliamentary elections in Lebanon, according to Maariv.
“Livni also urged not to make distinction between Hezbollah and ISIL,” the daily added referring to the Takfiri group operating in Iraq and Syria (so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Levant).
One day, my son, all this will be yours
With a series of blatant measures, Saudi Arabia and its regional allies are evidently trying to destabilize Lebanon. The development is apiece with how Saudi Arabia and Turkey have both sought to undermine the ceasefire in Syria and to escalate that conflict to a region-wide level.
A New York Times report this week poses a rather naive conundrum: «Diplomats and analysts have spent several weeks trying to understand why the Saudis would precipitously start penalizing Lebanon – and perhaps their own Lebanese allies – over the powerful influence of Hezbollah, which is nothing new».
Well, here’s a quick answer: Russia’s very effective squelching of the covert war for regime-change in Syria. That has sent Saudi Arabia and Turkey into a paroxysm of rage.
Russia’s military intervention in Syria to defend the Arab state from a foreign-backed covert war involving myriad terrorist proxy groups, has dealt a severe blow to the machinations of Washington, its NATO allies and regional client states.
While Washington and its Western partners seem resigned to pursue regime change by an alternative political track, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are stuck in the covert-war groove. They are betting that the terrorist proxy armies they have weaponized can somehow be salvaged from withering losses inflicted by Russian airpower in combination with the ground forces of the Syrian Arab Army, Iranian military advisors and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.
Hence, the immediate breaches of the cessation called a week ago by Washington and Moscow in Syria. Turkish military shelling across the border into northern Syria is not just a breach. It is an outrageous provocation to Syrian sovereignty, as Moscow has pointed out.
Simultaneous Saudi military mobilization, including Turkish forces, on its northeast border with Iraq, as well as the reported deployment of Saudi fighter jets to Turkey’s Incirlik airbase opposite Syria’s northwest Latakia province can also be viewed as calculated moves to undermine the tentative ceasefire. The logical conclusion of this reckless aggression by both Saudi Arabia and Turkey is to precipitate a wider conflict, one which would draw in the US and Russia into open warfare.
The series of Saudi-led initiatives towards Lebanon should be interpreted in this context. In the past week, Saudi Arabia and its closely aligned Sunni monarchies in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The word «anachronistic» comes to mind, belying an ulterior motive.
The Saudi rulers, led by King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, also announced that they were canceling plans to grant Lebanon $4 billion in aid. Most of the aid was to be in form of military grants, to be spent on upgrading the Lebanese national army with French weaponry and equipment.
Without providing any proof, the GCC states – Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman in addition to Saudi Arabia – issued travel warnings to their nationals intending to visit Lebanon. The GCC also claimed that Hezbollah was interfering in their internal affairs and trying to recruit Gulf nationals into the organization to fight in Syria. The GCC has even threatened to deport Lebanese expatriate workers, some half a million of which work in the Gulf.
There were also regional media reports last week of a large cache of weapons having been seized by Greek authorities, stowed illicitly onboard a cargo ship sailing from Turkey to Lebanon.
The cumulative intent seems patent. The Saudis and their regional allies – who have been pushing for regime change for the past five years against the Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah-allied government of President Bashar al-Assad – see the escalation of regional instability as the best way to salvage their covert war in Syria.
Washington, London and Paris probably have sufficient cynical intelligence to realize that the covert war involving terrorist proxies is no longer a viable option – given the formidable forces arrayed in support of the Syrian state, not least Russian air power.
The Saudis and the Turkish regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan appear to be inflexibly wedded to the covert war agenda. For these powers anything less than the outright removal of Assad would be seen as a grave blow to their despotic egos and, for them, an unbearable boost to their regional rival, Shia-dominated Iran.
The GCC criminalization of Shia-affiliated Hezbollah is obviously a fit of revenge-seeking given how the militia has ably helped the Syrian army retake major areas from the regime-change Sunni extremist insurgents, in conjunction with the Russian air strikes. The steady shutting down of border crossings in Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo has cut-off the terror brigades from their weapons supply routes via Turkey. This is partly why the Erdogan regime has responded by cross-border shelling in order to give re-supply efforts a modicum of artillery cover.
Moreover, the Saudi-led campaign to sanction Hezbollah is also aimed at destabilizing the sectarian fault lines inside Lebanon. Hezbollah may be denigrated by Washington and some other Western states as a «terrorist group» and of presiding over «a state within a state» due to its military wing which exists alongside the Lebanese national army.
Nevertheless, Hezbollah has constitutionally recognized legitimacy within Lebanon. This is partly due to the militia’s primary role in driving out the US-backed Israeli military occupation of the country in 2000 and again in 2006. For many Lebanese people, including Christians and Sunni Muslims, Hezbollah is held with pride as an honorable resistance force to US-led imperialism in the region.
The party – which Russia also recognizes as a legitimate national resistance movement – comprises about 10 per cent of the Lebanese parliament and holds two cabinet positions in the coalition Beirut government.
So the Saudi-led proposal to sanction Hezbollah seems nothing more than a gratuitous bid to open up sectarian fissures that have cleaved Lebanon in the recent past during its 1975-1990 civil war. The provocation of labeling a member of government in a foreign state as «terrorist» – seemingly out of the blue – has to be seen as a tendentious bid to destabilize. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah this week condemned the Saudi bid to inflame sedition in Lebanon, and it is hard to disagree with that assessment.
There are still pockets of extremist Sunni support within Lebanon that the Saudis and Turkey appear to be trying to incite. During the Syrian conflict, there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence in the cities of Sidon and Tripoli by Salafist elements with close links to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Now those same elements are being incited to take to the streets again.
It is not clear if Lebanon can hold together. A government minister linked to a pro-Saudi faction has resigned in recent weeks over what he claims is «Hezbollah domination» in Lebanese politics.
Many Lebanese are discontented over social and economic problems dogging the country. A refuse-collection backlog over the past year has left large parts of the capital overflowing with putrid waste. The tiny country of four million is also feeling the strain of accommodating some one million Syrian refugees.
The thought of re-opening old wounds and re-igniting the horror of civil war is a heavy burden on most Lebanese citizens that may be enough to make them baulk at malign pressures.
But what can be said for sure is that the role of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab monarchies is absolutely unconscionable and criminal. They seem fully prepared to plunge yet another neighboring country into a sectarian bloodbath in order to gratify their illicit regional ambitions.