“Open War” in the Middle East

“In my judgment, the best way to stop the violence is to understand why the violence occurred in the first place.” That one sentence (a surprisingly rare example of a complete sentence spoken by Cheney spokesman George W. Bush), taken on its own, would fully explain why the Middle East is now on the brink of regional war. But of course, Bush always finds a way to engage in Orwellian newspeak. At a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, he managed to rewrite history in the very next sentence by blaming Hezbollah for instigating the violence by launching rocket attacks into Israel and capturing Israeli soldiers. But then, George most likely has no idea where Gaza is, let alone what has been occurring there for decades.

As puppet Bush goes on saying things like “Every nation has a right to defend itself,” referring to his favorite ally, Israel, his use of the word “every” would of course exclude Lebanon, since their army is using anti-aircraft guns against Israeli warplanes. And let us not forget the Iraqi resistance – as it may never cross his feeble mind that they are defending Iraq from the American invaders.

Most Arab leaders are refusing to back Hezbollah, although US-influenced Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II issued the usual statements demanding “an immediate halt on attacking civilians and vital infrastructure,” saying that such attacks breach the international humanitarian conventions. As if Israel will listen. As if the US listens to any calls from countries demanding similar actions by the occupation forces and Western contracting companies who are busily raping and pillaging Iraq. As if any country in war ever abides by the Geneva Conventions nowadays. And without a functional UN to actually take a stand for human rights or real justice, why should they?

The typical response among the people here in the Middle East is to scoff at their leadership – who continue to cower and bow to US interests.

Friday at the Lebanese/Syrian border, I spoke with a 50-year-old Kuwaiti man, Emad, as he fled Beirut with his family. “It’s very bad there, as the Israelis are attacking civilians, bombing police and petrol stations and even the fuel storage depots,” he told me, “In fact, they have even bombed the airport once again. I saw F-16’s bombing and there is smoke everywhere. This is a big disaster for the Lebanese.”

When I asked him what he thought it would take to end the fighting, he promptly replied, “It looks like the Arab governments are not moving their asses, so I am leaving.”

Yet as consistently as the Arab governments fail to get busy “moving their asses” toward something resembling a solution to this crisis, just as consistently are the people repressed by those same governments raising their voices.

On Friday, tens of thousands of Arab protestors hit the streets, condemning the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and their actions in the Gaza Strip. 5,000 angry protesters gathered at a mosque in Cairo carrying banners that read, “Hey Arab leaders, you should be united.” In Amman, over 2,000 demonstrators gathered at a mosque after Friday prayers, shouting “Zionists get out, get out!” and “Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan are one people!”

Thousands marched in Gaza, waving Palestinian and Lebanese flags.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, thousands of angry Iraqis marched, praising Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, while denouncing Israel and the US for the attacks. Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr hinted that he may be prepared to put his Mehdi Army militia into action against the Americans due to the Israeli actions in Lebanon and Gaza.

In an earlier piece titled “An Alliance of Violence,” I detailed how violence perpetrated on the people of Palestine by the Israeli military has immediate ramifications in Iraq. The same is now brewing yet again.

In Kuwait, protesters rallied in front of the parliament building, shouting “Death to Israel!” and “Death to America!” Meanwhile, a Kuwaiti lawmaker named Musallam al-Barrak lashed out at his and other Arab governments when he stated, “Arab countries can do nothing but condemn.”

There is a frightening undercurrent of rage among the people in the Middle East toward their governments: The Arab world is on fire over the injustice meted out against the Palestinian people, as well as to the Lebanese. The Israeli people are deeply angered at their government for failing to provide security (of course our corporate media would never report on the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis oppose their government’s actions in Gaza and beyond) – instead, preferring peaceful resolutions rather than brutal, unjust, failed occupation and ongoing acts of aggression.

Predictably, the impotent UN Security Council goes about its machinations of futility, holding emergency meetings while hoping for resolutions – which rarely, if ever, change anything on the ground to stop the needless massacre of civilians on both sides of the conflict. Ah, the UN – where the US is responsible for eight out of the last nine vetoes, seven of which had to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So why pin any hope on the UN, when the US has already vetoed a resolution demanding that Israel stop its military offensive in the Gaza Strip?

Meanwhile, the bloodletting continues as the situation escalates and spins further into chaos while threatening to spread deeper into the region.

Israel, the only nuclear power in the region, hopes to completely annihilate Hezbollah from southern Lebanon. They have now insured total, unending war by demanding Hezbollah to completely disarm, leave southern Lebanon and hand over the Israeli soldiers, demands which Hezbollah will surely brush aside.

Let us not forget that both Israel and the US announced in January that the Palestinian people would be punished for voting the wrong way by electing Hamas to power. That unjust act, which began the chain of events leading to our current crisis, may well be marked as the match that lit this hellish bonfire. Because it certainly seems, judging from their actions in Gaza and now in southern Lebanon, that the aim of the Israeli government is to wipe out the Palestinian people, in addition to Hamas and Hezbollah.

So we naturally have open war in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. Israel declared it by their act of bombing and invading Lebanon, then bombing Nasrallah’s Beirut offices. Nasrallah, unhurt by the attack, promptly appeared on television announcing “open war” against Israel.

On Hezbollah’s TV channel in Beirut, he said, “You wanted an open war and we are ready for an open war.” He announced, “Look at the warship that has attacked Beirut [referring to an Israeli warship off the coast that was lobbing shells into Lebanon] while it burns and sinks before your very eyes.”

The ship was heavily damaged and four of its 80 soldiers on board went missing after being attacked by an explosive drone launched by Hezbollah, the first time such a weapon has been seen from their arsenal.

“Now in the middle of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli warship that has attacked the infrastructure, people’s homes and civilians – look at it burning,” Nasrallah mocked, in his address that aired late Friday night.

In footage aired by the same channel, dozens of Lebanese danced in the streets of Beirut to celebrate the announcement of the attack on the Israeli ship. This, of course, contradicts Israel’s goal in pressuring Lebanon: Israel hoped that by punishing the Lebanese they would force the country to pressure Hezbollah. Despite the propaganda of the dancing Lebanese aired by Hezbollah TV, reaction thus far is mixed in besieged Lebanon.

Deepening the crisis, Nasrallah threatened to attack deeper inside Israel, “beyond Haifa.”

And Saturday the bloodshed continued as the Israeli Air Force bombed bridges, fuel storage tanks, petrol stations in southern and eastern Lebanon. At least four people were killed in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and more bridges south of Beirut were destroyed.

The same day, at least 15 Lebanese villagers, including women and children, were killed by an Israeli air strike on their vehicles as they fled their village of Marwahin in southern Lebanon after being ordered to evacuate by the Israelis.

Leaflets dropped by Israeli aircraft over Beirut warned the Lebanese not to back Nasrallah. Yet, giving further evidence to the Lebanese army’s outwardly opposing the Israelis, after the leaflets were dropped they were promptly collected and taken away by Lebanese security forces.

Underscoring this, Saadeddine Rafik Hariri, majority leader in the Lebanese Parliament and the son of the assassinated former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, told reporters in Kuwait on Saturday: “The Lebanese people must remain united. We must not allow Israel to divide us. The enemy is Israel.”

Here in Damascas we’re on pins and needles. The mood is one of both high anxiety and seething anger at the Israelis’ war against both Lebanon and Hezbollah. Like anywhere else, nobody here supports collective punishment or attacks against sovereign countries.

As Israeli jets pound the mountains in Lebanon near the Syrian border, striking radio and satellite antennas, the concern that Syria will be drawn into the conflict grows daily.

The day before, Reuters reported that the ruling Ba’ath party in Damascas announced that they and the “Syrian people”… “are ready to extend full support to the Lebanese people and their heroic resistance to remain steadfast and confront the barbaric Israeli aggression and its crimes.”

The war is even widening in Lebanon, as Israeli warplanes, also on Saturday, bombed an area in Tripoli, their most northern strike thus far. After Israel placed an embargo on Lebanon and shut down their main seaport in Beirut, 95% of the trade was rerouted through the port at Tripoli. Today, three bombs were dropped by Israeli war planes on that port. Other Lebanese ports now shut down include Jounieh, Amshit and Hamat, as the Lebanese economy has ground to a nearly complete standstill.

At least 79 civilians have been killed and over 250 wounded since Israel began its attack against Lebanon on Wednesday.

Civilians dying aren’t only in Lebanon. Over a dozen rockets were fired by Hezbollah into several towns in northern Israel, in addition to over 90 fired into a total of 15 towns in Israel thus far, killing at least four and wounding scores.

Thus, both Hezbollah and the Israeli government have their “open war.” As usual, while the politicians and the UN wring their hands and twiddle their thumbs, those bearing the brunt are the civilians on both sides, whether they live in Israel, Lebanon or Palestine.