July   2006

Lebanon: The Accidental War: Hezbollah and Israel: Proxy War

Hezbullah and Israel:

The Proxy War

By Adel Darwish

Not only last month's flare-up in Lebanon, intensified by Israel's disproportionate retaliation to Hezbollah guerrilla attacking its soldiers killing eight and kidnapping two coincided with the 70th Anniversary of the Spanish civil war, it was also had its echo as a “ proxy war.’’

For three years between 1936-1939 big powers of the time fought their proxy war in Spain. Nazi Germany and fascist allies aided General Franco (who relied on a Moroccan army) while Soviet Union and its sympathisers of Marxist volunteered to fight with the Republicans. Spain became a testing ground for new weapons, fighting tactics and the strategy of spreading ideology while the poor Spaniards paid a high price for the mini rehearsal of the Second World War that was soon to start when fighting by proxy became a redundant option.

Fast forward the history video to 2006 and watch the parallel-editing of scenes from Haifa, Naharyia and Nazareth of damage ( and causalities including Israeli Arab Muslims), caused by Iranian supplied rockets fired by the Lebanese Shia guerrilla movement Hezbollah; and Beirut, Sida and Tyre where American made missiles and bombes fired by Israeli army, air force and navy, are destroying Lebanese infrastructure and killing Lebanese civilians (over 300 many of them are children) and ONE Hezbollah fighter, by the time we went to print.

After turning their back on 15 years of civil war and many sacrifices, the Lebanese finally saw the departure of Israeli forces in 2000, followed five years later by the withdrawal of Syrian troops. Just as Beirut was reviving its old merry Mediterranean spirit and character, the spectres of the past have returned: the Israelis, the Syrians, the Iranians and the Americans, all fighting their wars on Lebanese soil, paying no attention to Lebanese lives.

Supported by America, Israel claims the bombardment of Lebanon and its attempt to crush Hezbollah are for Lebanon's own good, helping implement resolution 1559 in 2004, (called for all foreign troops to leave Lebanon and disarm all militia). Keen on fanning the flames, Syria and Iran, support Hezbollah, and fight Israel to the last drop of Lebanese blood. While Lebanon was burning, the Syrian Israeli Ceasefire line on the Golan Heights remained the quietest of all Israel's borders.

And in another deja vu, the bureau of ‘the international community’, namely the UN Security Council UNSC, seemed to be dragging its feet - under pressure from American ambassador John Bolton - in moving into a cease fire; just like it did in September 1980 when Saddam Hussein, then an ally of the west and defender of the ` Arab side' of the Persian Gulf, invaded Iran. The west then decided to give the ' aggressor' ample time to destroy the Islamic Republic war machine and it was many days before a meeting was arranged to call for a cease fire. The UNSC 1980 inaction, many historian agree, still lies at the heart of the Iranians’ distrust and hatred of a West lead by America.

And while analysts and commentators warned that the conflict could spread to include Syria and Iran spiralling out of control, the world most powerful leaders in their G8 summit in Saint Petersburg were either unwilling or unable to agree on a strategy to contain the dangerous conflict.

The summit pointedly blamed Hamas and Hezbollah, and by implication their sponsors in Syria and Iran. “These extremist elements and those who support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos and provoke a wider conflict. The extremists must immediately halt their attacks,” said the G8 declaration, without any reference to a cease fire or calling a UNSC meeting.

It was one of the most unusual pro-Israeli international statements in many years, motivated by a desire to stop Iran and Syria claiming a proxy victory. The Bush administration made no attempt to hide that it saw the crisis in the Middle East as an opportunity for the world to deal once and for all with Hezbollah and to rein in its sponsors, Iran and Syria. Both regional (including Israeli) and western leaders, were for once, united in understanding that a victory for Hamas and Hezbollah will be a victory for the forces of extremism across the Islamic world, arguing that reaching an accommodation with ‘ political Islam’ failed to contain extremisms since it was Hezbollah who violated the quiet borders without provocation.

On July 18, while a UN team was negotiating with Israel before reporting back to Secretary General Kofi Annan (who called for a cease fire blaming both Israel and Hezbollah during a UNSC secession on July 20) Israeli officials said they were engaged in ` parallel tracks' of diplomacy and military, as the military still had ` unfinished business'.

Military experts, however, questioned Israel’s ability to ‘ finish the business’ before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Israel ( scheduled July 26) with air-raids alone as they made little advance on the ground with their troops facing fierce resistance and sustaining high causalities. By 22nd July, Israel admitted to the death of over a dozen servicemen in repeated futile attempts to advance into well-dug Hezbollah positions, the loss of a helicopter (no word about the fate of its crew) and a warship( part of its naval blockade) taken out of service in a surprise Hezbollah rocket attack thought to be the Chinese made Iranian supplied C-802 ( another one hit an Egyptian commercial vessel injuring 11 sailors), in addition to the death of eight Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two in Hezbollah initial attack. Still katushas and longer range missiles were falling on Israel, while the group leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was thumping his nose at Israel (and America) on al-Jazeera.

The Israelis were discovering that their mighty military machine which, in previous wars changed facts on the ground was deemed powerless against threats like the two Intifadahs (1989 and 2000) and Hezbollah; Israel had no effective alternative to contain the threat.

Israel, many observers agree, was fighting on behalf of America, and at least another half a dozen western and Middle Eastern powers, their war against what British Prime Minister Tony Blair called “ an arc of extremism stretching from the Gaza Strip to Iraq”, while Hezbollah, was fighting on behalf of Iran, Syria and a combination of old losers like Baathists Arab nationalists, and Marxist who missed the Soviet Union obituaries when published; and new untested, or undefeated, forces of radical Islamic fundamentalists hell bent on blocking the advance of reform and democracy, which has been associated in the minds of many Muslims with a concept of ‘ Western Crusaders’ lead by America.

One main (among many) difficulty for America was Israel heavy-handed military operation presenting their opponents with a diplomatic victory and a political victory to Hezbollah as a public opinion east and west have illustrated. Breaking a long standing taboo, British papers from the left ( Observer) and the right ( Sunday Telegraph and Evening Standard) published shocking pictures of blooded bodies of Lebanese toddlers scattered on the road, victims to missiles fired by Israeli helicopters on their parents’ cars evacuating Tyre as instructed by Israeli leaflets.

Even as HMS York, were evacuating some 180 British families from Beirut port (the Royal Navy sent every available ship in the Mediterranean to vacate some 10,000 Britons), Prime Minister Blair was defending Israel's action during his weekly questions at the House of Commons.

Liberal Democrats opposition leaders Sir Menzies Campbell asked Mr Blair “how can even-handed if we are not willing to condemn Israel's disproportionate response which the prime minister of the Lebanon has described as 'cutting his country to pieces'?"

Despite his call for the reaction ( by Israel) to be “ proportionate” and to minimise civilian casualties, Blair’s support of Israel’s ‘right’ to defend itself and his condemnation of Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas appeared to disproportionate to his support for the democratically elected pro-western government.

Like Sir Menzies, some back-bench labour MPs, wanted to present Blair with an opportunity to steer a course of Middle East policy independent of America's disastrous one, by referring to Prime Minister's unguarded conversations with President Bush overheard at the G8 summit.

It was over lunch when President Bush was munching away not realising that a Russian TV crew left their microphone open in front of him. Mr Blair moved and stood leaning on the back of his chair, offering to go out to the Middle East and ` Just talk' to prepare the ground for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit, only to be turned down by President Bush - whose body language suggested he wanted to get rid of a man interrupting his lunch, while suggesting that Syria was to blame by saying ``See, the irony is, what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh** and it's over.'' with such highly embarrassing incident emphasising his image as both the White House Poodle (saying he knitted a sweater the Blair’s presented to Mr Bush as a present- see the full transcript of the conversation), and as President Bush's messenger boy.

“In the course of those conversations,” Sir Menzies asked in the commons, “did he [Blair] understand that it was America's policy to allow Israel a further period for military action? Is that why the United Kingdom is not calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire?”

But Blair pointed out that Britain’s influence with Hezbollah has been limited.

However, western diplomats interpreted the unguarded conversation as a rare glimpse of Mr Blair’s diplomacy uniquely designed for America. They likened it to that of an impoverished aristocrat turned a personal assistant to a novae-rich ignoramus, appeasing him and smiling to his humiliation in order to manoeuvre him into a less self harming course.

However Blair government’s inaction – continue to dodge requests to make an unequivocal call for a cease fire or publicly back Mr Annan’s call, as requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury, appeared to be damaging British interests in the volatile region, to the fury of British diplomats who saw their years of hard work being undone in days. A winding rift was growing between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and No10 Downing Street, according to leaks by officials concern about the damage to their nation’s interest. Predictably, the reports were denied by the Prime Minister’s spokesman claiming that Britain’s will only follow “effective sustainable actions addressing the Middle East root problems,’’ instead of public statements of short term effect, refusing to comment on whether his master thought Israel’s attacks on civilians were disproportionate, in what has become his catch phrase “I am not going to give a running commentary on …..’’ to lobby hacks’ giggles.

Others in the region understand the dilemma of Mr Blair who linked his course to Washington’s. America is on the defensive in Iraq, Afghanistan is becoming more unstable, Iran's nuclear programme has not been stopped and the radical Hamas movement has come to power in the Palestinian territories in democratic elections encouraged by President Bush. The last thing Washington needs is for Syria and Iran to win a proxy victory in Lebanon. And a division in the international community could give Teheran the time to develop the bomb, which would abolish any chance to contain Iran’s future ambitions. It is questionable whether Washington understands that the bigger threat to the Middle East came from Iran rather than Iraq since the removal of Saddam has emboldened Iran's ayatollahs and encouraged them to accelerate their nuclear programme.

Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader who had been a strong foe of Israel during the civil war but then became a powerful critic of Syria, summed up the situation: "The war is no longer Lebanon's … it is an Iranian war. Iran is telling the United States: You want to fight me in the Gulf and destroy my nuclear programme? I will hit you at home, in Israel."

There is more than just circumstantial evidence for the existence an alliance – encompassing, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraqi insurgents, Syria and Iran - than there ever was for George W Bush's original "axis of evil" of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Downing Street spin that weapons used by Hezbollah were identical to those used by insurgents against British troops in Southern Iraq, was difficult to check by the time of print.

Experts were still debating whether Hezbollah’s attack on Israel was co-ordinated with Hamas, or was carried out opportunistically to catch the wave of sympathy for the plight of Palestinians, to open a second front against Israel.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose intelligence chief Gen Omar Suleiman, nearly clinched in Gaza over the crisis generated by Hamas kidnapping an Israeli soldiers hinted at “ those who destroyed the chance,’’ understood to be Syria and Iran.

During a press conference with Mr Annan in St Petersburg, Mr Blair called for deploying an international disengagement or stabilising force to separate the two sides and enforce a ceasefire. There was a general European welcome. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was ready, he said, to make a ``significant contribution’’. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also backed the idea saying aid such a force would be ``sensible.''

However Mr Bolton, questioned whether such a force could disarm Hezbollah or cut off its Iranian and Syrian support, adding that the Security Council should take steps to strengthen the Lebanese government and military, not to ``create a new multilateral institution.'' But there was no sign of American pressure on Israel to stop their raids on positions of Lebanese army (claming lives) as will be the force to guard its borders against future attacks in an overall settlement according to resolution 1559.

In addition, foreign intervention, even to help the Lebanese, didn't have many happy ending as America (and France) discovered with the loss of hundreds of her Marines to suicide bombers. Southern Lebanon Shia who in 1982 welcomed the Israelis (to expel Palestinian guerrillas) turned into suicide bombers against them next year. (A lesson the Americans’ failed to understand when invading Iraq to ‘topple Saddam’).

Offering to send troops is one thing, and convincing a sceptical public and parliaments with getting troops to fight is another matter. Mindful of Bush-Blair projects in Afghanistan and Iraq most nations would want to know America's real motives and its commitment to pressurise Israel (in exchange of Russia and France pressurising Syria and Iran to bring Hezbollah to heel), before committing troops on the ground.

Copyright © Adel Darwish & Mideastnews and its parent company World Media UK Limited 2006. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means or used for any business purpose without the written consent of the publisher. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained herein is as accurate as possible, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any consequences arising from its use. 

 Back to the top
Main Page