July 31, 2006
Lebanon: The first step to remaking the Middle
East by force
By Edmund Burke III
Is the current operation in Lebanon a joint U.S./Israeli operation,
with the latter playing the role of American mercenaries? Or
was the Bush administration caught by surprise by the kidnapping
of two Israeli soldiers at the beginning of the month and the
rapid escalation of hostilities? Why, after initial concerns
about the destabilization of the Lebanese government, has the
United States been willing to countenance the wholesale destruction
of Lebanon (and not just the destruction of Hizbullah's bases
in southern Lebanon)? Why, when a political solution to Middle
East problems seemed so close weeks ago, is this happening now?
Edmund Burke III
Let's begin with the first question. Reports are emerging that
show that the current Israeli campaign in Lebanon was not just
a response to Hizbullah terrorism. Instead it was
part of a long, meditated plan to redraw the strategic balance
not just in Lebanon, but ultimately in the Middle East. In a
recent San Francisco Chronicle story Matthew Kalman quotes
Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University,
as saying: Of all Israel's wars since 1948, this was the
one for which Israel was the best prepared.
Indeed Kalman suggests the recent war marks the coming of age
of a generation of Israeli military commanders who had begun
their careers in the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and who
never accepted its failure in the humiliating 1990 withdrawal.
They resolved to try again. By 2004 the Israeli military had
drawn up plans for a new initiative in Lebanon whose objective
was destroying Hizbullah and its infrastructure. It was to feature
the massive application of air power, together with pinpoint
By 2005, the proposal was ready and a senior Israeli army officer
began giving PowerPoint presentations of Israeli plans to U.S.
diplomats, journalists, and think tanks. Despite the seeming
indecision of Washington policy makers, there can be no doubt
that the U.S. government was fully briefed on the operation
As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins a diplomatic
visit to Israel and Egypt (but not Lebanon), a New York Times
report reveals that the U.S. is currently expediting a shipment
of precision-guided bombs and other munitions to Israel at the
latter's request. These are alleged to include GBU-28s, which
are 5,000-pound laser-guided bombs intended to destroy concrete
bunkers, as well as state-of-the-art satellite-guided munitions.
These are part of the $1 billion U.S. arms-sale package to Israel,
approved by Congress just months ago. It is hard to avoid concluding
that the Israeli operations in Lebanon in reality form part
of a well-prepared joint U.S./Israeli operation.
Why now? When Hizbullah captured three Israeli soldiers in
October 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak chose not to respond.
And when Hizbullah killed several soldiers on the border in
April 2002, Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister at the time, also chose
not to act. Instead he negotiated the release of three dead
Israeli soldiers and an Israeli businessman, this, despite his
full knowledge that some 10,000-12,000 Hizbullah missiles lay
just across the border.
So let's consider the prewar context. Just prior to the recent
eruption of violence, the proponents of negotiation at the State
Department were in the ascendancy. The continued bad news from
Iraq and Afghanistan had eroded the credibility of the proponents
of creative chaos and warfare as the keys to remaking
the Middle East.
Last spring's revolt of the generals also played
an important role. (According to Seymour Hersh, many senior
U.S. officers made it clear they would not allow themselves
to be tasked to prepare contingency plans involving
a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran.)
By late spring the momentum seemed to be shifting. Vice President
Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and the proponents of
remaking the Middle East by force were on the defensive. U.S.
policy makers seemed resigned to seeking political solutions
to Middle Eastern problems.
By the end of June the international diplomatic context was
looking increasingly favorable. The administration appeared
to have concluded that it needed to support the Siniora government
in Lebanon, and that the costs of taking down Hizbullah
were too high. Syria looked ready to deal. Jimmy Carter reported
that Hamas had accepted a formula likely to lead to a resolution
of the crisis. And senior Iranian officials made it known that
they now believed that a negotiated settlement of the crisis
over Iran's nuclear ambitions was within reach.
By mid-July, the reversal of fortunes is striking.
With the Israeli attack on Lebanon, the proponents of creative
chaos are back in control. There's good reason to believe
that Lebanon is just the beginning. How did things change so
The massive Israeli attack on Hizbullah and Lebanon was not
a sudden response, but was years in preparation and well known
to American planners. And it was just the thing to allow the
Cheney/Rumsfeld war party to once again take control.
The current Israeli offensive also fits within the logic of
the 1997 Israeli Clean Break strategic plan that
sought to radically remake the politics of the Middle East.
In this plan, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was to be but
the first step in destabilizing the existing Arab nationalist
states. After his fall, the U.S. would be free to install pro-American
client regimes. The destruction of Hizbullah and the overthrow
of Bashir Asad in Syria were to follow.
But there could be more. Seymour Hersh writes the GBU-28s (which
the U.S. first used on Tora Bora) are primarily intended for
Who's running American foreign policy? After the springtime
of the diplomats, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and those who gave us the
Iraq war are back in charge.
Edmund Burke III is a professor of history and director of
the Center for World History at UC Santa Cruz; he also holds a
UC Presidential Chair.
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