frontline vol. 2 issue 2.

Lebanon Under the Hammer

Nick McKerrell looks at the issues surrounding Israel’s brutal invasion of Lebanon.

On the fifth anniversary of the 11th September American bombings Tony Blair chose to visit the devastated capital of Beirut for the first time since the bloody seven weeks during the summer when the Israeli military machine laid waste to the Lebanon.Blair cut an isolated figure as the only leader in the world who dared to ally himself with George Bush in his refusal to back an immediate ceasefire. This tacit backing of the aggressive Israeli action led directly to the death of thousands and the destruction of a country.

As the Israeli justice minister put it at the time “We received permission from the world to continue the operation”.One protestor managed to disrupt Blair‚s stage managed press conference as the chants of “war criminal” and “child killer” no doubt rang through his ears from the thousands of demonstrators outside. But given the damage inflicted throughout July and August Blair got off lightly.1,200 Lebanese and Israeli civilians killed in the war - four times that amount injured.

The Islamic movement of Hizbollah did target indiscriminately cities in Northern Israel from its base in the South of Lebanon with its rockets. However as the Israeli armed forces blanket bombed the country night and day for seven weeks it is no surprise that Lebanese dead outnumbered the Israelis ten to one.


This is also seen in the destruction of the infrastructure 15,000 houses were destroyed through the bombing displacing nearly 1 million people.
The economy of Lebanon which had grown exponentially since the war within its borders had ended in the early 1990s was destroyed in one fell swoop: 900 factories gone, airports, roads and stations.It is estimated that $4 billion of damage has been done.
In a sick reminder of the neo-liberal capitalist world in which we live Blair during his September visit pledged £22 million to help. Bush is not even going that far however he is demanding the reparations are privatised insisting that big business foots the bill. So not only does your country get razed to the ground the accomplices to this will be charging you through the nose to put it back together again.Ostensibly the media focussed on the abduction of Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah on the 12th of July as the immediate cause of the bombardment. The war was simply a defensive one against terrorism and hence in line with other such campaigns backed by the West.
Blair explicitly backed this position.Yet such a view ignores the broader picture of the Middle East in particular the occupied territories which had been undergoing massive attacks by the Zionist state throughout 2006.

As Israeli PM Olmert had stood for a withdrawal of Israeli settlers in Gaza in August 2005 following his mentor Sharon’s policy.
Yet this removal of people has only created a prison camp where Gaza is blockaded and indiscriminately bombed by the Israeli state.
This has led Gaza to elect its own Islamic resistance - Hamas. Throughout May and June alongside its brutal blockade which has caused immense suffering Israel had undertaken a bombing of the Gaza strip.


It was this context that Hizbollah carried out their abductions with widespread sympathy from the Arab masses because of the actions of the Israeli state.Hizbollah definitely engaged with the situation in Gaza but had their own agenda for war.
This can be understood by looking at the preceding political period within Lebanon particularly in the last 18 months. Hizbollah (the Party of God) were formed in the early 1980s as a fundamentalist Shia group - very much influenced by the Iranian revolution of 1979. Like Khomeni’s supporters in Iran they initially stood for a theocratic Islamic state in Lebanon. However Lebanese society is quite diverse with large Sunni, Shia and Christian communities so the idea of a purely Shia state would have lead to outright sectarian war, a bit akin to the situation which is developing in areas of Iraq. Lebanon had direct experience of this over 15 years from 1975-90.
When an uneasy peace developed with large social support exhausted by killing Hizbollah moved away from a purely Islamic state position - instead standing for a form of Government of National Unity. To this end they sat in Government in Beirut. They also successfully created their own mini-state in Southern Lebanon running social and health services. It was widely documented that families who had been bombed out of their houses during the war received a payment from Hizbollah. They also run a TV station Al-Manar which has 10-15 million viewers world wide, incidentally one of its biggest areas of subscription is the Gaza strip.
Throughout their existence they have also been seen as giving a voice and a degree of hope to the Shia population in Lebanon. Thus they became the focal point of resistance. Hizbollah also gained prestige in the early years of the century when the Israeli army withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000 - this was seen by many sections of the community, not simply Shia, as a victory for their continued resistance.


However this broader support for Hizbollah in Lebanon had dissipated by 2005 where a very large movement was developing across Lebanon against Syrian occupation. This reached its zenith when Hariri - the billionaire Lebanese Prime Minister was killed on February 14th of that year. Syria were implicated in the killing which sparked massive demonstrations across the country.Syria had occupied Lebanon since 1976 and had strong military and intelligence bases within the country. In many ways it was viewed as a pure puppet of the Syrian state. This movement against occupation affected Hizbollah with close ties to Iran and Syria. They tried to whip up support for Syria and staged their own demonstrations. This potentially could have sparked another sectarian conflict within Lebanon but the mood against occupation became overwhelming and over 1 million people demonstrated in March demanding Syria go. Ordinary people had no desire to go back to the pre-1990 days when Beirut was synonymous with death, danger and destruction.But what had become evident is that Hizbollah was no longer seen as the Lebanese resistance.

The nascent Lebanese nationalism, encouraged by Hariri prior to his death, attacked Hizbollah as led by foreign forces - Iran and Syria. There was also pressure on Hizbollah to disarm.In one respect then the war provided Hizbollah again with the image of being the only resistance to the Zionist war machine - much stronger than the Lebanese state. Indeed following the ceasefire of August 14th victory was declared by Hizbollah. The Israeli state had attempted to destroy them and had failed. Moreover the Lebanese government with no Syrian backing had failed miserably to defend itself.On the 22nd September Hizbollah staged a “victory” rally of hundreds of thousands in Beirut. Their leader Nasrallah spoke scathingly of Lebanese leaders “Tears do not defend a country” - referring to Lebanese PM Siniora who appeared crying at several press conferences during the war. He also declared the invitation to Blair as “immoral” and called for the immediate resignation of the government. Significantly they did not request any permission for the demonstration through central Beirut.

This illustrates the vacuum which Hizbollah is seeking to fill - although it too declares its commitment to Lebanese nationhood. Nasrallah was clothed in Lebanese national dress at the demonstration. Yet they still do not have the confidence of the past witnessed by Nasrallah seeming to apologise in very guarded terms in his role over the unleashing of the Israeli machine and its subsequent bulldozing of Lebanon.In truth the building up of a Lebanese nationality in the last 15 years has always been a bit shaky built as it is on sectarian division. The constitution of the Lebanese state requires that representatives were elected from each religious community and the main offices of state shared out between them. For example the President has to be a Christian, currently Lahoud, they have always been close to the Syrian state. Assad of Syria allegedly said to Hariri prior to his assassination “Lahoud is me”.

This entrenchment of sectarianism within the state, as also in the North of Ireland and Iraq, prevents political unity across communities - a difficulty for socialists. It seemed that the movement against occupation had elements of a cross community campaign but the withdrawal of Syria has not resolved this issue.This has led to a political paralysis which Hizbollah are now seeking to exploit. Ironically this vacuum probably gave the Israeli state the impetus to seek to destroy the country of Lebanon. Olmert, the Israeli leader, stated without apparently a hint of humour that their war was not with Lebanon but Hizbollah. Notwithstanding that Hizbollah was becoming isolated within sections of the Lebanese community by destroying the country Israel re-entrenched support for the Shia-Islamic movement. Nasrallah became an icon across the Middle East.Being forced to withdraw from Lebanon - albeit on their own terms and whilst maintaining a sea and air blockade - and witnessing Hizbollah rising from the ashes has had a dramatic effect on Olmert’s support given he won an election in April.Leading commanders of the Israeli army have been sacked and Olmert is trailing in the opinion polls. The truth is that the Israeli state probably pumped up by US and British support over-stretched itself and shows in crystal clarity the impossibility of fighting a war “against terrorism” - even if this was only partly rhetorical in the reasons for the war.


Unusually for a Republican President Bush Junior has given Israel completely carte blanche to do what it wants in the Middle East. This is one of history’s contradictions that even though Israel is a conduit for billions of US dollars and viewed as the key US ally the Republicans have always tried to keep some control over the Zionist state. Bush Senior and even Reagan attempted to build alternative Arab allies in the area. Partially because of neo-conservative influence over Bush but mainly because of American imperialist occupying forces in Iraq and Afghanistan this has become impossible. No Middle Eastern state no matter how corrupt can be seen to ally itself in anyway with the US and to some extent Britain. This has had disastrous consequences for the Palestinians facing bombardment and starvation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and the Lebanese killed and driven from their houses. The comedian and writer Alexei Sayle described the situation like an out of control child whose parents watch on approvingly as he beats up other kids.An uneasy calm has emerged although the billions of dollars of damage remains as do the displaced million. The UN have agreed to increase their troops in the area although countries are reluctant to volunteer their armies and are struggling to reach 15,000 the numbers required.However this presence of another occupying army is no guarantee of peace given that the UN have been present in Lebanon throughout the last 25 years! Indeed creating such a large UN contingent will mean almost inevitably the Lebanese people will turn against these UN forces too.This brutal summer has seen another bloody chapter of the horror of war.

The untrammelled might of the Zionist war machine has killed hundreds and displace thousands. This has only strengthened an Islamic fundamentalist organisation who were in a very limited way becoming sidelined in Lebanese society. As the war continues in Iraq and Afghanistan in a visible way the hidden tensions of the Lebanese bombardment will surface again soon.