As’ad AbuKhalil, author of Bin Laden, Islam, and America’s New ‘War on Terrorism’ as well as The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power, believes the recent violence is a symptom of an international conspiracy under way to enforce UN resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of militia groups in Lebanon – a reference to Hezbollah.
A professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus, and visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley, AbuKhalil just returned from Lebanon. He also maintains the Angry Arab blogsite (http://angryarab.blogspot.com/ ).
Aljazeera.net: Israel says its assault on Lebanon is in self-defence against Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket attacks and the capture of two of its soldiers.
Hezbollah says southern Lebanon has long been an area of conflict with Israel occupying Lebanese land and that it wants indirect negotiations to secure the release of its prisoners in Israeli jails. How did the situation deteriorate so rapidly and so violently?
As’ad AbuKhalil: This particular conflict, and Israel’s act of aggression on Lebanon, did not take place in a vacuum, and Israel did not act in some spontaneous fashion.
Hezbollah did not surprise Israel with the capture of the two Israeli occupation soldiers. Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah has repeatedly warned that if Israel does not release its Lebanese prisoners, he will be compelled to take Israeli soldiers as bargaining chips.
And Israel has not been sitting idly by since its partial withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000. It has not only continued to occupy parts of South Lebanon, but also has been violating Lebanese sovereignty, by air, sea, and land.
Israel has also been kidnapping innocent Lebanese citizens: fishermen and shepherds. And one fisherman from Tyre – my hometown – is still missing, and at least one shepherd was killed last year.
Furthermore, Israel has adamantly refused to give to Lebanon a map of the more than 400,000 land mines that it left behind in South Lebanon, and which continue to kill Lebanese children in the region.
The recent crisis, as the article in the Washington Post by Robin Wright pointed out yesterday, is an international/regional conspiracy to implement United Nations Security Council resolution 1559.
The groundwork for this aggression began with the work of Rafiq al-Hariri [the slain former Lebanese prime minister] in 2004, when he worked with the US and France to pass that resolution in the Security Council.
The plan has the full support of Israel and client Arab regimes of the US: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. But it will not work, and Hezbollah will not lay down its arms.
If the Lebanese government, led by the Hariri camp, thinks that it can now convince Hezbollah to lay down its arms and to trust the Lebanese Army – which has been sitting idly over the last week – to take care of Lebanon’s defence, it is wildly mistaken.
What are Israel’s goals? What are Hezbollah’s goals?
I think that Israel often acts in revenge. The Zionist movement is a vengeful movement; it always has been.
It wants not only to implement UNSC 1559 to disarm Hezbollah, but it also wants, as it did in 1982, to pave the way for the installation of American puppets as rulers of Lebanon. These plans never work: All grand plans for Lebanon strike the rocks of deep sectarian divisions in the country.
I think that Hezbollah started by wanting to achieve a prisoner exchange with Israel, and probably to ease the pressures on Palestine.
But now, they mostly and primarily want to retain possession of their weapons, and they have in that at least the overwhelming support of the Shia in Lebanon, the single largest sect in the country.
Dozens of civilians have been killed on both sides but there has been little movement in the international community. Is there a feeling that mediation or efforts to bring about a ceasefire will be fruitless?
The silence of the so-called international community, which has been under the control and in the service of the US government since the end of the Cold War, has been most painful for those in Lebanon who have been told in the last two years that the international community cares about Lebanon and its people. Now people know better.
I do believe that the same racist impulse that considers Israeli lives worth more than Arab lives is at play here. I have no doubt that the lives of Arabs never meant much for the descendants of colonial powers in the region.
And it is important that we don’t allow Israeli propaganda to present an image of symmetry between the two sides: There is no symmetry between the two sides in this conflict.
Not only in terms of Israeli military superiority, but also in terms of massive killings by Israel of largely innocent civilians.
Do the Lebanese blame Hezbollah or Israel for this crisis?
I think that all Lebanese blame Israel for the killing and for the aggression. But the Saudi clients in Lebanon are trying to exploit the events to build up resentment against Hezbollah.
In Lebanon, there never are unified opinions on anything, and certainly the sectarian divisions do not amount to a unified stance behind Hezbollah.
There are many Lebanese who don’t support the ideology of Hezbollah but who also believe that the party is now single-handedly defending Lebanon against savage Israeli aggression.
John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, implicated Iran and Syria as being at least partially to blame for supporting Hezbollah…
It is ironic to speak of John Bolton – the same person who was honoured a few months ago by the Hariri ruling coalition in Lebanon.
Yes, Hezbollah receives the support of Iran and Syria, just as the Hariri coalition receives the support of US, France, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, and possibly Israel indirectly.
Will Israel attack Syria or Iran next? Could this become an all-out regional war? Could this draw the US into the conflict?
It seems that Israel will avoid attacking Iran and Syria at this stage. With the Israeli war on Palestine still proceeding unabated, the Israelis may not find a need.
The US/EU/UN will deal with both countries, on behalf of Israel, through pressures and punitive measures.
But, if Syria and Iran come under attack, then all bets are off in the region, and US plans in Iraq will face more challenges and more subversion.
Iran has indirectly facilitated the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Syria has recently been co-operating with the US occupation in Iraq.
If attacked, both countries can easily make things worse for the US, and that explains the reluctance of the US in endorsing attacks on Iran or Syria.
With Iraq on the verge of civil war, how will the Lebanon crisis affect the region?
It depends on what happens. If Israel is permitted to continue in the aggression, Syria and Iran may feel threatened, and that may unleash their forces in Iraq against the US.
Under such circumstances, American troubles in the region will only increase. But no matter what happens, this carnage will have affects thoughout the Middle East.
Let us remember that the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon unleashed seismic changes and movements in the region, including the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Those who think that when the dust settles, all will go back to normal, are people who have not read the contemporary history of the Middle East.
In the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, this Israeli aggression will go down as a watershed; it will have an impact on the course of the conflict and also on the stability of the very regimes that the US spends money and weapons to prop up.
As the main power-broker in the Middle East, what role can the US play to end the violence?
You have to be either ignorant or foolish or both to consider the US interested in ending the current conflict. The US has clearly endorsed an unconditional Israeli aggression on Lebanon and Palestine. The US will leave it to Israel to decide not only the manner of killing of Arabs, but even to determine the number of Arabs that Israel wishes to kill.
Some Arab countries have criticised Hezbollah and its backers for the recent crisis but Iran and some fighters in Iraq have firmly stood by Hezbollah. Could we see a more extensive Shia-Sunni conflict on the sidelines of an Arab-Israeli war?
Yes, the Saudis have now officially endorsed a Shia-Sunni conflict in the Middle East. And this plan has the support of the US and Israel. This can easily, however, affect stability of several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. So trying to manipulate the Sunni-Shia divide is like playing with fire. We saw the fruits of American sectarian manipulation in Iraq.
How likely is the Lebanese government to survive the crisis?
The Hariri element of the ruling coalition will come out weaker as a result of this crisis. That seems certain. They will either be seen as incompetent, or as secret partners of the American/Israeli/Saudi plan for Lebanon.
But even at the humanitarian level, the Lebanese government has failed miserably in meeting the basic demands of the refugees.
In recent months, there was a general feeling that Lebanon had bounced back with major economic drive and a tourism boost. How do Lebanese look at their long-term prospects now that much of what they rebuilt has been destroyed?
The Lebanese have been through a lot – the people of south Lebanon have been through scores of savage Israeli invasions and campaigns of aggression. Not only are the people known for resilience, but their ability to reconstruct and resume normal life – as much as possible – has become well known.
But the funds needed for reconstruction will come at a high price: It will be like Hariri’s accruement of foreign debt which further eroded the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.