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August 01, 2006

Robert Fisk on Israel and Lebanon

Robert Fisk made an excellent point in an interview with Amy Goodman:

What’s going on in southern Lebanon is an outrage. It’s an atrocity. The idea that more than 600 civilians must die because three Israeli soldiers were killed and two were captured on the border by the Hezbollah on July 12, my 60th birthday -- I’ve spent 30 years of my life watching this, this filth now, you know -- is outrageous. It’s against all morality to suggest that 600 innocent civilians must die for this. There is no other country in the world that could get away with this.

You know, when -- I wrote in my paper last week, there were times when the IRA would cross from the Irish Republic into northern Ireland to kill British soldiers. And they did murder and kill British soldiers. But we, the British, didn’t hold the Irish government responsible. We didn't send the Royal Air Force to bomb Dublin power stations and Galway and Cork. We didn't send our tanks across the border to shell the hill villages of Cavan or Monaghan or Louth or Donegal. Blair wouldn't dream of doing that, because he believes he's a moral man, he’s a civilized man. He wouldn't treat another nation like that.

The conventional wisdom in some quarters is that Israel was forced to react with overwhelming force. In fact, the scale of the retaliation to the initial provocation was chosen, not compelled.

Setting aside the moral issues, the empirical fact is that Israel's actions are working against its security interests. If Israel rigidly insists on massive retaliation for every provocation, it becomes the prisoner of Hizbollah and its allies, including Iran. Hizbollah can plunge the entire region into chaos at will, because Israel will inevitably rise to the bait.

As hilzoy notes, Israel's attacks are actually boosting Hizbollah's popularity.

The hawks' vain hope was that that the bombing would make the Lebanese so miserable that they would turn against Hizbollah for bringing down the wrath of Israel upon them. Not surprisingly, this terrorist "logic" doesn't work on real people. Consider this as an empirical, psychological question: If Israel flattens your house, who are you going to blame first? Israel, obviously. Who's fighting with Israel and insisting that Israel is trying to kill you? Hizbollah. Mightn't Hizbollah's propaganda begin to seem more credible to someone was nearly killed by Israel?

Worse, the rising popularity of Hizbollah has strengthened the hand of Iran's hardliners at the expense of reformers. Like hardliners everywhere, the Iran's leaders will no doubt be tempted to rile up Israel whenever they need a war to bolster their popularity.

Opportunists are exploiting Israel's mindless "toughness" in order to further their own political agenda.

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Just read this at Whiskey Bar:

Rush Takes the Islamofascist Line

"Until civilians -- frankly, I'm not sure how many of them are actually just innocent little civilians running around versus active Hezbo types, particularly the men -- but until those civilians start paying a price for propping up these kinds of regimes, it's not going to end, folks. What do you mean, civilians start paying a price? I just ask you to consult history for the answer to that."

Rush Limbaugh
On the Qana Massacre
July 31, 2006

"We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal . . . As for what you asked regarding the American people, they are not exonerated from responsibility, because they chose this government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and in other places."

Osama bin Laden
On His Fatwa Against America
March 1997


I always figured those two were on the same page; this just proves it. All you other backers of the Israeli campaign, meet your new ideological comrade.

The IRA analogy has been heard before...I participate in a few Irish discussion groups that are linked to my blog. And the analogy is bogus.

The IRA was an illegal organization in both the Republic and and the UK. Gerry Adams was banned from even appearing on Irish TV.

Hezbollah, on the other hand, not only is legal, but they are a major group in the Parliamant, they have members in the cabinet, and they control very large swaths of Lebanese territory completely. They tax the population in the territory that they control. And none of this has ever prompted any objection from the Lebanese government.

The IRA committed many attacks, a lot of them deadly, in both the North and in England. Most of these would have been done by locals but absolutely not all. But they never fired a rocket over the border, nor did they ever have the right to act with impunity the way that Hezbollah has enjoyed for years in southern Lebanon.

It is a very false analogy, one that could only be accepted by one without knowledge of recent Irish history.

I wish none of this had happened, but Israel did act with minimal force on many occasions. They left Lebanon entirely and were repaid with rockets and deaths and kidnappings.

Land for peace became land for death pretty damned quickly. Turning the other cheek don't play in the Middle East. I do not have the answer but proportionate response or no response or protest letters to the UN are not it.

I have yet to see, in the MSM news coverage to date, any mention of this particular incident in the backstory of the current conflict:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5127556.stm

Kidnapping a Deputy PM and a third of the Palestinian Legislature? I suppose we are are just to consider this sort of outrage "business-as-usual" where Israel is concerned. How dare anyone be provoked.

"There is no other country in the world that could get away with this."

No, this isn't so. Mr. Fisk's very own country is just one of the many, many countries that gets away with this type of stuff all of the time. They are, as we speak, engaged in some incredibly vicious, vile and illegal attacks on innocent civilians in Iraq (perhaps you've heard of it?) And is Mr. Fisk aware of just how many Welsh, Scots and Irish the English massacred in order to steal the land they wanted to build their nation? But of course, it's only a crime in the British mind when other people do it.

I can't believe he could say this. The British have been "getting away" with this for centuries. And they constantly criticize other countries in order to distract attention from what they themselves are doing.

But they're not the only ones. The Burmese government, as we speak, are engaged in vicious campaigns of racial extermination against the Karens, many thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of whom have died, and many, many more left refugees. They're in much worse shape than the Lebanese. Infinitely so. Dying like animals. But the world couldn't care less about this, because the Burmese leaders aren't Jewish (apparently).

I could name a dozen more countries where there are conflicts in recent years that have killed a lot more civilians than have died in the Israeli-Arab conflicts. A lot more. It's deplorable, and it's just as deplorable for the Israelis to do it. But they should be judged by the same standards as the rest of the world, and as far as I can see, those standards are awfully damned low, if they exist at all.

But the world couldn't care less about this, because the Burmese leaders aren't Jewish (apparently).

And because no first-world country is involved, and because the US isn't giving billions of dollars to the government of Myanmar...

Honestly, I think that idiots on both sides who think that "other people do it too, and the media ignores it" is justification for anything need to be locked in the same mansion, given weapons and ammunition, and filmed for a reality show whose revenues will be directed toward humanitarian development in the Middle East.

You've got it, Mike.

Phantom, Sinn Féin not only is a major political party in Ireland but also wins several constituencies in Britain each election (and then refuses to take its seats because its members won't pledge allegiance to the Queen...). The only difference between Hezbollah the party and Sinn Féin is that the latter was smart enough to change its name to look more respectable.

Alon

Sinn Fein and the IRA were clever in splitting into military and political wings but its silly to compare them with Hezbollah. The situations in Ireland were/are very different.

The IRA was always banned. Sinn Fein was banned until 1974. Hezbollah was never banned, is in the government, and acts as a govt, even collecting taxes from the population.

I'm not that familiar with this Robert Fisk, but I am not impressed with his knowledge for him to be saying any of these things

Despite Phantom's Gaelic apologism, there is a significant difference between the IRA/England conflict and the Hezbollah/Israel one: namely that England as a whole was remarkably well-protected from both its Imperial Conquest to the west and from the rest of the area by a remarkable expanse of water that surrounded it, while Israel is surrounded pretty much by people who would rather see it gone than not. England didn't have that, so the comparison between Isreal and England is shaky.

However, there are a LOT more parallels between Hezbollah and the IRA than the conservative Irish apologists in this country would like - it makes them nervous, especially the older ones who are fat and happy now, but were sending checks off to friends and family in the IRA just a few decades ago "for the cause". They both enjoy staunch support among people "on the ground", they are both funded by religious backers from other countries (Irish Catholics from the US made up a bulk of IRA funding back in the day), and both have provided a level of social support for those in their religious groups. There is definitely a difference of degree, and the IRA is much more of a parallel with Hamas than with Hezbollah, but bombing a bus full of schoolchildren is still bombing a bus full of schoolchildren, whether its an IRA thug or a Hamas thug doing the bombing, and whether the bomber is a martyr for the cause or not.

I'm proud of my Irish-American and Catholic heritage, but a spade is a spade, and a terrorist organization is a terrorist organization - and the IRA, Hezbollah, and Hamas are all cut from the same cloth. Peace among the groups in the Mid-East is only going to come about the same way it did in Northern Ireland -- all of the stakeholders (and that INCLUDES the terrorist organizations) have to be included in the negotiations. If decisions are made that Hamas and Hezbollah aren't a part of, things will happen the same way they did in Northern Ireland when the IRA wasn't a part of the process -- more killing, no resolutions, and a whole lot of chasing tails and not getting anything done.

I'm not that familiar with this Robert Fisk, but I am not impressed with his knowledge for him to be saying any of these things

The first paragraph of Fisk's profile on Wikipedia reads as follows:

"Described by the New York Times as "probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain",[3] he has over thirty years of experience in international reporting, dating from 1970s Belfast and Portugal's 1974 Carnation Revolution, the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, and encompassing the 1979 Iranian revolution, the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, 1991 Persian Gulf War, and 2003 Invasion of Iraq. He is the world's most-decorated foreign correspondent,[4] having received numerous awards including the British Press Awards' International Journalist of the Year award seven times. Fisk speaks good vernacular Arabic, and is one of the few Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden (three times between 1994 and 1997)."

But what the hell, Phantom; I'm sure his actual experience is no match for your hunches and gut-feelings and simple common sense.

while Israel is surrounded pretty much by people who would rather see it gone than not.

NonyNony,

I hate to quibble with an otherwise excellent post, but... while what you say above is certainly true, I'm not sure how much slack we should be giving because of it. Israel hasn't faced a serious threat of invasion from its neighbors in years, and regardless, no such invasion would ever be allowed to succeed. The idea that the continued existence of Israel is precarious due to a constant and grave external threat may be politically useful, but I don't see much truth in it.

I'd like to know what others think of the psychological theory at work here.

The model would have it that, if you want to dissuade someone from doing something you don't like, you attack the people who are enabling or supporting the disapproved activity. By doing so, one shifts the enablers' support away from the abuser/dictator/terrorist.

Thus, according to this model, by attacking Lebanese, one weakens support for Hisbollah. By attacking the Iraqi people ("shock and awe"), one weakens their support for the Hussein administration.

By this logic, the firebombing of Dresden should have weakened support for the Third Reich, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor should have weakened support for US imperialism in the Pacific.

I would tend to think that this model is false. But I'm at a loss at being able to argue that it's false.

And I also wonder at the massive appeal that this model has on the right, and on the administration. They want this model to be correct. Why is that? What does this model do for them?

DJA:

The idea that the continued existence of Israel is precarious due to a constant and grave external threat may be politically useful

In Israel as well as America. Bush, a weak and inexperienced president, rushed into Iraq to shore up his tough guy credibility because he feared an election where bin Laden was in Pakistan and he didn't know how to get him.

Olmert, inexperienced and with a dwindling coalition after Sharon's stroke, was too weak to absorb the provocations from Hezbollah and Hamas, so was sucked into a PR victory for the enemies.

We need leaders strong and experienced enough to resist doing the terrorists dirty work of frightening the population. Fear is their weapon. Fear is the enemy. Bush and Olmert do the work of bin Laden and Nasrallah.

Interesting questions, Carl. My guess is that people are inevitably viscerally angry at the proximate cause of perceived injustice. Whereas, it takes a certain amount of effort and insight to get mad at the ultimate cause that's further removed from immediate experience.

If Israel demolishes your house and kills your kids, you're going to be furious with Israel. You're going to be angry regardless of the justification. That's just human nature. Some people may think things through and realize that Hizbollah shares blame for provoking the debacle. On the other hand, Hizbollah's propaganda says, amongst other things, that Israel is a callous killer of civilians. If you're already furious at Israel, you may be inclined to give Hizbollah's propaganda more credence. If you do, you're less likely to be furious at Hizbollah, given that you suspect that Israel is a callous killer of civilians. After all, provoking an Evil Empire might be justified.

I'm not trying to justify this thought process, but that's my hunch about how it plays out in practice.

I've been finding myself defending Israel quite a bit lately, despite the fact that I disagree with a lot of their policies. Disagreeing with their policies does not, however, justify engaging in the kind of skewed oversimplification that Fisk does. Israel's actions are not merely a response to the kidnapping of two soldiers, and Fisk damn well knows it. Hezbollah has been sitting on Israel's northern border for six years, building up resources and infrastructure, and occasionally lobbing rockets at Israeli civilians. Where the hell did they get the capacity to fire 2000+ rockets into Israel when this mess started? The capacity was there before Israel attacked, and it was being expanded. Why? For shits and giggles?

Regardless of wether Israel's response is proportionate or sensible or even moral, it *is*not* merely a response to the kidnapping of two soldiers. There is every reason to believe the Hezbollah was laying the groundwork to cause major civilian casualties within Israel, and *that* is what Israel is responding to. The kidnappings were merely a trigger. It beggers belief that Fisk does not know this, which makes his framing deeply dishonest.

Togolosh, if Fisk is dishonest, then so is Israel. The kidnappings are the pretext for this whole mess, according to Israel.

A true Ally of Israel would make them stop this madness, but bush is trying to start the End of Times and does not give a Damn about Israel.

I would tend to think that this model is false. But I'm at a loss at being able to argue that it's false.

Lindsay's already provided the theoretical framework for it, so I'll just add that you can look at empirical data points. Pearl Harbor got the US to fight Japan; Hezbollah's popular support in Lebanon is on the increase now that it's perceived as the enemy of the country that's bombing Lebanese civilians; World War Two's strategic bombing was later shown to have contributed nothing to the Allied victory.

NonyNony

I'm no apologist for the IRA, as a perusal of various Irish blogs within the past month will indicate. ( See either balrog (pro IRA and Sinn Fein ) A Tangled Web ( Unionist) , United Irelander ( nationalist but not Sinn Fein ) The IRA record of violence speaks for itself, their involvement with other terror groups, including the despicable FARC narcoterrorists in Colombia, and their probable involvement in the drugs trade and other continuing illegal activities in the north and south of Ireland have not gone unnoticed by your friendly Phantom.

But I fear that you have a Fisk-like lack of knowledge of Ireland. You strongly infer that the IRA bombed buses of schoolchildren. They never committed that particular atrocity. They did not do suicide bombings. Hamas did both, many times. The IRA were directly or directly implicated in many other atrocities, but not that one.

So,please retract that comment or I will have to add you to the "busted" list right next to "Grozny" Lucid.

Uncle Kvetch
I don't doubt that Mr. Fisk speaks not only Arabic but also Kurdish and Aramaic, and that he's the biggest Middle East genius since Lawrence of Arabia. I questioned his knowledge of Ireland. His comparison is inept and inaccurate, and I have given specific reasons why. Dispute the point, if you have something to dispute it with, rather than giving me a testimonial about how the guy wrote some nice articles about other areas of the world than the one that I was speaking of.

togolosh
Hat tip. Good comment.

Lindsay
I do disagree. I think that the existential intermediate threat to the nation does not conflict with the immediate proximate cause that has been cited.


Where the hell did they get the capacity to fire 2000+ rockets into Israel when this mess started? The capacity was there before Israel attacked, and it was being expanded. Why?

The answer to "where" is partially from the arms and $25-50 million per year that Iran gives Hezbollah (source: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/hizballah.htm>www.globalsecurity.org)

Regardless of wether Israel's response is proportionate or sensible or even moral, it *is*not* merely a response to the kidnapping of two soldiers. There is every reason to believe the Hezbollah was laying the groundwork to cause major civilian casualties within Israel, and *that* is what Israel is responding to. The kidnappings were merely a trigger.

Togolosh, if Fisk is dishonest, then so is Israel. The kidnappings are the pretext for this whole mess, according to Israel.

On that point, maybe. But Fisk leaves out that Britain did indeed send in ground troops which made a disproportionate response called Bloody Sunday, using high-caliber machine-guns instead of light weapons, which tore through many a wall and into several civilians. This hardly compares to Israel's exchange with Hezbollah. However, as Fisk also leaves out, the IRA's few thousand guns and few hundred lumps of semtex hardly compare to the hundreds of Katyusha rockets that Israel has had to eat, to say nothing of longer-range and heavier-payload Thunder rockets from Iran. The IRA _never_ had anything like the Thunder to lob, nor did they have thousands of missiles within easy reach of 1/3 of Britain, though the Birmingham and other pub bombings in Britain were horrifying, grisly, psychologically devastating acts of terror. If Hezbollah were armed with many Thunder rockets, especially considering that Iran is improving its rockets' range every year, this would rise just about to the level of an existential threat, backed, by the way, by an Iran that says it wants to make good on such a threat (though I don't necessarily believe that that's more than bluster).

Togolosh's point about the huge number of missiles (I stopped counting after the _800_ that were fired at Israel during the first three days) is well-taken. But more important than the number of missiles is the _type_ of missile. The Thunder rockets from Iran are a serious escalation in the arms race. And though Israel is much better-armed than Hezbollah, their country is so tiny that it remains very vulnerable. Like togolosh, I also do not say "Israel is perfect and must not be gainsaid," but think about it: thousands of Katyushas on Israel's border is one thing. But with tensions rising with Iran these days, if Iran begins to arm Hezbollah with a longer-range rocket, with a range of I think 75 miles, against a country that's only a couple of hundred miles long to begin with, then are we surprised that Israel would lay down some law?

I absolutely deplore the innocent lives, Israeli and Lebanese, that are being lost because of this. But more than ever, we who would broker peace there need to be scrupulously honest about the background, even if Israel's casus belli isn't the real reason for their actions. On the other side, it may be time to admit that we simply can't solve the problem simply by bashing states like Iran, or well-established non-state actors like Hezbollah, though they are terrorist, into submission. The IRA and Ulster Protestant paramilitaries do make _some_ analog with Israel and her insurgent enemies. Chief of which is that, though they may be criminal, they aren't going anywhere.

By the way, boys and girls, those who believe everything that they see on TV: Hooray for Pallywood

Haven't heard the phrase Pallywood? You should! You're its target audience!!

>I absolutely deplore the innocent lives, Israeli and Lebanese, that are being lost because of this.

God--this is the thing I hate about posting, stuff gets through that I would _never_ allow if I were writing a paper, which I would edit. Obviously, it's the loss of life, not the lives themselves, that I deplore.

Phantom, Sinn Féin not only is a major political party in Ireland but also wins several constituencies in Britain each election (and then refuses to take its seats because its members won't pledge allegiance to the Queen...).

Sinn Fein is a major political party in Ireland? In the Republic? (Because that's what Fisk was talking about: the analogy would be Britain bombing the Republic.) It's a major player in the North, but in the Republic of Ireland, the major parties are Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, and to some extent Labour. The Greens have more TDs (members of Parliament) than Sinn Fein, and I don't beleive that Sinn Fein had any parliamentary representatives while the IRA was active. So yeah. I don't think you know what you're talking about.

Togolosh, if Fisk is dishonest, then so is Israel. The kidnappings are the pretext for this whole mess, according to Israel.

I think it's a given that Israel has engaged in serious bullshitting (in the H. G. Frankfurt sense of the term), not just in regard to Hezbollah, but in regard to a whole slew of things related to the conflict with the Palestinians. In this case, however, I think that they have been much clearer than you suggest - the statements I've seen from senior Israeli leaders have raised the kidnappings as a triggering event, but they have always included the more general threat from Hezbollah in the justification for the offensive. The Israeli ministry of Foreign Affairs FAQ on the topic is available here. Note especially item number 3. There is the usual spin throughout the document, but since we are talking about the stated Israeli justification, I think it's pretty definitive.

Of course, there is also the fact that the stated justifications for an action are often incomplete, so you won't see water rights raised as a reason for this offensive, despite the fact that access to water is one of the major issues in the relationship between Israel and Lebanon. Still, I think my point stands - Fisk is failing to do his job as a journalist when he states partial truths as the whole truth. I expect governments to play a little fast and loose with the facts, because that's just what they do. Journalists should be held to a much higher standard, and they should be called on it when they fail to do so.

--The IRA and Ulster Protestant paramilitaries do make _some_ analog with Israel and her insurgent enemies. Chief of which is that, though they may be criminal, they aren't going anywhere--

That is correct, but the tortured analysis by this Fisk guy falls apart again under scrutiny when you realize that what really brought about an end to the IRA and Protestant terrorism was the fact that the citizens of Ireland decided that they would not tolerate its continuance.

Gerry Adams et al did not lead any path to peace himself, he was led by the average person who simply would not tolerated it any longer.

There has never been any public similar revulsion to terrorism in the Arab communities that I have ever seen, even wheh it takes the awful form of suicide bombings against schoolbuses.

Fisk should stick to what he knows. He embarrasses himself with any knowledgeable audience with the comments posted here.

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