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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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>There has never been any public similar revulsion to terrorism in the Arab communities that I have ever seen,

Come on, Phantom. You surely saw such public revulsion to terrorism expressed after 9/11, when most muslims around the world deplored the terrorism. Granted, there were many in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Occupied Territories that actually celebrated. When you mentioned "the sword is on the flag for a reason," you did have a point: Saudi Arabia, whose flag bears that sword, has been the main center for anti-semitism in the Arab world, and as 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers and bin Laden came from there, they are also a center for anti-Western Islamic strictness. But please stop implying that Saudi Arabia's bigotry is universal among muslims. We've already discussed this, and you agreed that most muslims, like most human beings generally, are basically decent.

>(Because that's what Fisk was talking about: the analogy would be Britain bombing the Republic.)

Sally is right in this. Again, though, there are plainly no 3000 Katyusha rockets sitting in Donegal, being fired at times at Ulster. And when there's been a terrorist attack on Britain or Northern Ireland, they have most often issued from within Northern Ireland itself. It would take that for Fisk's analogy to apply here.

But I fear that you have a Fisk-like lack of knowledge of Ireland.

Yes, Phantom: your blog-commenter's understanding of Northern Ireland outweighs that of the Times Belfast correspondent dating from Bloody Sunday.

The obvious mistake made by Phant and '1984' is to compare arsenals rather than tactics. 'Suicide bombings -- yea or nay?' is no way to make sensible distinctions. The IRA kidnapped and murdered random people for having the wrong last name or supporting the wrong soccer team. They lobbed mortars across the border with little care where they landed. They exploded bombs at war memorials.

While the IRA had a foothold in council estates, with both it and the unionist paramilitaries acting as mob enforcers on very well-established territory, the route for weapons ran through the badlands of Donegal and Monaghan, where even now the splinter 'real IRA' hides out.

The Republic's government didn't have the clout to deal with the 'Ra. The British government's militarisation of the province, including internment without charge, solidified resentment among moderate Catholics.

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.

Again, wrong. In fact, this is a testament to Blair's sad decline. Major established the principle in 1993 with the Downing Street Declaration, on the gamble that if you got a cessation of hostilities, even without a comprehensive political settlement in place, it would create the conditions for that settlement on account of giving the people of Northern Ireland a chance to live without the threat of violence.

Blair continued that process through to the Good Friday Agreement, which again was carried through because no side had to suffer an immediate loss of face. Even now, no comprehensive settlement exists: nor will it, while Sinn Fein and the DUP hold the balance of power over their respective sections of the population. And y'know what? Most people don't mind: 'constructive ambiguity' worked.

Blair has abandoned such subtlety, in part because of his suck-up to Bush, and part because his cabinet has been denuded of talent.

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


Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled — whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others — to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs. -- Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit

In short, you're a bona fide bullshit merchant with a puddle-deep knowledge that you should be embarrassed at putting on such shabby display.

I'll clarify: you're comparing arsenals and mentioning a few tactics, none of which address Fisk's point: that the IRA worked across the Irish border for the best part of two decades, smuggling weapons and money (often of American origin) and either firing mortars across the border, or sneaking over, attacking and retreating. Saying that the IRA isn't like Hezbollah because it never used suicide bomb attacks is beside the point.

And the Irish Republic, by most right-wing definitions, harbored terrorists.

If I might ratchet things down a bit, I'd like to point something out: although I gainsay Robert Fisk, and think that his analogy fails, I do not say so insultingly or contemptuously, either of his factual knowledge or his analysis. This may not be clear, since Phantom does feel more contemptuously toward it. It seems a reasonable analogy on the face of it, but I simply say that his analogy fails, so if we can, let's not seize on this as yet another subject on which to go nuclear. Let's keep this respectful if we can.

Fisk doesn't compare arsenals, because _he_ misses the point, not because I do. The point is that the IRA's level of threat was different to the United Kingdom than Hezbollah's is to Israel now. That wasn't the case when their armament was comparable to the IRA's; but their armament has become much more lethal now, and looks to become much more so, as Iran's rocket technology improves (which it is doing, by leaps and bounds) and better able to reach cities like Tel Aviv, the capital of Israel. Comparing arsenals is perfectly appropriate. That's exactly the reason why the analogy fails: if Hezbollah had Katyusha rockets, with ranges of perhaps 20 miles, and maximum payloads of perhaps 20 lbs., even thousands of such rockets, then you're correct: grotesque as this calculus is, the lives and infrastructure lost don't justify the total war that we've seen over the last many days, and Robert Fisk's analogy is valid. However, now that Iran has begun to arm Hezbollah with Thunder rockets of three or four times the range (again, against a country, Israel, that's only a couple of hundred miles long in the first place), and that can also handle far bigger payloads, the question becomes much more serious. Iran's zelzal rockets, which have been delivered recently to the Beka'a Valley in southern Lebanon, carry _600 kilogram_ payloads and 115 kilometers range. Iran has also provided them with UAVs, which are quite a threat. See>here.

Now: why is it appropriate to compare arsenals? Because with such a major escalation in the arms race, things change, and come nearer to being an existential threat. To take an extreme, though of course absurd, example, if the IRA had had 20 nukes, and had begun setting them off in British cities once a month, we would soon see Robert Fisk deprived of his high horse, because the British would soon throw everything they had at the IRA, in Donegal or anywhere else. To go to the opposite extreme, again I say that Fisk's analogy would have been perfectly appropriate if Hezbollah had been held to nothing but Katyusha rockets, AKs and mortars. But Iran has escalated the arms race in the neighborhood, and the question is raised: at what point should Israel decide that this is an existential threat for them? Iran's rocket technology has improved drastically since their rocket scientists began studying at Russian facilities (also from, I can find the link if you want). It is, I believe, only a matter of a short few years before Iran's military can reach Tel Aviv from their bases in Lebanon's Beka'a Valley.

I say this, again, not to make it a cut-and-dried case of "Israel is right about everything," but that, I'm sorry, we don't have the luxury any longer of taking the freshman's shortcut, and jumping to declare that one side has no case and therefore we can condemn it. We may, indeed, be left without the precious luxury of condemning any one side, or throwing in with the other and calling it righteous. And, of course, let us remember the innocent dead on _both_ sides of this war. They are, I hope, our first concern. I propose that we skip the righteous anger that we all love to preen with, and skip straight to proposing the best solution.

"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?"

Why shouldn't they? Why should Israel get the capacity to do catastrophic damage with it's military and nuclear weapons, and not Lebanese? It's not like Israel doesn't ever go into Palestine, blow up some people accidently and go 'oops'. They've been doing it for as long as I can remember. To say that Hezbollah is soley to blame for this and it's because they had weapons, well, that's a cop out. Israel has also
done it's fair share in provocation - and it's reasons for doing what it does are unknown to us. Why would they target infrastructure if they were worried about missles? I think there is more to it than that.

Regarding the innocent dead, some recent casualty numbers:

548 Lebanese, including 477 civilians, 25 Lebanese soldiers, and 46 Hezbollah guerrillas - average of 87% civilians

56 Israelis, including 37 soldiers and 19 civilians - average of 34% civilians

By targeting civilian infrastructure and other civilian targets, Israel is deliberately targeting civilians, just like Hezbollah when they fire rockets into Israel. Yet for some reason, it seems to be universally accepted in the US that Israel doesn't really want to kill Lebanese civilians. It is also universally accepted that Hezbollah does want to kill Israeli civilians, and sometimes they even receive the blame for the Lebanese civilian deaths too.

If that were true, they why does Israel kill more than 10 civilians for every Hezbollah militant, while Hezbollah has killed nearly 2 soldiers for every Israeli civilian?

Jose, I wouldn't assume that anything is universally accepted in the US. It's simply that this situation does not admit of loud, clear condemnation of one side or the other, because both sides are somewhat at fault in their behaviour (looking at the larger timeline, rather than at this isolated incident), and as mentioned, there are innocents on both sides as well, who did nothing wrong. Israeli innocents as well as Lebanese. And I would bet that the reason Hezbollah kills so greater a percentage of military people is that the 15 or 20 miles within range of most of their rockets is a place where fewer civilians _live_, and where there is a higher concentration of military personnel patrolling, especially now that conflict has started. South Lebanon, on the other hand, contains some good land, and the Israeli Defence Force has a greater range, so the southern Lebanese Shi'ite civilians don't have the same opportunity to leave southern Lebanon a no-go area. Besides, where would they go--into northern lands occupied by Maronite Christians or Druzes? There is much history of conflict between the Shi'ites and these people, so that's doubtful.

Count Zero, what you say would make sense if the Shi'ites of southern Lebanon could legitimately fear that Israel would invade, if those missiles weren't there. If in 1982, when Hezbollah started, they had said, "Israel is heavily armed--we're sitting ducks! And the Lebanese government can't protect us unless we arm up! There's imminent danger!" But Israel has no history of randomly invading neighboring countries that don't threaten it. Its invasions of the Golan Heights or the Sinai, for instance, were reactions to Syrian shelling or an Egyptian invasion. They would no more have invaded a Hezbollah-and Syria-free Lebanon than they would have invaded Turkey. The sole exception that I can think of is the Suez crisis of 1956, but even that came seven years after Egypt attacked Israel. Israel has many crimes, but attacking neighbors who don't threaten it militarily is simply not one of them. And since Hezbollah didn't have reason to fear invasion, the reason for those rockets was not defensive, but offensive. They weren't for defense against a well-armed neighbor, they were to harry Israel. You can probably confirm this by looking at the statements of aims and strategies voiced by Hezbollah's leadership.

I will allow, of course, that since Lebanon sort of became a transit point for the conflict between Israel and Syria, it would have been understandable for civilians there to feel threatened, but looking especially at Iran's copious backing of Hezbollah, I hardly think that Hezbollah's acts represent a defensive arms race. Israel certainly does the things you say in the occupied territories, and it's deplorable when they do, but again, they do it because Katyusha rockets and suicide bombers come from there, not just randomly.

"I will allow, of course, that since Lebanon sort of became a transit point for the conflict between Israel and Syria, it would have been understandable for civilians there to feel threatened, but looking especially at Iran's copious backing of Hezbollah, I hardly think that Hezbollah's acts represent a defensive arms race. Israel certainly does the things you say in the occupied territories, and it's deplorable when they do, but again, they do it because Katyusha rockets and suicide bombers come from there, not just randomly."

I know why Israel says they do it, but then why do the Lebanese continue to attack them? Is it just a Shite Muslim issue? Is it because Israel refused to release prisoners they've kept (similar to our continuing to hold prisoners Gitmo), is it because Israel kidnapped some Hezbollah leaders, is it a retaliation for something done to Palestine, is it due to
racial hatred, is it because of Israeli failure to adhere to U.N mandates? I have a literal "wheel of fortune" where the reasons Hezbollah did something on the wheel range from $1000 to a trip to the Virgin Islands, and placing a value on which reason is difficult. There are many, many agendas at play and determining which is the key reason is near impossible.

If you look at the longtime issues for hatred in that region, they haven't gone away, and it probably never will. The Arab hatred over their land taken from them by the Jews, with the help of British hasn't dissipated, and probably has been perpetuatedthrough retalliation after retalliation by both parties. That basic fact hasn't changed, and until something resolves THAT, the disarmament of Hezbollah won't make a bit of difference. They are going to have to sit down with Hezbollah, and other Arab militia's and deal with their greivances, nothing is going ot change in the Middle East.

>and probably has been perpetuatedthrough retalliation after retalliation by both parties.

Fuckin' a it has. And this, I would think, is the key reason for each retaliation or arms race (read: escalation in tension) in fear of retaliation: that they remember the other side's last retaliation. Blood leads to blood. If someone kills an innocent member of your family (and remember, this has happened on all sides), then what do you go through? Do you say, "well, let's let bygones be bygones"?? Yeah. Right. No, you look on it as a point of justice, if not your own personal honor, unless it is very clear that self-restraint will bring a just, lasting peace, and then only if you are a very far-seeing man or woman (and speaking of that, what if you're just a child? How far-sighted can we expect them to be, whether they're an Israeli who's lost their parent, perhaps one of the dead in the last few months, or a suicide bomb victim in the years prior; or a Lebanese Shi'ite, similarly killed, and just as dead, I might add, though their numbers are greater, in the last few months). Wars are easily begun and are self-perpetuating, then, until very, very conscientious men and women decide as one to stop them.

This action by Israel, though I don't agree with the scale of it, is doubtless viewed by the Israelis as just one battle in an ongoing, decades-long war, not as a fresh one that they woke up and decided to start. The bloodshed that the Lebanese are suffering right now, however, is horrible. I don't agree with Robert Fisk's analogy, and though I don't leap to condemn Israel, as if this action were some isolated, hermetically sealed, baffling turn, with no history behind it. However, I do not agree with Israel's actions here, and I have wished from the first that they had stopped after the first volley. They are obviously trying to eradicate Hezbollah's arsenal entirely, before the growth that I mentioned before leaves them with something that can really threaten Israel.

I agree with you that isolating the key reasons for Hezbollah's continued existence as a fighting force is hard. Iran's backing is a big reason for it, I think. Without that, I could see that they might instead have evolved into a relationship with Israel more like Pakistan's with India, tense and with a violent history, but capable of working together. It's the Iran problem.


I reiterate that Fisk hasn't the slightest idea what he is talking about when he epeaks of Ireland here.

Don't make me sound like I support the IRA, because I do not, but I am unaware of any incident where they "murdered random people because they supported the wrong soccer team ". The UDA did do that, I do not believe that the IRA ever did that.

I know of no incident where they randomly fired a mortar over the border. And even if they did, you would compare that to the immense fusillade of missiles heading south, missiles that have killed civilians more than once now?

They -did- explode a bomb at a war memorial...I have had a number of conversations with a woman whose mother was killed at Enniskillen.

They did a lot of other horrible things too, such as killing a mother of ten, and cutting off her fingers before they did that, because she gave a glass of water to a fatally wounded British soldier. But their atrocities are not necessarily the same as the UDA's.

That having been said, it is not terribly honest to compare two terrorist groups when there is such a difference between them. The IRA is and was bad, Hezbollah is much worse. The fact that Hezbollah is a fan of the suicide bomber approach, that they glory in the deaths of civilians --the IRA at least pretended that they were unhappy with civilian deaths-- is something that should be noted if there is to be any comparison with other terror groups.

--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--

I stand by this comment. I think that Blair and Clinton and to an extent Trimble and most certainly John Hume deserve immense credit for the progress that has been made. But I give the greatest credit to the people who would not take the "armed struggle" anymore. I really know what I speak of. I heard them, in Belfast and Derry, in Monaghan and other places in the South. The IRA did a good thing by stopping the campaign, but had they not done so they would have lost a lot of the support that they had.

I don't care if Fisk writes for the London Times or for the National Enquirer. He betrays a complete lack of knowledge about Ireland and should limit his comments to the part of the world where he may have some knowledge.

Fogolosh, Lindsay;

An interesting persepctive on what other reasons are behind the war:

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