The Israeli, American and British governments have promoted the ideas that Hezbollah isn’t willing to end its attacks on Israeli cities and that an immediate ceasefire would allow Hezbollah to keep its arms and so prevent a lasting peace. The fact – as assessed by UNIFIL – the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon - is that Hezbollah can’t be defeated by military means now any more than in the 18 year war Israel fought in Lebanon from 1982-2000 during the Lebanese civil war. Hezbollah is better armed and better trained and has better prepared defensive bunkers than it did in 1982. The US military can’t defeat the Iraqi insurgency who are mostly inexperienced amateurs compared to Hezbollah.
Both sides are committing war crimes by targeting the other sides’ civilians as they have done in every previous conflict – a fact established by careful investigations by Human Rights Watch of dozens of incidents interviewing eyewitnesses including civilians, Hezbollah and the Israeli military. Hezbollah are firing missiles at Israeli cities while Israeli forces similarly deliberately target Lebanese civilians. The majority of the dead in Lebanon are civilians – - over 500 so far - around a third of them children. Hizbollah rockets attacks have killed at least 18 Israeli civilians (1,2).(To read more about the targeting of civilians by Hezbollah and Israeli forces in this and previous wars go here).
The Israeli strategy, as in the past, is to hope that attacks on Lebanon and civilian casualties will cause a flood of refugees north to Beirut and turn the Lebanese people against Hezbollah for bringing Israeli attacks on them , as well as forcing the Lebanese government to use its military to disarm or control Hezbollah. As in previous wars the effect is the opposite..
The war has made Ehud Olmert’s government more popular with Israelis – more than doubling his poll ratings - and has had the same effect of making Hezbollah more popular among Lebanese. Before the current war Hezbollah’s support in polls in Lebanon was at 29% - now it’s at 94% among Lebanese Shia and over 80% even among Christian, Druze and Sunni Lebanese.
The Israeli government sees Hezbollah’s initial attack on Israeli forces and its capture of Israeli forces as unprovoked aggression. Hezbollah claims it is acting in defence of the Palestinians to take pressure off them by ‘opening a second front’ after the Israeli offensives against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza had begun. These offensives were triggered by the capture of Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit by the armed wings of several Palestinian groups including Hamas who want to trade their Israeli hostage for some of the over 8,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. These include suspected terrorists as well as children and human rights activists. Many Palestinian prisoners are tortured. Hundreds are held in ‘administrative detention’ without ever knowing the charges against them or being given a trial.
The Lebanese government has avoided any dispute with Hezbollah knowing both that Hezbollah is the only military force capable of fighting Israel should Israel decided to re-occupy farmland and water supplies in Southern Lebanon – and that to move against Hezbollah could result in another civil war – like the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war in which even the Lebanese army dissolved as different members of it joined the different factions.
Supposedly Hezbollah won’t accept a ceasefire and won’t negotiate on disarming. In fact the Lebanese Prime Minister has secured the agreement of Hezbollah – both their ministers in the Lebanese government and Shiekh Nasralla - to his ceasefire proposal which includes meeting the provisions of the 1990 Taef agreement on disarming militias. While Hizbullah’s military wing may not be willing to disarm entirely it could be integrated into the Lebanese army so that it would be paid and take orders from the entire Lebanese government rather than Hezbollah leaders or the Syrian or Iranian governments.Nasralla has said that if the Lebanese government compromises on the proposal it presented to Hezbollah in negotiations with the Israelis Hezbollah will not disarm – but once negotiations began it might well be possible to get Israel’s agreement . He has also said that missile attacks on Israeli cities will end if the Israeli Air Force stops bombing Lebanese civilians (3,4,5,6).
The Israeli government has already privately offered to exchange 2 Lebanese prisoners for the 2 Israelis captured by Hezbollah. What Hezbollah wants most is the release of prisoners still held by Israel and for Israel to give the Shebaa farms area to Lebanon (The Shebaa farms are Syrian territory bordering Israel and Lebanon occupied by Israel since the end of the 1967 war but claimed by Lebanon and with a population largely seeing themselves as Lebanese. The prisoners Hezbollah wants released include a notorious terrorist – Samir Kuntar – who they may well (probably rightly) refuse to release. The Israeli government is demanding that Hezbollah give them information on Israeli soldiers who went missing in the previous war in Lebanon – including Ron Arad??? – an Israeli pilot.) .
So Hezbollah has agreed explicitly to a ceasefire and tacitly to negotiations on disarmament or integration into the Lebanese army. Nasralla’s statements that Hezbollah attacks on Israel will continue as long as Israeli forces continue to attack Lebanon don’t rule out a ceasefire and are identical to at least one of the Israeli government’s shifting positions – that they would consider a ceasefire but only if Hezbollah missile attacks on Israel stop (7,8) .
Yet the Israeli government has also said that it is in ‘no hurry’ for a ceasefire wants to continue the offensive for at least another ten days claiming it needs to ensure Hezbollah’s military capabilities are degraded – or is pushed back further North where less of its rockets will have the range to hit Israeli cities. In fact neither side is winning and both merely want to avoid looking like they backed down first. Both Hezbollah and the Israeli government say the other must not gain politically. This is not a matter of military necessities or concerns that any peace should be lasting. It is merely about saving face – looking like ‘the winner’.
The Bush administration and the Israeli government want a UN resolution for a UN force to go into Southern Lebanon before there is a ceasefire even though a ceasefire is on the table. Why when Hezbollah is offering negotiations on disarmament? Wouldn’t the simplest solution be to integrate Hezbollah forces into the Lebanese regular army so they will then be loyal to and paid by the whole elected government and less susceptible to influence from Syria and Iran?
In 2002-3 the Bush administration attempted to – and finally succeeded in – sabotaging the UNMOVIC UN weapons inspections which were establishing that Saddam had no active WMD programmes and destroying the longest ranged missiles he possessed . This risked removing the justification for war so the Bush administration looked for a second UN resolution which explicitly.
It’s possible that the Bush administration is now looking for a resolution, which, like resolution 1441, does not actually give them Security Council authorisation to go to war – but , like 1441, can be stretched by extremely creative interpretation to give a thin fig leaf of legitimacy which might sufficient to persuade some of the US electorate that the US that war on Hezbollah, Iran and Syria is a legitimate act.
This would of course probably be catastrophic in its results – spreading Iraq style civil war and occupation or Israel/Palestine style occupation and resistance/terrorism across the middle east , resulting in massive numbers of deaths, most of them civilians and so handing Al Qa’ida a propaganda victory. It would also put further strain on the US military which is already over-stretched and sending reservists to the front lines.
However neo-cons like Rumsfeld and Cheney have proven they aren’t overly concerned by risks , problems and lives lost by other people. An atmosphere of constant threat and war makes the public rally behind the government against the foreign terrorist threat and make (much the same way some Palestinian and Israeli politicians deliberately create conflict in order to boost their own popularity – and the Iranian and Syrian governments use support for Hezbollah , the nuclear issue and meeting US rhetorical threats in kind to boost theirs) .
The UN and the French government – which also has a veto on the UN Security Council - has quite reasonably met the the Israeli, US and British governments demand for a security council resolution for a UN force to go in without a ceasefire with an indefinite postponement of the deployment any new UN force in Lebanon until a ceasefire is called by both sides. In other words they will not be blackmailed into having UN troops used to fight for one side in the war against the other , especially as this would mean that the UN would no longer be seen as neutral but as an American controlled force across the world and because continuing the Lebanon war would risk expanding it to war between the US, Israel, Syria and Iran – probably creating civil war across the region and gaining Al Qa’ida more recruits and supporters as more Muslims killed by non-Muslims is be the best propaganda they could hope for.
A negotiated peace is available. Any military “solution” leading to anything but a wider war is a fantasy. Sending UN forces in without a ceasefire would be madness. Every aid agency says a ceasefire is desperately needed and Hezbollah are offering not only that but negotiations on disarming (9,10) .
The British Prime Minister Tony Blair should demand an immediate ceasefire and refuse arms flights to the war zone permission to land in the UK before this war escalates further – or else he must be told to step down so someone else can.
The US President should stop sending those arms flights and demand an immediate ceasefire.
Hezbollah, the Israeli government and all the Palestinian factions should also call a ceasefire.
If we can get a ceasefire then negotiations between Israel and the Lebanese government and between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as well as between Iran, Syria and the US with the French government as mediator or go-between, can begin.
What You Can Do
Lots of Single Raindrops = A Torrent of Pressure for Peace
It’s easy to become frustrated and depressed but there are things we can all do to put pressure on our politicians and governments to call for an immediate ceasefire. .
Don’t be dissuaded by ‘hard headed realists’. Negotiated solutions have been presented as naïve and unrealistic. In fact they are often the only chance for lasting peace. Extremist ideologies thrive on war , suffering, dictatorship and occupation and the desire for revenge these create. In this war , as in many others, the idea that a military solution can be imposed by decisive military victory is hopelessly unrealistic and only increases support for extremists like Hezbollah and Al Qa’ida.
Sign Petitions and/or demonstrate
If you live in the UK sign the UK Stop the War Coalition letter / petition to Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to call for an immediate ceasefire go to www.stopwar.org.uk/lebanon/sign.php. If you live in another country there are links here - www.stopwar.org.uk/links.asp#intpeace" to anti-war groups and sites across the world. .
Write to or Email your MP and PM – or your Congressperson and President
It may be true that one person alone won’t change world events – but lots of people acting together can. Each email or letter may only be a single drop but enough of them together and we can flood politicians and governments with a torrent of pressure for peace that will convince any of them who have any doubts. Politicians are human too and even the more cynical ones can be persuaded by the fear of losing too many votes in the future.
Ask your MP or Congressperson and your President or Prime Minister to call for immediate ceasefires in Lebanon , the West Bank and Gaza if they haven’t already done so and to ask the Prime Minister to do the same. You could also tell them the reasons why you think Hezbollah and extremism can’t be defeated militarily and why negotiation is an available option and the only realistic one.
If you live in the UK you can find out who your MP is and how to contact them by email and in what format from www.writetothem.com. You can also email the Prime Minister Tony Blair at www.10downingstreet.gov.uk/output/Page821.asp. Please be polite and not aggressive .
If you live in the US you can email to your congressman or woman from here www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html or www.house.gov/writerep/ and write to or email the President from here www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ or email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org For other countries I’m not sure – you can always google though!.
Email letters to Newspapers and Magazines
If you write letters to papers then they may influence the views of people who read them. Whether they’re published or not they are likely to affect which letters are selected to be published as samples representing all the letters the paper has received. The editorial line of the paper over the longer term may also shift. This in turn can influence other peoples’ views.
(1) = BBC News 29 July 2006 , ‘UN calls for aid truce in Lebanon’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5226076.stm ; (see under sub-heading “UN not impotent’ – “Briefing the Security Council on Friday, Mr Egeland said some 600 people had been killed by Israeli action in Lebanon, of which around a third were children.”)
( (2) = UN News Centre 28 July 2006 , ‘UN aid chief calls for ‘humanitarian truce’ to help Middle East’s children and wounded’, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=19335&Cr=leban&Cr1= (“In a detailed briefing to the Council, he spoke of the dozens dying every day in Lebanon and said the Health Ministry now puts the civilian death toll at more than 600, adding that “the majority are women and children.”)
(3) = CNN 30 July 2006 ‘Source: Islamic Jihad leader killed’, http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/07/29/mideast.main/index.html(relevant information now under sub-heading “Plans Similar” half way down page – “The U.S. plan is similar to one proposed this week by Siniora and endorsed Friday by his Cabinet, including the Hezbollah ministers. Siniora's proposal includes strengthening the existing United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon in south Lebanon and deploying the Lebanese army to the area” )
(4) = Haaretz (Israel) 29 July 2006, 'En route to Israel, Rice welcomes 'positive' Hezbollah peace moves' , http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/743996.html ( now in story ‘Rice meets Olmert, hopes cease-fire can be reached by Wednesday’ under sub-heading ‘Hezbollah minister agree to disarm guerillas’ on same link http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/743996.html)
(5) = Ha’aretz 30 July 2006 , ‘Ha’aretz (Israel) 30 July 2006 , ‘Hezbollah leader: Israel continuing aggression at U.S.' behest : Nasrallah threatens to fire missiles at central Israel’, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/744031.html ; See from “Nasrallah pledged to cooperate with the Lebanese government, which has presented a peace package that could lead to the eventual disarming of Hezbollah..” on.
(6) = Independent On Sunday 30 Jul 2006 , ‘Straw breaks ranks on Middle East in revolt against Blair’ , http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article1204523.ece (see 2nd last paragraph “Hizbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, gave qualified support to the Lebanese initiative, but suggested tentative promises to disarm would be off if its conditions were not met.”)
(7) = Ha’aretz (Israel) 30 July 2006 , ‘Hezbollah leader: Israel continuing aggression at U.S.' behest : Nasrallah threatens to fire missiles at central Israel’, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/744031.html , 1st paragraph - “Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday vowed to fire rockets on communities in central Israel if the military operation in Lebanon continued”
(8) = Associated Press 24 July 2006 , ‘Nasrallah: Rocket attacks will continue despite ground operation’ , http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3280435,00.html (“Responding to reports about diplomatic efforts to end the fighting, Nasrallah said the priority was to end Israeli attacks on Lebanon, but added he was open to discussing initiatives.”)
(9) = Oxfam Press Release 28 July 2006 , ‘Security Council must call for immediate ceasefire in Middle East’ , http://www.oxfam.org/en/news/pressreleases2006/pr060728_middleeast
(10) = Reuters 26 July 2006, ‘Aid groups urge Blair to seek ceasefire’ http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2006-07-26T112402Z_01_L25162993_RTRUKOC_0_UK-MIDEAST-BRITAIN-LETTER.xml