Friday, August 04, 2006

This madness must stop

Arab american News , Week of August 4, 2006

Ghassan Rubeiz
Palm Beach Gardens,

The expanding Hezbollah- Israel war is a new chapter in a long regional conflict. Arabs and Jews are living out a cycle of violence that is fueled by extreme suspicion, hatred and fear, a selective perception of history, a self-centered interpretation of God’s Providence, a twisted resort to religious authority and mutual demonizing.

Over the last six decades Arabs and Jews have fought five major battles….in 1948, 1967,!973, 1982 and 1987 . Since the year 2000, Israelis and Palestinians have been engaged in low intensity warfare in occupied Gaza and the West Bank.

Regrettably, Lebanon has too often been the arena of confrontation in the ongoing conflict between Arabs and Jews. In the current war, Hezbollah’s reckless attitude has exposed Lebanon to Israel’s ruthless defense instinct. Hezbollah’s limited raid precipitated Israel’s brutal and disproportionate response. In fact, Israel’s military radicalism is accommodating and fueling Hezbollah’s extremism.
The battle between Israel and Hezbollah is intensifying in face to face combat and threatens to involve Syria directly in the fighting. Israel hopes to achieve a final knock-out victory. If Israel occupies south Lebanon to “finish” Hezbollah militarily, south Lebanon might become a Gaza-like occupation with consequences not much different from Baghdad’s quagmire. If disarmed by brutal force, Hezbollah is likely to rearm in the near future. In this war, Hezbollah has won the hearts and minds of the Arab . It has won the “image” and “honor” victory. This “psychological” victory is due to the asymmetry of power...David taking on Goliath. The “victory” is also a result of the Arab need to deal with the shame of losing out to Israel in the last five major wars. For most Lebanese and for the Arab street, the sadism of the Israeli response to July 12 has almost morally cleansed Hezbollah’s border misdeed. On the other hand, for most Israelis, “July 12” was treated as a domestic “9/11”.

The expanding Israeli ground offensive in Lebanon risks sparking a regional war that may last for years, with no telling what consequences, except for more agony and dwindling chances for peace.

A regional war might gradually unite Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Iran against Israel and the US. This is an ominous and deadly scenario. Other Arab regimes might fall in the process of growing regional rage. Can one imagine what it would take to quiet a region-wide guerilla insurgency against the US and Israel, an insurgency mobilized on occupied Islamic territory? Lebanon’s Nasrallah would link up with Iraq’s Muqtada Sadr and Gaza’s Mesh’al. Damascus and Tehran would support the three militias. What if Afghanistan opposition fighters were to join their fellow Jihadists?
As Israel’s image of perfect invincibility erodes, and as the image of the US worsens in the Islamic world, the two countries, in covert alliance, are doubling their bets by escalating the war. Like compulsive gamblers, the more they lose, the higher their risk taking in the next move. However, in this gambling game there are no winners; everyone loses.

On July 31, observing a rapidly escalating cycle of mutual destruction between Arabs and Jews in south Lebanon and north Israel, a key Republican openly broke with Washington’s tradition of uniform congressional compliance regarding the Middle East. Angry with Bush’s Middle East policies, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel cried out loud: “The sickening slaughter on both sides must end and it must end now. This madness must stop”.
Senator Hagel challenged US Israeli policy with the exceptional vision of a seer and the courage of a prophet. Normally, the first law of Middle East politics in Washington is that “Israel is right, no matter what”. Any Congress member who challenges Israel or criticizes the US symbiotic alliance with Israel must be either politically suicidal, a retired politician or an extremely brave and active legislator. Hagel, a 2008 Presidential candidate, falls in the category of the brave and credible.

The Republican Senator, who is a close and honest friend of Israel, saw that it is in the interest the Jewish State’s future security to be mindful of restraint and diplomacy in dealing with Hezbollah. This second ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urged President Bush to start open talks with Hezbollah supporters, Iran and Syria, to explore political solutions.

This visionary politician conceives of long term security for Israel, not of short term military victories. He knows that at the end of the day, Israel must forge peace with its neighbors in order to survive and thrive. He foresees the inability of the US to protect Israel for ever, as Arabs wake up ideologically and learn to cooperate regionally.

The Nebraska Senator correctly observes that Hezbollah and Hamas are showing that Israel may not be invincible, that faith-based political mobilization is powerful and that Arab regimes, especially those close to the US, are shaky and rapidly losing credibility to grass-roots resistance movements. Worried about the rapidly worsening US image in the region, he cautions Bush with a rhetorical question: “How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend – the country and people of Lebanon - is going to enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East?”

Chuck Hagel wonders if Israel will be safer in its third occupation of Lebanon. Does the US feel safer for having given Israel the approval to deal with Hezbollah through a “final solution”? Seeing the danger of the US alienating the Muslim world, he said “our special relationship with Israel… cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships”.
By achieving a military victory over Hezbollah, Israel and its backer the US, are merely postponing peace and increasing the risk of fueling a wider conflict. An immediate cease fire followed by an international conference on peace between Arabs and Jews has become imperative, says former Senator George Mitchel. A cease fire in Lebanon is urgent, but it is not sufficient for achieving a lasting regional peace. May this new chapter in regional conflict be short and conclusive.

Author is an Arab American commentator.


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