A couple of nights ago, someone sent me something entitled “A Difficult Lesson. It was billed as ‘the best commentary I’ve seen on the current Israeli conflict.’
It read very like one of those urban myths – you know, the ones where someone flushes a pet baby alligator down the toilet and years later half-chewed bodies start turning up near sewage pipes all over the city.
This particular story takes place in a bar in the Philippines, when an oafish marine attempts to pick a fight with some navy personnel. He chooses a ‘diminutive’ sailor to pick on and finally slugs him one, drawing blood. To everyone’s surprise, the little sailor leaps into action and proceeds to pummel the oafish marine into the ground. Everyone stands back and lets the bully get what’s coming to him. All the little sailor wants is for the bully to say that he was wrong. Eventually, of course, he does, and the onlookers ‘gently back the sailor away from him.’
The point of this charming little David and Goliath fable is this: every time an Arab aggressor starts a fight, some gullible Western power takes pity and steps in and intervenes.
The narrator goes on to explain, at some length. The current aggressor is Hezbollah and the West has to stand by while small, determined, morally-empowered Israel goes about stamping out the bully once and for all, so that it can go back to bar and knock ’em back with its Western friends.
The author of this little Aesop’s Fable for Right Wing Militants doesn’t forget to add historical background for colour. Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a “big supporter of Hezbollah . has been shrieking to the UN like a schoolgirl to get them to stop the carnage. It’s the Lebanese government’s fault; they can get Hezbollah to stop at any time. However, it’s a time-honoured Arab habit, apparently; starting a war and then getting the West to intervene before things get really messy. Lahoud, says the writer, apparently learnt from the original Arab despot, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who started a war in 1956 and had to be bailed out.
For some reason that’s not quite clear to me, the writer feels he has to illustrate the extent of Egypt’s disillusion, or downright deceit. The Yom Kippur War, “a crushing defeat for Egypt is celebrated as a military success by the Egyptians, who are just too stupid to understand the facts, apparently.
The writer ends on a regretfully determined note. “As much as it may sicken the world to stand by and watch it happen, strong hands need to hold back the weak-hearted and let the fight continue until one side finally admits unambiguous defeat.
This kind of Gorgon’s Knot of one-sided lies is difficult to start taking apart. Hence the headline of this piece. There are truths in there – Superman does indeed wear tights. But the assumptions that the writer would have us assume are laughable to anyone who has any knowledge of the region. I have no idea whether it has a real author or was put out by the same specialized interest groups that tell us that Israel is always right because it’s only protecting itself against the wild-eyed fanatics frothing at the mouth who want to see it destroyed. And Israel, of course, is like, you know, us. They (the Arabs) are different.
The piece, however, is much too clumsily written for intelligent organizations like the Anti-Defamation League or B’nai Brith. Politics aside, the Arabs have much to learn from the public relations and media departments of these organizations – when we grow up, I hope we get to be just like them.
Whoever wrote this piece betrays a serious lack of understanding of regional politics, history, or common decency.
Let’s take the easiest comments first:
Gamal Abdel Nasser did not start a war in 1956. What he did was nationalize the Suez Canal, at which point Britain, France and Israel all attacked Egypt. It was known as the Tripartite Aggression and at the time, it was the Americans that bailed us out. They attacked, of course, because of the nationalization but the response was about as commensurate as the current Israeli aggressions on Lebanon.
The 1973 War is considered a victory in the sense that once Egypt crossed the Bar Lev Line, things got very sticky for Israel. History books have taught that countries do not cede land in times of victory. Egypt regained all of the land in Sinai captured by the Israelis in 1967 bar Taba, which was regained after international arbitration in 1989.
The Lebanese affair is more intricate.
President Emile Lahoud is not a favorite among many of his countrymen precisely because he is backed by Syria. To describe him as “shrieking like a schoolgirl to the UN does not indicate someone who regrets the carnage but is prepared to see it through for the greater good. It indicates someone who’s rubbing their hands together with glee. At time of press, there have been over 450 people killed in Lebanon, 40 percent of them children, according to human rights organizations.
Someone who says that the Lebanese government just has to rein in Hezbollah is someone who is entirely ignorant of the country’s incredibly intricate politics. The Lebanese government is not an elected one in the sense that most countries understand. There are 17 religions recognized in Lebanon and each of them fields candidates. The entire country runs on compromise. For every Lebanese who is behind Hezbollah, there are two or three who aren’t.
At least, that was the situation before Israeli artillery started pounding Lebanese cities.
And it’s naïve to assume that Syria can click its fingers and rein in Hezbollah. There is a big difference between arming and supporting a group and controlling it. Just ask the Americans. They pumped money into Islamic groups in Afghanistan (the Taliban among them) when they were still fighting the Russians there almost thirty years ago. Similar American supportive measures in Latin America and Africa have failed to yield comfy cooperation.
While Hezbollah is a long, long way from the US/Taliban scenario, it’s a fair bet to assume a certain degree of autonomy.
Nor has the West stood by and allowed another Arab aggressor to whine their way to victory. In fact, the United States has been so involved in the current conflict it might as well send in ground troops and have done with it. The US specifically said that it would not allow a ceasefire until Israel had time to pound Hezbollah into oblivion. The current administration has done all it can to rub out the faint remaining image of the U.S. as an ‘honest broker’ in the region. All those Arabs, in all those countries, who sat there expounding paranoid conspiracy theories about how the U.S. was merely a pawn used by Israel can heave a sigh of contentment. The U.S. administration has made it impossible for moderates to explain that the U.S. is not so much an Israeli ally as a canny navigator of its own political waters.
Sunday morning, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that his government would not meet with anyone before a ceasefire. What that translated into was that he would not meet with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. For the U.S. to ignore what it took for a tiny state like Lebanon to turn away the foreign minister of the word’s foremost superpower would be foolish in the extreme.
Thankfully, they don’t appear to be so foolish. At time of press there was talk that Rice was speaking of a conditional ceasefire.
Now that Lebanon has been pounded into the dirt, less than 20 years after it rebuilt itself slowly and painfully from a civil war (a civil war which Israel had been instrumental in) now that children have been blown up while the world watched, we can discuss a conditional ceasefire.
Israel pounded Gaza and the West Bank for almost three weeks, killing civilians and destroying infrastructure, looking for one kidnapped soldier, before Hezbollah kidnapped another two.
I’m still uncertain as to why Hezbollah did so, other than perhaps they felt that someone had to do something. At any rate, they might not have expected this reaction -after all, prisoner swaps are nothing new in this relation
That’s a fact that Israel conveniently shields from people.
Israel doesn’t have enemies in the Middle East. It has citizens of almost a dozen countries who hate it, but no countries that will attack it. Israel is not under danger of attack by other countries. In fact, it’s the foremost power in the region.
For all Israel’s ranting about Syria, that country has not fired a bullet since 1974, nor is it likely to, despite the occasional military incursion by Israel. Egypt and Jordan have held to their peace agreements despite the anger of their populations. Now that Iraq has been liberated and democratized, there are no threats left. The only fly in Israel’s ointment is Iran, which the U.S. is busy trying to cripple with sanctions. Indeed, it’s likely that this whole scenario is a test-run for dealing with Iran, but that’s another story.
Hezbollah unfortunately gave Israel an excuse to do what it appears to do best – invade the sanctity of other countries’ sovereignty under the guise of self-protection.
Israel is not the small, brave sailor of the story. It is not David of the myth. It is the small bully that comes in flanked by a huge bodyguard that does his dirty work for him. And the world’s standing by while it destroys Lebanon and brutalizes Palestinians is not a case of self-control, regretful but for the greater good. It’s a shame and a disgrace.
Mirette F. Mabrouk is the publisher of THE DAILY STAR EGYPT.