The UN’s Mideast Mission

The UN’s Mideast Mission

The United Nations can be a useful tool in settling the current crisis in Lebanon and Gaza, but only with US support. It is up to President Bush to get on the phone to Ehud Olmert and tell him to stop.


April marked the tenth anniversary of the massacre at Qana, when Israeli Defense Forces poured shells onto a UN peacekeepers’ base where more than 800 Lebanese civilians had taken shelter. The shells killed 106 people and, according to some accounts, resulted in the sacking of UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali for releasing a report that showed that the IDF shelling was no accident.

A decade later, the Qana massacre all seems forgotten. But Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon and on Hamas in Gaza appear to be a replay of the 1996 military campaign known as Operation Grapes of Wrath. Then as now, civilians are caught in the crossfire between Israel and its enemies. Then as now, the attacks seem designed to demonstrate Israel’s toughness for a domestic audience. Then as now, there are calls to the United Nations for an international force to quell the conflict.

Israeli leaders have become accustomed to the impunity that superpower support has given them. To use bombs supplied by Washington to destroy the Gaza power station that US taxpayers have insured to the tune of almost $50 million is the very definition of chutzpah.

There have been some changes in the world since 1996, one of them being the International Criminal Court. Ironically, if it were not for the baleful influence of Damascus, Lebanon would probably have signed and ratified the ICC treaty–which would have considerably disrupted the vacation plans of the Israeli Cabinet and military commanders now engaged in making thousands of Lebanese homeless–and a considerable number lifeless. They would have been subject to international arrest warrants and a quick trip to The Hague.

It is true that Hezbollah and the Hamas factions that are rocketing civilians are also breaking international law, but no more so than the rockets and bombs from Israeli helicopters eviscerating families on the beaches of Gaza and in the apartments of Beirut.

Only the most meager special pleading could describe Israel’s counter-blast at Lebanese civilians, not to mention the ongoing attacks in Gaza, as a legitimate or proportionate response. Since the invocation of Israel guarantees a free pass in much of the Western world, it may be useful to substitute different terms.

Imagine if the British had been buzzing Dublin Castle to show their displeasure with the Irish Republican Army, whose political wing is, after all, represented in the Irish Dail. The IRA kidnap some British soldiers. In return, London blockades Ireland, shells and strafes the area closest to the Northern Ireland border, bombs Shannon and Dublin airports, knocks out roads, power stations and gas stations, in between sending in snatch squads to kill and kidnap Irish citizens and politicians it considers connected to the IRA. And in between London threatens Rome, because after all the IRA are Roman Catholics, and Boston and New York, because after all that is where the IRA were getting their money.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush and the European Union would have supported such a measured response to “terror.” Like hell they would.

Luckily for all, the British finally bit the bullet and sat down with the “terrorists”; both parts of Ireland are much more peaceful for it. And by the way, London did not insist that the IRA recognize that it was right that Northern Ireland was established, nor that it should forever be a safe homeland for Irish Protestants. Almost as bad as the illegality of the Israeli assaults is their irrationality. To begin with, a massively indiscriminate attack like this is hardly the best way to persuade Gilad Shalit’s captors to show mercy.

On the contrary, from the days of Likud’s origins in the Stern Gang, on through the FLN in Algeria, one of the most successful tactics of terrorism has been to provoke massive collective reprisals by the authorities. And Israel’s actions only create more sympathy for Hezbollah and Hamas.

If, as many observers suspect, Israel does invade Lebanon, it will show that it is still being ruled by the essentially brain-dead Ariel Sharon, with no foresight for the lethal consequences. Either the IDF stays, and suffers the type of continuous bloodletting that drove them out last time, or they ransack the place and evacuate, leaving an even more embittered and hardened Hezbollah-supporting populace.

Sadly, it would appear that George W. Bush’s brain is in no better working order than Sharon’s. In Iraq, he has 150,000 potential hostages to Iran, Syria and the Shiites. He has oil prices just waiting to shoot through his bubble economy. Someone should really sit down and tell him about the unintended consequences of the extrajudicial execution of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914.

And the best Bush can do is to tell Kofi Annan to get on the phone to Damascus “to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit.”

The neocons who gave us Iraq seem to have persuaded Bush that if you are up to your neck in a cesspool, the only way out is down. The idea that Hezbollah is a tool of Tehran is about as substantive as the idea that Israel is a puppet of Washington. But the canard that Damascus and Tehran may be behind it all is hypnotically attractive to those who want the United States to attack them. One notes with worry that American media are accepting the Administration’s simplistic fictions almost as readily as they swallowed Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

While it is almost reflexive to appeal to the United Nations, sadly, there is little or nothing that Annan or the international body can do about this. Annan’s idea for an international force has been tried before–and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was regularly targeted by the Israelis and ignored by both the Palestinians and Hezbollah. Any force there would have to be prepared to take on Israeli incursions as well as controlling Lebanese militia or it would have no legitimacy. It would likely end up being disarmed by Hezbollah rather than vice versa. The United Nations can be a useful tool in settling the crisis, but only with US support, and that support has to include pressure on Israel and some declared support for international law. Only Bush can balance that equation by getting on the phone to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and telling him to stop.

It would help if the other member states of the UN–and the Secretary General–stopped accommodating Bush’s simplistic view of the world. It would also help if they had the courage to put first things first: Resolution 242, telling Israel to quit the occupied territories has been waiting for UN action long before Resolution 1559, which calls for disarming Hezbollah. If the UN could succeed in doing that, who knows–Bush might even take notice–and if he emulated his father’s refusal to support settlements, even Israel might reconsider.

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