Israel Losing Its War In Lebanon?
By Robert Fisk
27 July, 2006
Lebanon -- Is it possible - is it conceivable - that Israel
is losing its war in Lebanon?
From this hill village in
the south of the country, I am watching the clouds of brown and black
smoke rising from its latest disaster in the Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil:
up to 13 Israeli soldiers dead, and others surrounded, after a devastating
ambush by Hizbollah guerrillas in what was supposed to be a successful
Israeli military advance against a "terrorist centre".
To my left smoke rises too,
over the town of Khiam, where a smashed United Nations outpost remains
the only memorial to the four UN soldiers - most of them decapitated
by an American-made missile on Tuesday - killed by the Israeli air force.
Indian soldiers of the UN
army in southern Lebanon, visibly moved by the horror of bringing their
Canadian, Fijian, Chinese and Austrian comrades back in at least 20
pieces from the clearly marked UN post next to Khiam prison, left their
remains at Marjayoun hospital yesterday.
In past years, I have spent
hours with their comrades in this UN position, which is clearly marked
in white and blue paint, with the UN's pale blue flag opposite the Israeli
frontier. Their duty was to report on all they saw: the ruthless Hizbollah
missile fire out of Khiam and the brutal Israeli response against the
civilians of Lebanon.
Is this why they had to die,
after being targeted by the Israelis for eight hours, their officers
pleading to the Israeli Defence Forces that they cease fire? An American-made
Israeli helicopter saw to that.
In Bint Jbeil, meanwhile,
another bloodbath was taking place. Claiming to "control"
this southern Lebanese town, the Israelis chose to walk into a Hizbollah
trap. The moment they reached the deserted marketplace, they were ambushed
from three sides, their soldiers falling to the ground under sustained
rifle fire. The remaining Israeli troops - surrounded by the "terrorists"
they were supposed to liquidate - desperately appealed for help, but
an Israeli Merkava tank and other vehicles sent to help them were also
attacked and set on fire. Up to 17 Israeli soldiers may have died so
far in this disastrous operation. During their occupation of Lebanon
in 1983 more than 50 Israeli soldiers were killed in just one suicide
The battle for southern Lebanon
is on an epic scale but, from the heights above Khiam, the Israelis
appear to be in deep trouble. Their F-16s turn in the high bright sun
- small, silver fish whose whispers gain in volume as they dive - and
their bombs burst over the old prison, where the Hizbollah are still
holding out; beyond the frontier, I can see livid fires burning across
the Israeli hillsides and the Jewish settlement of Metullah billowing
It was not meant to be like
this, 15 days into Israel's assault on Lebanon. The Katyushas still
streak in pairs out of southern Lebanon, clearly visible to the naked
eye, white contrails that thump into Israeli's hillsides and border
So is it frustration or revenge
that keeps Israel's bombs falling on the innocent? In the early hours
two days ago, a tremendous explosion woke me up, rattling the windows
and shaking the trees outside, and a single flash suffused the western
sky over Nabatiyeh.
The lives of an entire family
of seven had just been extinguished.
And how come - since this
now obsesses the humanitarian organisations working in Lebanon - that
the Israelis bombed two ambulances in Qana, killing two of the three
wounded inside. All the crews were injured - one with a piece of shrapnel
in his neck - but what worried the Lebanese Red Cross was that the Israeli
missiles had pierced the very centre of the red cross painted on the
roof of each vehicle. Did the pious use the cross as their aiming point?
The bombardment of Khiam
has set off its own brush fires on the hillsides below Qlaya, whose
Maronite Christian inhabitants now stand on the high road above like
spectators at a 19th century battle. Khiam is - or was - a pretty village
of cut-stone doorways and tracery windows, but Israel's target, apart
from the obviously marked UN position whose inhabitants they massacred,
is the notorious prison in which - before its retreat from Lebanon in
2000 - hundreds of Hizbollah members and, in some cases, their families,
were held and tortured with electricity by Israel's proxy militia, the
South Lebanon Army.
This was the same prison
complex - turned into a "museum of torture" by the Hizbollah
after the Israeli retreat - that was visited by the late Edward Said
shortly before his death. More important, however, is that many of the
Hizbollah men originally held prisoner here were captives in cells deep
underground the old French mandate fort. These same men are now fighting
the Israelis, almost certainly sheltering from their fire in the same
underground cells in which they languished, perhaps even storing some
of their missiles there.
In Marjayoun, next to Qlaya,
once the SLA's headquarters, Lebanese troops are trying to prevent Hizbollah
guerrillas using the streets of the Greek Catholic town to fire yet
more missiles at Israel. Seven-man Lebanese army patrols are moving
through the darkened roads of both towns at night in case the Hizbollah
brings yet more Israeli bombs down on our heads.
In Beirut, one observes the
folly of Western nations with amusement as well as horror, but, sitting
in these hill villages and listening to how the US Secretary of State,
Condoleezza Rice, plans to reshape Lebanon is clearly a lesson in human
self-delusion. According to US correspondents accompanying Ms Rice on
her visit to the Middle East, she is proposing the intervention of a
Nato-led force along the Lebanese-Israeli border for between 60 and
90 days to assure that a ceasefire exists, the deployment of an enlarged
Nato force throughout Lebanon to disarm Hizbollah and then the retraining
of the Lebanese army before its own deployment to the border.
This plan - which, like all
American proposals on Lebanon, is exactly the same as Israel's demands
- carries the same depth of conceit as that of the Israeli consul general
in New York, who said last week that "most Lebanese appreciate
what we are doing".
Does Ms Rice think the Hizbollah
want to be disarmed? By Nato? Wasn't there a Nato force in Beirut which
fled Lebanon after a group close to the Hizbollah bombed the US Marine
base at Beirut airport in 1983, killing 241 US servicemen and dozens
more French troops a few seconds later? Does anyone believe that Shia
Muslim forces will not do the same again to any Nato "intervention"
force? The Americans are talking about Egyptian and Turkish troops in
southern Lebanon; Sunni Muslims ruling Shia territory.
The Hizbollah has been waiting
and training and dreaming of this new war for years, however ruthless
we may regard the actions. They are not going to surrender the territory
they liberated from the Israeli army in an 18-year guerrilla war, least
of all to Nato at Israel's bidding.
Yesterday's assault on the
Israeli army in Bint Jbeil proved that. The problem is that the US sees
this slaughterhouse as an "opportunity" rather than a tragedy,
a chance to humble Hizbollah supporters in Tehran and help to shape
the "new Middle East" of which Ms Rice spoke so blithely this
It is Israel which is running
out of time in southern Lebanon. Its attacks have for the fifth time
in 30 years placed it in the dock for war crimes in Lebanon. The toll
of Lebanon's civilian casualties has reached 400. And still the US will
not intervene to prevent the carnage, even to call for a 24-hour ceasefire
to allow the 3,000 civilians still trapped between Qlaya and Bint Jbeil
- who include a number of foreign nationals - to flee.
The only civilian walking
those frightening roads to Qlaya was a goatherd, guiding his animals
around the huge bomb craters in the tarmac. Talking to him, it emerged
that he was almost stone deaf and obviously could not hear the bombs.
In this, it seemed, he has a lot in common with Condoleezza Rice.
© 2006 Independent News
and Media Limited