The bullies converge
By John Robertson, War in Context, March 3, 2008
28 and 29 February: the US parks the USS Cole off the shore of Lebanon. Uh-oh.
1 March: Israeli forces launch a major operation into Gaza, killing as many as 60 Palestinians, many of them civilians and children.
Senators Clinton, McCain, and Obama daily wage verbal slugfests on national security, the US’s proper role in the Middle East, and which of them will be best prepared to defend “our strong ally” Israel. OK, business as usual in an election year?
Er, . . . wait a minute.
The timing here ought to be raising antennae here in the US. You can bet that the Arab and Iranian “street” will be taking due note.
The arrival of a US Navy vessel off the coast of Lebanon had to send chills up the spines of many Lebanese. As Roger Morris recently reminded us in his chronicle of the life of Hezbollah “engineer” Imad Mugnieh, the US Navy has pumped shells into Lebanese villages on several occasions (even rolling out a World War II era battleship, the USS New Jersey, on one occasion to use its huge shells to get maximum killing and intimidation effect on the unfortunate villagers on whom they rained down ). That was in the context of the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, which featured ongoing deadly scrums involving the IDF, the PLO, and various Lebanese militias – Christian and Muslim, including the newly established Hezbollah. In the summer of 2006, Israel and Hezbollah got into it again, with horrific toll in life and infrastructure (especially on the Lebanese side) while US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, as a rather ghoulish birthing coach, urged on the IDF during what she then called the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Now, in March 2008, the Lebanese government is mired in a parliamentary impasse, unable to elect a new president. Not yet a full-fledged civil war in Lebanon, but the US Navy lies offshore again, this time, we’re told, to signal to Hezbollah (which is now a legitimately constituted, democratically elected political party in Lebanon’s political structure) that the US will tolerate no stronger interference from them (or from Syria or Hezbollah’s ally and patron, Iran) as Lebanon’s struggles continue.
Yet the very next day, the IDF launched its deadly raid into Gaza, knowing that Hamas forces would resist with whatever means they could muster but would be ultimately powerless to change the outcome. Might they assume (dare we say, hope?) that Hezbollah and Iran might find this an unacceptable provocation and wish to retaliate against Israel? Except that – gosh, wouldn’t you know it? – the US Navy is parked right offshore. And wouldn’t you know it? It’s the USS Cole, the same USS Cole in whose side an al-Qaeda suicide boat blew a hole in those distant days before 9-11. The irony is palpable – indeed, dare we say, intended? Certainly, from the US perspective, delicious.
So, with the US looming in the wings, Israel can do what it wants to in Gaza. And if Hezbollah (and, by implication, Iran) decide not to respond to Israel’s wanton holocaust of innocent Palestinians in Gaza (whose lives had already been made miserable by Israel’s US-approved blockade), they run the risk of accusations of cowardice in the face of the Zionist bullies. If they were to rise to the bait and retaliate, they run the risk of the bullies turning against them and trying to flatten them. Israeli prime minister Olmert will jump at the chance to atone for the disaster of the summer 2006 war, and George Bush may get the military confrontation with Iran that he well may have been hoping for all along.
And all the while, our senator-candidates must intone their often rehearsed mantra, “Israel has the right to defend itself against the terrorists.” The US Navy offshore, the US presidential candidates cowed by political realities in an election season — how much better cover could the bully have?
John Robertson is a professor of Middle East history at Central Michigan University and has his own blog, Chippshots.
Editor’s Comment — It’s worth recalling that less than two weeks before the beginning of the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel was in the middle of pounding Gaza in what Mahmoud Abbas described as an “unacceptable and barbaric collective punishment of civilians, including women, children and old people.”
I’m curious what capabilities these USN vessels bring that the Israelis didn’t already have? I doubt that by themselves, they deterred Hizbullah. As for Hizb, politically they can’t be seen in Lebanon as having started a war on behalf of the Palestinians, so they can not fire the first shots. The Olmert government in Israel has the same problem. They may want a rematch, but can’t look like they are starting a war. If they end up with the same result as last time, Olmert might as well put a bullet through his head.
I used to worry about a U.S. attack on Iran but not anymore. I don’t believe Bush has any intention to attack Iran or even let an incident escalate out of control. They can’t even stop Iran’s president from visiting the green zone and getting the red carpet treatment.
Please don’t “misunderestimate” the Bush clan’s plans for Iran. No doubt the strong opposition from within the US military’s ranks has been a setback for the Bush Administration but the mini (fabricated) confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz indicates that they’re pushing for a confrontation.
Even if President Bush/Cheney were unable to do a full-fledged “Lebanon” on Iran, they may push for Balkanization of Iran by drawing them into regional wars and fomenting internal ethnic/religious conflicts (just as those -tragically- already in progress in other regions of “Petrolistan.”
I have no doubt Bush and Cheney et al would love to attack Iran if they could. But they will not, for the same reason they will never attack North Korea; it would hurt too much. Iran has a great enough capacity to destabilize Iraq, raise the price of oil dramatically and cause global economic turmoil for which Washington would be blamed. Hence, they will not attack Iran, nor will they seek an excuse or provocation. Lebanon will not be it, even if war breaks out again. I remember all the talk during the last Lebanon war that this was going to be an opportunity for escalation against Iran. It wasn’t.
But don’t expect any of them to say openly that war is no option. What’s left of Bush’s “base” consists of die hard neocons and the Rapture ready. War with Iran is their dream and Bush can’t afford to break the news to them.
Creating ethnic tension within Iran is only an effective option during invasion and occupation. They could only break up Iraq by invading it. Years of sanctions, bombings and no fly zones failed to do so.
None of this is to say Bush and co will not be belligerent, aggressive and generally unwise. But they will only attack those who can’t hit them back.
Lysander, since when has anything ever hurt the Bushistas?
Iran has always been the ultimate prize and everything the ziofascists have done since 9/11 ( encircle the country with bases, funding terror groups like MEK, steam fleets offshore) has been in preperation for isolation and destruction.
Yes, on the diplomatic front the fascists have failed and are behind schedule, but no the agenda hasn’t changed for that “new middle east”. People should understand that false flag attacks and a thoroughly corrupt media will ensure that america/Israel will be perceived as the victim justifiably retaliating with righteous outrage. And even if land forces are bogged down and stretched to the limit, air and naval forces are primed and at the ready.
When the trigger is pulled the navy will stand offshore and relentlessly pound the country while waves of sortes fly in from Diego Garcia. The head of CENTCOM, after all, is an admiral for the first time in it’s history and was the perfect choice for a campaign like this.
The Bushistas are well prepared to accept the opprobrium and economic fallout – have their actions ever seemed like they care for anything more than short term gain? To the contrary, they’ve anticipated and planned for total wipeout of the dollar once the big shoot gets underway with drunken spending sprees and trillion dollar wars.
As for military loss, what’s some warships and a few thousand men when you can cash them in for the propaganda value?
Well said. Thank you.