Evidence points to the strong possibility that Israel’s military operation in Gaza is being viewed by the Israelis as a dress rehearsal for another war with Hezbollah.
Since its defeat at the hands of the Iranian-backed Lebanese resistance movement during an attempted invasion of Southern Lebanon in 2006, the IDF has undergone intensive training in urban warfare tactics, utilising mock-up towns and urban centres specially built in the Negev Desert. Combined air and land military exercises have also been taking place on the Golan Heights, terrain chosen specifically to mimic the open terrain between the villages and towns of Southern Lebanon.
It is some of these new tactics that are now being tested during what the Israelis expect to be a decisive victory against the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip, where an air blitzkrieg has been followed by a massive armoured incursion backed up by infantry.
With such an armoured spearhead in mind against Hezbollah, the Israelis have also been working to upgrade the defensive capability of their Merkava tank, which proved deficient against Hezbollah’s Russian-made anti-tank missiles in 2006, thus nullifying their offensive capability against the only Arab army in the region to inflict a military defeat on the IDF.
In a story carried in The Jerusalem Post on December 12 a high ranking Israeli army source was quoted as saying, “Israel’s last war [against Hezbollah] was dubbed a self- defend,” and warned that in the impending war the military will implement a “disproportionate response from the first day of the confrontation.”
The same military source went on to say, “The Israeli army within its preparations for a potential war against Hezbollah had put an effective strategy and tactics that would guarantee a quick victory that is bound to be achieved in four or five days.”
The impact of Hezbollah’s victory in 2006 in Israel and throughout the region cannot be underestimated. It shattered the myth of Israel’s military invincibility and rocked Israeli society from top to bottom. Given that Israel is in a very real sense an army with a state rather than a state with an army, a nation founded and sustained in its national unity on perpetual war, with the IDF traditionally accorded a venerable status within Israeli society as a consequence, the overriding priority of the Israeli military and political establishment since 2006 has been to regain its reputation and status in the eyes of its own people. Moreover, perhaps as important has been the need to repair the damage caused to its reputation in the eyes of its American sponsors.
This should come as no surprise, as Israel’s relationship with the United States is largely contingent upon its ability to augment US strategic interests in the Middle East. The war unleashed by Israel to destroy Hezbollah in 2006 was part of a grand strategy to remove a perceived Iranian threat to the US puppet regime in Iraq in line with Washington’s wider objective of controlling the entire region.
Due to Hezbollah’s extensive arsenal of long range missiles, hawks at the heart of the Bush administration agreed with their Israeli counterparts that any attack on Iran would result in a massive missile strike by Hezbollah on Haifa and Tel Aviv. According to American investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, the man who broke the story of the My Lai massacre by US troops during the Vietnam War, and who also broke the story of the ritual torture of detainees by US military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, it was for this reason that the US urged the Israelis to attack Hezbollah preparatory to an intended attack on Iran.
During an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman in 2006, to discuss an article he’d written for the New Yorker magazine, Hersh said: “Cheney’s idea was we get three for one with this. One, here we’re having this war about the value of strategic bombing, and the Israeli Air Force, whose pilots are superb, can go in and — if they could go in and blast Hezbollah out of their foxholes or whatever they are, their underground facilities, and roll over them, as everybody in the White House and I’m sure everybody in the Israeli Air Force thought they could do, that would be a big plus for the ambitions that I think the President and Cheney have for Iran.”
The revelations contained in Hersh’s original article chime with the Bush administration’s objective of redrawing the Middle East in its own image post-9/11. Arab and non-Arab Middle East regimes were to be reduced to the role of US gendarmes, protecting US economic and strategic interests by controlling their own restive populations. Following a pattern already set with regard to Israel and Egypt, said compliant regimes would receive US largesse in the form of billions of dollars in aid, most of which would then return to the US as payment for military hardware and industrial goods and services. Iran, and to a lesser extent, Syria, constitute the last of the holdouts in defiance of this strategy, and lower down on the scale of opposition sits Hezbollah and Hamas. Consequently, the ability of Hezbollah, a non-state actor, to thwart this joint US-Israeli strategy at the first hurdle not only demoralised Israeli hawks and their US counterparts, it gave a huge boost to the position of hardliners in the Iranian government and their counterparts within the Syrian military and intelligence establishment in their continued opposition to US imperial ambitions in the region.
It chimes too with Israel’s strategic objectives in continuing its occupation of Palestine in order to effect the systematic ethnic cleansing of the land by making conditions so intolerable that the Palestinians leave of their own accord, in response to the demographic threat posed to the exclusivity of the Jewish state by a people existing in neither a state of nationhood nor equality under occupation. It is a situation which has placed an increasingly intolerable burden on the Israeli economy and deepened contradictions at the heart of Israeli society itself, currently the most unequal in terms of income distribution of any industrialised nation.
It also explains why the US, supported by the UK, gave the Israelis a month of diplomatic cover in which to carry out its mission to destroy Hezbollah, despite the huge international pressure which erupted in response to the wholesale destruction of towns and villages across Southern Lebanon, resulting in over 1000 civilian casualties and half a million people displaced.
At the heart of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip has been a concerted attempt to turn the Palestinian people against Hamas and thereby destroy resistance to Israel’s ongoing attempt to force a Roman peace on the Palestinians, one involving their complete subjugation and acceptance of their status as a non-people. Airstrikes have been carried out against civilian targets in Gaza with this objective in mind.
The same attempt was made in 2006 with the air campaign unleashed over Southern Lebanon, which was then extended further north to include Lebanon’s national airport in Beirut, along with bridges and roads. It was hoped the Christian and Sunni population of Lebanon would turn on Hezbollah in response, but instead Israel’s indiscriminate bombing campaign achieved the opposite and increased support for Hezbollah throughout Lebanon as the conflict intensified. Currently, with elements within the Fatah leadership calling for the national unity of the Palestinian people in response to Israel’s assault on Gaza, responding to mounting pressure from the Palestinian street in the West Bank, it appears that Israel’s attempt to divide the Palestinian people will also fail.
The missing component in the current conflict of course is the incoming Obama administration in Washington. Many have placed much hope in a change of tack in the incoming administration with regard to America’s posture in the region and their role in the Israeli/Palestinian struggle. Notwithstanding Obama’s campaign pledge to enter into direct negotiations with the Iranian government, the fact he’s recruited pro-Israel hawks such as Rahm Emanuel and Hilary Clinton to his cabinet suggests that whilst a more nuanced approach may be attempted, the strategy of isolating Iran and Syria, while supporting Israel’s occupation of Palestine and a likely resurgence of its war to dislodge and destroy Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, will continue.
Whatever happens, as with Hezbollah’s resistance to Israel in 2006, Hamas have shamed those Arab regimes which have wrung their hands throughout Israel’s assault on the long-suffering Palestinians of Gaza. Mubarak in particular has played an onerous role, supporting the blockade by closing the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. Worried about the rising influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in his own country, an organisation with strong political and spiritual ties to Hamas, Mubarak has decided that Israel’s crushing of Hamas is of more importance than the lives of Palestinian men, women, and children.
History will judge such complicity in mass slaughter harshly. As for Hezbollah, judging by statements emanating from their leader, Hassan Nasrallah, over the past 18 months, they’ve been preparing for another war every bit as vigorously as the Israelis, working to replenish their arsenal of rockets and missiles, extending their network of bunkers and tunnels, and sending new recruits to Iran for training under the auspices of the Revolutionary Guard.
Ultimately, until the international community finds the political will to pressure Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian land, and is able to rein in its war machine, peace in the region will continue to remain a forlorn hope.