It is an accepted theory that truth is the first casualty of war. In the present Israeli war on Lebanon spin is certainly the first victor. The misinformation and the disinformation put out by the Israelis and often picked up by the western media have become to accepted realities.
One of the most extreme myths put out by Israelis is that the war Israel is now involved in is an existential defensive war. This has been stated by non other than Israeli noble peace winner and deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
It is not clear what is the best way to debunk this myth. On the one hand Israelis consider every war, an existential one, but if they think that this particular encounter is more existential than Israel’s war of independence, or the 1967 June war or the 1973 War, then the answer is clearly negative. The Israelis are destroying an entire country and are on the receiving end of low quality, difficult to direct katysha rockets which all Israelis can avoid simply by going into their shelters. There is no five Arab armies as in 1948, or Abdel Naser’s Egypt in 1967 or the Soviet Sam missiles in 1973. To call this an existential war is nothing more than a cheap media tactic.
Israel is reportedly united in this particular war (they are usually united in their wars) because this time, sovereign Israeli territories were breached and therefore as President Bush has proclaimed, they have the right to defend themselves.
It is true that after 22 years of Israel occupying Lebanon and defiance of UN Security Council resolution 425 the Israelis withdrew to the blue line without releasing Lebanese prisoners including a number of Hizbullah leaders literally kidnapped from Lebanon. Israel also has and continues to refuse to hand to the Lebanese government the map of land mines planted in south Lebanon. Israel has furthermore continued after its withdrawal to violate the air, water as well as (at times) the land sovereignty of Lebanon. The Israeli withdrawal was also questionable regarding the Sheba Farms, which the Lebanese and Syrians say is Lebanese territory. If Israel’s sovereignty was infringed with this cross border attack, what can be said now of the Lebanese sovereignty and that of Gaza and Syria, not to mention the 39 violation of the sovereignty of the Palestinians of the West Bank.
The Israelis insist that what they consider an unprovoked attack on their sovereignty has dragged them to a war that they don’t want. It is strange because Hizbullah also declares that they were dragged into this war. Let us look at the facts. Ever since the post Harrii elections, the new Lebanese government (which Hizbullah has two ministers) has stated within its publicly declared government guidelines that they will commit to work on liberating the Sheba Farms and releasing the 300 remaining Lebanese prisoners. While the government did not specify how it will do so, it didn’t rule out force. Prime Minister Foad Siniora did forcefully raise these issues during his White House visit but to no avail. Nasrallah seeing that diplomacy was not producing results made a promise last April to the family of Samir Qintar that their son would be released this year. He has publicly said on numerous occasions that if the Israelis don’t agree to release the Lebanese prisoners, Hizbullah would be forced to do so by capturing Israeli soldiers. For years this has been the only effective way to have prisoners released. Jordan a US ally and only one of two Arab countries who have a peace agreement with Israel has not been able to diplomatically have their 30 prisoners, some held since before the Jordan-Israel Agreement, released.
Within 24 hours of capturing the two Israeli soldiers the Hizbullah leader publicly stated that they are ready and willing to begin negotiations to have them released as part of a prisoner swap. In fact, as Nasrallah said later in the first interview with Al Jazzera, Hizbullah understood that the Israeli army’s pride might be hurt and therefore they held their fire when the Israelis made their initial revenge attack. But when it became clear that the Israelis were carrying a scorched earth policy, Hizbullah began responding. And even then, Hizbullah threatened the Israelis that if you attack Beirut we will attack Haifa, the Israelis ignored the threat and Hizbullah retaliated. Not only has Israel widened the scope of military activities following the capture of their soldiers but the continued Israeli refusal to cease fire, as Hizbullah has said it is willing to do, shows that the Israelis were not dragged to war but have been waiting for a chance to do what they have been doing in Lebanon.
What the Israelis have been doing in Lebanon is certainly and clearly disproportionate. Not only are the numbers of deaths and injuries so disproportionate but the amount of destruction of Lebanese infrastructure certainly has no justification. Targeting bridges, ports, airports, electric stations, TV stations, cell phone antennas, civilian convoys, a mosque and a residential area, can’t be justified as measured. The number of independent and credible organizations, governments and individuals insisting on the disproportionality makes Israeli attempts to deny it or justify it, meaningless.
Perhaps the biggest myth of all has been the claim that Hizbullah is nothing but a puppet in the hands of Iran. To prove this myth, Israelis note the visit two days earlier of the chief Iranian negotiator to Damascus, the fact that the G8 summit (to be held a few days after the capture) was supposed to deal with Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Other than this time-related circumstantial evidence this myth has not been supported by any concrete proof. The fact is that Hizbullah has been threatening to capture Israelis for some time now. At least two attempts were recorded this year. This myth also denigrates Nasrallah’s Lebanese allegiance and puts the allegiance to a non Arab country ahead of that of his own country. Nasrallah, whose rise to popularity in recent years has been due in part to his honesty answered this question directly in his on camera interview following the beginning of the war. This claim is not only untrue, he said but a humiliation to us and our allegiance, he said. Nasrallah who Israelis say they trust more than their own leaders gave the following explanation. We in the leadership of Hizbullah have become homeless, our lives and those of our loved one are in jeopardy, would we do all that to please a foreign country. Nasrallah scoffed on the connections with the nuclear issue. Do you think that the world will simply forget about it once war starts. This war will soon be over, they will go back to Iran and deal with it, he said.
Israel and its western allies have used various ways to justify this unjust war against a country and a population. The real aim of the Israeli response goes way beyond retaliation or attempting to avenge the attack on their tanks and the killing and capture of its soldiers. The long term aims of Israel and its strong US ally have become clear now in regards to the region are becoming clear. Spin like lies are short lived. Sooner or later the real intentions become clear and the myths discredited. Until such time that these myths are debunked yet more and more innocent people will have to die.
* Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah. He can be reached at www.daoudkuttab.com