Israel’s Invasion of Lebanon: War Crimes and “Collective Punishment”

by Gerry Foley, International Editor, Socialist Action Newspaper

Since early on in the war between Israel and Hizbullah, the major capitalist media have been assuring the public that the Israeli assault on Lebanon will be limited in time because the U.S. has given the Zionist state only about three weeks for its military operation before it will force a ceasefire.

The reporters do not seem to realize how much they are highlighting the collusion between Israel and the United States in the Lebanon slaughter.

This collaboration was made even clearer by a report in the July 22 New York Times that the United States was rushing “smart bombs” to the Israeli military: “The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hizbullah targets in Lebanon, U.S. officials said Friday. … The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the administration, the officials said.”

The report indicated, moreover, that Israel was planning a prolonged and intensive bombing campaign: “The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel's request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel had a long list of targets in Lebanon still to strike.”

Furthermore, as the bombing campaign has gone on, it has become more and more clear that at least one of its objectives is collective punishment. An Agence France-Presse dispatch published July 24 on the al-Jazireh website reported: “The Israeli air force has been ordered to hit 10 buildings in south Beirut—where Hizbullah has its headquarters—for every rocket the group fires at the Israeli port of Haifa.

“‘Army chief of staff Dan Halutz has given the order to the air force to destroy 10 multi-story buildings in the Dahaya district (of Beirut) in response to every rocket fired on Haifa,’ a senior air force officer told army radio on Monday.”

Such reprisals for guerrilla activity were characteristic of the Nazi occupation forces in Europe. They created a number of notorious atrocities. In reaction against such horror, the Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949, banned collective punishments.

The Swiss government, which is responsible for monitoring observance of the convention, has already indicted Israel for violating this foundation document of post–World War II international law by its collective punishment of the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza. The Zionist regime was thus being branded for war crimes.

The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Louise Arbour, also warned the Israeli rulers on July 19 that their actions in Lebanon could be judged to be war crimes.

It has also been revealed that the Israeli assault was a premeditated plan to cripple Hizbullah and intimidate the Arab resistance and not a response to any action by Hizbullah or Hamas. Matthew Kalman reported from Jerusalem in the July 21 San Francisco Chronicle: “Israel's military response by air, land and sea to what it considered a provocation last week by Hizbullah militants is unfolding according to a plan finalized more than a year ago.

“In the six years since Israel ended its military occupation of southern Lebanon, it watched warily as Hizbullah built up its military presence in the region. When Hizbullah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers last week, the Israeli military was ready to react almost instantly.

“‘Of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared,’ said Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University. ‘In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal, when it became clear the international community was not going to prevent Hizbullah from stockpiling missiles and attacking Israel. By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board.’

“More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail.”

In other words, Hizbullah’s attack on an Israeli border post was only a pretext for the assault on Lebanon. It might even be surmised that Hizbullah fell into a trap. It is by far the strongest Arab resistance force. It has come to be seen by the Arab masses as their avenger, the savior of their honor. That has become very clear as the international press has reported the response to the Israeli assault in the Arab countries.

In this position, Hizbullah bears a heavy responsibility. In the face of the Zionist campaign to crush the Palestinians in Gaza, Hizbullah could not just stand by. It had to do something. And then its action became the pretext for an escalation of Israeli’s campaign to intimidate the Arab people of the region.

The Zionist rulers and their imperialist sponsors have so far thumbed their noses at outraged world public opinion. They are well aware that the Israeli settler state was imposed on the Middle East by force and is maintained by force in the face of the resentment of the Arab populations of the region.

However, the Hizbullah resistance to the Israeli army indicates the limits of the force that the Zionist rulers can bring to bear. The Hizbullah leaders have mastered the basic nature of guerrilla warfare, the objective of which is not to defeat a regular army in open combat but to wear it out and impose ultimately unbearable costs. Hizbullah was forged and tempered in a guerrilla struggle against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.

It is, by all accounts, militarily well armed and well trained and highly motivated. Its leaders are proclaiming that they are inflicting serious damage on the Israeli forces invading Lebanon, and after a week of war the Israeli rulers have not been able to point to any clear military victories.

The Hizbullah rocket barrage against northern Israel is continuing and paralyzing the entire region. The leaders of the guerrilla organization are proclaiming that, no matter what it does, the Israeli military is not going to be able to stop the rockets, and that when it is clear that it cannot do that, the Zionist state will suffer a major political defeat. At least partially, it already has, because Hizbullah has fought hard and effectively, and the Israeli military has had to acknowledge that fact.

For the humiliated and oppressed Arab people, this brave resistance is a decisive victory in itself.  It is a demonstration that the Zionist state will never succeed in enduringly intimidating the Arab masses and that therefore it can never be securely established.

The greatest danger facing the Arab resistance, as always, is the treachery of the bourgeois states that claim to support it. The big business press itself has had to report how discredited the so-called moderate Arab governments are among their own people. But Iran and Syria also make more deals with the imperialists than they would like to be known. The U.S. is clearly applying pressure on Syria and even on Iran to isolate Hizbullah.

Also, since Israel politically and militarily can no longer bear the costs of occupying southern Lebanon, the United States and the Zionists want a so-called international force (an imperialist army under an international mask) to be stationed there to protect Israel. For this, it would also need the complicity of the Arab bourgeois governments, and that will undoubtedly be forthcoming if the political forces that oppose imperialist domination of the region are not able to combat this proposal effectively by mobilizing in the streets.

As for democrats and humanitarians in the imperialist countries, it is vital for them to defend the advance of world civilization attained after the defeat of fascism by actively denouncing the crimes of the Zionist regime and its imperialist sponsors in Lebanon and Palestine. Moreover, this is the only way to counter the threat of wider wars in the Middle East for which the peoples of the imperialist countries themselves would have to pay a high price, eventually even in blood. The present conflict may not lead immediately to a wider war, but it has already raised the specter of such a development.