"LEBANON - A Father's and a Daughter's Perspectives"
by Steve Buck and Leila Buck
August 16, 2006
On July 3, my daughter Kathryn Leila Buck (she now goes by her middle name, Leila) and her husband Adam, who is from a Jewish family, flew to Beirut to visit my wife's Christian and Sunni Muslim relatives and attend a friend's wedding. A little over a week after, Israel took out Beirut's airport and mounted an intense bombing campaign in response to a Hezbollah cell taking two Israeli soldiers hostage near the Lebanese/Israeli border.
The day this all began my wife, Hala, and I flew to Oberstauffen, a beautiful Bavarian town, she to give workshops and I to attend ICASSI, an annual summer school for 200-300 people from 25 countries learning and practicing the psychology of Alfred Adler. The town was idyllic, but the circumstances hell, as we talked to Leila and Adam about whether they should stay with Muslim relatives in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, or risk Israeli air strikes on the road to Beirut, since the U.S. was unlikely to evacuate a few Americans from Tripoli. Then, as Israeli bombing of Beirut grew more intense, we had to discuss with them whether it was better to stay put and wait for the US Government to finally mount an evacuation or risk Israeli strafing on mountain roads to Syria, the main road to Syria having been taken out. Leila tried to keep in touch with relatives, but it was difficult. Attempting to call one cousin, she could not hear her because of Israeli bombs going off in buildings nearby.
On July 19, Leila and Adam made it over the mountains to Damascus and she posted an article on her experience. I suggest reading that now (Leila's article) before continuing with this article.
Back in Oberstauffen, we had intense discussions with many of the twenty plus Israeli therapists at the conference, many of whom we have known for years. Most of them felt that Israel had to undertake its intense bombing, and then invasion of Lebanon, because it "had no choice."
I want to investigate this premise and its consequences. In the first place, for six years, from Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, to the Hezbollah cell's taking two Israelis hostage on July 12, there had been little armed conflict across the border. Israel and Hezbollah had exchanged prisoners on a number of occasions, and Hezbollah apparently assumed that taking hostages would lead to a further exchange for Lebanese prisoners held in Israel. Instead, Israel responded with massive air attacks, and Hezbollah with inaccurate rockets.
Israelis talked of "surgical strikes," and "eradicating" the "cancer" of "terrorism." The US rushed to send "precision" weaponry to Israel. Alas, to quote an Israeli scholar, Paul Scham, writing on the conflict and such metaphors, "If there is one thing that the twentieth century should have taught us, it is that ideologies cannot be stamped out militarily."
Hezbollah was formed in 1982 in response to Israel's second invasion of Lebanon. It is a broad-based social movement, providing social services that the Lebanese government does not provide to the 40% of Lebanon's population who are Shi'a. It is also a political party that has won 16% of the seats in Lebanon's parliament in democratic elections. Finally, it is a military (and for the US government, a "terrorist") organization. It has broad political support among Lebanon's Shi'a, who are Lebanon's largest single confessional group, outnumbering both the Christians and Sunni Muslims. This makes a campaign to "liquidate" Hezbollah or its military arm a highly dubious proposition.
In its declared campaign against Hezbollah, Israel has destroyed all bridges in Lebanon, taken out most electricity generation, and targeted hospitals and 10 story apartment buildings with specially supplied US bunker-busting bombs. To quote a longtime expert on the conflict, Boston University (and former West Point) Professor Augustus Richard Norton, Israel's response has been "grossly excessive" and consciously so. On July 24, according to Israeli army radio, Lt. General Dan Halutz of the Israeli Army ordered the destruction of 10 multi-story buildings in the Shi'a inhabited suburbs of Beirut for every rocket hitting Haifa. The results have been predictable, with Lebanese casualties 10 times those in Israel, and displacement and disruption infinitely worse. A million are refugees and much of the country is suffering from the cutting or complete lack of the most basic essentials electricity, water, access to food and medical supplies and treatment. Israel's holding up ships from delivering Red Cross medical supplies and humanitarian assistance has only made matters worse. The photos of volunteers forming a human chain to hand medical supplies across the Litani river after Israeli bombs took all bridges out, and of 100 killed and wounded by Israeli bombing of a UN compound at Qana have been etched in Arab, Muslim and many other minds.
Israel's campaign to "cleanse" Lebanon south of the Litani includes dropping leaflets urging all residents to flee and then treating the area as a free-fire zone. This makes killing anything that moves men, women or children somehow "legal." While it is portrayed as an anti-terror campaign, it also brings up memories in Lebanese minds of Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion's desire to have Israel extend all the way to the Litani and plans during the earlier Israeli occupation to divert the waters of the Litani to Israel.
The campaign to get people to flee is not limited to south of the Litani. Muslim and Christian relatives of my wife's in Beirut have received automated phone calls from abroad urging them in the crudest terms to leave Beirut in what is obviously a black operations campaign. What this has to do with "eradicating" Hezbollah I do not know.
While in Europe, I saw horrific pictures of children burned to death, apparently with phosphorous bombs, on CNN and other stations. Back in the US, only bombed buildings without people. While the US may to some extent be insulated from this war, the people of the Arab and Muslim world are not. They are outraged. As reported by the Washington Post from Damascus, even the most secular Arabs find themselves being drawn to support Hezbollah as the only group standing up to Israel's massive attacks. And they hate doing this, as they are not for a theocracy.
So what are the lessons to be learned from this? First, yet again, the White House sat on its hands, as it has done for six years in dealing with the Israel/Palestine issue. In fact, reliable reporting indicates that the White House wanted Israel to pursue its military campaign with even more ferocity, with many in the administration urging that Israel take on Syria as the supporter of Hezbollah. Seeing any discussions on the crisis with Syria (or Iran) as somehow being a gift to these partners in the "Axis of Evil" completely misses the most basic element of diplomacy that it is not about rewarding your enemies, but dealing with them a point that every Secretary of State from Kissinger through Albright understood.
In all past administrations, the US has seen the danger of letting things get out of hand, especially in the Middle East. In this crisis Secretary Rice, in a comment now infamous in the Arab/Muslim world, referred to all the destruction in Lebanon and Israel as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East." If this is the "new Middle East" that the world is also seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, one can understand why even our closest friends in the area are avoiding us like the plague.
I am posting this to the Yale website on August 14, the day the UN cease-fire is supposed to go into effect. Secretary Rice and the French have cobbled together something that hopefully will tamp down the fighting. And it is likely to be plagued by dubious assumptions. The US and Israel keep calling on Lebanon to do more, and for the Lebanese army to deploy to the border with Israel. The problem with this is that Israel's campaign to destroy much of Lebanon makes it much harder for the always-weak government of Lebanon to do so.
Far from "eradicating" Hezbollah, Israel has made an organization that was widely opposed outside the Shi'a community much stronger politically in Lebanon and in the Arab world. Through the near thousand Lebanese killed, the many more wounded, and the more than a million displaced, it has placed Lebanon at serious risk of civil war.
More importantly for the US, it has left an indelible impression in the Arab and Muslim world of US rushing taxpayer-funded bombs to kill Arabs. Added to the daily images from Iraq and Afghanistan, this can only mean many more potential terrorists. As pointed out in a letter to Secretary Rice from my Congressman, Rep. Chris Van Hollen Jr., son of a retired Ambassador I worked for, US policy, or in this case inaction and willful encouragement of conflict, only leads to greater anger at the US. "Once again," he notes, "while we have rightly promoted democracy in Lebanon, our policies have mostly strengthened the political standing of those most adverse to our interests." In a recent poll 87 percent of Lebanese support Hezbollah's retaliatory attacks on Israel and 90 percent say the US is not an honest broker, because it opposed a cease-fire so Israel could keep pummeling Lebanon something all reporting indicates is, unfortunately, spot on.
Far from celebration, Israelis are already mulling over "what went wrong." To quote Ellen Laipson, a former senior CIA Middle East analyst, now head of the Stimson Foundation, "Israel is nowhere near its goal of destroying Hezbollah or its arsenal. It will also have to deal with the moral and humanitarian crisis it has caused." A leading centrist Israeli commentator has criticized Israeli Prime Minister Olmert for having no strategy and assuming that somehow Hezbollah could be "taken out." My old boss, former Ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ed Djerejian goes further, saying that Israel's military campaign has proved that Israel cannot force peace through military means.
A country whose long term strategic interests are served by being accepted in the region is now only more isolated. If this leads to questioning the premise that "crushing" rather than negotiating is the way to solve political problems, perhaps some good will come of this tragedy.
It speaks volumes that during a nearly month-long crisis, the first time President Bush talked to Prime Minister Olmert was the day the UN cease-fire was agreed upon. Only after turning down Secretary Rice's efforts for an immediate cease-fire did he finally let her really engage to end the devastation. Alas, Condi's efforts are unlikely to bear much fruit so long as her boss continues to rely on military solutions and slogans divorced from reality to solve complex political problems.
(Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)