Thursday, July 27, 2006

Casus belli - Did Israel pull a fast one?

As a means of solving disputes, war is a rather useless tool. That does not however, mean to suggest that armed self-defence, including the total destruction of an aggressor, is not justified in any number of instances.

Israel, in this current conflict in the Levant, has clearly stated that the reason for their brutal attack on Lebanon was brought about by Hezbollah, lodged in Lebanon, crossing the border and kidnapping two Israeli soldiers during a battle which took place on the Israeli side of the border with Lebanon.

Alison picked-up on something earlier in the week from several news reports which indicated that the two IDF soldiers were captured, not on Israeli ground, but inside Lebanon. That would put Israel's stated reason for going to war against Lebanon in some doubt.

While casting about for more information, something kept running through my mind: Israel's northern border with Lebanon is anything but porous.

Joshua Franks put together a good deal of the information I found. Rather than simply repeat it here, I would recommend taking in Joshua's post.

What I found interesting is that there are several different interpretations of the Hezbollah statement on the day they captured/kidnapped the two IDF soldiers. What is not in question is that Hezbollah immediately held them out as hostages to be used in bargaining for the release of Israeli-held Hezbollah and Palestinian prisoners.

The suggestion that Israeli troops were "kidnapped" on the Israeli side of the border doesn't emerge until well after the incident and well after initial reports stated that troops were captured inside Lebanon.

Hezbollah, making its announcement on al-Manar television, stated:

At 09.05 this morning, the Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers near the border with occupied Palestine, and the captives have been moved to a safe area.
Emphasis mine.

That particular statement might be taken as unclear. However, "near the border" suggests that it wasn't in "occupied Palestine".

It was the Lebanese police who stated that the Israelis had been captured in the area of Aïta Al-Chaab. How they came to know this is another question entirely. Is that what they were told or did they actually witness the event?

There is little dispute over the fact that Hezbollah started an engagement at the border on the morning of 12 July 2006. The group is well-known for that type of activity. It is also more than within the bounds of self-defence to pursue such attackers back into Lebanon in an attempt to capture or destroy them. Even under UN observation, such a border-crossing by Israeli forces would be reported but it would not likely be placed under the heading of a violation.

It is more than reasonable to assume that after a Hezbollah attack on the border, Israeli troops pursued the attackers and that in that action the two soldiers were captured.

There is another reason to suggest that the two Israelis were snatched on the Lebanese side of the border: the near impossibility of getting into Israel from anywhere along their northern border. If the Israeli version is to be believed, Hezbollah guerillas used a ladder to climb over the electrified fence separating Israel and Lebanon, planted landmines on the border road, waited for a patrol and then opened fire with anti-tank weapons. There was a simultaneous attack of Katyusha rockets on Israeli villages and army posts.

That story would only be plausible if one believed that Israel had suddenly let its guard down. Maybe they did, but it is so out of character with Israeli security as to be nearly impossible. It also suggests that Hezbollah could determine the timing of wheeled patrols without fear of another one following. Yet, if anything is random, it is the way Israel patrols its entire border. And, procedures change often and without pattern.

The leadership of the IDF has long called for an end to the tolerance shown to Hezbollah. The problem has always been how to get around international oversight. Thanks to the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence in briefing the UN Security Council on the need to invade Iraq, there is little likelihood that presenting an intelligence case would hold much sway. Further, without an incident, there was little in the way of overt activity which could be held up as evidence of a need to go into Lebanon and take on Hezbollah.

And, then we've got Syria and Iran, both declared by Bush to be charter members of the Axis of Evil and direct Hezbollah supporters and benefactors. To the US and Israel, Hezbollah is a part of that "axis" in the form of a client militia. The US is unable to pursue its goal of turning the Middle East into some form of democratic, Israel-loving arab Balkans as long as outfits like Hezbollah and Hamas continue to survive and indeed, thrive. Hezbollah in particular would have to be crushed, both to free the way for the "rebirth" of the Middle-East and to prove to Syria and Iran that their current regimes are on shakey foundations.

The US is so wrapped-up in Iraq it cannot afford to add yet another dusty venue to its list of troop rotations. The Israelis however, are next door, and they are none too happy with Lebanon.

The silence from the Bush administration didn't mean much at first. They are such an incompetent lot that it appeared they were doing everything with their usual delay of a few days and a few more hundred deaths. Then, when they finally spoke, it was not for a cease-fire or to demand Israel tone-down the overblown response but, essentially, to prod them further.

It made no sense until the realization struck that the US knew before July 12th that Israel was going to take on Hezbollah.

And, it's that, coupled with the fact that the incident which supposedly caused Israel's disproportionate reaction remains completely unclear, which suggests that this is a war of client against client.

Until there is more clarity however, the July 12th border incident which provides Israel its casus belli looks far too much like the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

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