Bush & Blair - Lebanon
Is Not A Video Game

By Terrell E. Arnold

Friday President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed on a simplistic and video game like solution to the conflict in Lebanon. Its main elements appear to have been: (1) The Israelis would make a creditable showing of ability to defeat Hezbollah at least to the point where, (2) Hezbollah would be willing to enter into a cease-fire and negotiations, while (3) Hezbollah would show that it knows it is being defeated; (4) demonstrate that it is prepared to disarm and, perforce, (5) allow itself to be disarmed and disassembled. And (6) that would be accomplished by the (virtually nonexistent) Lebanese army under the watchful eye, but without the direct involvement of an (as yet to be established) international force comprised of troops contributed by (as yet unnamed) UN member nations. Over the next days, maybe weeks, this was to be a neatly worked out scenario in which everybody knew their roles, and nobody stumbled over the script.
The key problem may have been that the co-belligerents were not involved in designing the script. The Israelis probably were consulted behind the scenes, but Hezbollah was not. However, element 1 of the game clearly meant that the Israelis would be given more time--at least several more days--to make the demonstration that they could defeat Hezbollah.
But things other than warfare and not in the game-plan were developing rapidly on the ground and in the region. Hezbollah was acquiring popularity, even among Sunnis in the region, that suggested it could easily displace al Qaida as the leader of insurgency in Islam. At home, Hezbollah was also gaining a new respect among the Lebanese and that popularity (over 70% of all Lebanese in one poll) was moving Lebanese politics visibly toward some new configuration.
That new configuration burst on the scene Saturday when Hezbollah agreed with a Lebanese proposal for a cease-fire which the Israelis promptly dismissed. Element 1 in the Bush/Blair scheme prevailed because the Israelis suggested the Hezbollah willingness to halt the fighting meant they were losing. Therefore, the Israeli desire was to fight on to see if they could finish off Hezbollah. Bush and Blair appear also to have favored fighting on, and they refused to agree to a cease-fire until Hezbollah was, in effect, defeated and disarmed.
Perhaps encouraging that position, there was no mention in the Lebanese proposal that Hezbollah would give up its arms. Avoiding such issues, Kofi Annan called essentially for a truce to deal with the woeful human conditions of the combat zone and surroundings, as well as to bring in the as yet non-existent international force.
Then, in its eagerness to defeat Hezbollah, the IDF repeated a tragic blunder. Early Sunday morning the IDF bombed an apartment house in Qana, the UN base near the Israel/Lebanon border. The building was destroyed and more than 50 refugees, most of them children, were killed. Israel had conducted a bombing raid on this UN facility a decade earlier, killing more than 100 people. The Bush/Blair video game had come apart because the real players in the conflict were acting out their own roles on the ground; they were not playing their parts in the game.
That condition, in truth, sums up the nature of the whole situation in the Middle East today. A cease-fire may indeed emerge in Lebanon in the next several days, but, unless the Bush/Blair video game is modified to include Palestine, any cease-fire will affect less than half of the current Middle East conflict. The rest is occurring without notice in Palestine, really in Gaza, where the Israelis are making a full court press to defeat the Palestinians once and for all.
If Bush and Blair addressed this part of the present Israeli shooting war, there is no evidence of it in the media reports on their meetings. The absence of that conflict on their negotiating table heightens the video gaming quality of their discourse. They appear to have been discussing Lebanon as if it were in a vacuum. The fact is that Hezbollah is in much of its trouble because of its efforts to help the Palestinian people, and Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah surely knows full well what is happening in Gaza under cover of the Lebanon conflict. He therefore is likely to give some thought to what will happen if the IDF becomes free to turn its full power loose on the hapless Palestinians.
Failure to include the raging conflict in Palestine in the terms of any proposed cease-fire or stand-down places the United States squarely in the Israeli camp on the whole regional conflict. Earlier in the week, Secretary Rice reportedly visited Ramallah to pay a call on Mahmoud Abbas, pointedly demonstrating that the US is still trying to ignore the Hamas Government and hasten its downfall. Perhaps because of that objective, she neither visited Gaza nor appears to have mentioned Gaza in any of her comments about efforts to resolve the conflict. She is said now to be in Jerusalem, working on a cease-fire proposal, but the real effect of the time she spends there may be to give the IDF more opportunities to screw up as it did this morning at Qana and to wreak more havoc as it has continually been doing in Palestine.
The Palestine part of the conflict thus joins the long history of US indifference to what is daily happening to the Palestinian people. But it also underscores the video game character of US and British designs for resolving the Lebanon conflict. They seem to want to resolve it without touching--or even mentioning--the core problem of the Middle East, Palestinian repression by the Israelis. With or without deliberation, the scheme to give the IDF more time to defeat and disarm Hezbollah is giving the IDF ideal cover for continuing their effort in Gaza to destroy the remainder of Palestinian will to resist.
The judgments of several experienced Middle East observers, who prefer to be nameless, are that the IDF, the Olmert government and its backers in the US and elsewhere, will not succeed on either front. While Hezbollah may be experiencing increasing combat problems on the ground in Lebanon, its position in Islamic society has soared, and, therefore, its capacities to raise recruits and resources have multiplied. At the same time, without necessarily realizing that or having that as an objective, Hezbollah has become a more potent political force in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, are being collectively punished for the refusal of some of their members to stop fighting back and for their collective decision to elect Hamas. In truth, Hamas and Hezbollah now represent the principal defenders of the Palestinians, and that may be reinforced in the future as the result of the Lebanon conflict.
The final departure from the tidiness of a video game is likely to be significant changes in future patterns of international terrorism. Both the number and the severity of attacks by terrorists or insurgents, not only from countries of the Middle East region, are likely to increase in coming months and years. While the effort of the supporters of the IDF attack on Lebanon may have been directed to getting rid of a single insurgent group, the consequences over time may well be that the group itself grows stronger, and the number of other groups willing to take potshots at western peoples and countries are likely to increase.
Not only in Lebanon, but in yet unknown times and places, among them certainly Israel, the violent fruits of the misbegotten Lebanon enterprise will be harvested. None of those future tragedies appear in the video game scenario played out by Bush and Blair. Most of them can be deflected, if the United States, Britain, Israel, the Europeans, the UN and indeed everyone else recognize the abiding tragedy that is Palestine, and recognize that the core problem underlying much of the unrest in the region and elsewhere is the persecution of the Palestinians by Israel.
There simply is no chance that a cease-fire confined to Lebanon will do any good beyond stopping the wanton destruction of Lebanon by Israel. Any peace plan that does not recognize the core problem of Palestine is doomed to fail, because Lebanon is not the problem; the Lebanese Shi'a are not the problem; Syria is not the problem; Iran is not the problem; Israeli repression of the Palestinian people is the problem. A game plan that does not recognize these realities is fit only for a PlayStation.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning, and as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College. He will welcome comment at



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