Lebanon - The
Israeli Game Plan
By Terrell E. Arnold

Yesterday the Israelis issued an injunction to all people to evacuate southern Lebanon. The Israeli instructions are to clear the coastal region of Lebanon from the Israeli border to the Litani River. The zone to be evacuated is about 25 miles deep and normally contains about 250,000 people. However, many foreigners have been evacuated through Tyre, the main city of the region, and the Lebanese population is left to its own devices to escape. At the same time, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has massed forces in the Lebanon/Israeli frontier under an obvious plan to initiate occupation of the territory Israel has asked people to evacuate. In preparation for these moves, the IDF has been conducting air and naval artillery attacks across Lebanon that appear designed to reduce the country to rubble, rendering large parts of it uninhabitable. Several hundred people have been killed and many more have been wounded.
Could this carnage really be about release by Hezbollah of two captured Israeli soldiers? The answer obviously is no, unless, of course, Israeli leadership have lost their collective minds. But then, what is it about?
On the face of things, as reported by mainstream media, the immediate plan is to decimate Hezbollah, and that plan appears tacitly to be approved by the United States, Western European countries and maybe a number of Arab governments. However, while somewhat more than half of the Lebanese people are Shi'a Muslims, an unknown number of the Shi'a are members of Hezbollah, while the Israeli attacks are being carried out forcefully against all Lebanese. At least 500,000 people have been displaced and the infrastructure to support Lebanon's approximate 4,000,000 people is being systematically destroyed. In short, as the Israeli have collectively punished all Palestinians for the existence of Hamas, the IDF is now collectively punishing all Lebanese, including the large Shi'a Amal community, for the presence of Hezbollah.
Such all out war is not possible on the spur of the moment. Israel obviously has been planning such a maneuver for some time, and building its inventory of American munitions and aircraft, such as Cobra helicopters, for launch on short notice. As several commentators have noted, it only needed a pretext. The actual pretext was not the capture of two Israeli soldiers, however, but the fact that Hezbollah had moved to help the Palestinians after weeks of IDF bombardment and harassment designed to cause the fall of Palestine's Hamas government. The Hezbollah reaction to Israeli attacks on the Palestinians was predictable. Thus, Hezbollah appears to have walked into a well-prepared Israeli trap, but there is evidence it knew what was coming and was preparing for it.
The question therefore becomes: What was the Israeli game plan before Hezbollah played into their hands? The plan must be viewed through the window of long term Israeli goals. Some Israelis have for decades sought occupation and ownership of all of Palestine. Israeli refusal to negotiate settlement of any critical issue (boundaries, compensation, right of return, Palestinian statehood, access to Jerusalem), has not been due to recalcitrance or steadfast refusal of the Palestinians to come to terms; it has been due simply to Israeli leadership refusal to give on any issue where long term Israeli interests would have to be in some way reduced, prejudiced, redefined or given away.
The opportunity presented by failure to agree on any key issue has been used repeatedly by Israel to create new facts on the ground. The Palestinians have gained nothing from this process but accumulating losses, i.e., (1) reduced Palestinian presence in Jerusalem due to defacto expulsion, (2) increased Israeli presence in the West Bank through creation of settlements and exclusive roads to reach them, (3) increasing cooption of water resources by Israelis and decreasing allocations of water to Palestinians, (4) increasing time, distance, death of parties, and erection of competing rights to lands, buildings, olive trees and other valuable assets, (5) incremental shifts in boundaries due to settlements, the wandering wall and other boundary creep, (6) long term and systematic expulsion of Palestinians from their lands, villages and homes in present day Israel (7) systematic exclusion of Palestinians from the Jordan Valley, and other examples such as denial of citizenship to Palestinians who live in Israel.
If history is any guide, this same game plan will now be extended to Lebanon. Note the deliberate and generalized destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure: Roads, bridges, port facilities, airport runways and buildings, urban housing and roads. The Israeli argument for these attacks is that any feature of the Lebanese infrastructure is part of a terrorism support system. But in the long run this destructive attack pattern is all designed to assure that the Lebanon that exists after a ceasefire will not be capable for a long time of any significant resistance. This plan may backfire, however, because the Syrians may decide to cross the Lebanon Mountains and re-enter what is left of Lebanon. Moreover, the sizeable Shi'a Amal population may be provoked by Israeli pounding into combining forces with Hezbollah in militant as well as in the political terms that already exist. The pattern of attack assures that Israel will have few, if any, friends in the future Lebanon.
The Israeli attack on Lebanon has revealed a pattern of double standards that may permanently change the global attack on terrorism and insurgency, if not warfare in general. First, absent significant US, UN and European objections, the Israelis are being encouraged to virtually destroy Lebanon as a state. This establishes a pattern for any who care to use it of deliberate disassembly of any state that willingly or unwillingly harbors an insurgent/terrorist group. However, any other government that uses this pattern should expect sharp criticism, not the tolerant indulgence being shown Israel. Second, the Israelis are attacking another country with American weapons in violation of US laws. While far from objecting, the US is undertaking emergency supply of smart bombs to compound the destruction of Lebanon. Third, the Israelis are being given free rein to destroy Lebanon and Palestine on the pretext that Hezbollah has captured two Israeli soldiers and the Palestinians have captured one. But at the same time the whole world is silent about the fact that the Israelis hold hundreds of Lebanese and thousands of Palestinians, some who have been confined for decades, but few of them have ever been charged with any specific crime or brought to trial. Fourth, Hezbollah is being encouraged to lay down its arms and stop fighting, but the Israelis are tacitly being given enough time, by the US particularly, to complete their destruction of any Hezbollah infrastructure; if the Hezbollah forces quit now, the Israelis are likely to decimate them. Fifth, Hezbollah, and implicitly the whole of Lebanon, are being charged with the sin of being supported by Syria and Iran, while it is patently OK for Israel to receive massive support from the United States, Britain and others.
Such a pattern of standards is working to polarize the planet in a manner we have never before witnessed. This is not about the traditional bi-polar collisions of great powers. This is about the rights and interests of the great majority of the world's people being abused and trampled upon by a small cluster of elites. That pattern of catering to Israeli aggression is dominated by, but is not limited to, the United States.
In the meantime, Israel has been given perfect cover for achievement of a long held goal. If the Israelis have their way, key new facts on the ground will be created in what is now southern Lebanon. Israel has had its eye on that area for decades.
The prize is the Litani River, a stream that rises in the Lebanon mountain range, flows south for more than half its length, then turns west and enters the Mediterranean some miles north of the city of Tyre. As seen from Israel, there is no other comparable potential source of potable or irrigation waters in the region other than costly desalination of the sea itself. With that river in mind, in the 1930s Ben-Gurion, one of the founding fathers of Israel, conceived of boundaries for the fledgling state of Israel that extended from the Litani River in Lebanon across the Syrian Desert and Jordan and south into the Sinai Peninsula. Others have dreamed of the waters of the Litani and have concocted schemes such as pipelines and tunnels to bring the water to Israel. Ben-Gurion's map not only scooped up the Litani but grabbed the Yarmuk River as well, the only significant feed to the Jordan River from the Jordanian side.
In brutal terms, in a land where water is life, the Israelis are willing to kill, wound and displace many thousands of people, and remake the regional map to get water. That pattern has preempted most of the waters of the Jordan basin, both aquifers and flowing streams for Israeli use--at the expense mainly of the Palestinians.
It is clear that the Israelis now plan to take the territory and plant themselves on the banks of the Litani. Under the guise of ending the threat posed by Hezbollah to the northern areas of Israel, the idea will be to create a "buffer zone". As the Israelis see it, Hezbollah has underscored that necessity by successfully dropping missiles on Haifa in the current engagement.
The idea of a buffer zone is unlikely to be opposed by the US, the Europeans or the UN. The problem the Israelis have to solve is how to keep the buffer zone from being manned by foreign troops. Foreign troops in the zone will be no help to Israel's scheme. They must be in charge and able to create new facts on the ground that will make the occupied Lebanese territory part of Israel. That scheme has worked successfully to acquire virtually every inch of Israel at no acquisition cost to the Israelis. So why adopt any other scheme? The starting gambit is to get the United States, the Europeans, and the UN to support Israeli occupation of the territory "for the time being", while the dust settles and the Lebanese in the rest of the country try to put their lives back together. That recovery process will take longer than the Israelis need to defacto finish annexation of southern Lebanon.
If this scheme works, through yet another irrational appearing, but calculated, act of carnage, Israel will have pulled off a three part coup. It will have removed Hezbollah as a threat to Israel from Lebanon; it will have eliminated Hezbollah as a paramilitary and psychological source of support to the Palestinians; and it will have stolen the waters of the Litani River. To initiate such a grand design, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's strategic planners needed only an excuse to start. The Hezbollah capture of Israeli soldiers was plausible. Eliminating Hezbollah had resonance in the West. It can be hoped that neither reason lasts long enough to cover the Israeli plan to steal the Litani River and southern Lebanon from the Lebanese people.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon and through book stores, 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 Counterterrorism, and as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College. He wrote his Master's Thesis on the economic development of the Jordan Valley region, and he will welcome comment at



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