Elephant cemetery : the UN in Lebanon
18 - IX - 07
The main ideological battlefield in the Middle East is Lebanon. However much United States media cover the situation in Iraq (and one should remember the only thing they worry about is the number of their dead soldiers), that country is not the one where the region's future is at stake, but rather a small Mediterranean country, also Arab : Lebanon. This has been the case since last year produced the most important event so far in the 21st century : the defeat of Israel in the second Lebanese war. That defeat not only frustrated the neocolonial plans of the US - already very shaky thanks to the war in Iraq - to create a "new Middle East" pliant to imperialist designs and made up of diverse permanently antagonistic religious, ethnic and racial visions without a strong central power, visions which, being weaker, would to a large degree accept an indefinite US presence.
Added to the frustration of that goal was the collapse of the myth of an invincible, all-powerful Tsaal (Israel's armed forces, trans.) and with that began the process currently under way which is nothing less than peoples' realization that they are capable of taking their destinies into their own hands. That is the source of the situation we see now in Lebanon, in Palestine and in occupied Iraq, although that country has further to go and is beset with numerous variables.
The whole world is intervening in this ideological war : France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, the forever inoperative and ineffectual Arab League and even the timid Spanish government, converted into a Bush regime pimp in Afghanistan and Lebanon after an initial courageous and honest move in withdrawing troops from Iraq. All these actors, if we except Russia, which maintains its political, economic and military accords with Syria and has recently received the main leaders of Hamas, play a role in the same script, in line with Pentagon strategy from 2006 known as "frontiers of blood" (1) : controlling what they regard as "the Shi'ite menace" and avoiding the influence of Syria and Iran in the region.
A poor screenplay, but with an impressive budget that guarantees great special effects. The US godfather, a great producer, offers around US$60bn to ensure a spectacular show, with the reservation that in this case the dead will not be fictitious, but real. Arming the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, the Gulf countries and Israel is no chimera. On the one hand it calms down regimes feeling their peoples' breath hot on their necks more and more and, on the other, it hands an oxygen mask to the self-same US economy by reviving the industrial-military complex and trying in that way to arrest the forecast economic slowdown.
This slowdown is forecast right now in the wake of the property market crisis but has still not happened yet. Already in 2004 US economists predicted their country could suffer structural deficits until 2009 as a result of spending on the Iraq war. For their part European economists reckon that the crisis will come when the dollar falls to 1.50 against the Euro. (2) In January 2007 the rate was 1.32. Eight months later it is at 1.36. Crisis yes, but not for the moment, so long as China decides against. Given the incredible amount of dollar reserves it holds, the key to the crisis is in that country's hands.
But let's stick with Lebanon. This screenplay on an Arab theme, as well as moves behind the scenes, make clear that the great US godfather is very worried. It cannot get out of the Iraqi morass. It sees how its Palestine strategy is breaking up. Only Lebanon offers a possible victory - via clear international tutelage - to prevent the imperial megalomania falling into the sea like a sandcastle at high tide. Hence the obstinacy on Lebanon and the consequent abuse of the UN so as to cover its policy with a gloss of legitimacy.
At the great patron's behest
The Bush regime has been noted for its demolition of the UN multinational system, especially with its neocolonial invasion and occupation of Iraq, but like a shameless loudmouth, it now uses the UN to serve its purposes. Individuals like Michael Ignatieff and Robert Kagan already suggested in 2002 "acting at the margins of the UN when it may be useful and resorting to it when it serves our interests." They were the ideologues of the New Security Strategy pompously presented by Bush that same year which sanctioned the renowned "preventive war". In Iraq they dispensed with the UN : in Lebanon they are are mis-using it to the point of nausea.
For that reason nothing the UN has done lately is innocent, certainly not in the matter of Lebanon. Just in the last four years the anti-democratic Security Council - with its enduring right of veto and rejection of democratic expansion to include new permanent members - has approved 26 resolutions on Lebanon, an average of 6 resolutions a year, one every two months. Not a bad average, beaten only by African countries like the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sudan or the Congo. Not even Iraq received so many Security Council resolutions (only 9 have been passed on that country since 2004, an index we have noted in relation to Lebanon ever since the first resolution that concerns us on this issue, number 1559) which supports the argument made at the start of this article : at the moment Lebanon is much more important strategically for the US than Iraq.
It may be true that the plan to dominate the Middle East began with the slogan "the war on terror" after 9-11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a country that is the weakest link in the plan for strategic rearrangement, which also included Saudi Arabia and Egypt ( the US-Arab Country Plan for Association presented by Condoleezza Rice on December 12th 2002) and the intention of seeking a final solution to the Palestinian problem in accordance with the interests of Israel. The failure in Iraq forced the turn towards Lebanon. Clearly, without the struggle by Iraqi patriots the original plan would have worked to begin with. So the slowing down of that plan is to the credit of the Iraqi patriots. But it is the Lebanese patriots who have stopped it in its tracks, increasing the empire's difficulties with their victory in the war last summer.
Of those 26 UN resolutions, 9 are technical, extending the mandate of the UNIFIL forces to stay in Lebanon allegedly to monitor respect for the Blue Line (the frontier between Israel and Lebanon) and also, since August 2006, the cessation of hostilities following last summer's second war. The other resolutions are clearly political. Since passing resolution 1559 in October 2004 (demanding that Syria withdraws its forces from Lebanon, the disarming of Palestinian militias protecting refugee camps and of Hezbollah's armed forces) and with the exception of those referring to the international tribunal to investigate the assassination of Rafik Hariri, former Lebanese Prime Minister, all have the same common denominator. But since the passing of resolution 1701 in August 2006 which set up the "end of hostilities" one has got used to hearing a new argument : arms are travelling from Syria to Hezbollah and Palestinian groups, so the frontiers are insecure and that has to be dealt with.
This is also the argument of the latest initiative, a Presidential announcement - approved this August 3rd - which is going to be the prelude to a new resolution in favour of international intervention on Lebanon's frontier with Syria. The current president of the Security Council is the representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo, someone more amenable to US pressures than his predecessors, the Chinese and South African ambassadors. It is worth pointing out that South Africa has repeatedly opposed and toned down harder resolutions on Lebanon put forward by France and Britain. In fact the South African position is described by the US media as "betrayal" (3) not only for what is regarded as "obstruction" of US initiatives in the UN but for its relations with Iran and the fact that a year ago, during the second Lebanese war, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, South Africa's Foreign Minister expressed solidarity with Hezbollah's struggle against "Israeli aggression".
So now, with a more docile Security Council President, the US and France have managed to get approval for a declaration which in its most important aspects calls for "full support for the legitimate democratically elected Lebanese government" (here once more the argument of the supposed democratic legitimacy of the government ignores constitutional rules, that the resignation of Shi'ite and Christian ministers denies the government authority to take decisions) expressing "serious concern at violations of the arms embargo along the length of the Syrian-Lebanese border" (mentioning expressly Hezbollah, Fatah-Intifada and the popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command) and showing "profound concern" for the Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in July 2006, asking for them "to be returned immediately and unconditionally". The same as usual, in other words. More so, given that the declaration restricts itself to admonishing Israel for the increase in violations of Lebanese air space and "encourages" it to resolve the issue of Lebanese priosners detained in its jails. That encouragement is very different to the threats applied to Hezbollah.
The imperialist offensive on Lebanon - a recent chronology
The imperialist powers are worried, and worried a lot, about Lebanon. At the end of September it holds presidential elections whereby, according to the constitution, the candidate has to be a Christian. So there are just three possible candidates : one from the neoliberal bloc - divided itself with three pre-candidates - which supports the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; another from the opposition bloc around Hezbollah whose visible prime candidate is Michel Aoun; and thirdly, one who might be a consensus candidate, current army chief Michel Suleiman. The last two are not to the liking of the United States, although they see Suleiman as the lesser evil. One should not forget that contrary to the government's official version, Suleiman has denied that Syria is behind the Fatah al Islam organization with which the Lebanese army has fought hard since May in the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp. (4) And he said something else: "Fatah al Islam is a branch of Al Qaeda which had planned to use Lebanon and the Palestinian refugee camps as a haven from which to launch attacks in Lebanon and abroad". A timely dissociation from the Siniora government and a clear wink towrds Hezbollah, from whom he had distanced himself since the political-military movement's communique making clear their position on the fighting in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al Bared (5)
So then, all the measures being taken have the same common denominator of aiming to control Lebanon. It is worth making an exhaustive chronological review of the initiatives that have been set in train so everyone can draw their own conclusions:
a) May 7th : UN Secretary general Ban Ki-Moon reports on Lebanon repeating the arguments it has been sought to realise since the end of the war in the summer of 2006, namely those of the penultimate initiative of the current president of the Security Council mentioned above. Ban Ki-Moon's report was disclosed after the failure by the US, Britain and France to get a new resolution on Lebanon approved so as to reinforce the Siniora government and accusing Syria and Iran of continuing to support Hezbollah with arms and money. The attempt to pass a new resolution was blocked by Russia and China as well as other member countries of the Security Council like Ghana and South Africa. In the draft that was blocked, the UN Security Council was asked to form an "independent mission" composed of "a committee of UN experts" to control the frontier. (6) A mission that was to have been made up of European countries and inviting participation from Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries in the region to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.
b) May 10th : the Siniora government signs an agreement to supervise Lebanese State expenditures, something fiercely criticised by Hezbollah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement (the majority organization among Christians made up of that religion's middle and lower middle classes). That agreement is an effort to create a buffer so as to calm the feelings of countries that committed aid worth US$8bn in a conference in Paris in January, right at the moment when the country was paralysed by strikes against government neo-liberal measures.
c) May 20th : appearance of the Islamist group Fatah al Islam and the beginning of armed exchanges in the Palestinian refugee camps of Nahr al Bared. From that day on, both the forces supporting the Siniora government and their Western patrons have rushed to accuse Syria of being behind that group with the aim, according to them, of obstructing the opening of the tribunal investigating the death of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. For almost two years the issue of Hariri ( a Sunni multi-millionaire closely linked to the Saudi regime and Bandar bin Sultan in particular, now Saudi Arabia's Security Minister) is the only government explanation for what happens in Lebanon and is simply a sign of blind obedience to the neo-liberal policies designed by the IMF and the World Bank and of their own corruption and incompetence. In fact, according to Lebanese trade unions, 200,000 internal refugees still remain of the million people forced to abandon their homes under Israeli bombardment. Some 120,000 workers have lost their jobs as a result of the war and reconstruction of the bombed areas of the Shia majority continues by Hezbollah, with no sign of any government presence.
d) May 30th : the UN Security Council approves resolution 1757 setting up an international tribunal to investigate and bring to trial those responsible for the attack on Rafiq Hariri. It does so based on Chapter 7 of the UN Charter (which includes the right to use force) and is directed against Syria.
e) June 2nd : on government orders, 300 members of the Internal Security Forces deploy along the Syrian Lebanese frontier to support the Lebanese army in border patrol tasks. Those forces, known in Lebanon as the Hariri militia, are loyal to Saad Hariri, the strong man of the governing coalition that supports Siniora and son of the assassinated ex-Prime Minister. At the end of the war they received US$60m from the US government. (7) Weeks later, US military aid would arrive for the Lebanese army.
f) June 11th : Terje Roed-Larsen, UN Middle East envoy, presents a report to the Security Council which expresses his "profound concern at the illegal movement of arms" along the frontier with Syria. This man, known for his sympathy to Israel, did not conceal that he had sent similar reports to the Lebanese and Israeli governments as well as "other states" that he did not specify.
g) June 24th : attack on Spanish troops of UNIFIL. This contingent has the worst reputation among local inhabitants in the south of Lebanon thanks to their aggression when patrolling communities in the area and their intrusion on reconnaissance in search of Hezbollah positions and arms caches among hills and locations used by local people. Despite that, the attack should be seen as an action directed against Hezbollah and the stability of the south of the country, in contrast with what has been happening in the north with the fighting in Nahr al Bared and the instability in Tripoli.
h) June 28th : Ban Ki-Moon publishes a new report on Lebanon in which he laments that the measures proposed in Resolution 1701 have not been implemented, insisting on the porosity of the borders and the delivery of weapons both to Hezbollah and to Palestinian organizations (mentioning specifically the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command) and gently rebuking Israel for daily violating Lebanese air space, sometimes 20 times a day. Mention of Resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701 is repeated on numerous occasions, accusing Hezbollah of non-compliance. (8)
i) June 29th : publication of a declassified CIA report which acknowledges that the Lebanese Shi'ite leader Muhammad Husain Fadlallah was targeted and a plan concocted to assassinate him in the 1980s. An attack failed - although various people died and around 200 were wounded. Fadlallah was considered , the same as today, the main religious reference point for HEzbollah, not just for the Shi'ite community. The report aimed at reminding the leaders of Hezbollah that they are in the sights of the US secret services, especially since the end of last year when Bush gave the all clear for covert operations against Hezbollah.(9)
j) July 13th : the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, citing "official sources from the government in Jerusalem" publishes that "the UN cartographer has confirmed to Israel that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory, for which reason Israel should withdraw from the area which would become international territory controlled by UNIFIL" (10)
k) July 16th : another bomb attack on UNIFIL troops, this time from Tanzania. It caused no more than light material damage.
l) July 17th : Miklos Pinte, the UN cartographer studying the Shebaa Farms territory reckons that its area extends over from between 20 to 40 square kilometres, but the Israelis occupy 70 square kilometres. (11) This is an area Lebanon claims for itself while the Israelis say it belongs to Syria and the Syrians say it is Lebanese.
ll) July 18th : Ban Ki-Moon quickly sallies forth to recover the situation and says "the UN cannot confirm that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory". (12) According to the Lebanese daily the "Daily Star" "Israel has warned the UN that carrying out the mapping (of the Shebaa farms) could reignite the conflict (with Hezbollah)" and Farhan Haq, the UN spokesperson in New York , buries the matter saying "the cartographer has still not completed his work". At the same time he announces a visit by the cartographer to the area without specifying a date. Docile Ban Ki-Moon faces a great dilemma since if the UN reckons that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory occupied by Israel, as the cartographer indicates, it will concede legitimacy to Hezbollah as a political military movement of national liberation, leaving null and void all the Security Council resolutions ordering the Islamic Resistance to disarm. Hence the speed with which Ki-Moon rushed in effect to gainsay the cartographer.
m) August 1st : George Bush signs an executive order in the form of a decree freezing the financial assets of individuals, institutions and businesses that oppose the neoliberal government of Fouad Siniora. (13) This decree leaves out nothing since it considers that opposition to the Siniora government "contributes to the political and economic instability of Lebanon and the whole region" and therefore " (the individuals, institutions and businesses that oppose Siniora) constitute an extraordinary and unusual threat to the national security and the foreign policy of the United States" (Section 1) Coming just a few days ahead of the by-elections to fill the seats of two assassinated Christian deputies, this is a clear provocation and shameless interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, as well as being an explicit threat to the opposition.
n) August 2nd : UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Michael Williams, admits that he has held "about 20 meetings" with leaders of Hezbollah with regard to the exchange of the Israeli soldiers captured last summer and Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli prisons. (14) Those meetings proved fruitless because for one thing Hezbollah refuses an exchange in stages, which the Israelis are so fond of (a few prisoners released in exchange for "good behaviour" from the other side, something they have always done with the Palestinians) and for another because in those conversations those meetings covered not just the matter of prisoners of one side or the other but "many other components" according to Ha'aretz (15) although which ones remain unspecified.
ñ) August 5th : elections in two mainly Christian districts of Beirut. The Free Patriotic Movement, a Maronite Christian organization allied with Hezbollah and other Lebanese organizations opposed to the government of Fouad Siniora wins in one, Metn. against Amin Gemayel, former President of the country and historical leader of the Lebanese Phalange. It is worth stressing that the seat in question had belonged to Gemayel's murdered son, Pierre. The correlation of forces changes and the future Lebanese President cannot be elected without the approval of the FPM. The vote of the Armenian community, represented by the Tsahnag party, is decisive and indicates cooperation between anti-government forces. Tsahnag argued their vote was "a protest against the marginalization (of the Armenian community) by the (Siniora) government". (16)
o) August 6th : Siniora's pro-Western supporters call fraud in the Metn elections and threaten to designate a Lebanese President with a simple parliamentary majority (half plus one of the total number of members of parliament), which they have, and not with the two-thirds parliamentary majority demanded by the Constitution. The inconstitutionality of such a decision would mean the formation of a new government by the opposition for which reason a sector of the government, led by Siniora himself, proposes as a "transition" that the Prime Minister, himself, assumes the presidential prerogatives.
p) August 10th : Prime Minister Fouad Siniora meets with US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman to analyse the situation and discuss US aid for the Lebanmese army.
q) August 13th : Lebanese army chief Michel Suleiman, accompanied by Nabih Berri, Shi'ite president of parliament, meet with the Maronite patriarch to talk about the presidential elections and sound out the chances of the general becoming a consensus candidate.
r) August 14th : Suleiman affirms publicly that he will put himself forward to lead an interim government if no consensus can be reached to elect a President. His role would be transitional pending the development of matters overseas, in particular the US presidential elections in 2008. The opposition would only view this candidacy kindly if it established a transitional government able to guarantee the expected calling of new parliamentary elections. However, for Suleiman to succeed he needs calm in every sense, which is why an end to the fighting in the Palestinian refugee camps of Nahr al Bared is vital. This explains the speeding up of the issue, acceptance of negotations for the exit of relatives of Fatah al Islam fighters and the intensification of the fighting.
s) August 16th : France presents a draft UN Security Council resolution to extend the UNIFIL mandate for another year. It suggests new prerogatives for UNIFIL forces, such as greater presence in the villages and an increase in patrols, cut back to a minimum after the mortal attack on the Spanish troops.
t) August 24th : the Security Council approves the French resolution unanimously. Still, the text had to be modified because countries like Russia and South Africa criticised the fact that what should be a technical resolution extending the UNIFIL mandate included "sensitive issues" such as the matter of Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah, whom the UN describes in this resolution as "kidnapped". (17) A day beforehand, Israel again violated Lebanese air space with eleven flights at both high and low altitude, according to the Lebanese army.
u) August 30th : the French UNIFIL contingent carries out an exercise in the village of Tiri, near the Israeli frontier. It aimed at "intercepting an enemy trying to cross the Blue Line (Israel-Lebanon frontier) and attack areas under UNIFIL protection". Leclerc tanks were used in that military exercise which ended in "the capture of dozens of terrorists". According to Colonel Chaptal, leading the exercise, the term "enemy" referred to"anyone in southern lebanon threatening or obstructing implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701". (18)
Plans frustrated by popular resistance
The imperialist offensive is under way and increases as September 25th, start of the presidential elections, gets closer. The anti-imperialist counter-offensive does the same. Israel's defeat in the second Lebanese war last summer frustrated US plans in the area. With Hezbollah converted into a leading actor on the Lebanese political scene, the US has had to redirect its strategy through the UN. Just as the UN has been changed into an adjunct of US foreign policy, so UNIFIL troops have become a part of the global struggle for control of the Middle East, not just Lebanon.
The Siniora government is skeletal and brittle, incapable even of putting in motion its neoliberal agenda - the economy has shrunk by 2% in the first semester of this year (19) - and with key executive functions paralysed. The pompous commitments of Paris 3, trumpeted in January, have not materialized and the collapse of the State is a fact. So the US has two alternatives : either to carry out a "palace coup" along the lines of Abbas in Palestine, namely by prompting Siniora to assume the faculties of the country's President or to reinforce what Roberto Satloff, the Bush regime's new guru has called "constructive instability". Or what amounts to the same thing : "neutralizing radical forces" (Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon) even when they have popular support. For the moment that effort is being carried out benevolently via the UN.
But this body has been little more than a fraud ever since the invasion of Iraq, justifying and concealing imperialist interests. That is without mentioning the anti-humanitarian crime against the Iraq, victim of an embargo that killed more than a million people, the great majority of them children, after the first Gulf War in 1990. However, today the UN is getting its own medicine in Lebanon. What the Security Council considers "non-compliance with resolutions" mainly by Hezbollah is no more than getting paid in their own coin for cases like Israeli exceptionalism and the non-application of tens of resolutions on Palestine, without mentioning other examples. The UN in Lebanon is like an elephant heading for its cemetery. It goes around in circles (the single-issue obsession of the resolutions) sensing death as it settles on a spot to drop. But unlike elephants about to die, the UN's image lacks all dignity.
(1) Alberto Cruz, "El grito de la calle árabe, sin justicia no hay paz" http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=36850
(2) Alberto Cruz, "Veinte céntimos" http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=44199
(3) The Wall Street Journal, 8 de agosto de 2007.
(4) The Daily Star, 13 de agosto de 2007.
(5) Alberto Cruz, "La nueva estrategia de EEUU en Líbano: la guerra secreta contra Hizbulá" http://www.nodo50.org/ceprid/territorios/mo/mo6.htm
(6) The Daily Star, 20 de abril de 2007.
(8) Informe del Secretario General sobre la aplicación de la resolución 1701 (2006) del Consejo de Seguridad. S/2007/392. 28 de junio de 2007.
(9) The Telegraph, 23 de diciembre de 2006.
(10) Haaretz, 13 de julio de 2007.
(11) Haaretz, 18 de julio de 2007.
(12) The Daily Star, 18 de julio de 2007.
(14) The Daily Star, 3 de agosto de 2007.
(15) Haaretz, 3 de agosto de 2007.
(16) The Daily Star, 5 de agosto de 2007.
(17) Resolución 1773 aprobada por el CS en su sesión nº 5733. S/RES/1773 (2007)
(18) The Daily Star, 1 de septiembre de 2007.
(19) The Daily Star, 24 de agosto de 2007.
Thanks to Agustín Velloso for suggestions on the text.
Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and witer specializing in international relations.
contact via albercruz (arroba) eresmas.com
translation copyleft by Tortilla con Sal