A reality check: The three real issues between Israel and Lebanon

A Hamas supporter holds a Lebanese flag during a protest against Israel’s military offensives in Lebanon and Gaza during a rally after Friday prayers in Gaza City July 14, 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

The complicity of the United States in the Israeli actions against civilians in Gaza and Lebanon are apparent to the whole world. Former Congressman Paul Findley (R-IL), a long time member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, former Senator James Abourezk (D-SD), Vice-Chairman of the CNI Foundation and founder of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and former Ambassador Robert Keeley, the Chairman of the CNI Foundation have asked the Council for the National Interest to strongly advise the Secretary of State and the President to adopt a more active role in the current crisis in the Middle East.

Eugene Bird, president of the CNI Foundation said, “No one is denying the right of a nation or a people to defend itself. But Israel does not have the right to destroy bridges, roads, power stations and international airports in a vindictive show of force, in what will likely be a futile attempt to force the release of the two soldiers captured near the border.”

The right to defend a nation of people also applies to even the followers of Hezbollah trying to regain still-occupied territory and prisoners held illegally by Israel. Hezbollah is not seen as a terrorist organization in Lebanon, but as a legitimate resistance movement that succeeded in forcing Israel to retreat after eighteen years from most all of Southern Lebanon.

A special high-level envoy of the President should be sent to the region to seek an end to the attacks on civilians by both Israel and Hezbollah. But the United States should not stop there; there are three issues between Israel and Lebanon, which must be solved if the same old pattern of tit-for-tat is to be ended once and for all. The absence of the United States from engaging in the region, especially in the past six months, has been the most remarkable reason for the breakdown of the ceasefires.

The fact that the most democratic Arab country is being attacked by Israel undercuts the claim often made by members of the current administration that democracies never go to war with each other. The president is correctly concerned, as he has stated that the Israeli retaliatory attacks on Lebanon should not undermine Prime Minister Siniora’s government. It is of course ironic that the major civilian targets for Israel were the international airport and the bridges and highway named after Rafiq al-Hariri. We can only hope that Israel did not consult with the United States before striking these particular targets.

The U.S. Arms Export Control Act restricts the use of U.S. weapons to legitimate self-defense and internal policing; U.S. weapons cannot be used to attack civilians in offensive operations. The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act prohibits U.S. aid of any kind to a country with a pattern of gross human rights violations.

In the first few days of the offensive against Lebanon tens of millions of dollars worth of U.S. munitions have been used by Israel against a country friendly to the United States and a government fully supported by America. The fact that civilian structures that were a part of the major rebuilding of Lebanon by Hariri were destroyed in less than 48 hours with American weapons is a sad commentary on the lack of real American policy towards not only Lebanon but other countries of the Levant. And none of the military actions are at all helpful to Israel.

There are real issues between Lebanon and Israel that should have been settled with the help of the United States long ago. Israel failed to keep her promise to make available maps of the 140,000 mines she left behind in Lebanon. Three small sectors of land overlooking the Litani River were retained by Israel and were the cause of complaints from the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, not just Hezbollah. The three Lebanese prisoners that were moved by Israel, contrary to the Geneva Convention prohibition against an occupying power transporting prisoners into its own territory, should have been returned long ago.

The U.S. has ignored all three complaints made repeatedly by the Siniora government.

The Council for the National Interest delegation to the Palestinian elections also visited Beirut and talked with all factions from the President on down. In almost every case, the three issues cited above were mentioned and an appeal was made for the United States to take some action before it was too late. That was six months ago and now the United States is faced with the possibility of a full-scale Middle East war in Lebanon and Syria and a continuing civil war in Palestine.

The way out of this morass of easily foreseen crises is for the United States in consultation with Egypt, Jordan and even with Syria to take the lead to settle these three issues. That would be real preventative diplomacy.

One idea that should be explored is the incorporation of the Hezbollah militia into a new and expanded Lebanese army. This has been done in other parts of the world when rebel insurgents join coalitions and become apart of governance.

So long as the American administration is backed by congressional voices parroting the Israeli line that the Hezbollah attack was launched without cause or reason, the administration will be risking a widening of the present attacks on Lebanon. That would not be in the interest of the United States nor is it in the interest of Israel.

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  • Council for the National Interest