Middle East


NATO Invasion Edges Towards Lebanon

An Israeli tank drives past a Hezbollah banner (R) as army troops began their withdrawal from the southern Lebanese village of Beit Yahun, near the border with Israel. (Photo: Hassan Ammar / AFP-Getty Images)

The idea of dispatching North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces to southern Lebanon has gained currency in the main Western capitals, namely to protect Israeli settlements and prevent a Hizbullah presence along the Lebanon-Israel border.

Another interpretation of the proposal is that the task of these forces, numbering around twenty thousand soldiers, will be to rebuild regional security and the situation in Lebanon, under a new American mandate akin to what is happening in Iraq. The pretext for such action is that the NATO force is there to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, and its goals, most prominent among them the disarmament of Hizbullah.

John Bolton, the United States representative to the United States said that a NATO force would be formed and dispatched by the Security Council and would only occur with the Council's approval, as "it is a new idea that will carry a new burden" on the U.N.

This American stance reminds us of the postures adapted before the Iraq invasion when the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the same thing when he pleaded for the Security Council to issue a resolution legalizing the American intervention. Rumsfeld then turned his back on this when he pledged that America would go to war on its own even without British participation. This at a time when British Prime Minister Tony Blair was experiencing difficulties inside the governing Labor party with some of the party's own minister's protesting the decision to go to war.

The significance of this new American step is that it hides two issues. The first is the support for the NATO force amongst Arab states, especially Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority represented by Mr. Mahmoud Abbas. The second issue is the Jewish state's cautious welcome of the proposal.

Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State will make the issue a top priority during her Middle East tour, which began yesterday. She will try using the conference, to be held in Italy on Wednesday, about Lebanon, and to provide Euro-Middle Eastern cover to legitimize the NATO force's task — to put an end to the Islamic resistance movement.

There remain doubts about the conference with several sides participating in it, Arab and European. The notable absentees from the conference were those countries directly affected by the situation in Lebanon (Iran and Syria), and possibly even the Lebanese government itself. Yet, how is it possible to discuss the war in Lebanon and the political issues which led to it given the absence of the relevant political players, like Hizbullah or Iran or Syria, who are accused of supporting them?

If the Bush Administration thinks that it is able to impose the Jewish state's point of view by adopting its agenda and doing so without engaging in responsible dialogue to reach a compromise for those unresolved political issues — namely Palestine, the occupation of the Lebanese Shabaa farms, and the prisoners' issue — then it is in error and will find itself and those other countries facing a new war like the one currently burning in Iraq.

The multi-national force would find themselves easy targets in resistance operations that would be more ferocious than those currently emanating from Lebanese territory, and could even involve Syria at a later date. Indeed it is not possible for Syria to accept the loss of its most important strategic card in its hand — the Islamic resistance movement. For losing this card means Syria would be facing a number of choices; falling under the American-Israeli umbrella like the other Arab states and signing peace treaties according to Israeli conditions, in so doing confronting the risk of internal collapse. Or the regime could face a war of attrition against Syrian opposition forces (operating from Lebanon) with the multi-national forces protecting it.

The Italian conference which will deal with the Lebanon issue will perhaps result in a new Sykes-Picot Agreement to reshape the region and redraw its borders. As Ms. Rice says, the United States wants to create a "New Middle East" without conflict and old formulas.

Translating these political words means ending the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance and the whole region's surrender to the Jewish state. The goal is to consolidate support of Israel after it was shaken by the Resistance and following the missiles that have rained down on its main cities.

When the Palestinians requested an international force to protect them from Israeli slaughter in Gaza and the West Bank they didn't find any assistance. But now when the Israeli settlers in the Lower and Upper Galilee face the danger of Hizbullah rockets, the United States rushes to find a force to invade Lebanon under the pretext of implementing Resolution 1559. The invasion of Iraq originated from Arab land, with the connivance of the political regimes, and the new invasion of Lebanon is occurring under the same pretext of implementing international resolutions with joint Arab-Israeli-American connivance.

The original article by Abdel Bari Atwan was published in Al Quds al Arabi (London), Monday, July 24, 2006.

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