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7/21/2006 Television Panel Discussion
Voice of America - Inter American Forum
Israel's Hamas Hezbollah Confrontation:
"Saving Private Ryan" or the "Clean Break" Plan?

voa5a.jpg (5249 bytes)Adriana Amat, Voice of America: Hezbollah's initial intention was to kidnap these two Israeli soldiers for a prisoner swap?

Grant Smith, IRmep: Absolutely.   They've had a history of, in the past for example the year 2000, of capturing soldiers precisely to realize a prisoner exchange, particularly people in Israeli "administrative detention".

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: Then why have they allowed this to escalate to this level without any exchange proposal?  Not that Israel would necessarily accept it, but why haven't they made a proposal?

Grant Smith, IRmep: We can't say with certainty they haven't made any indirect contacts.  For example in the last prisoner exchange they worked through the Germans.  It seems their style is not necessarily to announce to the New York Times that they're going to make an exchange. 

But I think, this time, they did not foresee what would happen after grabbing these people. 

voa5b.jpg (10096 bytes)Vanessa de la Torre: There's something that strikes me, and that is the response the state of Israel has had to these guerrilla fighters.  If guerillas appear in a country, capture two soldiers, and the response of this country is to attack the civilian population, and destroy the airport.  Isn't there a rule or law of human rights or international law that can regulate these types of heavy handed responses?

Grant Smith, IRmep: Well, Kofi Annan and  various other people have declared that it is certain that some of these attacks against civilian infrastructure are completely unacceptable.  Other groups have declared they are certainly war crimes.   I think it is interesting that the current dynamic has neither Condoleezza Rice nor the Bush administration condemning the attacks.  Previous administrations have always   put together a diplomatic envoys to get a ceasefire after a conflict of this magnitude.  That's not happening, and it doesn't look like it will happen.

Pedro Rodriguez Diario ABC de Espa�a : To me it looks like an amplified version of what happened in Gaza with Hamas last month (June) with the capture of a soldier.  We're talking about the use of force, destruction, detentions, incursions, but with absolutely no results.  In other words, Israel is applying the same response techniques that got it no results in Gaza to Lebanon.

Grant Smith, IRmep: I think there are very important events that everyone is overlooking. There is a movie called "Saving Private Ryan".

This is NOT "Saving Private Ryan".

The conflict in Gaza started on June 8 when the Israelis assassinated a Hamas military officer.  Then on June 9, there was the terrible Israeli attack on a family picnicking on the Gaza beach in which eight people died.  The entire Arab world watched video of a little girl running along the beach looking at the bodies of her family.

Hamas started launching rockets in response, with their home-made rockets against Israel in reaction to this violence.  Never the less there were thirty more deaths on the Gaza side due to Israeli artillery. 

Then on the 24th of June we have Israel crossing into Gaza and taking two Palestinian prisoners, names unknown, who have never been heard from again. 

Finally on June 25 we have the Hamas attack and capture of corporal Shalit who everyone knows from the extensive news coverage. 

So there were many events, much more complex than the simple capture of prisoners, on both sides.  There is also a much larger story   in Lebanon.  In June, in the south of Lebanon the Lebanese Army captured a Mossad operative group of Abu Rafeh who had assassinated various people in Hezbollah in 2004 and 1999.   So if one is only focusing on isolated events, you might think this is all about kidnapping.  But really the conflict has been building on both borders. 

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: There's been talk about the diplomatic response of the US saying that it is too slow.   There are accusations that the US is waiting for Israel to attack Hezbollah as much as it can for the US to act later.  Do you agree?

Grant Smith, IRmep: The policy, for those who follow all the administration's announcements and key position papers, are very consistent.  

Since 1996 a group of later advisors to the Bush administration wanted to realize regime change in Iraq, now done; get Syria out of Lebanon, which is also now done; and number three confront Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon.  All of this appears in a document called "A Clean Break" written by various people who later entered the administration. 

So it is perfectly consistent that they don't want to move until there is a bigger conflict with Hezbollah.    Unfortunately there are 300,000 people living in the southern zone, who are civilian, many who have nothing to do with Hezbollah.  Unfortunately, in this type of war against guerillas,   who have little fixed infrastructure, and are very difficult to find, it seems the air bombardments are causing more civilian casualties than against Hezbollah militants.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: Will Condoleeza Rice's visit to the region alleviate the conflict a bit?

Grant Smith, IRmep : She is there to bolster something that's never happened before.   The government of Saudi Arabia said the conflict was the fault of "elements" in Lebanon against Israel.   This is the first time Saudi Arabia has ever said such a thing, usually there is silence or unconditional support.  She is supporting regional Sunni-led governments to maintain this stance and develop a common front against Hezbollah.  

She's not going there to negotiate a peace treaty.

Vanessa de la Torre: The Middle East is like a boiler that is bubbling, bubbling and boiling for most of the past half a century.  Do you see a new panorama, in light of this conflict, between Israel and Lebanon?  How do you see the dynamic between Israel and Lebanon, and Arab neighbors, Syria and also Iran. What could happen?   Are we at the doorstep of World War III as some have said?

Grant Smith, IRmep: No.   Some people are making some comparisons with World War I, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  This is not the same. 

Clearly the attack is meant to be against Syria and Iran.  But in truth, if you analyze Hezbollah, it is a Lebanese group, with Lebanese interests, forming part of the government of Lebanon.  It is not an Iranian group. They are being treated like an Iranian proxy, that can't be left to influence the regional dynamic on behalf of Iran.  

Syria is the same.  Syria helped the US a great deal after 9/11 in hunting down real terrorist groups, but the Bush Administration policy was to isolate them anyway according to doctrine.  That's what the Bush administration has done, engaging in a "cold war" that is now heating up.

World War III?  I don't think so.  I don't think Israel plans to occupy Lebanon for any length of time because the price they paid in the 1980's and 1990's was high.  We need to remember that Israel lost that war to Hezbollah.  Domestic Israeli groups had to watch television scenes of Israelis dying every day in southern Lebanon until they were fed up with it and withdrew all troops.

Pedro Rodriguez Diario ABC de Espa�a:   Some of the analysis we've seen proposes that the Israeli demonstration of force really reveals that it is weak, with a government for the first time in many years dominated by civilian officials, with little real military experience.  And that this explains, perhaps, the spiraling show of force and unnecessary actions they've taken in these days.

Grant Smith, IRmep: Yes, that's a perspective.  There's another perspective however, that says the military "response" started so quickly, that it was part of a preconceived plan.  The targets, when one looks at the photos of the precision bombs that fell on the airport runways, the 42 bridges that were cut in matter of hours, cause others to say "no".  There was targeting and intention to hit them to destabilize the "supporters" of Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

I think Vladimir Putin was right when he declared there were unstated Israeli objectives being realized in the rapid response attack.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: If you look at the situation in Lebanon, without taking sides, it is really sad that the Lebanese people lived through a civil war, then Israeli occupation, then Syrian occupation, then Syria leaves and now we have this conflict.  If Israeli really does achieve its goals with Nasralla, the Hezbollah leader, who will take over the leadership, or will the movement fall apart, with the south falling into the hands of another Lebanese militia?  What is the future of Lebanon?

Grant Smith, IRmep: I think that the idea that Israel is going to win against Hezbollah, a group formed as a response to the Israelis and the territory issues such as Sheba Farms, Gaza, the West Bank would be incredible.  They are as difficult to root out as the FARC or ELN of Colombia, they are integrated into the population, but they are also providing social services, they are circulating through the whole country.  Winning against Hezbollah would be a total bloodbath in Lebanon,  a small country of 3 million where they have something like the support of 40% of the people. They are in the parliament through large and dominant groups.

I think this conflict is the price we have to pay for not facing up to some other UN resolutions.  Everyone is talking about the resolution focused on the Syrian withdrawal and that there can't be militias (1559).   But there are also resolutions like 242 that Israeli troops can't keep occupying the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.  For not facing up to these territorial rights issues, that generate a lot of support for Hezbollah and other groups, we're not facing up to the real problems.

Adriana Amat: Part of this problem is the fault of the Lebanese government, because they did nothing to disarm Hezbollah.

Grant Smith, IRmep: Sure.   They say they don't have the strength, and that Hezbollah was too difficult to manage.  Although the UN resolution said that (1559) there couldn't be any armed militias in the South, Hezbollah simply declared that it was the new "Lebanese Army of the South".

Unfortunately, the game of disobedience to international law is a game everyone is playing these days.  Interpreting in different ways what is plainly stated, to whom resolutions apply, and not.   Unfortunately, where there's no law, and no respect for international law, or the United Nations, we have these outcomes.

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