I should have known – I knew – it was naive to take Obama’s speech at face value, to think he was anything other than the figurehead of the military-industrial and financial interests every US president inevitably represents. But like so many people in this region (and presumably all over the world) I desperately wanted to believe a better world was just around the corner. Just for a few days, to bask in some hope and optimism and leave the despair and bitterness behind – until reality hit again and put us back with our feet on the ground. Yesterday night, it happened. 48 hours of hope is all we were allowed. Robert Fisk points out the obvious: despite the celebrated strenghtening of the State department and all the talk about diplomacy over blood, the professed willingness to talk to ‘all parties involved’ and the support for democracy and freedom for all apparently do not extend to the democratically elected government of Palestine. So much for change…: ‘It would have helped if Obama had the courage to talk about what everyone in the Middle East was talking about. No, it wasn’t the US withdrawal from Iraq. They knew about that. They expected the beginning of the end of Guantanamo and the probable appointment of George Mitchell as a Middle East envoy was the least that was expected. Of course, Obama did refer to “slaughtered innocents”, but these were not quite the “slaughtered innocents” the Arabs had in mind.
There was the phone call yesterday to Mahmoud Abbas. Maybe Obama thinks he’s the leader of the Palestinians, but as every Arab knows, except perhaps Mr Abbas, he is the leader of a ghost government, a near-corpse only kept alive with the blood transfusion of international support and the “full partnership” Obama has apparently offered him, whatever “full” means. And it was no surprise to anyone that Obama also made the obligatory call to the Israelis.
But for the people of the Middle East, the absence of the word “Gaza” – indeed, the word “Israel” as well – was the dark shadow over Obama’s inaugural address. Didn’t he care? Was he frightened? Did Obama’s young speech-writer not realise that talking about black rights – why a black man’s father might not have been served in a restaurant 60 years ago – would concentrate Arab minds on the fate of a people who gained the vote only three years ago but were then punished because they voted for the wrong people? It wasn’t a question of the elephant in the china shop. It was the sheer amount of corpses heaped up on the floor of the china shop. (…) Sure, give the man a chance. Maybe George Mitchell will talk to Hamas – he’s just the man to try – but what will the old failures such as Denis Ross have to say, and Rahm Emanuel and, indeed, Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton?’
But he might soon have another chance to display his diplomatic approach, in Israel’s next war, one which will not conveniently end the day before his inauguration. The invaluable globalresearch.com (see also here for the gigantic weapons shipment the US sent to Israel last week and here for a discussion of the offshore gas field recently discovered off Gaza as one of Israel’s motivations for the invasion) carries a comprehensive recapitulation and analysis of the political and strategic developments in Lebanon since the Doha agreement of last June: ‘In the Middle East, it is widely believed that the war against Gaza is an extension of the 2006 war against Lebanon. Without question, the war in the Gaza Strip is a part of the same conflict. Moreover, since the Israeli defeat in 2006, Tel Aviv and Washington have not abandoned their design to turn Lebanon into a client state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, in so many words, during his visit to Tel Aviv in early January that today Israel was attacking Hamas in the Gaza Strip and that tomorrow it would be fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. Lebanon is still in the cross-hairs. Israel is searching for a justification or a pretext to launch another war against Lebanon.
Washington and Tel Aviv had initially hoped to control Beirut through client political forces in the March 14 Alliance. When it became apparent that these political forces could not dominate Lebanon politically the Israeli military was unleashed on Lebanon with a goal of bringing about the ultimate downfall of Hezbollah and its political allies. Areas where support for Hezbollah and its political allies were strongest saw the harshest Israeli attacks in 2006 as part of an attempt to reduce, if not remove, popular support for them. (…) Tel Aviv has been mapping a large-scale blitzkrieg against Lebanon as a whole, which includes an immediate land invasion. Just before the Israeli massacre in the Gaza Strip started, Israeli officials and generals had promised that no Lebanese village would be immune from the wrath of Israeli aerial bombardments, regardless of religion, sect, and/or political orientation. In substance, Tel Aviv has promised to totally destroy Lebanon. Israel has also confirmed that in any future war against Lebanon, the entire country rather than Hezbollah will be the target. In practice, this was already the case in 2006’s Israeli aerial attacks on Lebanon. The Jerusalem Post quotes Brigadier-General Michael Ben-Baruch, one of the individuals who oversaw the invasion drills, as saying, “In the last war, we fired to disrupt Hezbollah activity,” and, “The next time we will fire to destroy.” In the wake of Israel’s 2006 defeat, the Israeli government admitted that its “big mistake” was it exercised restraint rather than attacking Lebanon with the full strength of its military. Israeli officials have intimated that in the case of a future war against the Lebanese that all civilian and state infrastructure will be targeted. (…) Why is Lebanon in the cross-hairs again? The answer is geo-political and strategic. It is also related to the political consensus process and the upcoming 2009 general-elections in Lebanon. Following the formation of a unity government in Beirut under a new president, Michel Suleiman (Sleiman), a new proactive defence doctrine for the country was contemplated. The objective of this defence doctrine is to keep Israel at bay and bring political stability and security to the country. (…)What started to emerge from these talks was that both Moscow and Tehran would provide weaponry to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which previously had been the recipients of lower-end U.S. made ordinance. The U.S. has always forbidden the Lebanese military from purchasing any heavy weapons that could challenge Israel’s military strength. It was also revealed that Russia would donate 10 MiG-29 fighter jets to Beirut in line with Lebanon’s new defence strategy. The use of the Russian MiG-29s would also entail the required installation of early warning and radar systems. Russian tanks, anti-tank rockets, armoured vehicles, and military helicopters are also being sought by Lebanon. Iran has offered to supply the Lebanese military with medium-range missiles as part of a five-year Iranian-Lebanese defence agreement. While in Iran, Michel Suleiman held talks with Iranian defence officials and went to an Iranian defence industry exposition. While the talks with Moscow and Tehran aimed at arming the Lebanese Armed Forces, the talks with the Syrians were geared towards establishing and strengthening a joint security and defence framework directed against Israeli aggression. (…) Moreover, Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and the Reform and Change Bloc in the Lebanese Parliament also visited Tehran and later Damascus. Michel Aoun who is a central figure in the “political consensus” has endorsed and reaffirmed his political alliance with Hezbollah. While calling for the peaceful disarmament of Hezbollah within a Lebanese defence strategy, he has accepted that Hezbollah fighters will eventually integrate into Lebanon’s army. This disarmament process would only occur when the time is right and Israel no longer poses a threat to Lebanon. Hezbollah has broadly agreed to this, if and when there no longer exists an Israeli threat to the country’s security. This position on Hezbollah’s arms is spelled out in clause 10 (The Protection of Lebanon) of the February 6, 2006 memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Hezbollah that Michel Aoun signed on behalf of his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement. (…) Washington’s political cohorts in Lebanon are alarmed at the direction Lebanon is taking under its new defence strategy. They have criticized weapons purchases from Iran and defensive cooperation with Syria. This includes attacks on General Jean Qahwaji’s visit to Syria, which was mandated by the entire Lebanese cabinet. Additionally, within these pro-U.S. forces in Lebanon there has been a push for a “Swiss-like” “neutral defence policy” for Lebanon within the Middle East. Such a “neutral” position would benefit the U.S. and Israel geo-politically and strategically. Needless to say, with the threat of Israeli military aggression looming, this position is proving to be rather unpopular within Lebanon. (…) In response to Lebanon’s rapprochement with Russia and Iran, two senior US State Department officials were rushed to Beirut in December. During this mission, Dell Lee Dailey and David Hale, respectively Coordinator of the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism and Deputy-assistant Secretary responsible for Middle Eastern affairs, renewed the veiled threats of an Israeli attack against Lebanon, while casually placing the blame on Hezbollah. These threats are aimed at Lebanon as a whole. They are intended to disrupt the creation of Lebanon’s new defence doctrine. The clock is ticking for Israel, the U.S., and NATO to obstruct the implementation of Beirut’s new national defence doctrine. Israel would no longer have any justifications for carrying out military incursions into Lebanon if Hezbollah were to become a full political party under a new Lebanese defence strategy. Moreover, if Beirut were able, under a new defence arrangement, to protect its borders against Israeli military threats it would not only end Tel Aviv’s ambitions to politically and economically dominate Lebanon, but it would also end Israeli pressure on Lebanon to naturalize the Palestinian war refugees waiting to return to their ancestoral lands that are occupied by Israel. (…) In 2006, when Israel attacked Lebanon, the war was presented to international public opinion as a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. In essence the 2006 war was an Israeli attack on all of Lebanon. The Beirut government failed to take a stance, declared its “neutrality” and Lebanon’s military forces were instructed not to intervene against the Israeli invaders. The reason for this was that the political parties of the Hariri-led March 14 Alliance that dominated the Lebanese government were expecting the war to end quickly and for Hezbollah (their political rival) to be defeated, and eventually excluded from playing a meaningful role on the Lebanese domestic political scene. Exactly the opposite has occurred since 2006.
Moreover, had the Lebanese government declared war on Israel, in response to Israeli aggression, Syria would have been obligated through a Lebanese-Syrian bilateral treaty, signed in 1991, to intervene in support of Lebanon. In the case of a future Israeli war against Lebanon, the structure of military alliances is crucial. Syria could indeed intervene on the side of Lebanon. If Syria enters into the conflict, Damascus could seek the support of Tehran in the context of a bilateral military cooperation agreement with Iran. A scenario of escalation is, therefore, possible, which could potentially spin out of control. If Iran were to enter on the side of Lebanon and Syria in a defensive war against Israel, the U.S. and NATO would also intervene leading us into a broader war. Both Iran and Syria have military cooperation agreements with Russia. Iran also has bilateral military cooperation agreements with China. Iran is also an observer member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Iran’s allies including Russia, China, the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could all be drawn into the broader conflict.‘