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Israel applies cease-fire make-up

Lebanon’s Iraqi Cuisine
Cease-Fire Fantasies

The Seattle Times’ headline has it about right this morning: “All Out War, then Monday Cease-Fire?” The question mark has it right, too. It’s been a pre-cease-fire bloodbath in Lebanon. The United Nations resolution calling for a cease-fire goes in effect at 6 a.m. Monday, Lebanon time, giving both sides plenty of time to empty out magazine clips and bomb bays. The Lebanese must be wondering why it is that cease-fires with their name on them must be written with that open-season clause that allows the savagery not only to go on a good bit longer, but that supersizes both sides’ incentives to maximize the violence as if every frame of Lebanese soil was a Sam Peckinpah flick. The difference being that the blood is real, and the extras are Lebanese. For Israel the cease-fire may well be a relief: on Saturday, the Israeli “Defense” Force (that middle name would crack me up if it weren’t so cynical) lost twenty-four soldiers in Lebanon, including two soldiers crushed by their own tank (the hurry to kill cuts both ways), an incredibly heavy toll for the Israeli army considering its superior firepower and manpower. Hezbollah is said to have lost forty men in one day, requiring, supposedly, no less than 2,880 virgins if Hezbollah’s travel agents are to be believed, or 2,880 particularly constricting circles of hell if there’s any justice in this world and the next: Let’s not forget that this was a mutually agreed upon war of choice between Israel and Hezbollah.

But anyone who thinks the killings will actually stop at the magic hour raise your arm, if you have one left. Israel has some 30,000 troops inside Lebanon. Thirty-thousand, in an area about the size of one American county. Put another way: Not counting Haliburton’s mobsters and mercenaries, that’s one-fourth the number of soldiers the United States has in Iraq’s entirety, a country the size of California (and with borders less porous even counting its illegal-immigrant sieve). That gives you a couple of ideas about how idiotic it was for the United States, Don Rumsfeld and President Bush in particular, ever to have thought that they could control Iraq with an army the relative size of a boy scout troop. It also gives you an idea about how, even when the force is overwhelming and technologically superior, it’s a lost fight when the terrain isn’t yours and the cause has been made so overwhelmingly unjust.

That’s true of both the United States in Iraq and Israel in Lebanon. I do say has been made unjust, recognizing that at the very outset of the clash the United States might—just might, despite its launching lies about WMDs—have turned matters its way had it fought the war on behalf of Iraqis, rather than at their expense. Similarly, Israel had a brief window of justification when one kind of retaliation against a brazen kidnapping might have granted it some support in world opinion (so long as the few hundred Lebanese brazenly kidnapped by Israelis and languishing in Israeli jails since wasn’t made much of).

But hubris has it requirements. Bush wanted his smash-up—and to “finish” the job his father didn’t. The Israelis wanted their revenge, though (if that’s possible) their objective in Lebanon was even less thought out, and their “exit strategy” more harebrained, than the United States’ in Iraq. There is no exit strategy in Iraq. In Lebanon, there’s going to be a waiting game of sorts for that vaunted United Nations force that supposedly will secure South Lebanon the way its famous variant, UNIFIL, posted in that same zone since 1978, has done with such remarkable incompetence. It’ll be morbid to see how Hezbollah will react, now that it has all of the Arab world’s perverse sense of hero worship on its side. It isn’t exactly in Hezbollah’s interest to stop the fight. As long as Hezbollah is killing Jews, Hezbollah is happy. Judging from Israel’s proclivity for killing Arabs at a relatively steady 30-to-1 ratio, it’s also fair to say that as long as Israel is killing Arabs, Israel is—well, maybe not happy, but maybe less anguished.

So we truly are back in 1982 and 1983, with minor changes in the cast: An international force playing the role of sitting ducks, Israel playing the role of meddler in chief, the reigning Lebanese militia playing the role of spoiler, and as always, neighboring Arab or Persian regimes ensuring that the road to peace has their IEDs all over it. If the UN force manages to stay neutral, an enormous IF, maybe we’ll get a measure of peace for a while. That’s assuming the Israelis pull back entirely. That’s assuming the Syrians and Iranians don’t meddle. That’s assuming Hezbollah doesn’t think it won a mandate to wage its own perpetual war for perpetual peace. That’s assuming Lebanon isn’t a new Afghanistan, or a new Iraq, or an old Lebanon. That’s assuming that the rest of Lebanon doesn’t want to pay back Hezbollah for all the smash-up it incurred.

That’s a lot of assumptions on which to hinge a peace in a region so famous for making kebabs of cease-fires.

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