the standards of recent conflicts the Lebanese 'war' is
still a small affair. By Sunday evening, after three weeks
of fighting, the Israelis had killed somewhat over a thousand
Lebanese civilians and wounded three times as many. Hezbollah
had killed 95 Israelis and injured 700. But two features
of this conflict make it unique, and bode ill for the
future of the world.
is the first time that that a state has deliberately declared
war on a civilian population in order to force compliance
by its government. It is also the first time that permanent
members of the UN Security Council have applauded the
action instead of censuring it, and used their veto power
to prolong the war instead of terminating it. Thus has
every norm of behaviour upon which the post-war international
order was built at San Francisco in 1945 been turned on
is not a willing, or for that matter the only sinner.
The Hezbollah has been doing this for some time, because
its rockets are simply too inaccurate to do anything else.
Israel also claims that it is hitting civilian areas only
because Hezbollah is using these as human shields for
its offices, storage sites, and rocket launchers. But
there is a critically important difference between Hezbollah
and Israel. The latter is a modern state, and signatory
to a host of treaties and conventions that specifically
prohibit attacking another state except in self-defence
and make attacks upon civilians a war crime. However reluctantly
it has done so, Israel has breached all of these. And
instead of censuring it the self-appointed keepers of
the international order have encouraged it to continue
to do so.
western world's insensitivity to civilian casualties has
not developed suddenly. Two world wars and a holocaust
within the span of 30 years have numbed human beings to
mass slaughter. As a result, the distinction between civilians
and combatants has slowly been whittled away. The end
of the Second World War saw several attacks that were
intended to kill only civilians in order to terrorise
the opponent into surrender. The most infamous of these
were the fire-bombing of Dresden, and the dropping of
the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the principle
that war was fought only between armed forces was reaffirmed
after the Second World War and nations continued to draft
and sign treaties that proscribed the targeting of civilians
as a weapon of war.
This dividing line has now been erased altogether by Israel.
In three weeks of bombing it has destroyed roads, airports,
bridges, overpasses, power stations, transmission towers,
oil storage tanks and just about everything else that
pilots in search of targets to drop bombs upon, can think
of. It has paralysed Lebanon's transport system, and cut
off the power supply that is necessary to sustain daily
life. Essential services such as hospitals are now being
run on diesel generators. But the oil is running out.
oil from bombed storage tanks is flowing into the sea
and now forms a 200km long, 50km wide oil slick along
the Lebanese coast. This is not only an environmental
disaster but will kill the local tourism and fishing industries
upon which the bulk of the Lebanese depend for their livelihood.
Worst of all, the transport system has been destroyed
just when crops are ready to be harvested. These are rotting
in the fields and on the vines. A third of Lebanon's population
therefore faces destitution. It took 15 years of civil
war from 1975 to 1990 to reduce Lebanon's per capita income
by two thirds. Israel has done it in 21 days.
Israel's claim that it is targeting only the Hezbollah,
and that civilian casualties in Lebanon are a tragic byproduct
is not sustained by its behaviour. Two oil tankers, which
are hovering offshore, cannot come in because Israel refuses
to give the minimum assurance of safety for their insurance
companies to insure the ships. Israel has so far given
no indication of willingness to allow international agencies
to tackle the oil slick. It also initially refused to
create safe corridors or declare temporary cease fires
to allow food and medicines to be delivered to the people
trapped inside the combat zone.
the most damning evidence that it is deliberately targeting
the civilian population comes not from Lebanon but Gaza
where, in January, it decided to starve and terrorise
an entire people into throwing out the government they
had elected. The plight of Gaza has not received the media
attention that it deserves, but is even more desperate
than Lebanon's threatens to become.
has cut off its tax revenues, blockaded its coast, closed
the crossing points for Palestinian workers with jobs
in Israel, and is bombing and shelling large parts of
its cities into rubble. With few jobs and even less income,
Palestinians have sunk into an absolute destitution that
few people in the rest of the world can imagine. Power
has almost ceased to flow, the food shops are empty and
life-saving medicines are harder to come by than gold.
What Israel is doing to Gaza is akin to keeping a lion
in a cage and then starving it to death.
Israel is not doing this because its people are evil or
uncaring, but out of a growing desperation that borders
on panic. Its policy makers cannot but be aware that they
have taken the wrong track. In Gaza the denial of revenues
has made the moderate Palestinian Authority impotent,
even as its economic and military onslaught on the population
has transferred power from the parliamentary wing of Hammas
to its Syria-based military wing.
attack on Lebanon has turned the Hezbollah into heroes
even for its Christians. According to an opinion poll
carried out under difficult circumstances earlier this
week, 85 per cent of the Lebanese now support it, against
50 per cent before the war. Three weeks of war does not
seem to have dented the Hezbollah's fighting capacity
the rain of rockets on Northern Israel had doubled.
It is also a safe bet that the supply of arms from Iran
through Syria and of volunteers from all over the Arab
world has not dwindled.
and the entire Arab League have rejected it's bid, through
a US-crafted Security Council resolution to allow it to
stay in South Lebanon, till its troops can be replaced
by an international peace-keeping force. In any case,
as numerous experts have pointed out, even an international
force will be able to do nothing if Hezbollah does not
what if Hezbollah does not cooperate? Should Israel widen
its attack to include southern Syria or should it and
the US go straight for the 'head of the snake' and bomb
Iran back into the Stone Age. By now even Israeli children
should have learned that all that will do is to destroy
the Syrian and Iranian states and enlarge the area in
which guerrillas are being recruited and sheltered from
Afghanistan to Lebanon.
truth is that Israel cannot achieve peace by waging war.
This may have been possible when civilians could fight
only with knives and muskets. But the revolution in military
science has empowered the guerrilla far more than it has
empowered the state. The only way to counter an insurgency
or fight a terrorist / guerrilla war is to seek political
accommodation with its more moderate elements to isolate
readiness to cease its attacks if the Israeli army withdraws
and is replaced by the Lebanese army backed by an augmented
UN peacekeepers' force, may only be a tactical ploy, but
it can open the only road that remains towards peace.
get on it Israel needs to signal its willingness to change
tack unequivocally. One way would be to announce that
it will accept the Lebanese proposal and simultaneously
lift its blockade on Gaza if both Hezbollah and Hamas
agree to a long-term cease fire. This will immediately
shift Arab pressure from Israel to Hamas and Hezbollah.
Syria and Iran are likely to urge restraint. The resulting
cessation of hostilities will give time for wounds to
heal. That may, in time, open other roads to peace
The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former
editor of the Hindustan Times,
The Economic Times and The Financial Express,
and a former information adviser to the prime minister
of India. He is the author of several books including,
The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy
of Reform in Russia, India and China, and
Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a
regular columnist with several leading publications.
author's articles can be read at www.premshankarjha.com)
articles by Prem Shankar Jha