A Process of Change – Nasrallah to Petraeus
It’s important to remember that Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches consist of more than mere rhetoric. One of the reasons for Nasrallah’s enormous popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds is that, unlike other Arab leaders, he says what he means and means what he says. Hizbullah is the only force to have defeated Israel – once in 2000, when the brutal occupation of south Lebanon was brought to an end, and once in 2006, when Israeli troops attempted to reinvade in order to dismantle the resistance, but bled on the border for five weeks instead. During the 2006 war Israel bombed every TV mast it could find, but failed to put Hizbullah’s al-Manar off the air. Nasrallah spoke on al-Manar of “the Israeli warship that attacked our infrastructure, people’s homes and civilians. Look at it burn!” As Nasrallah uttered these words, a Hizbullah missile did indeed disable an Israeli warship, forcing Israel to move its fleet away from the Lebanese coast.
In mid-February 2010, Shaikh Nasrallah made a speech which may well mark a fundamental change in the Middle Eastern balance of power. The speech, quoted below, should not be read as a string of empty threats, but a signal of new weaponry and fighting capabilities.
“In August 2009, we told them that if you hit Dahiyeh, we’ll hit Tel Aviv, that we long for war but we do not want it. We have to know that the real concentration of Israelis stretches from south of Haifa to south of Tel Aviv, at a 15-kilometer deep line to the east. The bulk of residents are there, and so are oil refineries and factories and practically everything. They might think that they can destroy buildings in Dahiyeh and that we can barely puncture a few of their buildings. No. If you destroy buildings in Dahiyeh, we’ll demolish buildings in Tel Aviv.
“When Israel found that there was nothing that could demoralize the resistance, they threatened the Lebanese government and people that they would destroy the infrastructure. Just as we have infrastructure, there is infrastructure in occupied Palestine. We have one airport and they have many airports; we have a few electricity stations and they have huge electricity stations; they have many oil refineries and we have a few. The Israeli infrastructure is much greater than ours and therefore I tell them the following: If you strike martyr Rafiq Hariri’s international airport in Beirut, we’ll strike your Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. If you hit our ports, we will hit your ports. If you attack our refineries or factories, we’ll bomb your refineries and factories. Today, on this occasion, I announce and accept this challenge. As people, army, and resistance, we are capable of protecting our country and we do not need anyone in this world to do this for us. This is how we face threats: with more threats, not with retreat, not with fear, but with steadfastness and threats. We have never sought war but we have the responsibility to defend our country and to stand firm on our land.”
When, later in February, Hillary Clinton suggested that Syria should “begin to move away from the relationship with Iran” in return for the appointment of an American ambassador to Damascus, Bashaar al-Asad responded thus:
“We must have understood Clinton wrong because of a bad translation or our limited understanding, so we signed the agreement to cancel the visas (between Syria and Iran). I find it strange that they (the Americans) talk about Middle East stability and peace and the other beautiful principles, and then call for two countries to move away from each other.”
Rather than distancing herself from Iran, Syria held a tripartite summit in Damascus between al-Asad, Ahmadinejad, and Nasrallah. Ahmedinejad made the most dramatic statement:
“I say to them that the new Middle East is in a process of change … I call on the Zionists to return to their senses and to recognize the legitimate rights of the people of the region, to respect them and to understand that if they continue to go down the wrong path which they have traveled in the past, there will be no place for them in our region.
“The news indicates that they are about to repeat their past mistakes. President Asad and I know it, the Syrian and Iranian people as well as the other people of our region know it … if the Zionist entity wants to repeat its mistakes once again, such a move will lead to its inevitable demise. This time all the people of the region, particularly the people of Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, and all others will stand against this entity.”
President Ahmadinejad is by no means as reliable a speaker as Hassan Nasrallah, yet it would be foolish to dismiss his words. The Damascus summit was obviously designed to counter Israeli threats against Lebanon, Syria and, especially, Iran’s nuclear programme, by solidifying the Resistance Front. The inclusion of Iraq in the list was interesting. It is highly unlikely that the Iraqi regime, still partially dependent on American support, would join the fight, so Ahmadinejad may have been referring to Iranian troops or allied militia attacking American bases in Iraq. His words may also signal a Syrian-Iranian compromise on Iraq. Syria wants a secular, non-sectarian Iraqi government which will build bridges to former Ba’athists. Iran supports aggressively Shia parties.
Increasingly independent Turkey is not party to the Resistance Front, but is closely aligned with both Syria and Iran, and is investing heavily in Iraq. Not long ago Israel was assured of Turkish friendship. The times are changing.
This month we have witnessed a lover’s tiff between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations. I’m not particularly excited by this – Obama is not going to put any real pressure on Israel – but I am very excited by the context. General Petraeus reported to Admiral Michael Mullin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardising US standing in the region … and could cost American lives.” In other words, the US military has made it clear that Israeli and American interests are not identical, that Israel is in fact a liability for the United States. This is obvious, but it’s still significant that the military has decided to make this reasonably public political intervention now, as the US-client dictatorships in the Middle East fade further into irrelevance.
If anyone has the clout to turn the tide against the Israel lobby in the US, it’s the military. There will be a gradual realignement and increasing pressure on Israel to accept a real two-state solution. As time passes, Americans will see Israel blocking American policies again and again.
Thanks to the military, to Mearsheimer and Walt’s work, and to the expanding reach of alternative media, the mainstream media will become much less scared of the Israel lobby. This change is already visible, and has been visible since the 2008/2009 Gaza massacre. Meanwhile, an international anti-Zionist movement, comprising Jews as well as Muslims and voices from the right as well as the left, is growing. Israel’s Reut Institute told the Israeli government that this “delegitimisation network” could soon become an “existential threat.” The Reut Institute found the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign particularly worrying, and made its own sinister threat in response, recommending that Israel “sabotage network catalysts.”
I think it’s already too late for a viable two-state solution. I may be wrong. If I’m not wrong, then apartheid Israel in the future will not have automatic backing from the West. As pressure for a one-state solution based on rights and equality builds, Israel will also face much stronger, better organised resistance in the larger Middle East. I’m not saying anything’s going to happen tomorrow, and I’m certainly not saying that America is about to rescue the Arabs. What I am saying is that these are interesting times, and that if I were a Zionist I’d be very worried indeed.