Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Very Good article from Jonathan Cook

*How "Indiscriminate" is Hezbollah's Shelling?*

*Hypocrisy and the Clamor Against Hizbullah *

*By JONATHAN COOK*

Nazareth.

*A* reader recently emailed to ask if anyone else was suggesting, as I havedone, that Hizbullah's rocket fire may not be quite as indiscriminate or maliciously targeted at Israeli civilians as is commonly assumed. I had to admit that I have been ploughing a lonely furrow on this one. Still, that is no reason in itself to join everyone else, even if the consensus includes
every mainstream commentator as well as groups such as Human Rights Watch.
First, let us get my argument straight. I have not claimed that Hizbullah targets only military sites or that it never aims at civilians. According to the Israeli army, more than 3,300 rockets have hit Israel over the past four weeks. How can I know, or even claim to know, where all those rockets have landed, or know what the Hizbullah operatives who fired each rocket intended to hit? I have never made such claims.
What I have argued instead is twofold. First, we cannot easily know what Hizbullah is trying to hit because Israel has located most of its army camps, weapons factories and military installations near or inside civilian communities. If a Hizbullah rocket slams into an Israeli town with a weapons factory, should we count that as an attack on civilians or on a military site?
The claim being made against Hizbullah in Lebanon -- that it is "cowardly blending" with civilians, according to the UN's Jan Egeland -- can, in truth, be made far more convincingly of the Israeli army. While there has been little convincing evidence that Hizbullah is firing its rocket from towns and villages in south Lebanon, or that its fighters are hiding there among civilians, it can be known beyond a shadow of a doubt that Israeli army camps and military installations are based in northern Israeli communities.
An obvious point that no one seems to be making -- and given a news blackout that lasted several hours, Israel clearly hoped no one *would *make -- is that the 12 soldiers who were killed on Sunday in Kfar Giladi by a Hizbullah rocket were, under Egeland's definition, "cowardly blending" with the civilian population of that community. We know there are still civilians in Giladi because their response to the rocket barrage was quoted in the Israeli media.
My second claim was that Israel's military censor is preventing foreign journalists based in Israel, myself included, from discussing where Hizbullah rockets are landing, and what they may be aimed at. Under the censorship rules, It is impossible to mention any issue that touches on Israeli security or defense matters: the location of military installations, for example, cannot be divulged. It is arguable whether it would actually be possible to report a Hizbullah strike that hit a military site inside Israel.
I therefore have to tread carefully in what I say next, relying on information that is already publicly available, but which at least challenges the simplistic view that Hizbullah is firing rockets either indiscriminately or willfully to kill civilians. I draw on two pieces of coverage provided by BBC World.
On Tuesday, the BBC's Katya Adler reported from the northern community of Kiryat Shmona, which has taken the heaviest pounding from Hizbullah rockets and from which many of the local residents have fled over the past month. As she stood on a central street describing the difficult conditions under which the remaining families were living, she had to shout over the rythmic bark of what sounded like an Israeli tank close by firing into Lebanon. She made no mention of what was doing the firing -- and given the censorship laws, my assumption is she cannot. But it does raise the question of how much of a civilian target Kiryat Shmona really is.
Consider also this. Throughout the four weeks of fighting, the BBC have had a presenter and film crew at the top of an area of Haifa known as the Panorama, above the beautiful Bahia Gardens. As the name suggests, from there the film crew have had an unrestricted view of the port and docks below and the wide arc of heavily developed shoreline that stretches up to
Acre.
The spot where the BBC presenters have been standing, telling us regularly that they can hear the wail of sirens warning Haifa's residents to head for the shelters, is in the centre of this sprawling ridge-top city, in one of the most heavily built up and inhabited areas of Haifa. So why have the BBC's presenters been standing there calmly every day for weeks under the
barrage of rockets?
Because all the evidence suggests that Hizbullah has not been trying to hit the centre of Haifa, where it would be certain of inflicting high casualties, whether its rockets were on target or slightly adrift. Instead, as BBC presenters have repeatedly shown us, the overwhelming majority of rockets land either in the mostly-abandoned port area or fall short into the bay -- and on the odd occasion travel a little too far, as one did on Sunday landing on an Arab neighbourhood near the port and killing two inhabitants.
If Hizbullah's primary goal is to kill as many civilians as possible in Haifa, it seems to be going about it in a very strange manner indeed -- unless we are to believe that none of its rockets could be fired the extra 1km needed to hit central Haifa. Instead, as is clear from the view shown by BBC cameras, the port includes many sites far more "strategic" than the roads, bridges, milk factories and power stations Israel is destroying in Lebanon: it has the oil refinery, the naval docks and other installations that, yes, I cannot mention because of the censorship laws.
At the very least, we should concede to Hizbullah that it is not always targeting civilians, and very possibly is not mainly targeting civilians, which might in part explain the comparatively low Israeli civilian casualty figures.
That said, there are two valid criticisms, both made by Human Rights Watch, of Hizbullah's rocket fire -- though exactly the same or worse criticisms can be made of the Israeli army. Those, unlike HRW, who single out Hizbullah are being either disingenuous or hypocritical. One is that Hizbullah has filled many of its rockets with ballbearings. Most critics of Hizbullah take this as conclusive proof that the group's only intent is to kill and injure civilians. Anyone who has seen the damage done by a katyusha rocket will realise that it is not a very powerful weapon: it essentially punches a hole in whatever it hits. The biggest danger is from the shrapnel and from anything added -- like ballbearings -- that spray out on impact. The shrapnel can kill civilians nearby, of course, but it can also kill soldiers -- as we saw at Kfar Giladi -- and can puncture tanks containing flammable liquids like petrol, causing explosions.
The damage inflicted by the ballbearings is not in itself proof that Hizbullah is trying to kill Israeli civilians, any more than Israel's use of far more lethal cluster bombs is proof that it wants to kill Lebanese civilians. Both are acting according to the gruesome realities of war: they want to inflict as much damage as possible with each rocket strike. That is deplorable, but so is war.
The second criticism made by HRW is that because Hizbullah's rockets are rudimentary and lack sophisticated guidance systems they are as good as indiscriminate. That conclusion is wrong both logically and semantically. As I have tried to show, the rockets are mostly not indiscriminate (though presumably some misfire, as do Israeli missiles); rather, they are not
precise.
This, according to Human Rights Watch, still makes Hizbullah's rocket attacks war cimes. That may be true, but it of course also means Israel's missile strikes and bombardment of Lebanon are war crimes on the same or a greater scale. Hizbullah's strikes against civilians may be intentional or they may be the result of inaccurate guidance systems trying to hit military
targets. Israel's strikes against civilians are either intentional or the result of accurate guidance systems and very faulty, to the point of reckless, military intelligence.
Finally, what about the defense offered by Israel's supporters that its air force tries to avoid harming Lebanese civilians by leafletting them before an attack to warn them that they must leave? The argument's thrust is that only those who belong to Hizbullah or give it succor remain behind in south Lebanon and they are therefore legitimate targets. (It ignores, of course,
hundreds of civilians killed in areas that have not been leafletted or who were trying to flee, as ordered, when hit by an Israeli missile. )
Hizbullah, of course, has done precisely the same. In speeches, its leader Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly warned Israeli residents of areas like Haifa, Afula, Hadera and Tel Aviv that Hizbullah will hit these cities with rockets days before it has actually done so. Hizbullah can claim just as fairly that it has given Israelis fair warning of its attacks on civilian
communities, and that any who remain have only themselves to blame.
This debate is important because it will determine in the coming months and years who will be blamed by the international community -- and future historians -- for committing war crimes. Hizbullah deserves as fair a hearing as Israel, though at the moment it most certainly is not getting it.
Like every army in a war, Hizbullah may not acting in a humane manner. But it is demonstrably acting according to the same standards as the Israeli army -- and possibly, given Israel's siting of military targets in civilian areas, higher ones. The fact that the contrary view is almost universally held betrays our prejudices rather than anything about Hizbullah's acts.

*Jonathan Cook* is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His book, 'Blood and Religion: the Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State', is published by Pluto Press. His website is www.jkcook.net

18 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

Well, even the author notes that Hezbollah's actions "may" well be war crimes. In my view, both Nasrallah and Olmert are guilty of war crimes. As nuch as I despise Israeli actions in this conflict, Hezbollah cannot claim to be using military practices that are any more legitimate; they just haven't been as lethal.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one worst written articles of the war.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Frank said...

I think this is one of the most interesting articles of the war so far. The respective civilian/military death tolls of Hezbollah and the IDF show that the former are much more interested in targetting the military and the latter are much more interested in targetting civilians,

Good comment on the Observer website today -

"I'm yet to be convinced that the Israeli Army has launched any serious attacks on Hezbollah. I think the Israeli government made the decision a long time ago that Hezbollah was shaping up to be a renewed threat, but Tel Aviv they wasn't going to get sucked into occupying Southern Lebanon again. So the Israeli armed forces set out on a state policy of slaughtering Lebanese civilians until the West would be forced to stop the bloodshed by paying the military price for moving Hezbollah along."

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a good article. No one should be buying the Israeli propaganda.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Jaeger said...

The article is silly. Rocket artillery like the 122mm katyushas most commonly used by Hizb'Allah are unguided "area weapons". Professional militaries aim them at known troop concentrations in vast numbers and hope to hit an area something like a 1KM square. Soviet doctrine would call for a forward observer to spot the target and they would aim and fire volleys of 720 rockets at a time. "Aim" involves taking into account a lot of meteorological and topographic information and doing lots of math to aim the rockets. Even then to be really useful requires the observer to provide feedback on the rocket landings so that the aim for the next volleys would be more useful.

Used as Hizb'Allah uses them - in small numbers and in shoot-and-scoot tactics because they'd be dead if they tried to reload and re-aim - they are essentially useless military weapons. Sure, they might aim some in the general direction of an air or army base hoping for a lucky hit on something but the idea that they could aim for a fuel tank or a ship in the harbor with these weapons is silliness.

But for the record, if they have reason to believe that there are troops massing in Metula, then yes, firing them into Metula would be a legitimate military activity. But it's really a stretch to suggest that firing into the general vicinity of Haifa is legitimate because scattered around Haifa are legitimate targets that you have no reasonable expectation of hitting with these weapons.

2:22 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

Your analysis is spot on Jaeger - the rockets really are nothing but a terror weapon. But is that really the issue? I don't think any serious military person would disagree - including whoever is "aiming" them for hezbollah.

How best to get rid of them is the real question, isn't it? And don't all thoughtful military persons agree that the Lebanese government is not able to do that? Even now the Israeli government insists that Lebanon cannot disarm or control Hezbollah. Then what is the point of bombing Beirut and the rest of Lebanon? Would it not be wiser to simply call Lebanon, tell them Israel would like to land troops at the airport and go from there south to clean the place out? Or get an "international force" to do it. As it is now, the Hezbollah is still there firing rockets and Israel is saying it must broaden it's invasion even while the clock ticks toward a "cease fire."

Doesn't Israel and the US at some point have to say "enough" and figure a way to work WITH the Lebanese government instead of bombing the Lebanese?

Or, of course, the US and Israel could erase Iran and Syria. Couldn't they?

3:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hcb, you confuse me. Can you spell out your view on this hwole thing?

4:48 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

Sure - in brief: Israel says they have to eliminate Hezbollah as a threat so they invade Lebanon. But that can't work becaue Hezbollah has been fortifying and preparing for this for years. For reasons I don't yet understand, Israel decides to destroy the airport, bridges, fuel, gas stations - all over Lebanon. But that doesn't work either - Hezbollah continues firing rockets. Meanwhile, Bush and Olmert seem to agree there is no chance the Lebanese Army can possibly disarm Hezbollah without a lot of help - even after thirty days of bombing and Army attacks. And, they seem to agree the rockets are coming from Iran via Syria. I think they agree Hezbollah really is Iran and Syria's proxy and that's why they are supplying the Hezbollah. And, I think everyone pretty well agrees the US is the key to Israel's invasion - without the arms and other materiel as well as money and political cover in the UN and the world, Israel would not have been able to do what it did. Finally, it's pretty clear this thing didn't start because two soldiers were captured. That was the trigger but it's quite a stretch to say calling up and moving 30,000 troops with the attendant dramatic cost to the Israeli economy and the incredible bombing is all because Israel just wants two soldiers back.

So - Israel knew before they started that Lebanon couldn't do what they say they should have done - disarm Hezbollah. Israel knew before they started what they now say - that Hezbollah is really a state within a state. That being the case, there were many ways the situation could have been handled other than the utter destruction that's been visited on Lebanon. Thus, I conclude, the idea was to show Syria and Iran what could happen to THEM if Israel looses its military in their direction. I reach that conclusion because, although I think Israel is evil, I don't think Israel is stupid. If the idea wasn't to impress Iran and Syria, then nothing at all has been accomplished with the loss of life, the enormous destruction, the devastating effect on Lebanon and the detrimental effect on Israel economically and in the eyes of the world.

And, thus, I say, why just try to impress Iran and Syria? If we know Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons and we know Iran and Syria is behind the Hezbollah, why destroy Lebanon? Why not go to the heart of the matter and destroy Iran and Syria?

I don't mean that I agree with that approach. But I wonder why destroying Lebanon was favored over destroying what Bush and Olmert think is the REAL evil in the area.

5:09 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

Oh - and I should have said, the way to handle it if the idea was simply to get rid of Hezbollah and help Lebanon take control of its country, was to call Lebanon, tell them the idea of helping, airlift soldiers to Beirut and then attack south. That's apparently what Israel thinks the Lebanese Army should have done. Maybe if Israel had helped in that way, the job would have been done. Hezbollah would have been caught between a hammer and an anvil - stationary troops on the border and assault troops coming from their north. Then we'd have seen what, if anything, the Hezbollah sponsors would have done.

5:14 AM  
Anonymous i care said...

I question also hcb. Please clarify your view. We must remember this entire cycle of violence began 1948 with Stern and Irgan gangs pushing Palestinians from their homes. This is a fact. Since you are a lawyer, do you receive theABA Journal, the lawyers magazine? Check the archive issue Dec 2000, for an article on the "Dispossessed" refugees. Now back to your view above: "how best to get rid of them(Hez)? Hmmm, as a lawyer do you not ask how they were created? Isreals autrocities started long before Hez and Hamas. They were born from Isreali autrocities done toward them. You cannot "get rid of them". It is what it is. They are a resistance movement who have a right to exist. Just because America and Isreal call them a terrorist organization does not mean that they are. The fact that Isreal took years to comply with 425(they continued to fly in Lebanese airspace and the mossad known for targeted assassinations on Lebanese soil so they did not really comply) does not give them the right to point the finger at the Lebanese govt. Anyway, what right do we have to say the Lebanese do not have right to obtain arms from Iran and Syria! We were sending arms to Isreal and they used them in ways against International Law and our Arms Export Control Act. A great book for every American to read is "Deliberate Deceptions" by Paul Findley. He gives a wealth of facts against many myths we are fed as Americans. As an attorney I thought I might interest you in information regarding law and the situation.

5:38 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

Oh - I do understand you, I Care. And I don't disagree. You are completely correct - the problems started in 1948 - actually, I thought, 1947. I also am aware that Israel has required armed force for its survival ever since. And I'm aware of its zionist roots.

But the immediate problem is the invasion. I don't think anyone right now is willing to even talk about the root causes or what - if anything - to do about them. My question about why not bomb Iran and Syria was rhetorical, in a fashion. The reason really is obvious - it would be an enormous war. But that fact illuminates what I think is wrong about the way the invasion was handled. If the problem REALLY was, as it's described, Hezbollah, then there were other, better, far less destructive ways to handle it. And perhaps by handling it in a way that was not so destructive, it could have created a friendship or partnership between the now warring parties. Perhaps not.

The problems to which you refer are far more complex in their solution than this one. They require, just to begin their solution, a political decision within Lebanon on just who they want to be. Hezbollah is part of that right now. Is that the future? If so, then the route to solution of the larger problems is very different than if Hezbollah is not part of Lebanon's government. I don't mean to say one way is right and the other not. I mean simply to say there is a dramatic difference.

It's none of mine or the world's business how Lebanon runs itself. Until it interferes with how other countries run themselves. Like it or not, right or wrong, Israel is a country, it is there and it does not appear to be leaving any time in our lifetimes. Whatever solution to the larger problems to which you allude, that fact must be taken into account. And it certainly appears there can be no real "solution" to the problem if the only way to get there is by force of arms.

5:51 AM  
Anonymous i care said...

hcb, Scholary plans do not work, look at Condis "New Middle East." Everyone has a plan. They have for years. The simple fact is since 1948 the transplanted Zionist Jews have created this for themselves. Do you not recognize the arrogance of the the Isreali spokespeople. I will tell you it is dispicable their lies. I know, my inlaws live in Lebanon and are shia's. There are many jews who do not think Isreal is reflecting the Torahs word. As long as one humiliates a population they create this hatred toward them. Isreali government at some point must admit their shortcomings and take accountability. As an American, 14 years ago I had no idea about the middle east, etc. until I went to Lebanon, experianced an Isreali jets indiscriminate bombing. I returned and started reading and uncovering so much information it made me SICK. You might also check out Washington report on Mid East Affairs magazine.

6:01 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

What Rice said reflects hers and the administration's lack of understanding of just what you're talking about. It also reflects the attitude of this country in its decision to meddle instead of mediate. I don't think anyone here understands anything about Shia or Sunni or the history of the mideast anymore than we could expect a Shia to understand southern democrats. We should NOT be involving ourselves militarily in any fashion - I believe that sincerely. AND, we should not be supporting either side in this or any other war there militarily. But there are some unfortunate facts that can't be ignored. The first is oil and the second is the makeup of our political system. I'm sure you understand both.

I don't think mine is a "scholarly" approach unless by that you mean the only real way to handle the thing is to evict Israel from the mideast. So long as the hatreds run so deep, that may be the only solution. But assuming that is not going to happen, my contention is that the sides don't have to love each other or even like one another. They need to respect each other and respect the fact that unending warfare produces only grief and despair. It's been done in other places - Ireland, for example. The southern United States, for another example. The real solution comes when both sides - or all sides - recognize the realities. And then demonstrate their respect for each other. That means no lying and no trickery. Then the problems can be aired openly and resolved or not. If they cannot, I don't know the resolution of the impasse. But for now, at least, I don't think there has been any attempt by anyone to genuinely understand each other. The evidence is all over the area - even in this blog. But there are good people on both sides. Here - look at this Israeli site: Look at the "who we are" and the videos. http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/index_en.asp

Each side has genuine reasons to hate and despise. And those reasons will continue to exist and increase every day until something happens to cause the sides to come together honestly and with respect to talk. At least that is what I think as a complete outsider who has no training in or special knowledge of the area or its people.

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Galilee boy in Siren-land said...

Nasralla just scarified Lebanon and u wonder if he targets civilians?
How warped the Arab mind?
He destroyed Lebanon for Samir Kuntar who murdered a 4 yr old girl in Israel.
Was it worth it?

2:05 PM  
Blogger HCB said...

Here's the point - from an MSNBC article this morning. The question I have asked is why, if it's really Iran and Syria who are behind it, why does Israel attack Lebanon?

The Israeli military also dropped leaflets on central Beirut early Monday, warning it would retaliate for any attack launched against it from Lebanon.

One leaflet said Hezbollah serves the interests of its Iranian and Syrian patrons and has “brought destruction, Lebanon against the State of Israel.” Addressed to Lebanon’s citizens, it said, “Will you be able to pay this price again?”

3:20 PM  
Blogger HCB said...

Here's the point - from an MSNBC article this morning. The question I have asked is why, if it's really Iran and Syria who are behind it, why does Israel attack Lebanon?

The Israeli military also dropped leaflets on central Beirut early Monday, warning it would retaliate for any attack launched against it from Lebanon.

One leaflet said Hezbollah serves the interests of its Iranian and Syrian patrons and has “brought destruction, Lebanon against the State of Israel.” Addressed to Lebanon’s citizens, it said, “Will you be able to pay this price again?”

3:20 PM  

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