This week I had the pleasure to appear on American
radio, on the Laura Ingraham show, pitted against David Horowitz, who most recently
made his name under the banner of Campus Watch, leading McCarthyite witch-hunts
against American professors who have the impertinence to suggest that maybe,
just maybe, Arabs have minds and feelings like the rest of us.
It was a revealing experience, at least for a British journalist rarely exposed
to the depths of ignorance and prejudice in the United States on Middle East
matters – well, apart from the regular whackos who fill my e-mail in-tray. But
five minutes of listening to Horowitz speak, and the sympathy with which his
arguments were greeted by Laura ("The Professors – your book's a
great read, David"), left me a lot more frightened about the world's future.
Horowitz's response to every question, every development in the Middle East,
whether it concerns Lebanon, the Palestinians, Syria, or Iran, is the same:
"They want to drive the Jews into the sea." It's as simple as that.
Not even a superficial attempt at analysis; just the message that the Arab world
is trying to finish off the genocide started by Europe. And if Laura is any
yardstick, a lot of Americans buy that stuff.
Horowitz is keen to bang the square peg of the Lebanon story into the round
hole of his claims that the Jews are facing an imminent genocide in the Middle
East. And to help him, he and the massed ranks of U.S. apologists for Israel
– regulars, I suspect, of shows like Laura's – are promoting at least four myths
regarding Hezbollah's current rockets strikes on Israel. Unless they are challenged
at every turn, the danger is that they will win the ground war against common
sense in the U.S.
The first myth is that Israel was forced to pound Lebanon with its military
hardware because Hezbollah began "raining down" rockets on the Galilee.
Anyone with a short memory can probably recall this was not the first justification
we were offered: that had to do with the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah
on a border post on July 12.
But presumably Horowitz and his friends realized that 400 Lebanese dead and
counting in little more than a week was hard to sell as a "proportionate"
response. In any case, Hezbollah kept telling the world how keen it was to return
the soldiers in a prisoner swap.
Hundreds of dead in Lebanon, at least 1,000 severely injured, and more than
half a million refugees – all because Israel is not ready to sit down at the
negotiating table. Even Horowitz could not "advocate for Israel" on
So the chronology of war has been reorganized: now we are being told that Israel
was forced to attack Lebanon to defend itself from the barrage of Hezbollah
rockets falling on Israeli civilians. The international community is buying
the argument hook, line, and sinker. "Israel has the right to defend itself,"
says every politician who can find a microphone to talk into.
But, if we cast our minds back, that is not how the "Middle East crisis,"
as TV channels now describe it, started. It is worth recapping those early events
(and I won't document the long history of Lebanese suffering at Israel's hands
that preceded it) before they become entirely shrouded in the mythology being
peddled by Horowitz and others.
Early on July 12, Hezbollah launched a raid against an army border post, in
what was in the best interpretation a foolhardy violation of Israeli sovereignty.
In the fighting, the Shi'ite militia killed three soldiers and captured two
others, while Hezbollah fired a few mortars at border areas in what the Israeli
army described at the time as "diversionary tactics." As a result
of the shelling, five Israelis were "lightly injured," with most needing
treatment for shock, according to the Ha'aretz newspaper.
Israel's immediate response was to send a tank into Lebanon in pursuit of the
Hezbollah fighters (its own foolhardy violation of Lebanese sovereignty). The
tank ran over a land mine, which exploded, killing four soldiers inside. Another
soldier died in further clashes inside Lebanon as his unit tried to retrieve
Rather than open diplomatic channels to calm the violence down and start the
process of getting its soldiers back, Israel launched bombing raids deep into
Lebanese territory the same day. Given Israel's worldview that it alone has
a right to project power and fear, that might have been expected.
But the next day Israel continued its rampage across the south and into Beirut,
where the airport, roads, bridges, and power stations were pummeled. We now
know from reports in the U.S. media that the Israeli army had been planning
such a strike against Lebanon for at least a year.
In contrast to the image of Hezbollah frothing at the mouth to destroy Israel,
its leader Hassan Nasrallah held off from serious retaliation. For the first
day and a half, he limited his strikes to the northern borders areas, which
have faced Hezbollah attacks in the past and are well protected.
He waited till late on July 13 before turning his guns on Haifa, even though
we now know he could have targeted Israel's third largest city from the outset.
A small volley of rockets directed at Haifa caused no injuries and looked more
like a warning than an escalation.
It was another three days – days of constant Israeli bombardment of Lebanon,
destroying the country and injuring countless civilians – before Nasrallah hit
Haifa again, including a shell that killed eight workers in a railway depot.
No one should have been surprised. Nasrallah was doing exactly what he had
threatened to do if Israel refused to negotiate and chose the path of war instead.
Although the international media quoted his ominous televised message that "Haifa
is just the beginning," Nasrallah in fact made his threat conditional on
Israel's continuing strikes against Lebanon. In the same speech he warned: "As
long as the enemy pursues its aggression without limits and red lines, we will
pursue the confrontation without limits and red lines." Well, Israel did,
and so now has Nasrallah.
The second myth is that Hezbollah's stockpile of 12,000 rockets – the Israeli
army's estimate – poses an existential threat to Israel. According to Horowitz
and others, Hezbollah collected its armory with the sole intent of destroying
the Jewish state.
If this really was Hezbollah's intention in amassing the weapons, it has a
very deluded view of what is required to wipe Israel off the map. More likely,
it collected the armory in the hope that it might prove a deterrence – even
if a very inadequate one, as Lebanon is now discovering – against a repeat of
Israel's invasions of 1978 and 1982, and the occupation that lasted nearly two
In fact, according to other figures supplied by the Israeli army, at least
2,000 Hezbollah rockets have already been fired into Israel while the army's
bombardments have so far destroyed a further 2,000 rockets. In other words,
northern Israel has already received a fifth of Hezbollah's arsenal. As someone
living in the north, and within range of the rockets, I have to say Israel does
not look close to being expunged. The Galilee may be emptier, as up to a third
of Israeli Jews seek temporary refuge in the south, but Israel's existence is
in no doubt at all.
The third myth is that, while Israel is trying to fight a clean war by targeting
only terrorists, Hezbollah prefers to bring death and destruction on innocents
by firing rockets at Israeli civilians.
It is amazing that this myth even needs exploding, but after the efforts of
Horowitz and co. it most certainly does. As the civilian death toll in Lebanon
has rocketed, international criticism of Israel has remained at the mealy-mouthed
level of diplomatic requests for "restraint" and "proportionate
One need only cast a quick eye over the casualty figures from this conflict
to see that if Israel is targeting only Hezbollah fighters it has been making
disastrous miscalculations. So far some 400 Lebanese civilians are reported
dead – unfortunately for Horowitz's story, at least a third of them are children.
From the images coming out of Lebanon's hospitals, many more children have survived
but with terrible burns or disabling injuries.
The best estimates, though no one knows for sure, are that Hezbollah deaths
are not yet close to the three-figures range.
In the latest emerging news from Lebanon, human rights groups are accusing
Israel of violating international law and using cluster grenades, which kill
indiscriminately. There are reports too, so far unconfirmed, that Israel has
been firing illegal incendiary bombs.
Conversely, the breakdown of the smaller number of deaths of Israelis at the
hands of Hezbollah – 42 at the time of writing – show that more soldiers have
been killed than civilians.
In fact, although no one is making the point, Hezbollah's rockets have been
targeted overwhelming at strategic locations: the northern economic hub of Haifa,
its satellite towns, and the array of military sites across the Galilee.
Nasrallah seems fully aware that Israel has an impressive civil defense program
of shelters that keep most civilians out of harm's way. Unlike Horowitz, I won't
presume to read Nasrallah's mind: whether he wants to kill large numbers of
Israeli civilians or not cannot be known, given his inability to do so.
But we can see from the choice of the sites he is striking that his primary
goal is to give Israelis a small taste of the disruption of normal life that
is being endured by the Lebanese. He has effectively closed Haifa for more than
a week, shutting its port and financial centers. Israeli TV is speaking increasingly
of the damage being inflicted on the country's economy.
Because of Israel's press censorship laws, it is impossible to discuss the
locations of Israel's military installations. But Hezbollah's rockets are accurate
enough to show that many are intended for the army's sites in the Galilee, even
if they are rarely precise enough to hit them.
It is obvious to everyone in Nazareth, for example, that the rockets landing
close by, and once on, the city over the past week are searching out, and some
have fallen extremely close to, the weapons factory sited near us.
Hezbollah seems to have as little concern for the collateral damage of civilian
deaths as Israel – each wants the balance of terror in its favor – but it is
nonsense to suggest that Hezbollah's goals are any more ignoble than Israel's.
It is trying to dent the economy of northern Israel in retaliation for Israel's
total destruction of the Lebanese economy. Equally, it is trying to show Israel
that it knows where its military installations are to be found. Both strategies
appear to be having an impact, even if a minor one, on weakening Israeli resolve.
The fourth myth is a continuation of the third: Hezbollah has been endangering
the lives of ordinary Lebanese by hiding among noncombatants.
We have seen this kind of dissembling by Israel and Horowitz before, though
not repeated so enthusiastically by Western officials. The UN head of humanitarian
affairs, Jan Egeland, who is in the region, accused Hezbollah of "cowardly
blending" among the civilian population, and a similar accusation was leveled
by the British Foreign Minister Kim Howells when he arrived in Israel.
In 2002, Israel made the same charge: that Palestinians resisting its army's
rampage through the refugee camps of the West Bank were hiding among civilians.
The claim grew louder as more Palestinian civilians showed the irritating habit
of getting in the way of Israeli strikes against population centers. The complaints
reached a crescendo when at least two dozen civilians were killed in Jenin as
Israel razed the camp with Apache helicopters and Caterpillar bulldozers.
The implication of Egeland's cowardly statement seems to be that any Lebanese
fighter, or Palestinian one, resisting Israel and its powerful military should
stand in an open field, his rifle raised to the sky, waiting to see who fares
worse in a shoot-out with an Apache helicopter or F-16 fighter jet. Hezbollah's
reluctance to conduct the war in this manner, we are supposed to infer, is proof
that they are terrorists.
Egeland and Howells need reminding that Hezbollah's fighters are not aliens
recently arrived from training camps in Iran, whatever Horowitz claims. They
belong to and are strongly supported by the Shi'ite community, nearly half the
country's population, and many other Lebanese. They have families, friends,
and neighbors living alongside them in the country's south and the neighborhoods
of Beirut who believe Hezbollah is the best hope of defending their country
from Israel's regular onslaughts.
Given the indigenous nature of Hezbollah's resistance, we should not be surprised
at the lengths the Shi'ite militia is going to ensure their loved ones, and
the Lebanese people more generally, are not put directly in danger by their
If only the same could be said of the Israeli army and air force. One need
only look at the images of the victims of its strikes against residential neighborhoods,
cars, ambulances, and factories to see why most of the dead being extracted
from the rubble are civilians.
And finally, there is a fifth myth I almost forgot to mention. That people
like David Horowitz only want to tell us the truth…