The Imposed War

The Imposed War

A few years ago, while doing some research at my university's library, I stumbled across a series of large books published by the Iranian Defense Ministry, entitled "The Imposed War." Leafing through these folios, I caught a stunning glimpse of what government propaganda looks like. Nicely bound, written in English, Arabic and Farsi, and with expansive color images, the books told the story of the Iran-Iraq War, that eight-year conflict that resulted in so much misery, death, destruction, and little gains by way of warfare.

Since then, I've occasionally gone back to look at those volumes, always remembering the title and how the writers (I'm sure there was more than one) took the single theme of an imposed, unjust war on an innocent people, that inflicted horrid damage. It's a well-known fact that Saddam Hussein's Iraq used chemical weapons against the Iranians, lobbing missiles at Teheran and other Iranian cities. The photographs in these folios were unsparing, brutal, and not for the faint of heart. What struck me the most where the pictures of family members, in those large, oversized frames that I find quite often in the Muslim world of the Middle East. The portraits are never usually a standard 8 x 11, but oversized and arresting. Seeing images of loved ones who died in the fighting or in a bombardment made me feel for the suffering of these people, even though we Americans had been reared to dislike (if not outright hate) the Iranian government since the taking of the American embassy in 1979.

So we flash forward several years since I found those books stuffed in between other forgotten volumes to the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon. The destruction is horrible, as is the image of scores of Lebanese leaving their villages and towns, hemmed in by airstrikes in the south and the north of the country. There seems to be no way out of Lebanon, what with the main highway with Syria destroyed and the Beirut airport a target. It's a scene of utter horror and devastation.

It seems that we have an imposed war unfolding before us, and the ambiguity of that phrase is deliberate. For the Israelis, their military strikes were provoked by Hizbullah's brazen abduction of two Israeli soldiers in the north of the country, and the killing of several others to accomplish that goal. (And it begs the question, what was the point of that operation? It's a small query that no one in the media seems to be asking.) Suddenly, according to the Israelis, they were engaged in a two-front war: the ongoing siege of Gaza to retrieve another kidnapped soldier, and now the Lebanese border coming alive. Not only flying from Gaza, but longer-range weapons appearing over northern Israel and striking, for the first time, the port city of Haifa.

It's a curious thing that another question left unasked by the media is where Hizbullah is getting these weapons, which are far more sophisticated than the "regular" old Katyushah rockets used in the past. It's difficult to imagine that the Lebanese have been manufacturing these weapons and then giving them to Hizbullah. Israel maintains that the weaponry comes from Iran, and that Syria (not willing to lose any foothold on Lebanon) offers its own blessing. The Iranians, predictably, deny all of this, but this reads like a bad joke. (And it makes me think, if you hate Israel so much, why not admit you openly support a group fighting the "Zionist entity" with weapons loud and clear?) Israel has demanded that the Lebanese Army be deployed along the southern border, but of course, the Lebanese central authority is fairly weak. While Hizbullah has gone mainstream into politics in Lebanon, they control the south portion of the country and don't necessarily heed to what Beirut says. That alone poses a vexing problem that the Arabs want to avoid bringing up: how is that you have "resistance" organizations in your government that refuse to disband their armed wings? It's a sad case of having your cake and eating it, too.

So for the Israelis, they have an imposed war (seemingly) wrought by Iranian and Syrian puppet masters. Feeling besieged and finding regular rocket attacks on its northern cities unacceptable, the Israeli war machine strikes back and strikes hard, laying waste to Beirut and its environs, undoing so much of what was built up over the last decade. And we get to see the pictures of families being killed as they attempt to flee, along with Israeli families huddled in shelters with frightening rocket alarms bellowing across the city.

The Lebanese, too, have this imposed war to deal with, as they are caught between two players, Israel and Hizbullah. As before, Lebanon becomes a deadly playing ground for regional politics. Dominated by Syria, Lebanon has only recently started to emerge (but ever so slowly) from the grip of Damascus. And then this; Hizbullah opens up a front with the Jewish state and all hell breaks loose. The war is imposed on them, only they bear the brunt of all it: destroyed homes, rocket-hit buildings, roads deeply pockmarked with missile strikes. It is an obscenity to watch Lebanon being strangled this way, totally at the mercy of the Israelis, Hizbullah, the Syrians and the Iranians.

Not that the United States is much help. The American government seems curiously blasé about stopping the violence, preferring to allow the Israelis time to thrash the rag doll that is Lebanon in its formidable mouth for a while longer. Not even the evacuation of American citizens seems to be a major priority, and those that have been spirited out of the war zone (as of this writing) have actually been told they need to reimburse the U.S. government.

How long the hostilities will be allowed to continue is anyone's guess, but all signs point to when the White House deems Lebanon has been beaten up enough. Or when it becomes obvious that Hizbullah might have bitten off more than it can chew. Or when the Iranians feel their point has been made. If the latter is true on any level, then the rules of the messy game in the Middle East might have to be rewritten. Iran stands as a country wanting to pursue a nuclear agenda: its support of Hizbullah and (unproven) collusion in this latest adventure will be the death knell for that country's bogus claim of wanting nuclear power for only research. After all, let's go back to the unasked question of from where Hizbullah is getting these longer-range rockets. If it's indeed Iran, who is argue that the Islamic Republic (Islamic entity?) wouldn't find it unreasonable to ship a larger, deadlier arsenal to its proxies in southern Lebanon and set the north of Israel on fire?

Examined from that perspective, Iran is far more dangerous than Syria, which might be the reason why the Saudis offered a very pointed criticism of Hizbullah rather than towing the standard "it's all Israel's fault" line that is a mantra in the Arab world. And it might explain why all of the sudden, an article in the New York Times states that Iraqi Sunnis are not so eager for the Americans to leave after all. In a country that is demographically Shia, the very prospect of Iran dominating their country is much more unpalatable than a bunch of American infidel soldiers.

This imposed war affects more than just a few players in the Middle East. This fight between Israel and Hizbullah is much more precipitous than perhaps anyone has realized.