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Final Battles?: Interview with Saseen Kawzally

Jerome Klassen
Date Published: 
    In this interview from Beirut, Saseen Kawzally describes the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, the background to the crisis, and its possible trajectories. Saseen Kawzally is active in left activism in Lebanon and has worked with Beirut Indymedia in the past. Jerome Klassen visited Lebanon in 2004 and is currently a student in Toronto. This interview occurred by phone over the past few days.

JK: Israel has imposed a siege on Lebanon and is bombing the country from the air and the sea. Can you describe the situation?

SK: Israel has bombed and shelled the country for four days. It has destroyed every road and bridge from the south of the country to Beirut. It has bombed the international road between Damascus and Beirut, as well as the airport and vital civilian infrastructures. Neighborhoods and houses in Beirut and in the South have been hit hard. A total siege has been imposed on the airports and seaports, both of which have been bombed. More than 100 civilians have been killed, and the massacres are forcing an evacuation of people from the South and from the suburbs of Beirut. Israel is also bombing buses and cars of people as they try to find safe shelter. Israel has said that “no place is safe” in Lebanon, and they have attacked without regard for life, safety, or proportionality. They have once again brought disaster to Lebanon.

JK: Politicians and media in North America say that Israel is an innocent player in this conflict, and that Hezbollah’s initial operation was unprovoked. Can you provide a different context to the conflict?

SK: The real background is the ongoing aggression inflicted upon Lebanon by Israel since the Liberation in 2000. Israel still holds Lebanese prisoners. It still occupies the Sheeba farms in South Lebanon. On a weekly basis, it invades Lebanese airspace and coastal waters, and it regularly makes incursions over the Blue Line. It also has committed numerous assassinations in Lebanon in recent years. And it continually threatens the Lebanese government, for example, by breaking the sound barrier over Parliament when the government and cabinet are in session. Furthermore, Lebanese villages and farmers in the South are shelled on a regular basis, resulting in death and destruction. So, to speak of Israeli innocence is to hide the reality of non-stop aggression and war against Lebanon. These issues provide the real context to the recent conflict. Indeed, for over one year, Hezbollah has said that it would capture Israeli soldiers if the Lebanese prisoners were not returned. This was the first goal of the operation, as outlined by Hezbollah leader Nasrallah in the aftermath.

JK: And the Israeli response?

SK: Israel’s reaction by-passed the fundamental issues and took the conflict to a completely different and unjustifiable level. Even though Israel has agreed to prisoner swaps in the past, it is now determined to destroy Hezbollah, both militarily and politically. To do this, it is trying to explode the contradictions inside the Lebanese government in order to force the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1559, which calls for Hezbollah to disarm without forcing Israel to cease its war of aggression and occupation.

Since the Cedar Revolution of 2005, a crack has emerged in the Lebanese government. On the one hand, Hezbollah has joined the cabinet based on the government’s official recognition that Israel is an enemy that continues to occupy Lebanese territory and hold Lebanese prisoners. So, the initial operation needs to be viewed in light of the official government position. On the other hand, there are factions inside the government that oppose the resistance and that support the American agenda for Lebanon and the Middle East, including Resolution 1559. Israel is hoping that the mass bombing will break the cracks inside the cabinet and isolate Hezbollah from pro-US sections of the government, leading to a disarming of the resistance. In other words, it is trying to aggravate the contradictions internal to Lebanese politics, and to fortify the relations between the US and certain parts of the government, including Prime Minister Siniora. On the military side, Israel is trying to punish the nation until it turns against Hezbollah.

However, the Israeli strategy cannot work. It will not win over Lebanese public opinion through bombing and destruction. In fact, the opposite will occur. As more bombs are dropped, more support is likely to flow to Hezbollah, especially if Hezbollah continues to run efficient military operations. The collective punishment has no justification and will only produce a collective resistance. Whatever people think of the initial operation by Hezbollah, they agree that the Israeli response has been completely unjustified and out of proportion. There is no excuse for the level of destruction being inflicted on us.

JK: What about the Lebanese government?

SK: The government has committed major political sins: instead of supporting the fight to liberate our prisoners, it has tried to discredit Hezbollah and it has allowed Israel to destroy the country. If the government falls – and it should – everything will change. Hezbollah and its Christian allies can form a much more powerful government, and a more representative one as well, one that is willing to speak for the people’s choice. This does not mean that everyone agrees with Hezbollah, but they agree on their opposition to Israel.

JK: What’s the American role?

SK: Bush's attempt to blame Syria signifies that the Israeli operation is not without American goals as well. Remember, the US failed to topple the Syrian regime last year, and it also failed to disarm Hezbollah. This is because Hezbollah is a legitimate resistance movement. Even the United Nations accepted this in the 1996 ceasefire agreement. At the time, it was accepted that, if Lebanese civilians were hit, the resistance could respond. It was only after the American-funded and -staged Cedar Revolution that the shady UNSC resolution came to life. So, the US is clearly implicated in this conflict, and generally speaking it has the same goals as Israel.

JK: What’s happening on a regional scale?

SK: The regional dynamics are going to become absolutely critical in the next few days. There are reports that Israel has already bombed a Syrian town and that Israel has given Syria a 72-hour ultimatum to stop attacks by Hezbollah. The Arab Foreign Ministers conference issued the same-old bullshit, and exposed the degenerate nature of the regimes. At the same time, popular protests have begun in Cairo, Baghdad, Amman, and the UAE, with some supporting Hezbollah and others just opposing the Israeli attacks. Iran has also threatened to become involved in any conflict between Syria and Israel, so there is potential for the conflict to evolve into a regional war. At this point, I’m unclear if Israel is actively pushing for this scenario, but it is a real possibility. What is clear, though, is that Israel intends to crush the resistance and to resettle the geo-political map of the Middle East. The unresolved conflicts between Israel and Lebanon could not have continued forever. With a dead peace process, unlimited support from the US, and a shameful silence from the international community, Israel feels it can set new rules, maybe even new borders.

JK: In what directions could the fighting move?

SK: Right now, there are two possible trajectories. First, there could emerge a full-scale regional conflict, taking the form of a popular war against Israel and the Arab regimes, with the possibility of Syria and Iran providing some kind of military resources. This would be highly destabilizing for the region, but it could lead to a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. With the US bogged down in Iraq, there are many who see the present as the best time to have this fight.

Second, if the conflict does not spread, it could lead to negotiations and a final settlement between Israel and Lebanon. Right now, neither Israel nor Hezbollah is backing down. Israel has given its generals the green light to burn Lebanon, and Hezbollah has maintained its military capabilities and still has cards up its sleeve. According to Nasrallah, Israel has chosen “open war,” and Hezbollah is “ready for it.” Given the problems of the US in Iraq, the scale of the Israeli response, and the internal balance of power in Lebanon, Nasrallah has decided that there is no better time to settle the conflict.

The tragedy is that Lebanon must endure this violence. If the government were to challenge Hezbollah and the resistance, it would restart the Lebanese civil war. The country, then, has no option but to sustain the injuries and wait for Israel to negotiate. However, in the end, the injuries will be seen as part of our victory. Israel will be forced down, and it will experience some of the loss inflicted upon us for more than two decades.

JK: Any closing comments?

SK: This battle is going to be won by the side that is steadfast to the end. It is sickening how Israeli military force is so accepted by the world. And how easily people of the world are abandoned by the US. The US is not even willing to defend those whom it considers allies. But, sooner or later, if this goes on long enough, things will change. This is an un-avoidable battle.