Thursday, July 13, 2006


U.S. Policy in Lebanon

By Ray Close

(Ray is my friend, and a former CIA analyst in the Near East division. Ray is also a member of the Steering Group for Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, of which I am also a member. Today, Ray sent me, and other intelligence professionals, the following letter; Ray gave me his permission to disseminate this important letter widely. -- Larry C. Johnson)

Dear Friends:

Not surprisingly, some (not all) of my Israeli and American Jewish friends have objected strenuously to my characterization of Israel's response to recent Hamas and Hizballah actions as disproportionate and counterproductive.

Let me make it crystal clear where I stand.

One of the definitions of madness is the repetition countless times of the same action, always expecting a different result. For more than half a century, the Israelis have been applying the tactic of massively disproportionate retaliation to every provocative act of resistance attempted by the Palestinians, expecting every time that this would bring peace and security to all the people of the Holy Land. Every single time they have done this this, it has backfired. Every single time. The national philosophy (it is really deeper and more significant that just a military tactic) that underlies this devotion to massive over-reaction, and particularly its corollary, collective punishment, is obviously and demonstrably foolish and futile. It does not intimidate or deter the Palestinians, and it never will. It hardens their determination to resist and to defy. I don't care whether you consider the Palestinians to be terrorists or common criminals or freedom fighters or national resistance heroes. If you are an intelligent and sensitive human being, you learn from your past mistakes and you make a rational decision to try something different. The Israeli leadership for all these many generations has been incapable of performing that really rather simple mental and moral exercise.

Nor does it matter who "started it". If you take land and houses and personal freedoms away from individuals, and if you systematically deprive a whole people of dignity and national identity, they do not forgive or forget their deep sense of injury, deprivation and injustice. Giving them a thorough beating at regular intervals, or endlessly frustrating their hopes of enjoying the benefits of political self-determination and economic prosperity, does not diminish their personal bitterness of alleviate their collective hunger for revenge and restitution. That point should be beyond debate, in my opinion.

I have a memory, too. My first job for the CIA in the early 1950's was establishing an informant network in the Palestinian refugee camps in Southern Lebanon --- in a region where my ancestors had established Christian mission schools starting a century before. It was in exactly that same year, 1953, when a secret unit of the Israeli army slaughtered sixty-eight innocent Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children, in a village called Qibya, near Tel Aviv, under official orders from Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. The unit was commanded by an ambitious young lieutenant, exactly my age, named Ariel Sharon. That "lesson", administered before there was a Fatah or a Hamas or a Hizballah, and long before "terrorism" became a household word, was supposed to end Palestinian resistance once and for all, right from the very start. That was only five years after Israel came into existence. Tragically, the intended object lesson has not been learned (by either side) in the 56 years since that day. Who "started it"? I go back to that old definition of madness mentioned above.

In the present situation, I have another grievance to express. The interests of my country, the United States, do not coincide with those of Israel in many important respects today. Let me mention just two of those ways. It is very important to the United States that the independence and national sovereignty of a democratic Lebanon be preserved. That means absolutely nothing to the Government of Israel, despite what they may say to the contrary. Israeli actions going back many years, demonstrated most graphically in the 1980's, clearly prove that point. Current Israeli actions in Lebanon are belligerently challenging the continued viability of the fragile coalition government that is struggling to achieve credibility and legitimacy at a critical period in Lebanon's history. Israeli actions are, even more importantly, threatening to revive the deep sectarian divisions and inter-communal tensions that led to fifteen years of tragic civil war from 1975-1980. American national interests will suffer much more than Israel's if chaos results. Secondly, we Americans have other critical interests to worry about. If we take a position supporting Israel's demand that Hizballah must be totally defeated and disarmed (a futile objective in any case), and especially if Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the revered spiritual leader of Hizballah, is physically harmed, the Shiite populations of Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East will be inflamed --- greatly undermining American prospects of working cooperatively and constructively with the Shiite religious parties in Iraq that control the overwhelmingly majority of political power in that country.

Open confrontation of Hizballah by the United States, allied with Israel, will have a powerful impact on the Iranian people, as well. Argue, if you will, that Iran is a known supporter of Hizballah and Hamas, and thus of international terrorism. That is a reality that none can deny. But let's prioritize our national interests here. It is the people of Iraq and Iran on whom we depend not just for "regime change" in the short term, but for peace and stability (and resistance to terrorism) throughout the region in the decades ahead. It is the people of those countries whose trust and respect we must win. It is the trust and respect of those people that we have lost --- to a significant extent because we are identified in their minds with the narrow interests of Israel. Why is that so difficult for Americans to understand?

Encouraging and supporting Israel in a bloody confrontation with Hizballah in Lebanon may seem to be a justified and reasonable action in the shortest of terms and from the narrowest of perspectives, but the United States of America is not Israel, and we have regional and global interests and responsibilities that far surpass those of this one small ally. Just for once, let's think first of what's best for America.

- Ray Close

By Ray Close || a former CIA analyst in the Near East division || Member, Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

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