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Analysis: Lebanon, Israel and the Arabs

By
SANA ABDALLAH

AMMAN, Jordan, July 16 (UPI) -- Like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Arab response to the Lebanese-Israeli disproportionate military encounter further demonstrates the widening chasm between the Arabs and their regimes.

The joint press conference by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mousa and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Mohammad Shaali in Cairo following a meeting of Arab foreign ministers Saturday was testimony to this deep gap.

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Egyptian and other Arab journalists angrily grilled the officials on what Arab governments are doing to stop Israel's blockade and relentless air strikes against Lebanese civilian targets and infrastructure.

At least 100 Lebanese have been killed and more than 250 others injured, most of them civilians, since Israel launched a military offensive against the country Wednesday following a cross-border operation by Lebanon's Hezbollah guerillas, in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two others captured.

Hezbollah rockets Sunday slammed into Israel's port city of Haifa, killing nine Israelis, while four other civilians were killed in four days of Hezbollah rocket attacks.

Foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League met to discuss an Arab position on the escalating crisis in Lebanon after clear differences emerged among members on where the onus lies.

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Saudi Arabia had earlier accused the Shiite Hezbollah group, without naming it, for what it said was its "uncalculated adventures" that threaten the "destruction of the achievements" of other Arab countries without consulting them.

In a bilateral summit in Cairo Friday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, whose countries have peace treaties with Israel, warned against "adventures that do not serve Arab interests," in an implicit criticism of Hezbollah's cross-border operation.

Arab diplomats said the angry protests across the Arab world over Israel's disproportionate military assault against Lebanon, as well as against the Gaza Strip in the past two weeks and Arab regimes' silence, prevented the foreign ministers from throwing the blame on Hezbollah and condemned Israel for its assault in Lebanon and Gaza.

The ministers also declared the peace process, its mechanisms, sponsors and Quartet mediators as "dead," vowing to take the entire Middle East conflict back to the U.N. Security Council and return to all its resolutions related to the region.

However, Mousa also criticized the Security Council, saying that every Arab diplomatic and political effort to resolve the conflicts in the Middle East has been vetoed by the United States.

Mousa and the UAE foreign minister, whose country presided over the meeting, came under fire by Arab journalists as they asked them why they would take the peace process back to the Security Council when they know it will be useless and vetoed by Washington.

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They accused the regimes of submitting to American and Israeli dictates and refusing to use their resources, mainly oil, to pressure Washington into forcing Israel to stop what they said was its "fascist colonization and invasion" of the region.

Analysts say the journalists, some of whom challenged the Arab governments to mobilize their armies against Israel to save Lebanon and Gaza from Israel's campaign, were merely reflecting the frustration and rage in the Arab street, where many rejoice at news of Hezbollah rockets slamming into Haifa and Tiberias for the first time since the establishment of Israel in 1948, and grieve with each missile slamming into Beirut.

Arab commentators complain the position the Arab ministers adopted, by declaring the peace process "dead" when the masses knew it was "never really born" -- as one Jordanian critic told an Arab news channel -- was an attempt to resist responsibility and throw it on an international community that is widely seen as biased for Israel and its policies.

Jordanian and Egyptian opposition figures blasted their governments for refusing to take diplomatic action against Israel by expelling its ambassadors from Amman and Cairo to protest the military campaigns against the Lebanese and Palestinians. They said their regimes did not meet some Western diplomatic action to at least summon the Israeli ambassadors to lodge a protest, like the Norwegian foreign ministry did on Friday.

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They argue that by resorting to the Security Council, the Arab governments were effectively seeking the implementation of Resolution 1559, calling for the disarming of "militias" in Lebanon, in obvious reference to Hezbollah, the most powerful Arab force of resistance against Israeli occupation that was instrumental in ending Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in May 2000.

Some analysts say the war against Lebanon is not aimed at retrieving the snatched Israeli soldiers, but to impose an implementation of 1559 by force, without a reciprocal Israeli compliance to a number of resolutions that calls for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese occupied territories and right of Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel.

The internal Lebanese debate over Resolution 1559 and the fate of Hezbollah's weapons, which also called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon, in reference to Syria that pulled out in April 2005, was put on hold as the Lebanese decided to unite in the face of Israel's military retaliation that has not been confined to Hezbollah targets, but the entire country.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's statement Saturday was also seen as an attempt to contain Hezbollah when he called for a comprehensive ceasefire under U.N. auspices shortly after U.N. peacekeepers refused to provide shelter to fleeing civilians from southern Lebanese villages being pounded by Israeli missiles.

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Reports from southern Lebanon said the peacekeepers' denial of shelter led to the killing of dozens of civilians, including an entire family, which the U.N. forces claimed they could not have protected anyway. They recalled the 1996 Israeli "Grapes of Wrath" offensive in southern Lebanon when hundreds of civilians were killed in Qana inside a U.N. shelter.

Lebanese and Arab critics say Siniora's call appeared to have been a result of pressure from U.S.-allied Arab regimes, yet it falls in line with a passive official Arab position that coincides with the Israeli and American agenda to neutralize any form of resistance against the Jewish state and its policies.

They say Israel's objective in striking the Palestinians in Gaza after the election of a Hamas leadership, the offensive against Lebanon, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the escalating rhetoric against Syria and Iran are part of a larger Israeli-U.S. plan to end all anti-Israeli resistance.

The belief is that this would allow Tel Aviv to impose a unilateral solution to the Middle East conflict that might secure peace and Israeli normalization with the Arab countries, but without the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and retrieving national Palestinian rights.

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However, Arab analysts say, the ever-growing gap between the unelected regimes and their subjects on the 58-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict will remain the hallmark that will deter governments from making official peace with Israel so long as the latter fails to meet its commitments to Security Council resolutions.

While Egypt and Jordan have signed peace accords with the Jewish state, their general populations and civil institutions have refused to normalize ties with it and continue to pressure their governments to sever diplomatic relations.

The analysts say with anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. protests from Kuwait to Sudan against the Israeli military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S.-allied Arab regimes are not likely to risk their stability and grasp on power to contribute to the "larger scheme."

But they might just remain passive and let Israel do the job of eliminating all forms of resistance in the region: The resistance against the Jewish state and, ultimately, resistance against the regimes themselves.

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