Israel's relentless, almost Biblical destruction of Lebanon continues.
Ignoring the ancient law of an eye for eye, Israel's modern version seems to be 10 Arabs killed for every Jew who is slain.
As of this writing 500,000 Lebanese are refugees and some 300 have died, including a family of eight Canadians.
Israel's losses so far: 14 soldiers and 15 civilians.
In the last example of collective punishment against civilians outside Palestine -- Slobodan Milosevic's terrorizing of Kosovo -- NATO intervened to halt the killing and ethnic cleansing, and prosecuted war criminals.
Now, UN Human Rights Commissioner, Canada's Louis Arbour, warns the destruction of Lebanon and the shelling of Israeli cities constitute "war crime(s)." Blasting civilian targets and collective punishment are grave crimes under the Geneva Conventions and both Israel and Hezbollah are guilty.
Switzerland, the Conventions' guardian, recently warned Israel it was violating the Conventions by destroying vital civilian targets in Palestine such as water, sewage, power stations, bridges and telecommunications. Hezbollah's rockets have killed Israeli civilians and damaged civilian facilities as well.
Previously, Israel and its foes have traded prisoners or their remains in arranging peace deals. Israel has a highly honourable tradition of always getting its soldiers back.
In 2004,Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah -- now hunted by Israel hit squads -- swapped the remains of Israeli soldiers for hundreds of Palestinians, Hezbollah fighters, and Lebanese hostages held in Israeli prisons.
Israel could have arranged a similar swap after the usual ritual bombing. But this time, the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and murder of eight others by Hezbollah provides a possible launching point for the Bush administration's pro-Israel neoconservatives and Israel's military to broaden the present crisis. It could lead to activation of long-held U.S.-Israeli plans to go after Syria and Iran.
Hezbollah's Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who triggered this crisis, saw it as a way of getting thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners back from Israel and raising his stature as the only Arab daring to stand up to Israel. Fragile, isolated Syria, with obsolete military forces, appears the next target of Bush's Mideast crusade. It's only a taxi ride from Beirut to Damascus.
Israeli strategists have long believed sharp military raps on Damascus would shatter the ethnically/religiously unstable nation. This would remove Israel's nearest enemy, and allow it to turn Lebanon into a protectorate. But Israel will be unable to destroy Hezbollah's political infrastructure or 3,000 fighters by shelling and bombing alone. Israel may be planning commando attacks or a full-scale invasion of Lebanon . Chances of a major invasion are growing. Israeli troops have been probing into southern Lebanon, suffering, in the process, the same casualties encountered when battling Hezbollah fighters in the 1980s.
Israeli strategists are said to be considering setting up a 30-km deep "security zone" in Lebanon to protect Israel from rocket fire. Quel deja vu! Israel has twice before invaded Lebanon and set up "security zones."
As I witnessed these events, each "security zone" quickly became a zone of insecurity for Israeli troops, where they suffered punishing casualties. But here we go again, or, a full invasion of Lebanon will bring Israeli forces dangerously close to Syria's borders. In the end, however, Israel is no more likely to destroy Hezbollah than it was the PLO or Hamas.
If Syria is crushed and a western puppet regime implanted in Damascus, the road to Tehran lies open. U.S. ground forces are too bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan to tackle Iran.
But Israel might supply commando, air and perhaps armoured forces for a tempting but risky dash on Tehran.
U.S. midterm elections are nearing and the Republicans are in dire straits. Bush urgently needs a military triumph in what he now calls "the new front in the war on terrorism."
Israel wants the U.S. to destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure, as it did Iraq's, before the ardently pro-Israel George Bush leaves office. And Israel's new government wants to show voters it's even tougher than its now-incapacitated former PM, Ariel Sharon.
A minor skirmish could well turn into a major conflict.
Copyright © 2006, Canoe Inc.