A Game of Chicken

It has often been said that there is “no rest for the wicked.”  In Lebanon, quite simply, there is no rest.  No rest for those who continue to wage this war and no rest for those who were not asked if they wanted to fight.

After 72 hours of what has been referred to as “relative calm,” Beirut once more came under Israeli fire Friday morning.  But the thunderous blasts that rocked this cramped and now cluttered city for over four pre-dawn hours were expected.  They were expected because, hours earlier, the escalating war of words being waged between this fight’s combatants took another dangerous turn.

Shortly before the sun set here Thursday, the latest flurry of Israeli leaflets littered the sky above the capital’s southern suburbs, collectively known as the Dahiyeh, ordering any residents that had remained amidst the rubble and devastation to leave or suffer the consequences of having chosen the wrong neighborhood to call home.

For nearly four weeks now, one Israeli military official after another has pointed to such advance warning as a sign of their state’s compassion and concern for innocent civilians in Lebanon.  And yet not one of said mouthpieces has provided a legitimate explanation for why civilians should be forced to flee residential neighborhoods.  Unfortunately for Israel’s propagandists, who certainly learnt the art under the most ruthless craftsmen in history, the world is beginning — albeit ever so gradually — to wake from its long hibernation and question the allegations of Hizbullah militants taking cover in sheep’s clothing.

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi’s minister of propaganda who is widely credited with shaping and perfecting the modern political practice, once said, “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly — it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”  It would seem this instruction has been taken to heart.

But, for those who care to question, the fact remains that no rocket launchers have been found amidst the rubble of the Dahiyeh.  No anti-aircraft artillery tumbled out of the attic as a three-storey residential building-turned-shelter crumbed, crushing its inhabitants, in Qana.  And no reports of weapons caches stuffed into the back of ambulances targeted by Israeli warplanes have been filed by the numerous news agencies and networks now in Lebanon.  Where is the evidence of Hizbullah’s use of dead babies as ‘human sandbags’ that was so professionally splashed across the front page of London’s Evening Standard in the initial days of this war?

As the few remaining residents in the Dahiyeh made their way to whatever shelter could be found Thursday evening, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the charismatic leader of Hizbullah, made his latest televised appearance to rally the party faithful and mock the “Zionist enemy.”

In a speech littered with schoolyard insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that caused snickers and outright laughter among many Lebanese, the Shiite cleric touted the successes of his “resistance,” mocked a blundering and bulky military searching “blind” for its prey, and vowed that, should central Beirut be set aflame, Tel Aviv would suffer the same fate.  Moments later, like an actor waiting behind the curtain for his cue, Israeli public television quoted an unidentified senior military official as pledging to complete the annihilation of Lebanon’s infrastructure should air raids sound in Israel’s commercial capital.

This latest verbal escalation of a war that many are starting to realize is about much more than rockets and prisoners was a clear indication that both sides have put their respective war machines in gear and hit the throttle, resolved to plow ahead at breakneck speed, and force the other to jerk the wheel.  But as this perverse game of chicken is played out, with backers and lackeys cheering the carnage on the sidelines, it is the existence of Lebanon that hangs in the balance.  For all the energy being spent by Israeli lobbyists to portray this conflict as a campaign to protect the Jewish state from a fundamental and fanatical Islamic extremism bent on its destruction, the question being posed at the international bargaining table is whether or not Lebanon should be allowed to live, and in what capacity.

Shawn M. Jackson is Copy Editor of the Daily Star.