A Defining Moment of the 2006 Israeli War on Lebanon


Paul Jay: One of the moments of the war that we hear, as we’ve been in Beirut, people talking about is one point during the war where Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, is making a speech and tells people to look out to the sea.

Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General, Hezbollah: Now . . . in the middle of the sea opposite Beirut, the Israeli military warship which assaulted our infrastructure and civilians — look at it . . . burning.

Paul Jay: Can you talk a bit about that moment?

Fawwaz Traboulsi: It was a very enthusiastic event, quite mediatized at the same time, because they had not only managed to bring surface-to-sea missiles but managed to hit, from the first rocket, a small destroyer.

Paul Jay: If I understand it correctly, Nasrallah in his speech, which was being televised, tells everyone, anyone near the ocean, to go look out at the boat, and as he points, they’re able to actually blow it up and sink the boat.

Fawwaz Traboulsi: Definitely.

Paul Jay: And when we’ve been in Beirut the last few days, whether we’re talking to Shia, Sunnis, or Christians of various types, everyone talks about that moment with pride.

Fawwaz Traboulsi: Yeah, yeah.  Of course, as important was the resistance of the villages themselves, where networks of underground tunnels were used, linking houses together, to go around the Israeli patrols entering the town.  So, I’d give equal importance to the fact that this invincible tank, or the Merkava, which has been fool-proofed against any antitank weapons, I mean, you had 40, 50 of them in one battle simply being torn to pieces in the Marjeyoun region.

Paul Jay: What was the attitude from the section of the elite that’s connected to the Americans, the Sauds, the Hariri section?  How did they feel about all this?  It must have —

Fawwaz Traboulsi: It should be said that Saudi Arabia took a very obvious position against Hezbollah and, if you will, a pro-Israel position.  Many of the Fourteenth of March [Alliance], which is the pro-Western alliance, were quite sure that Hezbollah was going to be defeated.  And so the two things: they blamed them [Hezbollah] for the war and were waiting for the hour of [Israeli] victory.  Unfortunately, it did not come — unfortunately for them, of course.  So that, too, was a big blow, especially for the Saudis, who had taken a clear position against what Hezbollah did, accusing it of adventurism.

Paul Jay: Nasrallah admitted that it was a mistake to kidnap the Israeli soldiers, did he not?

Fawwaz Traboulsi: Actually, he said something very frank and honest that I think deserves admiration.  He said: Had I known that the kidnapping would lead to that much destruction, we would not have taken the decision.  Actually, they had imagined the same kind of response as the Israeli military command had thought of, the classical one: 4-5 days of intensive bombardment, and then negotiations under the table through German mediators.

Paul Jay: Now, in the last couple of days we’ve been here, we’ve talked to various people, including some people in the military, who talk about expecting another attack on Hezbollah from Israel.  In fact, they thought it was going to come imminently.  Now, they’re saying maybe not right now, because there’s so much going on between the US and Israel.  Why are they expecting another one?

Fawwaz Traboulsi: Well, I don’t share that expectation, to start with.  I think that the level of armament that Hezbollah brought after the war, or through the war — if the statistics of the Israeli intelligence is correct that it has some 40,000 missiles — I think that in itself is a good warning against any Israeli adventures, because since 2006 there has been a new military strategy in the region, which is the missile strategy.  And, until recently, the Arab tanks were incapable of defeating Israeli tanks, and one major reason was Israeli air superiority.  So now, with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas resorting to missile strategies, there is a new balance of power and, at least, the idea that, inside, Israel for the first time is no longer safe from Arab weapons.

Paul Jay: And Nasrallah made a speech a few weeks ago which suggested that they have more capability of guiding missiles than before, and he says, if you take out our airport, we can take out your airport, if you take out a building, we can take out your building, suggesting they can target in a way they might not have been able to before.

Fawwaz Traboulsi: I believe him, because this is not what he used to say before, and I think the new, more sophisticated missiles, longer-range — they’re usually called medium-range — are now capable of hitting any part of Israeli territory.  Having said that, I mean, the only likelihood of a war involving Lebanon, to my mind, would be if there were an Israeli attack against Iran: they would definitely at the same time try and destroy the missile weaponry of Hezbollah, which is very well guarded.  But, anyway, the only likelihood, to my mind at least, would be not a direct adventure against Lebanon, as such, and Hezbollah, but one in which there is a clear American green light for attack against Iran.

Paul Jay: The Israelis point to the position of Hezbollah, which does not only not recognize the state of Israel — and I think there’s a quote from Nasrallah where he says it: even if everyone else in the world recognizes Israel, we won’t — and, certainly within Hezbollah literature, you can find that they would like there not to be an Israel. . . .  Is there any existential threat to Israel from Hezbollah?

Fawwaz Traboulsi: Well, I think the Israelis themselves made it clear that Arab weaponry, including Hezbollah, is a guerrilla force with missiles.  I mean, where is the existential threat?  I think the main existential threat against Israel is Israelis themselves, who believe — unfortunately, in more and more numbers — that there is no more hope for peace and who sabotage peace.  So, to start with, there’s no Israeli partner for peace, let alone everything else.  The other is this stubborn idea of trying to control 300 million Arabs by force and refusing to be part of the region.  And as much as Israel is this military state, I think it’s bringing its own downfall, especially in that for the first time in its anti-guerrilla warfare it’s failing — I mean, both in southern Lebanon and in Gaza.  It’s becoming more and more an army that kills civilians, including women and children.  And it’s obvious that any prospect for any just peace has been simply obliterated by the advent of Mr. Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing allies.  So this is the real danger for peace, for security of all the peoples of the region.

Paul Jay: Thanks very much for joining us.

Fawwaz Traboulsi: Most welcome.

Fawwaz Traboulsi is Associate Professor of Political Science and History at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.  Dr. Traboulsi has been a visiting professor at New York University, the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and Cairo University and a visiting fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford.  Dr. Traboulsi has translated several works, including Edward Said’s Out of Place and Humanism and Democratic Criticism.  He writes in both English and Arabic on Lebanese history, Arab politics, and social movements.  His most recent book is A History of Modern Lebanon (Pluto Press, 2007).  This video was released by The Real News on 16 July 2010.  The text above is an edited partial transcript of the interview.

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