A terrible thought occurs to me - that there will be another 9/11
By Robert Fisk
Independent" -- -- The room shook. Not since the 1983
earthquake has my apartment rocked from side to side. That was the
force of the Israeli explosions in the southern suburbs of Beirut -
three miles from my home - and the air pressure changed in the house
yesterday morning and outside in the street the palm trees moved.
Is it to be like this every day? How many civilians can you make
homeless before you start a revolution? And what is next? Are the
Israelis to bomb the centre of Beirut? The Corniche? Is this why all
the foreign warships came and took their citizens away, to make
Beirut safe to destroy?
Yesterday, needless to say, was another day of massacres, great and
small. The largest appeared to be 40 farm workers in northern
Lebanon, some of them Kurds - a people who do not even have a
country. An Israeli missile was reported to have exploded among them
as they loaded vegetables on to a refrigerated truck near Al-Qaa, a
small village east of Hermel in the far north. The wounded were
taken to hospital in Syria because the roads of Lebanon have now all
been cratered by Israeli bomb-bursts. Later we learnt that an air
strike on a house in the village of Taibeh in the south had killed
seven civilians and wounded 10 seeking shelter from attack.
In Israel two civilians were killed by Hizbollah missiles but, as
usual, Lebanon bore the brunt of the day's attacks which centred -
incredibly - on the Christian heartland that has traditionally shown
great sympathy towards Israel. It was the Christian Maronite
community whose Phalangist militiamen were Israel's closest allies
in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon yet Israel's air force yesterday
attacked three highway bridges north of Beirut and - again as usual
- it was the little people who died.
One of them was Joseph Bassil, 65, a Christian man who had gone out
on his daily jogging exercise with four friends north of Jounieh.
"His friends packed up after four rounds of the bridge because it
was hot," a member of his family told us later. "Joseph decided to
do one more jog on the bridge. That was what killed him." The
Israelis gave no reason for the attacks - no Hizbollah fighters
would ever enter this Christian Maronite stronghold and the only
hindrance was caused to humanitarian convoys - and there were
growing fears in Lebanon that the latest air raids were a sign of
Israel's frustration rather any serious military planning.
Indeed, as the Lebanon war continues to destroy innocent lives -
most of them Lebanese - the conflict seems to be increasingly
aimless. The Israeli air force has succeeded in killing perhaps 50
Hizbollah members and 600 civilians and has destroyed bridges, milk
factories, gas stations, fuel storage depots, airport runways and
thousands of homes. But to what purpose?
Does the United States any longer believe Israel's claims that it
will destroy Hizbollah when its army clearly cannot do anything of
the kind? Does Washington not realise that when Israel grows tired
of this war, it will plead for a ceasefire - which only Washington
can deliver by doing what it most loathes to do: by taking the road
to Damascus and asking for help from President Bashar al-Assad of
What in the meanwhile is happening to Lebanon? Bridges and buildings
can be reconstructed - with European Union loans, no doubt - but
many Lebanese are now questioning the institutions of the democracy
for which the US was itself so full of praise last year. What is the
point of a democratically elected Lebanese government which cannot
protect its people? What is the point of a 75,000-member Lebanese
army which cannot protect its nation, which cannot be sent to the
border, which does not fire on Lebanon's enemies and which cannot
disarm Hizbollah? Indeed, for many Lebanese Shias, Hizbollah is now
the Lebanese army.
So fierce has been Hizbollah's resistance - and so determined its
attacks on Israeli ground troops in Lebanon - that many people here
no longer recall that it was Hizbollah which provoked this latest
war by crossing the border on 12 July, killing three Israeli
soldiers and capturing two others. Israel's threats of enlarging the
conflict even further are now met with amusement rather than horror
by a Lebanese population which has been listening to Israel's
warnings for 30 years with ever greater weariness. And yet they fear
for their lives. If Tel Aviv is hit, will Beirut be spared. Or if
central Beirut is hit, will Tel Aviv be spared? Hizbollah now uses
Israel's language of an eye for an eye. Every Israeli taunt is met
by a Hizbollah taunt.
And do the Israelis realise that they are legitimising Hizbollah,
that a rag-tag army of guerrillas is winning its spurs against an
Israeli army and air force whose targets - if intended - prove them
to be war criminals and if unintended suggest that they are a rif-raff
little better than the Arab armies they have been fighting, on and
off, for more than half a century? Extraordinary precedents are
being set in this Lebanon war.
In fact, one of the most profound changes in the region these past
three decades has been the growing unwillingness of Arabs to be
afraid. Their leaders - our "moderate" pro-Western Arab leaders such
as King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt - may be
afraid. But their peoples are not. And once a people have lost their
terror, they cannot be re-injected with fear. Thus Israel's
consistent policy of smashing Arabs into submission no longer works.
It is a policy whose bankruptcy the Americans are now discovering in
And all across the Muslim world, "we" - the West, America, Israel -
are fighting not nationalists but Islamists. And watching the
martyrdom of Lebanon this week - its slaughtered children in Qana
packed into plastic bags until the bags ran out and their corpses
had to be wrapped in carpets - a terrible and daunting thought
occurs to me, day by day. That there will be another 9/11.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited