Do you agree with the
argument that Israel's military offensive in Lebanon is "legally
and morally justified?"
Noam Chomsky: The invasion itself is a serious breach
of international law, and major war crimes are being committed
as it proceeds. There is no legal justification.
The "moral justification" is supposed to be that capturing
soldiers in a cross-border raid, and killing others, is an
outrageous crime. We know, for certain, that Israel, the United
States and other Western governments, as well as the mainstream
of articulate Western opinion, do not believe a word of that.
Sufficient evidence is their tolerance for many years of
US-backed Israeli crimes in Lebanon, including four invasions
before this one, occupation in violation of Security Council
orders for 22 years, and regular killings and abductions. To
mention just one question that every journal should be
answering: When did Nasrallah assume a leadership role? Answer:
When the Rabin government escalated its crimes in Lebanon,
murdering Sheikh Abbas Mussawi and his wife and child with
missiles fired from a US helicopter. Nasrallah was chosen as his
successor. Only one of innumerable cases. There is, after all, a
good reason why last February, 70% of Lebanese called for the
capture of Israeli soldiers for prisoner exchange.
The conclusion is underscored, dramatically, by the current
upsurge of violence, which began after the capture of Corporal
Gilad Shalit on June 25. Every published Western "timeline"
takes that as the opening event. Yet the day before, Israeli
forces kidnapped two Gaza civilians, a doctor and his brother,
and sent them to the Israeli prison system where they can join
innumerable other Palestinians, many held without charges --
hence kidnapped. Kidnapping of civilians is a far worse crime
than capture of soldiers. The Western response was quite
revealing: a few casual comments, otherwise silence. The major
media did not even bother reporting it. That fact alone
demonstrates, with brutal clarity, that there is no moral
justification for the sharp escalation of attacks in Gaza or the
destruction of Lebanon, and that the Western show of outrage
about kidnapping is cynical fraud.
Much has been said about Israel's right to defend itself from
its enemies who are taking advantage of Israel's withdrawal from
Gaza, thus causing the latest chapter in the Arab-Israeli
conflict. Do you agree?
NC: Israel certainly has a right to defend itself, but
no state has the right to "defend" occupied territories. When
the World Court condemned Israel's "separation wall," even a US
Justice, Judge Buergenthal, declared that any part of it built
to defend Israeli settlements is "ipso facto in violation of
international humanitarian law," because the settlements
themselves are illegal.
The withdrawal of a few thousand illegal settlers from Gaza
was publicly announced as a West Bank expansion plan. It has now
been formalized by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with the support
of Washington, as a program of annexation of valuable occupied
lands and major resources (particularly water) and cantonization
of the remaining territories, virtually separated from one
another and from whatever pitiful piece of Jerusalem will be
granted to Palestinians. All are to be imprisoned, since Israel
is to take over the Jordan valley. Gaza, too, remains imprisoned
and Israel carries out attacks there at will.
Gaza and the West Bank are recognized to be a unit, by the
United States and Israel as well. Therefore, Israel still
occupies Gaza, and cannot claim self-defense in territories it
occupies in either of the two parts of Palestine. It is Israel
and the United States that are radically violating international
law. They are now seeking to consummate long-standing plans to
eliminate Palestinian national rights for good.
The United States has refused to call for an immediate
cease-fire, arguing that this would mean a return to the status
quo ante, yet we are witnessing a "back to the past"
re-occupation of parts of Lebanon, and Lebanon's rapid decline
to political chaos by the current conflict. Is the US policy
NC: It is correct from the point of view of those who
want to ensure that Israel, by now virtually an offshore US
military base and high-tech center, dominates the region,
without any challenge to its rule as it proceeds to destroy
Palestine. And there are side advantages, such as eliminating
any Lebanese-based deterrent if US-Israel decide to attack Iran.
They may also hope to set up a client regime in Lebanon of
the kind that Ariel Sharon sought to create when he invaded
Lebanon in 1982, destroying much of the country and killing some
What will be the likely outcome of this "two-pronged" crisis
in Lebanon and the occupied territories, in the near and
NC: We cannot predict much. There are too many
uncertainties. One very likely consequence, as the United States
and Israel surely anticipated, is a significant increase in
jihadi-style terrorism as anger and hatred directed against the
United States, Israel, and Britain sweep the Arab and Muslim
worlds. Another is that Nasrallah, whether he survives or is
killed, will become an even more important symbol of resistance
to US-Israeli aggression. Hezbollah already has a phenomenal 87%
support in Lebanon itself, and its resistance has energized
popular opinion to such an extent that even the oldest and
closest US allies have been compelled to say that "If the peace
option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance, then only the
war option remains, and no one knows the repercussions befalling
the region, including wars and conflict that will spare no one,
including those whose military power is now tempting them to
play with fire." That's from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who
knows better than to condemn the United States directly.
What steps do you recommend for the current hostilities to be
brought to an end and a lasting peace established?
NC: The basic steps are well understood: a cease-fire
and exchange of prisoners; withdrawal of occupying forces;
continuation of the "national dialogue" within Lebanon; and
acceptance of the very broad international consensus on a
two-state settlement for Israel-Palestine, which has been
unilaterally blocked by the United States and Israel for thirty
years. There is, as always, much more to say, but those are the
Noam Chomsky is Professor of Linguistics at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is the author of
numerous books, and his latest is Failed States: The Abuse of
Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006).
Kaveh Afrasiabi is the founder and director of Global
Interfaith Peace, and a former political science professor at
Tehran University. He is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press).