October 31, 2009

River of Propaganda

The Litani River runs deeper than normal. The fate of Lebanon, Israel, and the greater Middle East are bound to this river and what occurs south of its banks. UN Resolution 1701 forbids paramilitary forces - explicitly Hezbollah - from operating between the river and Israel’s northern border.

So how do Katyusha rockets keep landing in Israel’s backyard? If not Hezbollah then surely one of its affiliates or a rogue group, thus pinning blame on the government for failing to implement 1701. Not so, says Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. The waters are far murkier.

Exploding weapons caches and Katyusha rockets continue unabated despite 1701’s demand for total disarmament. The steady rhythm allows Israel to periodically sound an alarm and file complaints with the UN, propaganda in itself since Israel doesn’t realistically expect action. But lately some suspicious activity has Lebanon wondering if the string of explosions is too coincidental.

Naturally Hezbollah is up to its own games, storing weapons among civilian populations, overlooking smaller militant groups, and discovering “spy devices.” Hezbollah’s claim was verified by UN Special Coordinator Michael Williams, who told Reuters, “These do look like some sort of espionage device.”

"Preliminary indications are that these explosions were caused by explosive charges contained in unattended underground sensors which were placed in this area by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) apparently during the 2006 war," UNIFIL said in a statement.

Now Lebanon is accusing Israel of violating 1701.

“There is a difference between spying carried out by people who have been detected and detained,” President Michel Suleiman told reporters, “and detectors and spying equipment which have been found during last week. These spy networks discovered on Sunday, in means of spying, are a clear violation by Israel of the UN Resolution 1701, even more so than Israel routine violation of Lebanese airspace.”

That was the week before last.

This past Wednesday Suleiman alleged that Tuesday’s rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona served Israel's interests and an Israeli agent may have launched the projectile. He stressed that one “must not rule out” the possibility. Suleiman “slammed” Israel's response, saying the rocket fire is pretext "to continue its violation of Lebanese sovereignty."

The next day Lebanon's ambassador to the UN, Noaf Salaam, sent missives to Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council condemning Israel's recent artillery fire on the village of Houla, where a Katyusha rocket was fired last week. Salaam warned that Israel, “is exhibiting signs of an imminent attack,” before clarifying that Israel is laying the groundwork for future operations.

Suleiman, as general of the army, knows his way around national security and defense; busting Israeli spy networks has become a routine hobby. He carries an abundance of credibility that Hezbollah lacks so he hasn’t stepped into this affair without good reason. If he’s correct, we’re face to face with rhetorically-fused warfare.

Initial disclosure: Israel could be victim of a propaganda attack if the charges are false. Lebanon could be creating distractions from its political dispute and conspiracy is a possibility. But Israel has triggered a batch of red flags starting with the explosive devices. Israel periodically detonating Hezbollah explosives to file UN complaints and manipulate the West - a genius strategy, until it was exposed.

And beyond propaganda lies real military escalation. Manipulating the explosions into justification, Israel is expanding its intelligence gathering through spy cells and fly-overs. Israeli drones are said to be frequent guests below the Litani, with one being fired upon the other day.

Williams said the drones violated 1701 and are, “not particularly helpful at a time of obvious tension in the south." Yet they will likely increase their flights.

The Ketyusha rockets have served their purpose in encroaching on the Lebanese border. For Suleiman to allege Israel sabotages Hezbollah and that Israel is firing Ketyusha rockets at itself reveals his belief in these acts. His assumption is based partially on the growing trend and partly on the fact that Israel shells Ketyusha launch sites immediately after firing.

Israel says it wants to hit the attackers before they flee - Lebanon thinks it’s destroying evidence.

But one last coincidence breaches the word's boundary. A few hours before the latest rocket, Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the North and praised the “nine years of calm we have had” in the region, “which were interrupted for a number of painful weeks during the Second Lebanon War.”

“I hope that we can continue this quiet,” Barak said, before warning his audience that Israel is, "preparing for other possibilities, including the possibility that you will be tested again."

Soon after he left a rocket fell harmlessly in an Israeli field, and days later Lebanon’s ambassador warned of Israeli escalation. Octopus Mountain has no certainty of the situation in Lebanon, which is exactly what all parties desired. We’ve been flooded with propaganda.

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