Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Despite 162 Deaths in Lebanon, Peres Re-Election Remains Precarious

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Despite 162 Deaths in Lebanon, Peres Re-Election Remains Precarious

Article excerpt

Despite 162 Deaths in Lebanon, Peres Re-Election Remains Precarious

By Richard H. Curtiss

"The United States has muffled criticism of Israel for the killings of hundreds of civilians in Lebanon, and has voiced no genuine objection to its prolonged military occupation of Lebanese territory and collective punishments of civilians in the occupied territories in the name of fighting Hezbollah and Hamas. Wouldn't the criticism reach the stentorian if the sufferers were largely Jews or Christians?"

--Legal affairs writer Bruce Fein, Washington Times, April 23, 1996.

"President Clinton, in a White House appearance, applauded the cease-fire, while continuing his stance of avoiding even veiled criticism of Israel. He said America's `thoughts and prayers are with the innocent civilians and their families in Lebanon and Israel who have suffered so much during the last two weeks.'"

--Staff Writer William Drozdiak, Washington Post, April 27, 1996.

President Bill Clinton's White House remarks on the cease-fire in Lebanon, equating the "innocent civilians and their families in Lebanon and Israel" sounded impartial, but were purposely misleading. In Lebanon 162 are dead, of whom 13 were Hezbollah fighters and the rest were civilians, hundreds more are maimed for life, and of the 500,000 Lebanese who were driven out of their towns and villages, several thousand returned to find their homes, or entire neighborhoods, blasted to rubble. Schools and universities in Beirut and central Lebanon were closed to house refugees from the south, many mountain roads will be impassable for weeks, and electricity in Lebanon's capital has been largely shut off and may remain so in some areas for weeks or even months to come.

In Israel, by contrast, there are no civilians or soldiers dead, only one person is seriously injured, and virtually all of the 20,000 people who sought temporary shelter with relatives living outside the 13-mile range of the Katyusha rockets were able to return to their homes on the day the ceasefire was announced. In every country in the world except the United States, official and media reaction has stressed the lack of "proportionality" in a strike by U.S.-armed Israeli forces that destroyed one-tenth of Lebanon in response to actions of a guerrilla organization over which even the Israeli government admits the Lebanese government has no control.

How can such savagery be explained? Perhaps the story begins in the events of 1981, when then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sought to stave off what seemed to be inevitable defeat in his Likud bloc's re-election campaign by mounting airstrikes against Palestinians all over Lebanon, killing a number of Syrian soldiers by shooting down two troop-carrying Syrian helicopters over northern Lebanon, and bombing Iraq's French-installed experimental nuclear reactor at Salman Pak, south of Baghdad.

The Iraq bombing, in which a French technician was killed, prompted world-wide condemnation and strained U.S. relations with both Saudi Arabia and Jordan, whose airspace the Israeli military aircraft had violated. However, when all the dust had settled, Begin, whose Likud party had been running far behind his Labor coalition rivals in pre-election polls, had won the Israeli election.

A Page out of Begin's Book

From April 11 to 26 of this year, therefore, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres took a leaf out of Begin's election campaign strategy. After the November 1995 assassination of Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, public sympathy touched off a rise of 10 to 15 points in Labor's lead over Likud in Israeli public opinion polls. Rabin's successor, Peres, chose to capitalize on the upsurge by moving Israeli elections, which by law had to be held before November 1996, up to May 29.

Then came four suicide bombings by Islamist extremists which killed 59 persons in Israel in addition to the four bombers. The bombings seemed such a setback to the "peace process" that, briefly, the two major Israeli parties were neck-and-neck in public opinion polls and Peres feared that another suicide bombing, particularly in the two or three weeks before the election, could sink his chances. …

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