Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel Derails the Peace Train Again

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel Derails the Peace Train Again

Article excerpt

Israel Derails the Peace Train Again

On Jan. 25, 1955, Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharrett noted in his diary that, according to U.S. emissaries, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser "believes in coexistence with Israel and knows that negotiations will open some day." On Feb. 10, Sharrett wrote that Nasser had agreed to meet with Israeli officials and that "the initiative is now up to Israel."

Three weeks later, however, Israeli forces launched a devastating attack on an Egyptian outpost in Gaza, killing 39 people including a 7-year-old boy. Sharrett reported the consequences: "There were good chances that things would develop in a positive way, but then came the attack on Gaza and naturally now it's off." Sharrett later quoted from a briefing by Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, who explained why peace was not a desirable goal.

Israel, Dayan said, "must see the sword as the main, if not the only, instrument with which to keep its morale high and to retain its moral tension. Toward this end it must invent dangers and to do this it must adopt the method of provocation and revenge."

Israel's assassination on Feb. 16, 1992, of Sheikh Abbas Musawi in Lebanon shows that 37 years later the intentions of Israeli leaders have not changed. The helicopter-fired rockets that burned to death the Party of God leader, his wife and 6-year-old son, and at least four others in his party, were aimed directly at the peace process itself.

Shortly afterwards, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens denounced the sheikh as "a man with blood on his hands," saying his assassination was Israel's response to terrorism, a statement calculated to rub raw the already inflamed feelings of Lebanon's Shi'i Muslims who regarded the sheikh as their religious leader.

The predictable result came within three days, when tens of thousands of mourning men and women marched through the streets of Lebanese towns shouting for revenge against Israel and America. Fighting in southern Lebanon immediately intensified as Shi'i militias fired on Israeli troops and were reportedly joined for the first time by members of the Lebanese army, which last year had fought to clear the area of Palestinian fighters in order to reduce the danger of confrontation with Israel. Israel responded with heavy bombing and shelling, recalling for apprehensive Lebanese the Israeli raids that preceded the 1982 invasion.

The timing of Israel's action suggests its true purpose. Two days earlier, Arab assailants had stabbed to death three Israeli soldiers in a military camp near Haifa. Israel immediately responded in its usual fashion, bombing two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and killing at least four people, including two children. But the attack against Sheikh Musawi was unrelated to those events. According to New York Times correspondent Clyde Haberman, military experts believed the ambush of Sheikh Musawi required careful planning and could not have been "cobbled together" as a reprisal for the killing of the three soldiers.

The ambush of Sheikh Musawi required careful planning.

The record suggests why it occurred when it did. Last November, just before the Madrid conference was to open, Israel bombed and shelled Lebanese villages for six straight days, claiming it was in retaliation for attacks on Israeli soldiers. Thousands of Lebanese were forced to evacuate their homes and were allowed to return only after Secretary of State James Baker asked Arens to end the military operation so the peace process would not be jeopardized.

On Jan. 10, just two days before the second round of peace talks, Israeli war planes bombed and rocketed a Bedouin camp just south of Beirut, killing 12 people including five women and four children. …

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