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On Israel flattening Beirut: there is nothing new under the sun

The infamous Haaretz op-ed restates an 11-year-old thesis known as the "Dahiya Doctrine," developed and implemented during the 2006 Lebanon War and the 2014 Gaza assault.

Press Association/AP/Mohammed Zaatari. All rights reserved.Professor Amitai Etzioni is straightforward. He does not sugarcoat his language or his intention as he shares his thoughts in his now-infamous op-ed for Haaretz, "Should Israel Flatten Beirut to Destroy Hezbollah's Missiles?"

The newspaper changed the title twice, as reported by Salon. But regardless of the words in the title, the intention is clear: how to justify Israel's policy and military tactics during armed conflicts.

A reader unfamiliar with the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict might be impressed with the intentions behind the article. The problem that is identified is that "most of Hezbollah's 100,000 missile arsenal are hidden in civilian areas." And the point of the op-ed is allegedly to push Israel to "examine now the ethical and logistical consequences of its first use of extreme conventional weapons against them."

What comes out of this editorial introduction is the following: Israel faces an ethical dilemma because it cares about civilian areas. Also, the time frame is set as "now" which may lead us to think that it is the first time Israel has ever had to contend with the possibility of civilian casualties as a result of its offensives – or as it likes to call them, its acts of self-defence or counter-terrorism.

As a result, Israel needs to examine "ethical consequences" of its actions, suggesting that this is even a consideration at a time when Palestinian lives have become inconsequential, and when international outrage or law has never stopped Israel from committing war crimes, as documented by a large number of reports by the United Nations and human rights organisations.

For those genuinely shocked with the use of such terminology in 2016, the outrage must be directed at the Israeli government and its policies.

Etzioni's op-ed has been criticised on various grounds, all of which are important and timely. However, what the entire discussion and denunciations miss is the fact that Etzioni is merely stating an (at least) 11-year-old doctrine developed and implemented during the 2006 Lebanon War, as well as in the 2014 Gaza assault.

As (Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University) Rashid Khalidi explained in relation to the 2014 Gaza aggression, Israel’s military policy during that conflict was “the fruits of a sinister strategy implemented by the Israeli military at least since the 2006 assault on Lebanon, which goes by the name “Dahiya doctrine.”

According to Major General Gadi Eizenkot, any subsequent Israeli military strategy would follow the lines of the "Dahiya doctrine." This is “in reference to the leveled Dahiya quarter in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.” He further clarified, according to a 2008 wikileaks cable, that:

“Israel will use disproportionate force upon any village that fires upon Israel, ‘causing great damage and destruction.’ Eisenkot made very clear: this is not a recommendation, but an already approved plan – from the Israeli perspective, these are ‘not civilian villages, they are military bases.’ Eisenkot in this statement echoed earlier private statements made by IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who said the next fight in Southern Lebanon would come at a much higher cost for both sides – and that the IDF would not hold back.” 

In short, this is not the first time such "ethical and logistical" questions have been raised. Since before and after the creation of the state of Israel, Zionist leaders' obsession has been with how to establish Israel's superiority and deterrence and with how to "sell" their actions in the world of public opinion.

In relation to Israel's military tactics, General Moshe Dayan had these words to say (as quoted by David Hirst in 2003 and Jonathan Cook in 2010), and it is worth remembering them as a backdrop to the mentioned op-ed: "Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.

Seen in this light, the point is not just to get George Washington University or Etzioni to apologise for his words. For those genuinely shocked and concerned with the use of such language and terminology in 2016, the outrage must be directed at the Israeli government and its military policies, especially at a time when it is indeed acting like a "mad dog" without any concern for ethical or logistical consequences, and of course, without any concern that its actions would be repudiated by world leaders or revealed and denounced by mainstream media.

In other words, when Israel and its proponents try to convince the international community that flattening Beirut or another city is the only option it has, I can only remember this verse from Ecclesiastes: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

Flattening Beirut has been done before. Flattening Gaza has been done before. And both may be done again if Israel's license to kill with impunity is left unchecked.

About the author

Halim Shebaya is a Beirut-based analyst and researcher. He teaches in the School of Arts and Sciences at the Lebanese American University and has worked on social and political affairs for a number of local and international organisations. His articles have appeared in the World Post, Huffington Post, Al-Jazeera English, Jadaliyya, Legal Agenda, Annahar, Assafir, and Al Akhbar. He holds an M.Div. in Theology (NEST), M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies (SOAS), and an L.L.M. in Public International Law (Nottingham). Find him on Twitter @halimshebaya


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