For background to the Israeli attacks on ships carrying aid to the blockaded people of Gaza, we publish Chapter 15 of the book “Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire,” PSL Publications, 2009. For more information and to order the book, go to www.palestinebook.com.
From the start in 2001, the Bush administration was determined to create a “New Middle East” through war and threats of war. Israel played a central role in its calculations. Bush and his top “national security” advisers, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and others, saw Israel as an invaluable ally. This view of Israel was not dissimilar to that of prior administrations.
Also central to the Bush administration’s goals was toppling independent regimes and defeating resistance movements in the region. This put Iraq in the crosshairs immediately. The unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 followed nearly 13 years of Democratic and Republican Party support for genocidal sanctions and bombing campaigns. Attacking Iraq was on the agenda at the first meeting of the Bush cabinet, Jan. 29, 2001—more than seven months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The U.S. government wanted to overthrow the Saddam Hussein-led government and replace it with a puppet regime. Washington wanted to dominate this strategically located country with its massive oil reserves. But the Hussein government refused the role of neocolonial subservience.
Knowing full well that Iraq posed no threat to the United States, the Bush administration—with key support from leading Democrats in Congress—carried out its “Shock and Awe” invasion in March-April 2003. Much of Iraq’s infrastructure was destroyed, along with its sovereignty.
For the neoconservatives who dominated Bush’s foreign policy, Iraq was meant to be a crucial first step in extending U.S. hegemony over the entire Middle East.
Baghdad fell to the invaders April 9, 2003. The same day, Rumsfeld triumphantly warned Iran, Syria and North Korea to draw the “appropriate lesson” from Iraq. (1) Based on what the United States had done in Iraq over the previous 13 years—criminal sanctions and bombings that killed over 1.5 million Iraqis—Rumsfeld’s words could only be understood as a terrorist threat, which translated: “Obey the dictates of Washington or we will bomb your cities, starve your people and reduce you to the status of colony, as we have done to Iraq.”
Rumsfeld was not speaking off-handedly. Over the next four years, the U.S. government carried out sustained efforts to bring about regime change in Iran, Syria, Sudan and Lebanon. In Lebanon, they used the guise of the pro-imperialist “Cedar Revolution.” At the same time, Washington sought to marginalize all Palestinian forces except its preferred leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
The brutal invasion and occupation of Iraq was meant not only to subjugate that country and seize its oil—previous to 1990, Iraq was the most developed of the Arab states—but also to have a “demonstration effect.” The invasion and occupation, the idea went, would “demonstrate” the supposed invincibility of U.S. power and, conversely, the futility of any attempt to resist. So confident was the Bush administration that on May 1, 2003, three weeks after the fall of Baghdad, they arranged to have the president land on an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego under a banner reading, “Mission Accomplished.”
Their triumph was short-lived. Instead of bowing before the new empire, the fierce resistance that had characterized Iraq’s fight against British colonialism from 1920 to 1958 reignited. What was demonstrated in Iraq was the exact opposite of what the Washington war planners anticipated. Despite its vast superiority in weaponry and ability to inflict massive casualties, the occupation army was shown to be vulnerable to a determined, popular resistance. Far from being a demonstration of invincibility, Iraq came very close to being a catastrophic defeat for the United States. Although the armed resistance is not at the levels of 2005-2006 for a number of reasons, Iraq is very far from being “pacified.”
The extreme aggressiveness of the Bush regime did not succeed in gaining its objectives in Iran, Syria, Sudan or Lebanon. In Lebanon, despite the U.S.-backed 2005 “Cedar Revolution,” which forced Syrian troops to leave the country, the alliance of popular forces led by Hezbollah gained strength.
A hole in the ‘Iron Wall’
Israel’s colonial reality breeds widespread
anti-Arab chauvinism. Here, Israeli girls
write messages on artillery shells
used to kill Lebanese, July 2006.
Photo: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Gerry Images
The failure of Washington’s attempt to control Lebanon led directly to Israel’s attack in summer 2006. This war should really be called a U.S.-Israeli war. That’s what it was. While the Israeli army, air force and navy carried out the assault, the U.S. government supplied arms, money, and political and diplomatic cover. Using the capture of two Israeli soldiers as the pretext, Israel launched six weeks of air attacks on Lebanese apartment buildings, hospitals, bridges, roads, power, water and sewage treatment plants, and more. It waged war on Gaza at the same time, using the same pretext of a “kidnapped” Israeli occupation soldier.
Over 1,200 Lebanese were killed and thousands more wounded. Much of what had been rebuilt after decades of a destructive civil war was destroyed again. In the midst of the war, it was revealed that U.S. and Israeli leaders had met months earlier to discuss a new war, and that Israeli war plans had been in the works for over a year.
In the early stages of the war, with its many Lebanese civilian casualties, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected a ceasefire proposal by the U.N. Security Council. Rice arrogantly dismissed the Israeli assault and its casualties as “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” It seemed then that Israel was bound to prevail because of its overwhelming military advantage, as it had in earlier wars.
But that did not happen. The death and destruction inflicted on Lebanon was horrendous, but the war was not the one-sided affair anticipated by Israel, the United States and much of the world. The Israeli military was never able to suppress rocket and missile fire into northern Israel that was a response to Israel’s bombing campaign. When the Israeli infantry and armored forces invaded Lebanon, they were repelled, suffering relatively heavy casualties of 119 soldiers killed and 450 wounded. (2) Israeli civilian casualties were reported at 43 killed, around 100 seriously wounded and 1,400 lightly wounded. On the Lebanese side, about 320 fighters and 900 civilians were killed, and more that 4,400 wounded. (3)
After a ceasefire agreement—vigorously sought by Israel and Washington—was reached on Aug. 12, 2006, the Israeli military scattered more than a million cluster bomblets across southern Lebanon. This calculated act of terrorism continues to take the lives and limbs of Lebanese children and adults today. But even that could not alter the outcome: Hezbollah and its allied popular resistance forces had unmistakably punched a hole in Israel’s much-vaunted “Iron Wall.”
The Gaza massacre
Two years later, in the Bush administration’s closing days, Israel launched another U.S.-backed assault, this time solely on besieged and densely populated Gaza. Israel pulled out its forces and settlements from inside Gaza in September 2005, but since that time it has maintained the occupation by surrounding and blockading the 1.5 million people inside.
In time-honored fashion, U.S. politicians and media assigned all blame for Israel’s war on Gaza to the Palestinian side. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) authored House Resolution 34. Pushed through Congress by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Jan. 8, 2009, it read in part:
“(5) Calls on all nations—
“(A) to condemn Hamas for deliberately embedding its fighters, leaders, and weapons in private homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, and otherwise using Palestinian civilians as human shields, while simultaneously targeting Israeli civilians; and
“(B) to lay blame both for the breaking of the “calm” and for subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza precisely where blame belongs, that is, on Hamas.”
The resolution passed by a vote of 390-5, with 16 abstentions. It contained not one word of criticism of Israel, which by then had been heavily bombing and shelling civilian areas for more than 10 days.
The congressional resolution was a complete falsification of history. After Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary election in January 2006, Israel resolved to starve the people in Gaza as a form of collective punishment. Collective punishment—like West Bank and Golan Heights settlements, the imprisonment of Palestinians inside Israeli jails, the systematic torture of prisoners, house demolitions and many other routine Israeli practices—violates international humanitarian law. But because of U.S. protection, Israel has been immune from suffering consequences for its wanton criminality.
Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported in February 2006 on a meeting of top Israeli officials shortly after the Palestinian elections. Dov Weisglass, a top advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told those assembled: “It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner but won’t die.” Among those who reportedly “rolled with laughter” at this grotesque “joke” were Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the army chief of staff and the head of the secret police. (4)
For the next nearly three years, Israel severely restricted and often completely blocked supplies and people from coming into Gaza, while also blocking commodities and people from going out. Because it is a tiny area with a large refugee population, food, medical supplies and other necessities must be brought into Gaza continually. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency trucks in food, medicine and educational materials.
Since it supposedly ended the occupation of Gaza, the Israeli military has regularly carried out targeted assassinations and other attacks inside Gaza by means of F-16 fighter-bombers, “Apache” attack helicopters and special operations forces.
Responding to the blockade, bombings and killings, Palestinian fighters fired homemade rockets from Gaza into Israel. Again, only the Palestinians actions were labeled as “terrorism” in the U.S. and European corporate media. Not once were Israel’s grave crimes called acts of state terrorism.
A six-month ceasefire agreement was negotiated in Cairo on June 19, 2008, between the Hamas-led government in Gaza and the Israeli government. Israel regularly violated the agreement by continuing the blockade, and on Nov. 4, Israel killed six people inside Gaza. It followed this attack by sealing off Gaza altogether. The resistance forces inside Gaza resumed rocket fire. The Bush administration and Democratic Party leaders, including Senate leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, condemned the Palestinians and proclaimed their full support for Israel.
This sequence of events should be understood for what it was: a worked-out war plan again using Israel’s favorite pretext of “retaliation”—the word that magically transforms the aggressor into victim and vice-versa.
One month later, on Dec. 27, Israel launched massive air strikes all over Gaza, which intensified over the next three weeks. Israel also initiated a massive land invasion of Gaza. In the assault, 1,417 Palestinians were killed and over 5,500 wounded. 5) The casualties were overwhelmingly civilian.
The Israeli military used some of the most horrific anti-personnel weapons—such as white phosphorous and the new Dense Inert Metal Explosive—in one of the most crowded areas of the planet. These weapons cause death and severe disfigurement in exceedingly cruel ways. Physicians noted the pattern of wounds they were treating during the assault on Gaza often were unusual. Patients came to them with severed limbs that showed signs of extreme heat at the point of amputation, but no metal shrapnel. (6)
Destitute before the Israeli assault, Gaza suffered over $2 billion in damage. Tens of thousands of homes, along with hospitals, schools and food warehouses, including U.N. facilities, were targeted for destruction. The sheer scale of destruction forced the mass media, spearheaded by Arab-language and European outlets, to document some of the atrocities being committed by the Zionists and endorsed by their U.S. backers. But Israel refused to allow reporters into Gaza; thus, most of the damning footage came out after the assault ended. Still, the reports coming out of Gaza helped reveal to the world the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli state.
On the Israeli side, there were 13 people reported killed, and 120 wounded. But while Israel suffered far fewer casualties than it had in Lebanon in 2006, the Gaza war also failed to achieve its real objective—the destruction of Hamas and other Palestinian resistance forces. All throughout the Gaza assault, resistance fighters continued to fire rockets into Israel and defend the civilian population as best they could. It was a lesson of courage to the world. The resolve of the Palestinian people did not waver in the face of a most powerful and brutal enemy.
- . “Rumsfeld Accuses Syria of Sheltering Baathists,” Guardian UK, April 10, 2003.↩
- . “Israel-Hezbollah conflict: Victims of rocket attacks and IDF casualties,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved June 15, 2009.↩
- . “Lebanon Under Siege,” Presidency of the Council of Ministers—Higher Relief Council (Lebanon), Nov. 9, 2006.↩
- . Ha’aretz, Feb. 14, 2006.↩
- . Palestine Committee for Human Rights, Press Release, March 12, 2009.↩
- . “Dense Inert Metal Explosive,” GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved June 15, 2009.↩