Iran, Lebanon and tortured political analogies: Ian Black’s Israeli caricature

Ian Black

The latest report by the Guardian’s Middle East editor, Ian Black, Feb. 13, is titled “Israeli embassy attacks in Delhi and Tblisi could set off conflagration“.

Black’s analysis attempts to contextualize the recent attack on the Israeli embassy in India, and the thwarted attack in Georgia, (likely committed by Iran or Hezbollah) with the “ongoing campaign of sabotage and assassination against [Iranian] scientists” working on a nuclear programme”.

Black characterizes such covert acts as representing a “highly volatile element in an extremely unstable landscape.”

Adds Black:

Against a background of extraordinary turbulence across the Middle East, the Israeli-Iranian confrontation is by far the most dangerous element.

Black’s analysis of the Iranian-Israeli conflict includes the following:

  • A requisite obfuscation over Iran’s nuclear intentions.  Black non-judgmentally contrasts Iran’s insistence that its program is peaceful with “Israel and western countries adamant [that it] is not”, failing to cite the latest IAEA report, available on the Guardian website, which states: “the information indicates that Iran has carried out…a structured program…to develop an explosive nuclear device.”
  • The suggestion that Iranian attacks on Israeli targets are justified: Black quotes a former British diplomat accusing Israel of “international state terrorism [which] invit[es] a response. It looks like a further twist that will lead to a tit-for-tat.”

However, the most egregious distortion in Black’s report is the historical analogy he attempts to draw in the penultimate paragraph, suggesting that Israel is looking for a “pretext” to war.

Nor could the stakes be higher [for the Middle East]. In June 1982 an assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to London by the renegade Palestinian faction led by the Iraqi-backed Abu Nidal provided the pretext for war against Yasser Arafat’s PLO in Lebanon, despite a ceasefire that had held for nearly a year. Ariel Sharon, then defence minister, was pressing to attack and persuaded the prime minister, Menachem Begin, to go ahead

Full scale invasion, thousands of dead and years of war and occupation were the result.

Black’s characterization of the cause of the 1982 war, about which he attempts to draw an analogy to the current crisis, is grossly ahistorical.

The roots of the Lebanon war lay in the bloody expulsion of the PLO from Jordan, the terror group’s relocation to Lebanon in 1971 and subsequent staging of hundreds of terrorist acts across Israel’s northern border.

In March 1978, PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel, hijacked a bus and ended up murdering 34 Israeli civilians on board.

In response, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon and overran terrorist bases, pushing the PLO away from the southern border.

The IDF shortly withdrew and allowed UN forces to enter, but UN troops were unable, or unwilling, to prevent PLO terrorists from re-infiltrating the region and introducing new, and more dangerous arms – a striking similarity to the complete failure of UNIFIL troops to keep southern Lebanon free of Hezbollah weaponry, per their mandate under UN Resolution 1701, following the 2nd Lebanon War in 2006.

Violence escalated with a series of PLO attacks and Israeli reprisals, which culminated n a U.S. brokered cease­fire agreement in July 1981.

However, the PLO repeatedly violated the cease-fire over the ensuing 11 months, carrying out terror assaults from Jordanian territory. (Between July 1981 and June 1982 26 Israelis were killed and 264 injured.)

Meanwhile, a force of over 15,000 PLO members was encamped in of locations throughout Lebanon, including thousands of foreign mercenaries. Israel later discovered an extensive cache of weaponry – which included mortars, Katyusha rockets and an anti­aircraft network. The PLO also brought hundreds of T­34 tanks into the area, and even surface-to-air missiles.

Israeli commando raids were unable to stem the growth of the PLO army, the of frequency of attacks forced thousands of Israeli residents in the Galilee to flee their homes and spend large amounts of time in bomb shelters.

So, while the final provocation occurred in June 1982 when a Palestinian terrorist group led by Abu Nidal attempted to assassinate Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Black’s suggestion that Israel cynically used the assassination as a pretext break a peaceful “truce”, in order to launch an unnecessary war, is patently untrue.

What country on earth would permit a terrorist group (with an increasingly deadly arsenal of weaponry) on its border to launch frequent terror attacks against its citizens without a robust military response?

In fact, the important historical analogy with Iran today and the PLO in the early 1980s, which the Guardian’s Middle East editor fails to observe, is that Israel is again faced with increasingly well-equipped terrorist militias on their borders (Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad) – with funds, training and increasingly sophisticated weaponry provided directly by the regime in Tehran.

Every cross border raid, every missile attack, and every attempt to abduct Israeli soldiers by Iranian proxy armies in Lebanon and Gaza over the years have represented acts of war – military aggression by an Islamist state which is attempting to develop nuclear devices, producing rockets capable of delivering such a lethal payload, and whose leadership has provided explicit religious justifications for the use of weapons of mass destruction on Jewish civilians.

Black’s last paragraph included the following, which he no doubt views as an incriminating quote by Menachem Begin, to buttress the overriding narrative of an Israeli state determined to use any pretext to ignite a dangerous regional conflagration.

Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal,” [Menachem] Begin reportedly replied as his security chiefs explained the crucial detail and significance of the London attack. 

However, those of us who understand the circumstances of Israel’s wars against hostile state and non-state actors since its founding  (be it Nasser, the PLO, Hezbollah, Hamas or Iran) are not swayed by Black’s crude caricature of an Israeli antagonist.  We read the attributed quote and see an Israeli leader who understood that his first role was to protect his nation from harm, and that the threat posed by a well-equipped military force reigning terror down on Israeli civilians more than justified an assertive military response.

The casus belli for Operation Peace for the Galilee was self-evident, building for years, and needed no “pretext”.

The antagonists have changed, but Israeli leaders today similarly face a very real threat by an even more powerful foe.

Today, as in 1982, the Jewish state will not shy away from confronting clear and present dangers it faces, and need not morally justify – to Ian Black or others who fancy themselves sophisticated, dispassionate political sages – its fierce and unapologetic defense of its national interests, and its citizen’s lives. 

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