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Irish involvement in the Lebanon – Left and further Left. August 28, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Israeli - Lebanon Conflict, Lebanon, Marxism, Middle East, The Left, Uncategorized.
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An article in today’s IT by Deagláde Bréadún (subscription required) points up some of the current fault lines on the left and further left over the outcome of the Israeli/Hizbullah conflict and the response of the Irish government to the request to send troops to the participate in the upcoming UN mission.
Both the Labour Party and Sinn Féin (no liberal hand wringing down at the IT as to where on the political spectrum SF lies) are broadly in favour of some level of participation. Joe Costello is quoted as saying that he does not believe ‘we should turn our back on a request for support from either the Lebanese government or the United Nations’. Aengus Ó Snodaigh is in favour of such a mission although would want the UN forces to patrol both sides of the border. John Gormley takes a more cautious position arguing that ‘the rule of engagement for any UN force need to be studied carefully and debated fully in the Dáil…the situation…is still extremely volatile and serious doubts have been expressed about the durability of the ceasefire’. Reading between the lines it appears to me, at least, that that indicates the Greens would probably sign up to a certain level of intervention.
However on the further left there is less agreement. The Irish Anti-War Movement through it’s chairman Richard Boyd Barrett is entirely against any western involvement because of ‘fundamental flaws in the resolution 1701’ which he sees as ‘ambiguous and biased in favour of Israel…it also repeats what I think is a lie, that Hizbullah started the conflict. There is very substantial evidence now that the Israeli assault on Lebanon had nothing to do with hostages, but was planned months in advance with the connivance of the US and was part of the preparations for a future US assault on Iran and maybe Syria’.
This position is shared by the Anti-War Network and by Roger Cole of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance. He said, that the ‘key purpose of the troops being sent to Lebanon is to go to war with the resistance in Lebanon; in effect to take up where the Israeli army left off’. He continues that ‘Ireland is now not only not neutral, it is an integral part of the Bush Blair war machine’.
By contrast the NGO Peace Alliance was initially in favour of troops participating as long as they were peace keepers, not peace-enforcers, but that statement was withdrawn prior to a ‘full meeting of [their] executive’.
There are aspects which must naturally be clarified. The safety of the UN mission is a priority. But in some respects it’s not the absolute priority. That has to be the safety and integrity of the Lebanese civilian population and the Lebanese state. The presence of a significant UN mission, with sufficient mandate and personnel is largely it’s own guarantee of safety from the depradations of the IDF or Hizbullah.
So what to make of this? Well a number of points strike me immediately. First is the overt identification by Roger Cole with what he describe as the ‘resistance’ in South Lebanon. There are obvious reasons why such a movement developed in Southern Lebanon. The legitimacy of that movement is a different issue. But such a clear alignment with a ‘side’ seems to me to be the antithesis of neutrality or peace, particularly in the context of the Lebanon, a sectarian state with a delicate balance of power between competing minorities where there is a legitimate government supported by a reasonably (and in the context of the region an admirably) democratic mandate. A government, incidentally, which does indeed have Hizbullah elements within it. It is surprising that IAWM and Roger Cole are not more supportive of a government which has largely (along with the Lebanese people) borne the brunt of the hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah rather than to one or other of the combatants.
Secondly is the stark division between the two strands of the ‘left’. One is willing to accept the bona fides of the United Nations in this process, the other dismisses the resolutions as ‘flawed’. Perhaps the resolution is flawed. It’s hard to conceive of it not being in the current situation once one factors in the environment, those supporting the various sides and so on. But if it is the best there is, if it actually an instrument to achieve a cessation of conflict – which has happened albeit imperfectly – it appears to me to be in part a way forward. But wait a second, if the resolution, which is masterful in it’s ambiguity can be said to achieve one huge success it is in the even-handedness of it’s proscriptions. There is no mention of disarming Hizbullah – although the internal logic of the resolution is that that will happen. Israel is not allowed to carry out offensive actions, but although it can theoretically carry out ‘defensive’ actions the deployment of UN peacekeepers in addition to the 15,000 Lebanese troops will soften it’s cough in that regard. There are no clear winners. Peace is maintained and in the absence of a regional agreement, which – let’s be honest – at this point appears a Utopian hope, perhaps a breathing space can develop.
Third is the way in which both strands appear to have different interpretations of what is happening on the ground. Labour and Sinn Féin appear to be focussed on the specific issue. The further left appears wedded to the notion that everything slots into a single seamless tapestry of US intervention in the region. Perhaps, or perhaps not. Even if one were to accept the arguable contention that the conflict was no more than a proxy between the US and Iran (a view which underplays the very real antagonisms between the two major participants in that recent conflict – Hizbullah and Israel) the outcome has surely been one not to the liking of the US. Hizbullah has emerged broken but unbowed, the Israeli military and political apparatus is considerably shaken, to the point where the Olmert government is under threat from a resurgent Likud. And however bad Olmert has been the thought of a Likud administration should give even the most intransigent armchair non-warriors pause for thought. But more centrally if one has suspicions of just how this conflict played out in terms of the relationship between the US and Israel, then surely the relationship between Hizbullah and Syria and Lebanon is equally open to question. To cede support to Hizbullah appears to my mind to be highly suspect. Even more importantly, to throw up the charge that this is a proxy war is to entirely miss the point. Geo-political conspiracy theories, whether accurate or not, are beside the point when it comes to safeguarding the people of the Lebanon. Possible future conflicts in Iran are largely irrelevant in the context of an actual humanitarian crisis in the Lebanon. To argue otherwise is to replicate in part the errors that neo-conservatism made in Iraq.
Fourthly there appears to be an aversion to putting Irish feet on the ground on the part of the further left, perhaps as a point of principle, again perhaps not. In a way this is the most inexplicable aspect to me. As a left internationalist it seems to me that countries such as this one have a duty (one that we haven’t been shy of fulfilling in the past) to participate in international projects such as these. What is it all about otherwise? Rhetoric, hot air? The illusion of solidarity while Israeli aircraft bomb South Lebanon into ruins while Hizbullah rockets fall across the north of Israel? I genuinely find it difficult to understand why Boyd Barrett and Cole appear so antagonistic to such actions. They cloak their aversion in the language of the ‘Bush/Blair war machine’ but that is hyperbole. The Bush administration has been humbled by the events in Lebanon over the past two months. They have seen a pressure of world opinion bear upon them to force a resolution to the conflict. Those of us who are sharply critical of the duplicity of their previous support for the Lebanese government and then abandonment of it in order to give Israel time to prosecute their own strategic aims can at least take some heart in the damping down of the conflict and the internationalisation of security in that area through the auspices of the UN and the stark demonstration of the limits of ‘hard’ power in the contemporary world.
Whether any of this has any purchase on the public and political imagination beyond the coteries involved is debatable. There is fairly broad public support for the UN as an institution, whatever the continuing hatchet jobs from left and right (Magill magazine has had an interesting if flawed series of articles on the UN which are bleakly dismissive of it as an institution). There is also, I would suspect, strong sympathy in this country for the Lebanese and I hope that the UN mission will be widely supported. It’s difficult to see the government allowing troops onto the ground without the situation being largely pacified. That in itself is neither dishonest nor dishonourable. But it largely predicates against this becoming an election issue over the next eight or nine months. In the context of ‘triple locks’ the nature of UN support is effectively a mandate in itself. We have heard, and continue to hear, of the ‘illegality’ of conflicts such as Kosovo and Iraq. This ‘illegality’ is presumed to derive from a lack of a mandate under international law, but particularly the UN. I’m not entirely convinced of the necessity for the latter in every circumstance, but I’m pretty certain that where forthcoming it is necessary to move forward. The response of Cole and Boyd Barrett is such that one wonders just how much more legitimation is necessary before they would accept the necessity to despatch peace-keeping forces.
However, the unfortunate but intrinsic logic of their position is one that would prolong the conflict and the suffering of the Lebanese people. No UN forces on the ground and fighting will almost inevitably (and at the behest of one or other of the parties) break out again. Indeed former ambassador Noel Dorr makes much this point in a thoughtful article in today’s Irish Times (again subscription required) where he notes “The UN force will certainly face difficulties. Yet without it, the present “cessation” is unlikely to last”. The calls for something to happen to improve the situation were heartfelt and sincere from almost all sides. The reality was that that ‘something’ could only occur through the UN. Now something is happening it’s apparently not good enough.

Yet another example of the better being driven out by the best?

Comments»

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