Israeli Violence: Reflections on the Summer War in Lebanon

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has been condemned by Wingorad for a lack of any clear military objective for the war. He has been condemned also, for the complete absence of a political direction, giving instead total operational command to the Israeli military. And finally he has been condemned for refusing any diplomatic channels to end the conflict, and relying instead on total military domination as the path to victory. Yet none of these assessments will have implications beyond the reshuffling of Zionism’s champions in the upper echelons of Israel‘s polis. To do so would require an analysis that cuts to the heart of Israel‘s militarism and its impulsive use of violence as an expression of a collective conscience.

This impulse was vividly on display in Lebanon, in 2006. This small, strategically important Levant state, carved out of greater Syria by the French in the 1920s, has been a proxy battle-ground in an incessant Arab-Israeli conflict for decades. In 2000 the religious paramilitary movement, Hizbullah, scored a rare Arab victory by driving Israel out of Southern Lebanon. Since then simmering tensions with Israel have persisted. Israel continued to conduct fly-over missions into Lebanese territory in an effort to dislodge Hizbullah south of the Litani river; and Hizbullah continued to fire intermittent rockets onto northern Israeli towns, and conduct daring raids into Israel proper. Hizbullah’s July 2006 raid, which resulted in the deaths of three Israeli soldiers and the capture of two, sparked Israel‘s largest most brutal military operation in 20 years.

The Israeli escalation of its tit-for-tat campaign against Hizbullah, had its roots in the complete failure of the Gaza withdrawal process. The constant rocket attacks and the kidnapping of soldiers by Palestinian militants based in Gaza formed the direct and implicit backdrop of what happened in Lebanon. In Gaza, the conflict was framed as pure self-defence, an existential crisis with the failure of unilateralism that threatened the very viability of a Jewish majority state. The brainchild of Ariel Sharon, unilateral disengagement was a ruse by which Israel would shed itself of 1 million Palestinians whilst maintaining its annexation of East Jerusalem and large portions of the West Bank. Partial disengagement was promised in the remaining occupied territories, from which the Palestinians would piece together something resembling a state.

By summer of 2006 it was evident that this plan had been a catastrophic failure. In its attempts to impose a solution to its Palestinian conflict, Israel had not reckoned with the totality by which the Palestinian population would reject Israeli authority. The Palestinians elected Hamas to their seat of government – a faction which explicitly rejected all previous agreements made by the Palestinian Authority with Israel, and completely rejected the 1948 UN partition of the land into separate Jewish and Arab states. This embrace of a movement whose ideologies were based on the most revolutionary forms of political Islam was a radical symbol of rebellion against Israel and its exercise of authority. 

Israel’s response to Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian territories resulted in the brutalisation of the already oppressive occupation regime. Financial sanctions crippled the Palestinian economy leaving millions of the population reliant on food aid. The system of checkpoints and exclusion zones that had enforced a system of apartheid in the West Bank were extended, cutting off West Bank Palestinians from those in Israel and Gaza. As Israeli power slipped, and their plans to enforce a settlement lay in jeopardy, violence became an increasingly familiar hallmark of the regime. “Loss of power becomes a temptation to substitute violence for power,” remarked Hannah Arendt in her evocative treatise on violence.(1) Violence, she added, then becomes a form of terror and domination.

The kidnapping of the young Israeli conscript, Corporal Gilad Shalit, in June 2006, unleashed a first wave of Israeli terror upon Gaza. As tanks rolled in, Israeli planes destroyed the entire infrastructure of the small enclave – laying to waste its roads, bridges, airports, power-stations, and other key facilities. This was a viciously executed form of collective punishment.(2)

In Israel, public opinion continued to support the government and its use of uncompromising measures against the Palestinians – whose presence in Gaza was seen as an existential threat. It was self-defence that became the aphorism of Israeli militarism. It is the most justifiable use of violence. “No one questions the use of violence in self-defence… because the danger is not only clear but also present, and the end justifying the means is immediate,” wrote Hannah Arendt in her treatise On Violence.(3) It is in the hidden texture of Zionism, whose fulfilment is seen intrinsic to the survival of the Jewish people; now threatened by the Gazan’s refusal to accept their extrication from the rest of Israel.

“Our strength is in defence,” remarked David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister and architect of the Haganah paramilitaries, which formed the backbone of the Israeli Defence Force. “And this strength will give us a political victory if… the world know that we are defending ourselves rather than attacking”(4) Zionism has based its legitimacy and necessity on self-defence, needing always threats and danger to exert its primacy. Today this threat is defined as all forms of political Islam – whether it’s advocated by Hamas in Gaza, or Hizbullah in Lebanon. This is a discourse under which the aspirations of Palestinians could be completely subsumed into a larger battle. In this climate, the war in Lebanon became another front in this global war, where compromise was out of the question.

By successfully resisting and defeating Israeli troops in pitched battles, Hizbullah – the army of God – had become the most effective faction of resistance against Israel. Their resistance in 2006 achieved something that no secular Arab state was able to deliver its people. In Israel, this was an outrageous turn of events. With the use of indiscriminate weapons, Israel unleashed a fury upon Lebanon. Christian quarters of Beirut were bombed, and southern Lebanon was emptied of its civilian population. With every rocket that was fired into northern Israel, Israel responded ten-fold. The conflict became an escalating spiral. It was, in the end, outside powers, whose intervention Israel had for so long resisted, that ended the vicious cycle. Through UN mediation, Israel agreed a ceasefire in a vain attempt to save-face in its futile war. Frustrated, Israeli artillery continued to bomb Lebanon into the last hour before the ceasefire came into force.

Lebanon 2006 gave the world another taste of Israel’s ferocity. There were no war aims. There was no agenda beyond the exercise of violence for its own sake. Olmert did not pursue diplomatic channels to pacify its northern borders, for to do so would compromise the viability of Zionism. More than 400,000 Palestinian refugees are still stateless in Lebanon, devoid of rights and recognition, victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing from a previous generation. Peace, compromise, or a solution to the Middle Eastern morass, would mean engaging with this white elephant.

As such, the modus operandi of Israeli policy since the collapse of the Oslo peace accords has been to systematically deny the existence of any “partner” on the Palestinian side – to deny existence to a Palestinian movement. There is no option for Zionism’s survival but to conduct itself unilaterally through a singular exercise of power. Israel has refused to countenance the 2002 roadmap of peace offered by the Arab world – despite the monumental offer of full recognition and normalisation of relationships – for this very reason; peace would mark the slow death of Zionism.

In Israel, with its institutionalised democracy and systems of checks and balances, we are confronted not merely with the disintegration of power structures, but with power, seemingly still intact and free to manifest itself, losing its grip and becoming ineffective. If there has been one lesson to be learned from Lebanon a year ago, it is that the Middle East’s greatest power is helpless to end a war, clearly disastrous for all concerned, in one the world’s most powerless states. “Every decrease in power is an open invitation to violence – if only because those who hold the power and feel it slipping from their hands, be they the government or be they the governed, have always found it difficult to resist the temptation to substitute violence for it.”(5) Israeli violence will always be a symbol of its powerlessness.

Khurram Aziz is a Senior Researcher at the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies, personal online journal at


1. Hannah Arendt, On Violence, (Harvest Book, 1969), p53.

2. It is important to distinguish here between ‘terrorism’, in the popular sense of the lone suicide bomber targeting a civilian population, and ‘terror’, in the sense Arendt defines it. The act of the suicide bomber is the most extreme form of violence: the “One against All.” Terror on the other hand, refers to ‘state terror,’ or ‘mass terror’, akin to the period of terror following the French Revolution  Arendt specifically refers to Robespierre in the French context, as well as Communist regimes in Eastern Europe during the 1960s in her definition of ‘terror’.

3. Arendt, p52.

4. David Ben-Gurion to Va’ad Leumi in Tel Aviv, May 5, 1936;, cited in Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, From Peace to War (Oxford University Press 2005), p174

5. Arendt, p85-87

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