Noam Chomsky: U.S.-Backed Israeli Policies could Lead to "Extreme Disaster"
By Arch_Stanton
July 15, 2006

Israel has intensified its attacks on Lebanon as warplanes launched fresh strikes on Beirut airport, communication networks, Lebanese roads and a power plant. Meanwhile, the US has vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip. MIT professor Noam Chomsky says the US and Israel are punishing Palestinians for electing Hamas, and says Hezbollah's capture of Israeli soldiers subjects Lebanese "to terror and possible extreme disaster" from Israeli strikes. We also get comments from Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani in Jerusalem. [includes rush transcript] Israel has intensified its attacks on Lebanon as warplanes launched fresh strikes on Beirut airport, communication networks, Lebanese roads and a power plant.

More than 60 Lebanese civilians have been killed in the offensive which follows the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah.

Israeli jets bombed the main highway linking Beirut to Damascus, tightening an air, sea and land blockade of Lebanon.

The Israeli army said Hezbollah fighters fired more than 100 rockets on northern Israel on Thursday, killing two people, wounding 92 others and hitting Haifa, Israel's third largest city. Hezbollah denied firing into Haifa, but Israel described the incident as a "major escalation" of the crisis. The Lebanese army also responded to the offensive with anti-aircraft fire.

Israel has warned that the south of Beirut could be targeted. Israeli jets dropped leaflets on Thursday warning people to stay away from Hezbollah offices. Some areas of the city are now without electricity following an attack on a power station. Israeli jets also struck a pro-Syrian Palestinian group in eastern Lebanon. No casualties were reported.

The escalation has sparked international calls for restraint. The European Union and Russia have criticized Israel's strikes in Lebanon as disproportionate. President Bush said Israel has the right to defend itself, but should not weaken the Lebanese government.

The UN Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting later on Friday. Lebanon has urged it to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire. The US has already vetoed a council resolution demanding Israel end its military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Eight of the last nine vetoes have been cast by the United States. Seven of those were to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined on the phone right now by Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of dozens of books. His latest is Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. In May, he traveled to Beirut, where he met, among others, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. He joins us on the phone from Masachusetts. We welcome you to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Well, can you talk about what is happening now, both in Lebanon and Gaza?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, of course, I have no inside information, other than what's available to you and listeners. What's happening in Gaza, to start with that -- well, basically the current stage of what's going on -- there's a lot more -- begins with the Hamas election, back the end of January. Israel and the United States at once announced that they were going to punish the people of Palestine for voting the wrong way in a free election. And the punishment has been severe.

At the same time, it's partly in Gaza, and sort of hidden in a way, but even more extreme in the West Bank, where Olmert announced his annexation program, what’s euphemistically called “convergence” and described here often as a “withdrawal,” but in fact it’s a formalization of the program of annexing the valuable lands, most of the resources, including water, of the West Bank and cantonizing the rest and imprisoning it, since he also announced that Israel would take over the Jordan Valley. Well, that proceeds without extreme violence or nothing much said about it.

Gaza, itself, the latest phase, began on June 24. It was when Israel abducted two Gaza civilians, a doctor and his brother. We don't know their names. You don’t know the names of victims. They were taken to Israel, presumably, and nobody knows their fate. The next day, something happened, which we do know about, a lot. Militants in Gaza, probably Islamic Jihad, abducted an Israeli soldier across the border. That’s Corporal Gilad Shalit. And that's well known; first abduction is not. Then followed the escalation of Israeli attacks on Gaza, which I don’t have to repeat. It’s reported on adequately.

The next stage was Hezbollah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers, they say on the border. Their official reason for this is that they are aiming for prisoner release. There are a few, nobody knows how many. Officially, there are three Lebanese prisoners in Israel. There's allegedly a couple hundred people missing. Who knows where they are?

But the real reason, I think it's generally agreed by analysts, is that -- I’ll read from the Financial Times, which happens to be right in front of me. “The timing and scale of its attack suggest it was partly intended to reduce the pressure on Palestinians by forcing Israel to fight on two fronts simultaneously.” David Hearst, who knows this area well, describes it, I think this morning, as a display of solidarity with suffering people, the clinching impulse.

It's a very -- mind you -- very irresponsible act. It subjects Lebanese to possible -- certainly to plenty of terror and possible extreme disaster. Whether it can achieve any result, either in the secondary question of freeing prisoners or the primary question of some form of solidarity with the people of Gaza, I hope so, but I wouldn't rank the probabilities very high.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Noam Chomsky, in the commercial press here the last day, a lot of the focus has been pointing toward Iran and Syria as basically the ones engineering much of what's going on now in terms of the upsurge of fighting in Lebanon. Your thoughts on these analyses that seem to sort of downplay the actual resistance movement going on there and trying to reduce this once again to pointing toward Iran?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the fact is that we have no information about that, and I doubt very much that the people who are writing it have any information. And frankly, I doubt that U.S. intelligence has any information. It's certainly plausible. I mean, there's no doubt that there are connections, probably strong connections, between Hezbollah and Syria and Iran, but whether those connections were instrumental in motivating these latest actions, I don't think we have the slightest idea. You can guess anything you’d like. It's a possibility. In fact, even a probability. But on the other hand, there's every reason to believe that Hezbollah has its own motivations, maybe the ones that Hearst and the Financial Times and others are pointing to. That seems plausible, too. Much more plausible, in fact.

AMY GOODMAN: There was even some reports yesterday that said that Hezbollah might try to send the Israeli soldiers that it had captured to Iran.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Israel actually claims that it has concrete evidence that that's what was going to happen. That's why it's attempting to blockade both the sea and bomb the airport.

NOAM CHOMSKY: They are claiming that. That's true. But I repeat, we don't have any evidence. Claims by a state that's carrying out the military attacks don't really amount to very much, in terms of credibility. If they have evidence, it would be interesting to see it. And in fact, it might happen. Even if it does happen, it won't prove much. If Hezbollah, wherever they have the prisoners, the soldiers, if they decide that they can't keep them in Lebanon because of the scale of Israeli attacks, they might send them somewhere else. I’m skeptical that Syria or Iran would accept them at this point, or even if they can get them there, but they might want to.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky , we have to break. When we come back, we'll ask you about the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations comments about Lebanon. We'll also be joined by Mouin Rabbani, speaking to us from Jerusalem, Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group. Then Ron Suskind joins us, author of The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of its Enemies Since 9/11. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest on the phone is Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His latest book is Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. I wanted to ask you about the comment of the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. He defended Israel's actions as a justified response. This is Dan Gillerman.

DAN GILLERMAN: As we sit here during these very difficult days, I urge you and I urge my colleagues to ask yourselves this question: What would do you if your countries found themselves under such attacks, if your neighbors infiltrated your borders to kidnap your people, and if hundreds of rockets were launched at your towns and villages? Would you just sit back and take it, or would you do exactly what Israel is doing at this very minute?

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Noam Chomsky, your response?

NOAM CHOMSKY: He was referring to Lebanon, rather than Gaza.


NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. Well, he's correct that hundreds of rockets have been fired, and naturally that has to be stopped. But he didn't mention, or maybe at least in this comment, that the rockets were fired after the heavy Israeli attacks against Lebanon, which killed -- well, latest reports, maybe 60 or so people and destroyed a lot of infrastructure. As always, things have precedence, and you have to decide which was the inciting event. In my view, the inciting event in the present case, events, are those that I mentioned -- the constant intense repression; plenty of abductions; plenty of atrocities in Gaza; the steady takeover of the West Bank, which, in effect, if it continues, is just the murder of a nation, the end of Palestine; the abduction on June 24 of the two Gaza civilians; and then the reaction to the abduction of Corporal Shalit. And there's a difference, incidentally, between abduction of civilians and abduction of soldiers. Even international humanitarian law makes that distinction.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what that distinction is?

NOAM CHOMSKY: If there's a conflict going on, aside physical war, not in a military conflict going on, abduction -- if soldiers are captured, they are to be treated humanely. But it is not a crime at the level of capture of civilians and bringing them across the border into your own country. That's a serious crime. And that's the one that's not reported. And, in fact, remember that -- I mean, I don’t have to tell you that there are constant attacks going on in Gaza, which is basically a prison, huge prison, under constant attack all the time: economic strangulation, military attack, assassinations, and so on. In comparison with that, abduction of a soldier, whatever one thinks about it, doesn't rank high in the scale of atrocities.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We're also joined on the line by Mouin Rabbani, a senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group and a contributing editor of Middle East Report. He joins us on the line from Jerusalem. Welcome to Democracy Now!


JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us your perspective on this latest escalation of the conflict there and the possibility that Israel is going to be mired once again in war in Lebanon?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, it's difficult to say. I couldn't hear Professor Chomsky's comments. I could just make out every sixth word. But I think that Israel is now basically, if you will, trying to rewrite the rules of the game and set new terms for its adversaries, basically saying, you know, that no attacks of any sort on Israeli forces or otherwise will be permitted, and any such attack will invite a severe response that basically puts the entire civilian infrastructure of the entire country or territory from which that attack emanates at risk. Judging by what we've seen so far, it more or less enjoys tacit to explicit international sanction. And I think the possibilities that this conflict could further expand into a regional one, perhaps involving Syria, is at this point quite real.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the UN resolution, a vote in the draft resolution, 10-to-1, on Gaza with the U.S. voting no and for countries abstaining -- Britain, Denmark, Peru and Slovakia?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, I think it would have been news if that resolution had actually passed. I think, you know, for the last decade, if not for much longer, it’s basically become a reality in the United Nations that it's an organization incapable of discharging any of its duties or responsibilities towards maintaining or restoring peace and security in the Middle East, primarily because of the U.S. power of veto on the Security Council. And I think we've now reached the point where even a rhetorical condemnation of Israeli action, such as we’ve seen in Gaza over the past several weeks, even a rhetorical condemnation without practical consequence has become largely unthinkable, again, primarily because of the U.S. veto within the Security Council.

AMY GOODMAN: Mouin, what do you think is going to happen right now, both in Gaza and in Lebanon?

MOUIN RABBANI: Well, I think it's probably going to get significantly worse. I mean, in Lebanon, it seems to be a case where Hezbollah has a more restricted agenda of compelling Israel to conduct prisoner exchange, whereas Israel has a broader agenda of seeking to compel the disarmament of Hezbollah or at least to push it back several dozen kilometers from the Israeli-Lebanese border. You know, the Israeli and Hezbollah perspectives on this are entirely incompatible, and that means that this conflict is probably going to continue escalating, until some kind of mediation begins.

In Gaza, it’s somewhat different. I think there Hamas has a broader agenda, of which effecting a prisoner exchange with Israel is only one, and I would argue, even a secondary part. I think there Hamas's main objective is to compel Israel to accept a mutual cessation of hostilities, Israeli-Palestinian, and I think, even more important, of ensuring their right to govern. And I think, at least as far as the Israeli-Palestinian part of this is concerned, Hamas's main objective has been to send a very clear message, not only to Israel, but to all its adversaries, whether Israeli, Palestinian or foreign, to remind the world that political integration and democratic politics for them are an experiment, that they have alternatives, and if they're not allowed to exercise their democratic mandate, that they will not hesitate, if necessary, to exercise those alternatives.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Noam Chomsky, right now industrial world leaders gathered in St. Petersburg for the G8 meeting. What role does the U.S. have in this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: In the G8 meeting?

AMY GOODMAN: No. What role -- they're just gathered together -- in this, certainly the issue of Lebanon, Gaza, the Middle East is going to dominate that discussion. But how significant is the U.S. in this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I think it will probably be very much like the UN resolution that you mentioned, which is -- I’m sorry, I couldn't hear what Mouin Rabbani was saying. But the UN resolution was -- the veto of the UN resolution is standard. That goes back decades. The U.S. has virtually alone been blocking the possibility of diplomatic settlement, censure of Israeli crimes and atrocities. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, the UN vetoed several resolutions right away, calling for an end to the fighting and so on, and that was a hideous invasion. And this continues through every administration. So I presume it will continue at the G8 meetings.

The United States regards Israel as virtually a militarized offshoot, and it protects it from criticism or actions and supports passively and, in fact, overtly supports its expansion, its attacks on Palestinians, its progressive takeover of what remains of Palestinian territory, and its acts to, well, actually realize a comment that Moshe Dayan made back in the early ’70s when he was responsible for the Occupied Territories. He said to his cabinet colleagues that we should tell the Palestinians that we have no solution for you, that you will live like dogs, and whoever will leave will leave, and we'll see where that leads. That's basically the policy. And I presume the U.S. will continue to advance that policy in one or another fashion.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky , I want to thank you for being with us. His latest book is Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. And Mouin Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, joining us from Jerusalem. Thank you both.