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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2613

War in Lebanon and Some Lessons for Sri Lanka

Professor Laksiri Fernando, Ryukoku University, Japan (Visiting)

If the TV images that came from southern Lebanon (particularly the BBC) during the last three weeks were to represent the way the “war against terrorism” is waged by Israel, backed by the US, many people and countries would at least disagree, including some Western ones. They have already done so. The disagreement is not so much about the objectives of the war, but the way they are being pursued without much consideration for the civilian lives.

It was nearly the same the week before when Israel unleashed its wroth against Hamas in the Gaza strip (the tiny little area that accommodates over 1.5 million destitute Palestinians), when Corporal Gilead Shalit was abducted. At least in the first instance Israel was anxious to negotiate through Cairo and a deal was almost struck when Hezbollah abducted two soldiers, killing two others, from the Israel side of the border. Even BBC reported that Israeli battalions were pulling out from northern Gaza in anticipation of a settlement.

It was natural for Israel to consider the Hezbollah abduction as an act of war. Given the recent spate of violence that Hezbollah has been unleashing against Israeli civilians, including shelling, incursion and abduction, there has been a pattern of preparation and planning on the part of Hezbollah that Israeli intelligence sources must have detected. The rockets that Hezbollah has launched averaging at least 90 per day during the last three weeks, although largely useless as modern day weapons, were not a spontaneous reaction against what is termed as Israeli aggression.

There are doubts that Hamas abduction and Hezbollah abductions were connected at least through a cell in Hamas, sympathetic and connected to Hezbollah. The demands that they made for the exchange of prisoners were almost identical. Although the Gaza and Shalit became almost forgotten aftermath of Hezbollah abductions, there are now possibilities that Hezbollah sympathizers and Hamas extremists launching fresh terrorist attacks from Gaza on Israel after their setbacks in southern Lebanon. That is one reason why a mere ceasefire without a proper settlement, at least to some of the key the issues, is useless.

There are possibilities of some admiring Hezbollah as it emerged against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon after 1982 for almost 18 years. However this happened before the Oslo Accord and when there was no political solution in sight for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those days, southern Lebanon was used by Fattah militants in their struggle against Israel, and rightfully for the rights of the Palestinians. Hezbollah first emerged in that context.

Apart from the above slender history, there is no justification for Hezbollah to fight against Israel apart from its ‘terrorist hatred’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ against Israel with the sole intention for destroying the ‘Jewish state.’ The Political Manifesto of Hezbollah is testimony to that which states: “our struggle will end only when this entity [Israel] is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.”

Of course the Israeli ‘atrocities’ during the Lebanese occupation (1982-2000) might be cited as justification. Then there is no end to the justification of terrorism (apart from your personal liking or disliking!), within vicious cycles of violence, where violence breeds not only violence but also naked terrorism. This is one reason why the ‘shocking and deplorable’ bombing of the apartment building in Qana should have been avoided; 54 civilians were instantly killed and 37 among them were innocent children.

If you look at that incident alone, with a view to understanding what the hell was going on, it is a lame excuse for the Israeli’s to say that somebody fired rockets from that building. However, when the scenes of the bombing in the southern Lebanon are reviewed in general, the Israeli intention seems to be to create a large buffer zone in the southern Lebanon free from buildings, civilian occupation and of course Hezbollah rocket launches before any international peace keeping force moves in.

Whether Israel has a right to do so is a matter of opinion, and in my opinion Israel is doing so in order to guarantee a safe life and peace for its own citizens. It is a noble cause after all (to ensure peace and safeguard citizens) which is rare on the part of many of the states or governments that we are accustomed with.

Two days after Qana, a ‘Hezbollah looking’ youngster appeared from a near by building, wearing a black tea shirt and swearing that the same fate would be meted out for Israel soon and also claiming that most of those who were there in the destroyed building were his relatives (BBC report). It is possible that Israeli military spotted a rocket emerging from the vicinity before they attacked, and Hezbollah was keeping the civilians as human shields. Israel distributed leaflets requesting civilians to evacuate the area a week before. Why didn’t the Red Cross and other relief agencies, which rushed to the scene after the carnage, evacuated the innocent civilians to safe places before the Israel-Hezbollah confrontations took place? The tragedy of war is that the spotting techniques or even the laser guided bombs are also not that smart as most of the people seem to believe.

While it is a terrible tragedy for one country (Israel) even to inconvenience the citizens of another country (Lebanon) to safeguard the citizens of its own country, there is no question that the Lebanese government should shoulder much of the responsibility or blame for not acting against Hezbollah when they were amassing rockets and rocket launchers against Israel. This is similar to the mistakes that India committed, whether under political pressure from Tamil Nadu or not, when several militant groups were given sanctuary, sustenance and support to launch their political activities against the state in Sri Lanka. But that time there was no proper understanding on the part of India about the implications and consequences such actions would bring to both Sri Lanka and India.

There is also a difference between the two terrorisms that Israel and Sri Lanka are faced with. There is no question that internal and external demarcations are increasingly diminishing in the case of many of the conflicts around the world. However, Hezbollah and Hamas are not part of Israel while the LTTE is very much (though not completely) a product of our own socio-political circumstances that the Sri Lankan state has to recognize and be careful about in taking actions against that terrible terrorist outfit. This recognition should not weakened the Sri Lankan state, but rather strengthen it both politically and militarily, or internally and externally.

The LTTE still has the TNA in Parliament, although they are very much silent these days. They also entertain a significant support base among the Tamil community, although dwindling, both in the North and the East, and also outside including Colombo - as some of their pressing national grievances and issues are not yet resolved. The LTTE controlled areas might not be like southern Lebanon where a single aerial bomb could kill 54 innocent civilians in one day. Nevertheless, the LTTE could still use innocent civilians as human shields as Hezbollah has done so in a grand scale in southern Lebanon.

Already there are over 5,000 recent refugees in Tamil Nadu who have fled to India to escape an Eelam War IV. Although the present circumstances internationally and in India are largely different to the conditions of the 1980s, a possible backlash in Tamil Nadu cannot be underestimated for various political reasons, if the innocent Tamil civilians are attacked by the mobs or by military action. Warning about that kind of a backlash which could go in favor of the LTTE (and engineered by them) is completely in order, although I would not see much point in repeating that warning again and again like Mantra.

Technically speaking, Israel could wage war against Hezbollah or Hamas (external terrorists), but Sri Lanka cannot wage war against the LTTE in the same manner. One might say that this is a hair splitting argument and war is war whether you declare it or not. The distinction, however, is important not only for propaganda purposes but also in strategic calculations and tactics that need to be employed in countering internal terrorism. It is clear that President Mahinda Rajapakse has understood the matter very well when he rather paternalistically says that the “LTTE are our own citizens.” It is good propaganda any way.

It is not the Sri Lankan state that could declare war but the LTTE. What the Sri Lankan state could do is to deter and contain the LTTE allowing time for the outfit to dissipate or change. Allowing time is undoubtedly a risky game with or without a ceasefire, and change is something one cannot be sure of in these types of organizations. The greater possibility is to push the organization for political and military oblivion. Is this possible without offering a reasonable political solution to the Tamil question (also considering the Sinhalese and the Muslims) is the central question.

Since the failed attack on the Army Commander, General Sarath Fonseka, which could be considered as an act of war, the GoSL has been behaving quite rationally by employing military attacks (mainly aerial) as a way of deterrence and also offering opportunities for negotiations. This two pronged strategy is something which should advisably continue. Also there has been no point in sending the sorties whenever the LTTE strikes unless a major tactical advantage could be obtained. This reserve and discretion also has been followed.

This is not to deny the right and responsibility of the Sri Lankan state to regain its territory and command in the areas that the LTTE controls, as the LTTE has not been following the CFA and has continuously declined to negotiate with the government. It is in this context and partly because of its adamant refusal to renounce violence and terrorism both in words and deeds that Canada and the EU have now listed the LTTE as a terrorist organization along with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas.

This is the advantageous international environment that the Sri Lankan state is offered with. There is an international “war against terrorism” at present waged in the Middle East and particularly surrounding Lebanon. If the Sri Lankan government fails to denounce terrorism in the Middle East unequivocally perpetrated not only by Al Qaeda and Taliban but more particularly at present by Hezbollah and Hamas, the international support for Sri Lanka’s struggle against internal terrorism would be weakened.

This does not mean that Sri Lanka should approve all what Israel or the US is doing and particularly what happened in Qana. Israel itself regretted the incident and perhaps would learn lessons from the experience. The Qana incident is also a good eye opener for Sri Lanka to be careful about when it launches aerial bombardments particularly in areas inhabited by the civilians. There is no justification, however, to consider only LTTE as terrorist and Hezbollah or Hamas as freedom fighters.

It is the objectives and/or the methods that demarcate terrorism from other political movements. Perhaps the LTTE methods are more heinous than Hezbollah. But the objectives of Hezbollah are more dangerous than the LTTE, if there can be a comparison. It is dangerous to prefer or discriminate one ‘terrorism’ against the other.

There is no question that Israel is quite oblivious to diplomacy at present and use only military strategies to counter terrorism perhaps for understandable reasons. There would be no resolution, however, to the crisis that the three adjoining states - Israel, Lebanon and nebulous Palestine – are engulfed with without diplomacy, apart from the struggle to eliminate terrorism. Diplomacy is something what the US and Britain are hopefully trying to bring into the scene. All three states in the region – Israel, Lebanon and Palestine - demonstrate considerable potential for democracy, peaceful co-existence and economic progress, if the scourge of terrorism is eliminated.

- Asian Tribune -

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