Israel Launches Heaviest Bombing of Lebanon in 24 Years; Airport Attacked, Over 40 Civilians Killed

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Israel has launched its heaviest bombing of Lebanon in 24 years following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. Three Israeli rockets hit runways at Beirut airport, forcing it to close. Israeli ships have entered Lebanese water to block ports. More than 20 bridges were targeted, causing heavy damage. Up to 47 civilians, including over 15 children were killed in the attacks. [includes rush transcript]

Israel has launched its heaviest bombing of Lebanon in 24 years. Three Israeli rockets hit runways at Beirut airport, forcing the closure of the country’s only international airport. Israeli ships have entered Lebanese water to block ports. More than 20 bridges were targeted, causing heavy damage. And an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at the headquarters of Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV station in a Beirut suburb. The major offensive follows the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah.

Overnight raids across southern Lebanon killed up to 47 civilians, including more than 15 children, and wounded over 100 people. Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told Haaretz “Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that.”

Hezbollah militants responded by firing volleys of rockets into northern Israel killing one Israeli woman and injuring 29. Eight Israeli troops were killed two injured a day earlier in the Hezbollah operation that captured the two soldiers.

Israel has said it holds Lebanon responsible for the soldiers’ capture and views it as an “act of war”. Hezbollah has said they will not be returned without a release deal for Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails. The Lebanese Prime Minister has denied any knowledge of the Hezbollah operation and refused to take responsibility for the soldiers” capture.

The Israeli offensive comes as Israel continues a separate attack in the Gaza Strip over another captured soldier. In Gaza, Israeli jets attacked the Palestinian foreign ministry building in Gaza City, injuring at least 10 people. At least 23 Palestinian civilians have died in 24 hours, including nine in one family whose Gaza City home was bombed.

  • Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He is author of the book “Dishonest broker: America’s Role in Israel and Palestine”
  • Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He joins us on the line from Tel Aviv.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone right now by Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, author of the book, Dishonest Broker: America’s Role in Israel and Palestine. And on the phone with us from Tel Aviv, we’re joined by Uri Avnery, a well known Israeli peace activist. Naseer Aruri, your response to what’s happening both in Gaza and now in Lebanon?

NASEER ARURI: Well, I think we can take the two situations as actually — as an opportunity, I think, for Israel to reshape the strategic landscape in the region. I think that the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the incursion into Lebanon, which you just described very well, are considerably the product of the same strategic goals. And I would mention two main goals.

One is to forestall a diplomatic solution based on two states, for which Hamas has been more than ready. I think Hamas has really been on record since it was elected, in interviews with the Israeli press, that it is ready to accept a two-state solution. If that was not given explicitly, certainly it was made implicit. And two days ago, Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister from Hamas, launched a peace offensive in an op-ed in the Washington Post. So it was made really very clear. And it seems that whenever Israel is threatened with a ceasefire or a peace offensive, it bombs its way out of a diplomatic settlement. I mean, the question of Hamas not accepting Israel is certainly not a valid one. So this is the first strategic goal that Israel would hope to realize.

And the second one, I think, is to try to realize objectives that remain unfulfilled since the '82 invasion and made worse since 2000, since Israel withdrew from Lebanon. What I have in mind is that in 1982 the Israeli invasion of Lebanon carried three major objectives. One is to foreclose on the option of a Palestinian state, because I think the PLO came to be seen in Lebanon as a state in formation, a state in waiting. That's one. The second objective of 1982 was to redraw the map, the political map, of Lebanon in such a way that it would bring the rightwing Phalange, Israel’s allies, into power. And the third one is to reduce Syria’s influence to manageable proportion.

Well, if you look at the situation now, we find that only the first one was realized, not really realized — I should say, postponed — and that is the foreclosure on the option of a Palestinian state. It is still a state in waiting. So Israel calculates now that it has a chance, an opportunity to reshape the strategic landscape and to realize objectives that remain there pending, but not realized.

AMY GOODMAN: Naseer Aruri, I wanted to bring in Uri Avnery, a well known Israeli peace activist speaking to us from Tel Aviv. Your response to the situation right now, extremely dire, Israel saying that the capture of the Israeli soldiers is an act of war.

URI AVNERY: Well, there are two questions. One is, what will happen to the three Israeli soldiers captured in Gaza and on the Lebanese border? And we believe, my friends and I believe, that the solution to that is to exchange prisoners. We’ve done this before. It should be done now. And we are very much against the statement of our prime minister that he will not even consider exchange of prisoners. I think his statement really puts the lives of the prisoners in jeopardy.

But beyond that, this whole war is something which I think is very detrimental to the chances of peace. We are going to have in — two hours from now we are going to have a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, protesting against the war.

The question is, what is the real aim of this war in Lebanon? We know the aim of the war in Gaza. It is to destroy the elected Palestinian government led by Hamas, because our government considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Unfortunately it’s helped by the United States, which is very active to stop any transfer of money to the elected Palestinian government. In Lebanon, I believe that the real aim is to destroy the accumulation of rockets by the Hezbollah army. They have been accumulating rockets, all kinds of rockets, for a long time. By now, they should have thousands of rockets, including rockets which could reach major Israeli cities. And I believe that our army, which is now led by the air force — the chief of staff of our army is an air force officer — and the aim is to destroy, to use our air force to destroy these rockets in southern Lebanon, even at the risk of major Israeli cities being hit in the exchange of fire.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But Uri Avnery, when we see situations, where reports of Israel bombing bridges, attacking the airport in Beirut, this seems to be far more than just going after an arms cache. This seems to be — and I’m wondering whether the Israeli population, having already gone through decades of the situation of the previous occupation of Lebanon, how people can countenance sort of a re-opening of hostilities in Lebanon.

URI AVNERY: This operation is not similar to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It is rather similar to the Israeli action in 1996, when Shimon Peres, who was then the prime minister, attacked South Lebanon with the idea of terrorizing the population there into fleeing, evacuating South Lebanon altogether. The idea is that if we exert enough pressure on the Lebanese population, the general population in Lebanon, then the population will pressure the Lebanese government, and the Lebanese government will pressure the Hezbollah, and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to give Naseer Aruri the last word. Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is quoting Israeli military officials as warning Lebanon’s clock will be turned back 20 years, unless the soldiers are returned. We have ten seconds. Your response?

NASEER ARURI: Well, this is certainly very ominous, and it shows that what I said before about reshaping the strategic landscape. I mean, I think that Israel calculates now that its position since 2002 has really diminished. They look at Hezbollah. It’s becoming a respectable political actor, part of the government. We see the revolution in Lebanon seems to have fizzled. Syria hasn’t been undermined. Iran is on the rise at the regional level. Hamas, like Hezbollah, has also become a major political actor, receiving a majority of votes. And the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Naseer Aruri, we’re going to have to leave it there, and I want to thank you for being with us, as well as Uri Avnery in Tel Aviv. We’re sorry we could not reach Robert Fisk in Lebanon. We’ll try again tomorrow.

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