Robert Fisk on Lebanon: “The Ceasefire Can’t Work”

StorySeptember 06, 2006
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We speak with Robert Fisk, the chief Middle East correspondent for the London Independent about the UN-brokered ceasefire in Lebanon. Fisk says, “The cease-fire can’t work for all kinds of reasons…The UN are not going to block the Syrian border, the Lebanese army has to do it and they’re not going to be able to–you can’t–Syria is too big a country.” [includes rush transcript]

Turkey has approved the deployment of troops in Lebanon to join the UN peacekeeping mission in the south. The move was approved in Turkish parliament on Tuesday despite widespread opposition and protests in the capital Ankara. The UN force now numbers 3,100.

Meanwhile, the commander of the UN force, Major-General Alain Pellegrini, said the truce between Hezbollah and Israel remains shaky as long as Israeli troops remain in Lebanon. Pellegrini’s spokeperson said the UN had sent a written protest to Israel over Israeli infringements of Lebanese airspace and other truce violations.

We go now to Part II of our interview with veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk.

  • Robert Fisk, chief Middle East correspondent for the London Independent. He is author of the book, “Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon” and “The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.” * [Click for Part I of this interview]*

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the last part of our interview with Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for the Independent of London. I sat with him this weekend on Labor Day in Chicago at the Islamic Society of North America conference, where 40,000 Muslims had gathered. Robert Fisk talked about his thoughts about the ceasefire in Lebanon.

ROBERT FISK: The ceasefire can’t work for all kinds of reasons, too boring to explain. I mean, the UN are not going to block the Syrian border. The Lebanese army have to do that, and they can be — they’re not going to be able to block the Syrian border. You can’t. Syria is too big a country. It’s a major historical ancient nation. You can’t do that, and the UN is not going to be there.

I asked a UN commander, French general, personally, directly, a week ago Saturday: would he put his UN troops on the Syrian border? And he said, “No, it is not in the mandate.” And it’s not, actually. I thought it was. I went back and looked at the mandate. He’s right. They’re not going to do it. And that was the commanding general in charge of — he’s the man in charge of the increasing UNIFIL force, and he’s not going to do it. So, there you go.

AMY GOODMAN: So, who’s going to fight who?

ROBERT FISK: Well, the Israeli blockade will continue there, won’t it? And then the Hezbollah will say, “Well, we’ll have to stop the blockade, maybe shoot another warship.” You see? At the same time, the international forces will arrive, and you will hear all these little groupuscule insurgency from Iraq people saying, “Why are these foreign invader crusading troops doing in the south of Lebanon?” Well, they’re there as a buffer force to protect Israel. That’s why they’re there. If they were a buffer force to protect Lebanon, they would be on the other side of the border inside Israel, wouldn’t they? Or they’d be on both sides. But they’re there to protect Israel. Israel’s lost enough men, so now the Europeans can die for Israel instead, and probably will.

AMY GOODMAN: You think that —

ROBERT FISK: Yeah, I think so. You know, the sermons in Tripoli about the behavior of the West post this war are very, very lethal, red hot, and a cynicism towards it. I mean, you’ve got to realize the influence of the Iraq war on Lebanon, both on the Shiites, of course, many of whom have relatives, I mean most of the Hezbollah clerics actually were trained in those parts of Iraq which are now under siege. Friends of Fadlallah had been murdered in Iraq. And the Sunnis going backwards and forwards between Baghdad and Lebanon. You can fly direct on a little prop aircraft. I do it lots of times. It’s called Magic Carpet Airlines, by the way, and I’m not joking.

You go to Tripoli, I mean, the most extraordinary things happen in Tripoli. One young man returned from fighting in Iraq to find that the word had got back to his family and his friends that he had been “martyred.” He was the “martyr.” He was dead, you see? He had been killed — “martyred” in quote, as I always put it. He found all his photographs lying in the streets of his district saying “martyred in Iraq.” And he later told a colleague of mine, he said, “It was the most wonderful moment of my life to go down and rip down all the pictures of my own death.” But that shows the connections between Iraq. These are the people who will be switched around [inaudible] now. I think the crusaders are down there, rather than being over there for the time being.

AMY GOODMAN: I interviewed the deputy foreign Israel ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Carmon, asking him about the civilian casualties, over a thousand in Lebanon. He said, “You can’t know that. You can’t know how many of these people were innocent.”

ROBERT FISK: Oh, well, you can. Hezbollah — despite the fact the Israelis say they didn’t, Hezbollah actually published some of their casualty figures each day. It was quite remarkable. They’d say, ’We’ve lost two more men, and their names are so-and-so, and they had so many children. They came from this village.’ Isn’t that amazing? First time it’s ever happened that an enemy of Israel actually, as the war goes on, publishes the names of its own casualties, you know?

But, no, we had a pretty good idea who was dying. We had lists of names. We knew who, the age and so on. I mean, you can’t say, well, this may be a Hezbollah. I mean, I don’t think it’s five years old is likely to be a full [inaudible] Hezbollah member. I think, three years old, I doubt that it can fire a missile at a warship or an airplane. No, we have pretty good — you know, the standards of accuracy during the Lebanese civil war were always open to question, because you’d go to hospitals and they had lost —the hospital had been hit by a bomb and they had lost their papers, and it was a civil war.

But now, you know, the Israelis attacked into a country that had been rebuilt. It was pretty much modern European standards. It isn’t any more. Mobile phones work properly. Ledgers are kept. Computers keep all — you know, you can go into a hospital, unlike in America, where you’re considered a vulture to prey around a hospital if you’re a reporter. You go to a hospital in Lebanon, and they say, “Please come in, Mr. Fisk. Cup of tea? Do you want to go the mortuary and count the bodies? Do you want the names of the bodies?” And you can pretty much see, if a guy has got a green uniform on, he’s a Hezbollah guy.

Hezbollah have said that they had 56 dead. My friends who are close to Hezbollah and most people in Hezbollah I know say their actual figure is nearer to 253 Hezbollah dead. But since the civilian casualty figure was — I mean, since the overall casualty figure was approaching 1,300, even if the 253 figure is not exaggerated, and I think this might be true — I saw a lot of wounded Hezbollah, quite seriously wounded Hezbollah — even if the 253 figure is true, the number of civilians, total civilian casualties, must be in the region of 1,000.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk of the Independent of London. I spoke to him in Chicago on Labor Day.

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