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By ROBERT FISK
The Independent Friday, 14 July 2006
BEIRUT—All night I heard the jets, whispering high above the Mediterranean. It lasted for hours, little fireflies that were watching Beirut, waiting for dawn perhaps, because it was then that they descended.
They came first to the little village of Dweir near Nabatiya in southern Lebanon where an Israeli plane dropped a bomb on to the home of a Shia Muslim cleric. He was killed. So was his wife. So were eight of his children. One was decapitated. All they could find of a baby was its head and torso which a young villager brandished in fury in front of the cameras. Then the planes visited another home in Dweir and disposed of a family of seven.
It was a brisk start to Day Two of Israel's latest "war on terror", a conflict that uses some of the same language — and a few of the same lies — as George Bush's larger "war on terror". For just as we "degraded" Iraq — in 1991 as well as 2003 — so yesterday it was Lebanon's turn to be "degraded". That means not only physical death but economic death, and it arrived at Beirut's gleaming new £300m international airport just before 6 a.m. as passengers prepared to board flights to London and Paris.
From my home, I heard the F-16, which suddenly appeared over the newest runway and fired a spread of rockets into it, ripping up 20 meters of tarmac and blasting tons of concrete into the air in a massive explosion before a Hetz-class Israeli gunboat fired on to the other runways.
Two of Middle East Airlines' new Airbuses were left untouched but, within minutes, the airport was deserted as passengers fled back to their homes and hotels.
The flight indicators told the whole story: Paris no flight, London, no flight, Cairo, no flight, Dubai, no flight, Baghdad — from the cauldron into the fire if anyone had chosen to take it — no flight. Someone was playing "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" over the public address system.
Then the Israelis went for the Hizbollah television station, Al-Manar, clipping off its antenna with a missile but failing to put the station off air. That might be a more understandable target — "Manar", after all, broadcasts Hizbollah propaganda. But was it really designed to find or recover the two Israeli soldiers captured on Wednesday? Or to take revenge for the nine Israelis killed in the same incident, one of the blackest days in recent Israeli Army history although not as black as it was for the 36 Lebanese civilians killed in the previous 24 hours.
An Israeli woman was also killed by a Hizbollah rocket fired into Israel. So, in the grim exchange rate of these wretched conflicts, one Israeli death equals just over three Lebanese; it's a fair bet the exchange rate will grow more murderous.
And by afternoon, the threats had grown worse. Israel would not "sit idly by". It ordered the entire population of the southern suburbs — home to Hizbollah's headquarters — to flee their homes by 3 p.m.
Save for a few hundred families, they stubbornly refused to leave. Everywhere in Lebanon could now be a target, the Israelis announced. If Israel bombed the suburbs, the Hizbollah roared, it would fire its long-range Katyushas at the Israeli city of Haifa. One of them had apparently already damaged an Israeli air base at Miron, a fact concealed at the time by Israeli censors.
It certainly frightened Lebanon's Gulf tourists who packed the roads from Bhamdoun in their 4x4s, fleeing for the safety of Syria and flights home from Damascus. Another little economic death for Lebanon.
But what did all this mean, this ranting and threatening? I sat at home in the early afternoon, going through my files of Israeli statements. It turned out that Israel had threatened not to "sit idly by" (or occasionally "stand idly by") in Lebanon on at least six occasions in the past 26 years, most famously when the late Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin promised that he would not "stand idly by" while [Israel's Christian surrogates] were threatened here in 1980 — only to withdraw his soldiers and leave the Christians to their bloody fate three years later.
The Lebanese are always left to their fate. Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, says he holds the Lebanese government responsible for the attacks on the border that breached the international frontier on Wednesday.
But Mr. Olmert and everyone knows that the weak and fractious government of the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora isn't capable of controlling a single militiaman, let alone the Hizbollah.
Yet wasn't this the same set of Lebanese political leaders congratulated by the United States last year for its democratic elections and its freedom from Syria? Indeed, a man who sees Bush as a friend — perhaps "saw" is a better word — is Saad Hariri, son of the ex-Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri who built much of the infrastructure that Israel is now destroying and whose murder last year — by Syrian agents? — supposedly outraged Mr. Bush.
Yesterday morning, Saad Hariri, the son, was flying into Beirut when America's Israeli allies arrived to bomb the airport. He had to turn round as his aircraft skulked off to Cyprus for refuge.
But it was the undercurrent of terror-speak that was particularly frightening yesterday.
Lebanon was an "axis of terror", Israel was "fighting terror on all fronts". During the morning, I had to cut across an interview with an Australian radio station when an Israeli reporter stated — totally untruthfully — that there were Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon and that not all Syria's troops had left.
And the reason why the Israelis had attacked Beirut's infinitely secure and carefully monitored airport, used by diplomats and European leaders, a facility as safe as any in Europe? Because, so said the Israelis, it was "a central hub for the transfer of weapons and supplies to the Hizbollah terrorist organization." If the Israelis really want to know where that hub is, they should be looking at Damascus airport. But they do know that, don't they?
And so it is terror, terror, terror again and Lebanon is once more to be depicted as the mythic terror center of the Middle East along, I suppose with Gaza. And the West Bank. And Syria. And, of course, Iraq. And Iran. And Afghanistan. And who knows where next?