Blair’s blind support for Bush will have repercussions for many years

FOREIGN Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern was articulate in calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Lebanon.

He noted that we have learned from our own history that the tactics being employed by the Israelis are counterproductive. Unfortunately, the British never seem to learn.

They did not learn from the mistakes of 1916, or the War of Independence when they introduced the Black and Tans, who drove the Irish people firmly into the hands of the militant republicans. They made the same mistakes again in the North Ireland during the early 1970s.

Initially, the Catholic community welcomed British soldiers in the North, but the soldiers allowed a minority to antagonise them and then they overreacted and soon drove the nationalists into the arms of the republicans with another Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972.

Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, realised the danger that night when he telephoned British Prime Minister Edward Heath. “I am told,” said Lynch, “the British troops reacted rather beyond what a disciplined force might be expected to.’ ‘When the funerals take place on Tuesday or Wednesday, I hate to think of what could happen.”

He felt he had to speak out. “I will say I have asked you to take very firm political steps to the point of taking over security and making some alternative arrangement as far as Stormont is concerned.”

“Will you tell me how taking over security and changing Stormont is going to make people obey the law and not challenge it with marches?” Heath asked.

“Well, I think it will certainly avoid situations like this arising again,” Lynch argued.

It was ironic that he was asking the British to take full control of security when it was British troops who had run amok in Derry. But at this point Lynch’s main concern was coping with the reaction in the Republic. “Repercussions south of the border are going to be so serious that we will both have a much more difficult situation on hand as a result of this unless Westminster takes firm action at this stage,” he warned.

“Perhaps,” said Heath, “if you had condemned people beforehand who were going to challenge the law, the march might not have taken place.”

“I do not believe that would have happened anyway,” Lynch replied.

“Words would come easily from me,” said Heath, “but people are not going to obey or accord to what I think might be done in certain circumstances.” He was essentially arguing that he was powerless in the situation, but Heath was critical of Dublin for not having previously done enough to contain the IRA.

“I cannot tell people not to support them,” said Lynch. He was going to say something else but Heath interrupted: “Well, you could deal very thoroughly with those who are using the south as their refuge and I have told you this for many months.”

“I know you have. Yes. But on the other hand, within the limits of our own law …”

“If you had dealt with them this would have been over long ago,” Heath interrupted again.

“I do not believe it would,” Lynch insisted. “It would have been much worse. We know what happened as a result of internment in the North and in fact the suggestion you have been making that we should intern them in the south would have been worse.”

There was no point in continuing the conversation until they knew more about what actually happened in Derry. Lynch suggested they might talk or meet later with Lynch politely thanking Heath for talking to him, but there were no reciprocal expression of gratitude from the other end. “This was hardly a time for small talk,” Heath later wrote.

Being pompous and rude came naturally to Heath.

However, he had more grounds to react against this country than the Israelis had against Lebanon. Is there anyone so stupid as to believe that things would be better now in Britain, the North or in this country if the British had attacked here like the Israelis are attacking Lebanon? They would have engendered a hatred that would have festered for decades.

THE Lebanese government was no more able to stop Hezbollah than Ireland could have stopped the IRA committing occasional outrages. For Lebanon to make a concerted effort to stop Hezbollah would have been to court another civil war. Now, Hezbollah is undoubtedly many times stronger.

A public opinion survey conducted during the last week of July found that 87% of the people of Lebanon back Hezbollah’s response to “Israeli aggression”. That includes 80% of both the Lebanese Christians and the Druze, 87% of Sunnis and 96% of Shiites. The Israelis have united the people of Lebanon as never before.

Remember, this all began when Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and offered to exchange them for Lebanese prisoners being held by Israel. Who are those prisoners in Israel, and where were they taken? Nobody seems to have asked that.

The Israelis kidnapped Mordechai Vanunu in Italy and spirited him back to Israel, where they held him in solitary confinement for 18 years. He was the man who disclosed Israel’s secret nuclear programme. The Americans are now exercised about nuclear programmes in Iran and North Korea but they did not raise a murmur about Israel’s outrageous conduct.

The damage being done to Blair’s leadership could have serious repercussions on the peace process in the North. He has been coming across as Bush’s poodle. He antagonised his EU partners and the British people. More importantly, from his own political standpoint, he has antagonised his own party and even many within his own cabinet. It would be a brave man who would bet on him staying in power much longer.

In an opinion poll before the Israeli offensive, only 26% of British people were satisfied with Blair’s performance, while 69% think that Labour looks disreputable under his leadership. The once promising career looks like coming to as sticky an end as that of Anthony Eden, who was sent packing after he conspired with Israel in going to war with Egypt in 1956.

In recent days, as many as six senior British cabinet members have leaked criticism of Blair’s failure to state clearly that Israel’s actions in Lebanon has been “aggressive and disproportionate”. Dissidents include former home secretary and now leader of the house of commons Jack Straw, foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain, international development secretary Hilary Benn and transport secretary Douglas Alexander.

Former minister Joan Ruddock said in a BBC radio interview there is “despair” in Labour ranks. “I have not met any member of the party who agrees with our strategy,” she said.

Wars tend to develop their own momentum. The people who went to war in 1914 expected to be home for Christmas, but that conflict was to have repercussions that were to last for the rest of the century.

The British and US military are now admitting that civil war is likely in Iraq. They went to war in Afghanistan, but before they finished it, they went into Iraq, and now, before it’s over, they are courting another war by their blind support of Israel. Nobody should underestimate the stupidity of George W Bush, or anyone naive enough to follow him blindly.

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