NATO and Lebanon

For many years now,
successive US administrations have been vigorously trying to  persuade as many Arab countries
as possible—especially those that are still in a state of war with
Israel—to undertake “confidence building measures” in a purported attempt
to “entice” Israel into being more forthcoming in the peace diplomacy…

Now, an episode
involving the respected Lebanese political scientist Dr Amal
Saad-Ghorayeb shows us that the US-dominated NATO
alliance has also been part of this campaign.

Unless you’re a
particular kind of a military-affairs afficianado you
may not be aware that NATO runs its own institute of higher learning, the NATO
Defense College (NDC) , in Rome.  Through the work of this college, as
well as in other ways, NATO has been trying for some years now to impose its
own form of (military-based) normalization on the relations between Israel and
several Arab states– including Lebanon, a country that (a) is still in a
formal state of war Israel now, as it has since 1948, (b) has been the victim
of numerous acts of Israeli aggression over those decades, including a string
of extremely lethal major military invasions, occupations, and assaults, the
most recent (and one of the most lethal) being that undertaken in 2006, and (c)
continues to this day to be subject to Israeli aggression, including in the
form of very frequent military overflights.

In these circumstances,
it is scarcely surprising that Lebanon has a law barring its citizens from
having any contact with Israeli military personnel. Ah, but now it turns out
that NATO—a body that proclaims its support for (a certain version of)
the rule of law—has been seeking to tempt Lebanese citizens to skirt or
break this law by meeting with Israeli military officials in a clandestine,
“off the record” kind of way.

I could digress a bit
here and write about the deep problems NATO has been experiencing ever since,
with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-3, it suddenly lost its
foundational raison d’etre and had to start inventing
“missions” for itself in various places far distant from its originally
envisaged Central European battlefields. 
(As I’ve blogged quite a few times in recent months, the continuing NATO
“mission” in Afghanistan is one that’s particularly ill-suited to NATO’s
capabilities, and may well bring about the dissolution of the alliance in its
present, neo-imperial form.)

But
back to NATO and Lebanon.
Sometime this summer, Florence Gaub, who
works with something called the NATO Regional Cooperation Course (NRCC), which
is run out of the Rome-based NDC, invited Amal Saad-Ghorayeb to give a lecture to the members of this
fall’s NRCC course. Saad-Ghorayeb agreed to do it.
She also, not surprisingly, sought the assurance of those inviting her that she
would not be expected to work with Israeli military personnel while she was
there.

This assurance was not
forthcoming. On September 8, Gaub wrote to Saad-Ghorayeb noting that Israel was a full partner of
NATO’s in the NATO-sponsored “Mediterranean Dialogue”, one of the co-sponsors
of the NRCC course. She also wrote that, “
I can not ensure that any of the NATO officers present does not by
chance hold a second Israeli passport.”

(This latter statement is
intriguing. How many of NATO’s member countries allow
members of their militaries to have Israeli– or other—second passports?
Or is it only Israeli passports that are permitted? Also, several NATO members
have sizeable military units serving in the beefed-up UNIFIL peacekeeping force
in south Lebanon. Might some of those soldiers be holders of Israeli passports?
An interesting thought, right there… )

In her September 8 email, Florence Gaub added,

here at NATO Defense College we provide a free
academic environment under Chatham House rules, meaning that nobody can be
quoted from discussions taking place here. We are not under Lebanese law and
invite academics in their private capacity…. It is for this reason that we
have been able, in the past, to invite scholars from very different backgrounds
and to ensure frank discussions, even among Israelis and Arabs, and even among
Israelis and Lebanese.
 
If this obstacle is not surmountable to you, I regret that we will not be
able to host you as a lecturer here.

Saad-Ghorayeb replied to Gaub (Sept. 9)
that,

The main issue for me is not how I can circumvent Lebanese law, with
Chatham House rules, but rather, my refusal to violate the laws of my country
even if I were able to circumvent them.



While I understand your disinclination to "disinvite" your
Israeli guests, I would like to point that you don’t seem to have had any
reservations about disinviting me, your proposed speaker.



Perhaps it might interest you to know that the organizers of all other
events featuring Israeli officers and diplomats, which
I have been invited to, have respected my position on this issue. They have
always found a way to accommodate my constraints.



Given your clear position on this issue, I have no desire to give
this course.

Gaub’s boss, NRCC Director Sandy Guptill,
also wrote an email to Saad-Ghorayeb on Sept. 9,
which was notably more measured in tone than Gaub’s. Guptill wrote:

I have been kept fully informed of your
situation and I fully respect your academic, professional and personal
integrity and your observance of the laws of your nation. Ironically I find
myself in a similar position. We cannot dis-invite
any nation from participation here at this College.  That is a
political decision which rests with NATO nations
and
[is] simply not within our remit. 

Please rest assured that we do not take
lightly the loss of the opportunity to hear your thoughts and views.

(I added the emphasis
there.) Of course, the biggest single nation in NATO is the US, which is also
far and away the greatest supporter of Israel, in every imaginable way.
Including—as noted above– for many years US diplomats have pushed and
pushed Arab countries, including Lebanon, to engage in “normal” relations with
Israel even before Israel makes any concessions in the negotiations with them…

This
approach has been roundly rejected by the vast majority of the Arab
governments—including, very recently and decisively, by Saudi Arabia
. It is described by many Arab diplomats as “peace for
land for peace”: a perversion of the longstanding idea of “land for peace”, and
one that, when applied in the past (including at Oslo), has too often allowed
Israel to pocket all the concessions the Arab parties made while it continued
to hang onto and exploit Arab land and resources.

… Anyway, after
receiving Guptill’s email, Saad-Ghorayeb
sent him (or her?) a reply in which she expressed appreciation for the tone of
his email and the “outrage” she had felt at Gaub’s
tone.

Saad-Ghorayeb added:

Implicit in [Gaub’s] words is the suggestion
that my invitation only stands if I break Lebanese law… [I]n
so doing, she was compromising my standing with the law ; according to
Lebanese law, the penalty for any interaction (meeting, discussion etc.)
between Lebanese civilians and Israeli military personnel is a prison sentence
with hard labor.

But it is not only Gaub’s apparent
indifference to my fate which I find disturbing, but
her clear disrespect for my country’s legal system, which she deems violable. I
wonder if she would as readily countenance the reverse scenario had
I invited her to give a lecture where representatives of
some state or non-state actor deemed an "enemy" by her native
Germany, and I then attempted to persuade her to break German law
by assuring her the utmost secrecy…

Gaub’s behavior, Saad-Ghorayeb
wrote, amounted to a particularly crude form of neo-Orientalism.

Saad-Ghorayeb had sent ‘CC’ copies of this email to a number of
officials at NDC/NRCC, including NDC’s
Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Grant T. Hammond.
Hammond then made the mistake (who hasn’t, at this point?) of hitting “Reply to
all” with his first response to it.

Which, um, sent straight back to Saad-Ghorayeb and a number of other people the following
stream-of-consciousness reaction:

While I find this despicable and the most unjust, vitriolic piece of
academic claptrap I have ever encountered WE DO NOT RESPOND!  If
she makes the effort to write me or the Commandant, we
will do so.  But do not get involved in a pissing contest over this.
Florence—you did nothing wrong.  But let’s not get into a series of
negative e-mail exchanges on [t]his

And that was the point when a copy
of this whole exchange found its way into my in-box.

I wrote Hammond and asked him to
clarify a number of points. In particular, I asked these questions,

[I]s it the policy of NDC
to demean the legal system of another country to the extent that it asks
nationals of that country to break the law?

Did the NDC make any attempt to find a reasonable and legal accommodation of
Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb’s concerns?



Hammond replied, courteously and at some length, as follows: 

The Faculty Advisor who invited Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb was not aware of the Lebanese law which prohibited her from speaking to an audience in
which Israelis were present.  This is regrettable and the initial cause of
the misunderstanding.  But there was no intention to, and it certainly is
not the policy of the NATO Defense College, to demean
Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb or Lebanon.  We would not
expect her to break the laws of her nation
.  While Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb finds it hard to believe that Dr. Gaub was unaware of the Lebanese law, Dr. Gaub and indeed others here at the College, find it hard to
believe that Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb was not aware of the
15 year old relationship between NATO and the Mediterranean Dialog (MD) countries—which
include Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. 
As a NATO body, we were not in a position to prohibit Israeli participants who
have been invited by the North Atlantic Council to participate in a NATO
sponsored program of large size and duration since 1994.  That being the
case, and Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb having legal stricture
preventing her participation in the NRCC, Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb
in effect, by her nation’s law, had to refuse to participate, and thus,
“disinvited” herself.

Dr. Gaub’s reference to a
free academic environment at the NATO Defense College
and the use of the Chatham House Rule was an effort to describe the interchange
that occurs in the discussions held here and that we have scholars from a
variety of backgrounds—and course members—who have been able to
have frank discussions of very serious issues.  Not knowing the specifics
of the Lebanese law, and the circumstances to which it applied, Dr. Gaub indicated that if the exclusion of the Israelis were
required, we would not be able to host Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb.

            While the
misunderstanding of the legal circumstances involved on both sides is
regrettable, the “despicable and most unjust, vitriolic piece of academic
claptrap” to which I referred in my e-mail sent to all (unintentionally
including Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb) in a previous
message—for which I am sincerely sorry—referred not to the legal
strictures affecting Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb, or her
integrity in following them, but to what I considered a harsh and unnecessary
personal attack on Dr. Gaub, who, to my way of
thinking, had done nothing wrong, either personally  or professionally in
explaining the situation to Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb
Dr. Gaub’s reply to Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb
left the matter to decide about her participation up to her, and she declined
to come.  Dr. Saad Ghorayeb
appeared to hold her invitation as her paramount concern and not an
appreciation for the circumstance of the College, Dr. Gaub
or the NATO Alliance in this matter.  In essence, her ignorance of the
NATO circumstance mirrored Dr. Gaub’s ignorance of
the Lebanese law.

            Dr. Gaub’s tone was neither “discourteous” nor “offensive,” nor
“ungracious” and “disrespectful” in explaining the nature of the discussions
held here.  While it may well be true that Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb
has never spoken to a group where Israelis might be present where others
“always found a way to accommodate my constraints,” it was simply not the case
here.  The charge that this is a “crude form of neo-Orientalism,”
is extreme and unwarranted.  The language used to describe Dr. Gaub’s behavior and imputed
intentions was also.

            … While
the entire circumstance is regrettable, it is another illustration of different
cultural sensitivities and the work we all have to do to better appreciate each
other’s social, political and cultural context.

            I can
assure you—and Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb—that her
academic expertise and reputation were the reason that she was invited to
address the NRCC course.  That this is impossible under Lebanese Law and
NATO course participation regulations is, under the circumstances, our
loss.  But there is no personal slight in her being “disinvited.” 
She refused to participate under the circumstances.  She was asked to
address the course, a condition of her doing so was to ask the Israeli course
members to absent themselves, and this NATO cannot do.   As
members of the NRCC course, they are all treated equally.  While this may
not be seen as appropriate from a Lebanese point of view, and I am well aware
of why this is so, it was not in the power of the NATO defense
College to prohibit a particular nationality from participating in its NATO
approved course offerings.

Well, it strikes me that no-one at the NDC/NRCC had ever tried to find a legal and
reasonable way to meet Saad-Ghorayeb’s concerns.  (A number of possible formulas for
doing this suggest themselves to the agile mind.) And Hammond was telling me
they had no intention of even trying to find such a formula. He, like Guptill, was simply saying that
“this is how NATO insists things be done; take it or leave it.”

“NATO”, of course, is not some
abstract, bureaucratic body. It is an alliance between member-states who
allegedly uphold the values of democratic accountability and the rule of law.
“NATO” as such cannot insist that Israeli officers who are participants in an
NRCC course be physically present if a Lebanese lecturer comes into the room.
“NATO”, or rather the faculty of the NATO Defense
College, could certainly ask those Israeli officers to step into another room
in deference to the request of an invited lecturer, whose democratically
elected government has criminalized any contact between its citizens and members
of Israel’s military.

Who knows, perhaps even a video link
might be provided?

But at a broader level, I wonder
what is the point of having this inter-military “Mediterranean Dialogue”
that NATO has been running for the past 15 years? Especially since, as Hammond
indicated, it involves– along with Israel and the two Arab League states that
have made peace with Israel– four other Arab states that have yet done so?

We could also note that neither
Mauritania nor Jordan is actually a Mediterranean state. So this venture is not
just “about” Mediterranean-basin concerns.

It does look very much like an
attempt to ram a certain sort of inter-military “normalization” down the
throats of those Arab states.

Now, maybe this kind of
“cooperation” would be worthwhile if, at times of crisis, the democratic
countries of NATO and the governments of the Arab countries involved in this
“dialogue” could use all the relationships they have built up with Israel’s
military in order to restrain Israel from pursuing some of its baser and more
belligerent behaviors.

But I guess that didn’t happen in
1996, when Israeli PM Shimon Peres unleashed the IDF into a big and very
harmful assault against Lebanon. It didn’t happen in 2002, when Sharon sent the
IDF into the West Bank and Gaza to demolish the infrastructure of the
(European-funded) Palestinian Authority there. It didn’t happen in 2006 (Olmert; Lebanon), or in 2008 (Olmert;
Gaza)… So really, I do wonder, what is the point of this “Mediterranean
Dialogue”?

Well, as I noted above, NATO is
still floundering around, trying to look for a “mission”; and it is running
into deep, deep troubles in Afghanistan…

It truly is time for all the
reasonable, equality-loving people of the world to get together and devise a saner
approach to restoring security to the world’s troubled regions than that pursued
since the end of the Cold War pursued by the pro-Israeli militarists of
NATO. 

16 thoughts on “NATO and Lebanon

  1. Titus

    What a load of detritus, Israel has no claim on Lebanon and the frictions over the last decades have systematically been because different faction that reside in Lebanon do have their own war against Israel, because they need a raison d’etre, or in the case of Syria and lately Iran to fight a proxy war and spill somebody else’s blood instead of their own.
    Plus the usual leprosy attitude of God forbid ever crossing a word, or shaking a hand, and maybe exchange pleasantries with an Israeli. The usual Arab mental block has permeated Helena. Did you contract this mental block from your Arab ex-husband? Is the contraction an intellectual phenomenon or somehow through physical contact?
    Watch out Helena, maybe somebody on this thread has an Israeli passport… Uuuhhhh… Scary…

  2. Lysander

    No claim over Lebanon?
    The cause of conflict between Israel and Lebanon is that Israel ethnically cleansed the original Palestinian population, forcing a portion of them into Lebanon. Israel has subsequently insisted that it is Lebanon’s responsibility to ensure those victims of ethnic cleansing never trouble the perpetrators of said cleansing. I’m always amazed at how Israel’s apologists feel this is perfectly reasonable.
    Quite naturally, there are some in Lebanon who don’t see this as a just requirement and have resisted it.

  3. mehrdad

    just counted the “news” here. out of 20 newest world “news”, 17 are israel bashing. nothing about sri lanka, sudan, kongo, tchad….helena is only after jews and israel to attack them.
    you are the best example of the new type of jew-hater, helena. you are the perfect supporter for the HRW which is infested by nazi and marxist subjects.

  4. Lysander

    I wasn’t aware Sri Lank, Cong, etc received several billion doolars in U.S. aid yearly. I wasn’t aware they had a secret nuclear arsenal while at the same time threatening to attack another country for having the temerity to build their own program.
    I wasn’t aware any of those aforementioned countries are Apartheid states as Israel is. I wasn’t aware any of theme were, in essence, European settlers posing as the rightful owners of the land.
    These are all obvious and and easily verifiable truths. Since they can’t be refuted, Israel’s apologists will toss around accusations of anti-antisemitism and Jew-hatred.

  5. Salah

    “confidence building measures”
    This is not right statement.
    The fact is US marketing Israeli surrenders measure for the regimes in Arabs states.
    If you think confidence building measures, then go to the streets and make poll for the Arab streets and see what they like to not with hateful regimes who keep status of conflict on and on as same as Israeli politicians serving long-lasting in the power.

  6. Titus

    Hey Lysander, the fact that Lebanon is he home of Palestinian refugees does not constitute an Israeli claim, just think before you type grandiose opinions. If Lebanon declares tomorrow it stops all hostilities, and moves to a peaceful posture Israel would accept with no additional requirements. Immediately.
    It is Lebanon that consistently stated that it will be the LAST country to sign any peace with Israel, explicitly making theirs the Palestinian cause. And have allowed Palestinians to wage wars from their land for decades. Do you wonder why you get hurt after actively taking sides between two warring factions? Oh, please.

  7. traducteur

    The basic reason for the Zionists’ repeated aggression against Lebanon is that they “need” water (having sullied and squandered all the readily available sources and stolen most of what the Palestinians had), and there’s Lebanon’s perfectly good Litani River flowing to waste into the Mediterranean, supplying the needs of no one but a lot of goyim. The purpose of the 2006 assault was to empty southern Lebanon of all those goyim, annex the whole area, and sluice off all the water of the Litani for the benefit of Jews only, and the only reason why that did not happen is that Hizbullah defeated them on the ground. Now they seem to be gearing up for another try. I predict that if they do try again they’ll get another bloody nose, because the Zionists are cowards and incompetents–good enough for things like shooting Palestinian children in the face, but hopeless against a determined adversary.

  8. Eurosabra

    I think contact with Lebanese scholars is useful for Israeli scholars, primarily because of the frustrating nature of the intractable conflict between the two very similar Mediterranean societies. Unlike Hezbollah, Lebanese academia, even the utterly rejectionist side of it, has a perspective–even if it is only such as Mohammed Bamiyeh’s pointing out the contradictions of Israel’s use of power in Lebanon–which is valuable. Saad-Ghorayeb’s problem is that her writings in ’06 were seen as too critical of Hezbollah, and known contact with Israelis would instantly put her on the organization’s death list.

  9. Salah

    intractable conflict between the two very similar Mediterranean societies
    I tried to say some sort of things that “repeated aggression against Lebanon “ with above Eurosabra statement.
    As early 70s, the tourists or the visitor visit Israel of Lebanon can not find dereferences between the tow countries bout feel safe and the freedom and both societies well established and open to the west values.
    When the time Israelis propaganda telling they are the only democracy in ME tourists or people goes to Lebanon their mined will reject Israeli calls.
    Part of the repeated aggression against Lebanon is make this country looks bad as politically and society then any western visitor will be in believes that Israeli its better well mange state in ME.

  10. John R

    Helena,
    The net result is
    No freedom of speech for academics
    more conflict between the subjects that would benefit from an informed exchange
    No critism of a “Law” that forbids Freedom of Speech in an academic environment?
    Lets cut through the bull…. I do not believe this was an exchange of state secrets or military secrets…
    Shame on everyone for the barriers and the tit for tat displayed here… What are you promoting in for the positive?

  11. Eurosabra

    The other thing is that the Israel-Hezbollah conflict is sharp, sudden, anonymous, and local in its outbreaks, which means that human-intelligence-based espionage on the location of weapons caches or upcoming kidnapping raids can give one side a decisive strategic advantage. Since both sides are constantly discovering “agents” on both sides of the border, (real agents as well as set-ups for internal settling of accounts), there is a very real reason for the prohibition on contacts, and Israeli laws forbid contacts with Hezbollah as well and contacts with the Lebanese government or trips to Lebanon are actively discouraged.
    The “Mediterranean Dialog” countries are those who have generally taken a stand against armed Islamism within their own borders, and part of the reward for active cooperation (since 1994) has been a consultative relationship with NATO militaries. I realize an academic from a Levantine country which has brought its armed islamists into power-sharing while allowing them to remain armed might find Israelis intolerable, and certainly would be a cause for edginess among officers from Arab and Maghribi states who have a different view on armed Islamists.
    I found Saad-Ghorayeb’s views disturbing to the extent that she believes and has written that Israel might carry out a total genocide of Lebanese Shia in order to achieve a strategic victory, and that the realization of Israel’s strategic goals is only possible through genocidal levels of violence. Even if one concurs with her that Israel’s central strategic goal in Lebanon is a disassembly of Hezbollah sufficient to render it politically non-existent on the Lebanese scene, that is a barely believable proposition given the tendency of both sides towards “brinkmanship” “signalling” “rules of the game” and “limited war.”

  12. Eurosabra

    NATO is not going to exclude the military officers of a major US ally from a NATO symposium–when inclusion, transparency, and uniformity of treatment of participants are watchwords of the organization–to chuff the sensitivities of an academic from another Mediterranean country at war with that ally. One of NATO’s main concerns is avoiding inequalities between members, to avoid the “primus inter pares” situation of the French during their active participation in NATO, in which tensions between France and NATO contributed to the French military’s politicization, undermined French democracy, and possibly contributed to the Algerian coup attempts of 1958 and 1961. Once bitten, twice shy, and all that. I realize Helena may not know the past history or care very much for NATO’s duties to its member states, but the key aspect is uniformity of treatment, so Israelis, Jordanians, and the other MD countries are handled, if not as full members, at least as equal participants in courses. This is far more the case of a large multinational organization attempting to provide uniformity of administration consonant with its long-term goals in the face of the demands of an exceptional participant who demands the exceptional exclusion of a usual participant. It is unfortunate that the issue has generated so much heat, rather than light.

  13. Lysander

    Interesting point, Titus. Supposing Lebanon offerered full peace with Israel on condition the forcibly displaced Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are permitted their right to return to their homes? Surely peace loving and fair minded Israel would jump at the chance.

  14. BlackSept

    Didn’t most of the Palestinians in Lebanon come from King Hussein’s massacre and expulsion during Black September (1970s?).

  15. Lysander

    I suppose some of them did. But one may ask where those Palestinians were living before the got to Jordan and why they ‘left’
    but no matter, supposing Lebanon asks to return only those Palestinians ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948. Would Israel even accept that?

  16. Shirin

    Lysander,
    Of course, for the last seven years the Arab League has unanimously offered Israel everything it wants – peace, full recognition, and fully normal diplomatic and economic relations. All Israel has to do in return is comply with international law by withdrawing from all territories occupied in 1967 and after, leave the Palestinians free to establish their own independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with the capital in East Jerusalem, and resolve the refugee issue in a manner that is mutually satisfactory. The Arab league has repeatedly approved this offer unanimously, and for seven years Israel has pointed its middle finger at the Arab League and its offer. So, I doubt very much that they would be interested in anything Lebanon might suggest.
    supposing Lebanon asks to return only those Palestinians ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948.
    Well, since the Palestinians who fled to Lebanon from Jordan were also ethnically cleansed in 1948, that wouldn’t leave very many out of the request. :o}

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