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Military campaign turning Lebanese against Israel: expert
ELEANOR HALL: Returning now to our lead story in the Middle East, and we're joined now in Beirut by Dr Fawaz Gerges, who's the Professor of International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
The conflict erupted just as he was completing a month-long stay in Lebanon.
(to Fawaz Gerges) Professor Gerges, thanks very much for speaking to us.
Now we heard earlier from Israeli journalist Ze'ev Schiff that the Israeli strategy is having success against Hezbollah. From where you are in Beirut, what's your sense of it?
FAWAZ GERGES: Well, I think where I am in Beirut it's a very... it's pure madness, that is, what Israel is doing is trying to terrorise the entire population, to try to turn the Lebanese population against Hezbollah.
Let me just give your listeners a glance of what's happening here. In the last few days, Israel has waged a systemic bombing campaign against the Lebanese civilian infrastructure.
The only airport in Beirut, the international airport, has been put out of function.
Israel has attacked seaports, bridges, communication plants, electrical plants. I mean, I think in this particular sense, Israel has imposed a full naval blockade, sealing Lebanon of the world. I mean, I think now in Lebanon, living in separate counties and provinces were isolated it from each other.
And I think what your listeners need to understand is that the overwhelming number of casualties have been civilian. Over 180 Lebanese civilians have been killed, hundreds injured. The damage to the infrastructure has been considerable. Yet, yet - and this is the point - is that I don't think Hezbollah's infrastructure has been degraded at all. Hezbollah seems to be able to fire missiles against Israel. Their force, their ground force, is still almost intact.
So I don't know what to make of the statement except to try to justify and give the impression to the Israeli public opinion and world public opinion that the bombing is obviously paying... I mean resulting in positive consequences. I don't see it. I see suffering for the civilian population.
I think both the Lebanese civilian population and the Israeli population in northern Israel are being held hostage by both Hezbollah and the Israeli military machine.
ELEANOR HALL: Dr Gerges, the proposal for an international stabilisation force that's being floated at the moment, what do you see as its prospects for success?
FAWAZ GERGES: Well, I think what we need to understand is that the negotiations have just begun. I mean, I don't think we're talking about any major turbine yet. Both sides are escalating strategically. Both sides are still trying to position themselves and maximise their negotiating positions.
I think there's a long way to go, in particular, in particular because the United States of America, the Bush administration, believes that a ceasefire is not helpful at this moment unless Hezbollah and the Lebanese Government accept the conditions of the international community. That is...
ELEANOR HALL: Well, the Israeli Prime Minister has today clearly laid out terms for an end to the fighting. He says that the conditions are the release of the soldiers, an end to Hezbollah missile strikes and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the border. That's a slight change to what he said yesterday when he was insisting that Hezbollah must be completely dismantled.
To what extent do you think these are realistic terms?
FAWAZ GERGES: Well, you know, as I suggested earlier, I said that both sides are trying to position themselves and maximise their negotiating strategy. And you cannot understand strategic escalation on the part of Israel except by exerting punitive measures against Hezbollah and the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese people.
I think Israel will take much, much less than what it's asking for, because, as I suggested, the damage has been basically laid to the Lebanese civilian infrastructure and the population, not to Hezbollah. Hezbollah's still a major military force on the scene. It can still fire weapons and missiles against the Israeli population. Its ground force is still intact.
We are at the beginning, the early stages of this horrible confrontation that's really resulting in major civilian casualties on both sides.
ELEANOR HALL: You don't see it ending any time soon?
FAWAZ GERGES: No, I don't unfortunately. I hope and pray that the end is very... I mean, a (inaudible). And I think this is a long-drawn conflict, in particular because, as I suggested, the Bush administration does not seem to be in a hurry to exert pressure on the Israeli Government.