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Thursday, July 27, 2006 

Bombs over Gretna, caravans in Rome.


The aftermath of the Israeli bombing of the southern port city of Tyre; blood on the pavement in Haifa.

Margaret Beckett wasn't always New Labour to the core. In 1981 she supported Tony Benn in his fight for the Labour deputy leadership against Denis Healey. Even in 2002 she apparently had reservations about war with Iraq, but was promptly reassured, most likely by the dodgy intelligence which convinced so many other MPs.

Fast forward 4 years, and Beckett finds herself as foreign secretary after a disastrous period as head of Defra where this year she managed to comprehensively cock-up the EU subsidy payments to farmers in England, in many cases leaving them penniless. Her first 2 months as Jack Straw's successor have not been full of defining moments, except for her pathetic performance on the Today programme last week. Attending the Rome discussions yesterday, she performed what has become the UK's bone-headed and predictable attitude and role in foreign affairs: supporting the Americans come what may. According to Beckett, "even if you could get a ceasefire half an hour ago, you would probably be back in hostilities in a few days", which sums up exactly how optimistic and tough the UK and US have been in forcing Israel and Hizbullah to stop their deadly exchanges.

It's in this light that we should examine what seems like fake outrage over the use of Prestwick airport in Scotland to transport laser guided missiles to Israel. The United States apparently didn't seem to think it worth telling the airport what they were carrying until they more or less got there, leaving the officials on the ground with no choice but to wave them through. We're told by a spokesman that Beckett has risen the issue with Condoleezza Rice (she had an oil tanker named after her, don't you know?), and she herself has said that she may make a formal protest.

All of which is fair enough. There's not much more that Beckett could probably do, seeing as it's already happened, apart from making sure that the US isn't allowed to do the same thing again (which err, seems to be exactly what they are going do). What seems so out of kilter with Beckett's words is what happened at yesterday's diplomatic talks in Rome. According to the Guardian report, Rice was isolated in being the only one who didn't want the conference to end with a strongly-worded appeal to both Israel and Hizbullah to declare an immediate unconditional truce. Well, apart from, of course, Margaret Beckett.

Israel has quite reasonably taken this fudge to mean that it's been given carte blanche to do whatever the hell it likes. Israeli justice minister (irony strikes again) Haim Ramon also said that Israel has now given those in south Lebanon not connected to Hizbullah more than enough time to get out - so anyone there now is a "terrorist". By Ramon's logic, the 4 UN peacekeepers who were killed in an apparent deliberate attack were actually Hizbullah militants who by staying in the area were asking for it. Even more logically, as Israel now seems to consider anyone there a terrorist, it's probably a good idea to take out independent monitors who might make accusations of war crimes. After all, armies have to make as much effort as possible not to kill civilians, whether there are fighters in the area or not. With the UN and Lebanese army being bombed, there's less chance of Israel's moral military having to fend off charges of crimes against humanity.

Ramon's belligerence also rams home the comments of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who made what even the heartless Condoleezza Rice called an "impassioned plea" at the Rome summit. He asked whether "an Israeli teardrop was worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood". It seems quite so. Those who are still fleeing the fighting have often had to go on foot - the roads being made impassible by Israeli bombing, bridges broken in two and vehicles blown apart by the very same laser-guided missiles that went through Prestwick airport. Those who have stayed behind, unable to take elderly loved ones with them, will now seemingly be dismissed as terrorists and killers for doing so.

The situation then is thus: Beckett is deeply concerned about the United States not informing the UK that it's moving weapons of mass destruction through our territory destined for use in Lebanon, yet she won't call for the immediate ceasefire which would mean that those weapons wouldn't be used to possibly kill innocent civilians. Such mendacity shows the UK's policy over Israel-Lebanon for what it is; complete murderous folly. The apparent lack of permission to use Prestwick should also re-open questions about whether the CIA bothered to ask permission to refuel jets linked to extraordinary rendition there. Figures compiled by the Guardian show that Prestwick was one of the airports most used by jets linked to rendition flights. On that respect, we're similarly told that if the US had wanted to render suspected terrorists through our airspace to countries where they could held illegally and tortured, they'd have asked permission. The missiles to Israel seem to give the lie to that argument.

Meanwhile, everyone's second favourite terrorist nutjob has been calling for Muslims worldwide to become "martyrs in the war against the Zionists and the Crusaders." Expect the left to use this as evidence that Israel's actions are provoking extremism, while the right will say that this proves that Israel's response against Hizbullah is part of the global war on terror. The first position holds more water than the second, but it's still giving more credit to the ranting lunatics of al-Qaida than their clash of civilisations creed deserves. What it really shows is the failure of the international community. We've been so weakened by the war in Iraq that all we can do is mutter apologies to the slaughtered Lebanese and Israeli citizens, while doing nothing to stop the bombing on both sides, as extremists call for yet more blood to be spilt. At the same time, we refuse to involve the two nations (Syria and Iran) that can help stop it. Our policy is not only spineless, it's also condemning the Middle East to yet more decades of turmoil.

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