The ratcheting up of the psychological ‘war of words’ between Israel and Hizbollah could strain community relations in the UK

By Fiyaz Mughal

We all saw and heard the heated rhetoric when Operation Cast Lead and the Gaza war took place in 2009 and 2014. Many social commentators suggested at the time that Operation Cast Lead had real and sustained impacts on community relations in the UK between Arab, Muslim and Jewish communities. Yet, this was overshadowed by the anger that built up on all sides when the Gaza war took place in 2014. That anger was palpable and felt like tectonic plates of friendship and trust had shifted under the currents of a brutal war.

Yet, it has not just been Gaza that has led to community tensions in the UK. The 2006 Lebanon War and the ongoing conflict as Israeli soldiers attempted to cross the Litani led to a further round of community tensions as groups polarised into support for the action and those vehemently against it, as civilians also died in the military actions that were taking place in the South of Lebanon.

Worryingly, in a recent New York Times publication, Israeli military sources have been cited as having provided a detailed inventory of the weaponry that Hizbollah has allegedly stockpiled in two villages that have been named as Muhaybib and Shakra in the South of Lebanon. The sources provide detailed intelligence and these Israeli military sources have also stated that civilians within the vicinity of these two areas may well be targeted if they continue to remain in these areas. They have also stated that a ground assault could also lead to civilian casualties and it seems that a propaganda and psychological war is starting to break out again between Israel and Hizbollah, played out in the New York Times.

Whilst Israeli intelligence may well be playing a game of cat and mouse based on a psychological game of brinksmanship, such messages do indicate a bolder step within the country for possible action against the South of Lebanon. Netanyahu’s win has no doubt strengthened him and he carries with him a messianic vision of using force to defeat all threats against Israel. Israeli military analysts also point to a growing arsenal of missiles within Hizbollah’s armoury and have made clear that civilian areas may well be targeted, since in their eyes, Hizbollah has placed weapons in these areas. No doubt this is seen differently on the ground in Lebanon, but what is clear, is that the Israelis would not be playing this game of brinks-manship if they did not have Saudi and Egyptian support. This support has been crucial in the last few years and covert contact between these intelligence agencies has been taking place for some time.

Which brings me onto the following. The Gaza War of 2014 seriously damaged Muslim and Jewish relations in the UK. The relations may be re-forming but, sadly, they are not in the same vein as they were prior to the Gaza War. Whilst interfaith campaigners may be able to maintain relationships, the wider majority of Muslim and Jewish communities do feel that a full bond of trust cannot be developed since whenever there is a crisis in the Middle East, each side takes up their positions with an increasing amount of anger and dare I say, a ferocity that does not allow for rational, nor respectful debate.

Which I why I fear that an Israeli sustained military campaign against Lebanon will further weaken any bonds between Muslim and Jewish communities and develop new scars that will make the healing process even more difficult. Furthermore, whilst both Muslims and Jews in the UK have absolutely no control over the actions of the Israeli Government or groups like Hizbollah, what we do have is the ability to reduce the impacts of such a conflict here. Yet, pictures of dead and dying women and children strain all of our efforts and they should, since the loss of any life is a real tragedy in the bloody ongoing history of the Levant.

So whilst the politicians and military leaders will ramp up the rhetoric, I say this. Spare a thought to those campaigners who try and hold communities together whilst the guns and bombs reign down on men, women and children. The Israeli objectives of any future war in Lebanon may be the destruction of weapons and missiles, whilst on the side of the Lebanese their objectives could be to show their ability to inflict casualties on the Israeli army and bog them down into a guerrilla campaign. For us here in the UK, the only objective for Jewish and Muslim interfaith campaigners is how to hold those thin bonds that bind our humanity and our futures together. That is all we seek, so do spare us a thought.