Moscow gets Nato bug - and civilians die

Robert Fisk
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The Independent Online

LIKE A virus, the Nato bug is spreading. Throughout the spring, we were treated to "precision" bombing of "military targets" and to "collateral damage", whose victims were "tragic", as the Alliance bombarded bridges, motorways and power stations in Yugoslavia.

LIKE A virus, the Nato bug is spreading. Throughout the spring, we were treated to "precision" bombing of "military targets" and to "collateral damage", whose victims were "tragic", as the Alliance bombarded bridges, motorways and power stations in Yugoslavia.

Then, within weeks, Israel caught the contagion. It bombed bridges and motorways in Lebanon and destroyed two electricity stations.

"Precision" bombing, it said, "military" targets because the Lebanese would not stop "terrorists" attacking Israel's occupation troops in southern Lebanon. The "Collateral damage" (11 dead, including three firemen and a young couple driving south of Beirut) was to be regretted.

In Iraq - where the Anglo-American war has been going on since December - the air bombardments have increased. Low-level press briefings regularly announce "precision" strikes against military targets in "response" to Iraqi challenges of the no-fly zone. No matter that the "response" often comes two days later, against targets miles away from the anti-aircraft battery that may have fired at American planes. No matter that some 127 Iraqi civilians have now been killed in these raids. Yes, the US Air Force called them "collateral damage".

And now it's the Russians who are Nato's copycats, bombing Chechnya with "precision", seeking only "military targets" and "the total elimination of terrorist bases" - the same hopeless aim of Israel's regular onslaughts against Lebanon. And, of course, the war is going wrong. Russians are dying, civilians are dying, apparently by the hundred. There is some "collateral damage", the Russians now admit. A "tragedy", said a Russian minister.

Why, there's even a charred bus - its Chechen passengers blasted to bits by a Russian tank shell - to parallel that other, awful bus on the bridge at Luzane in Kosovo, its Serb and Albanian passengers incinerated by a cruise missile. There are action-replays of Russian gun footage for the benefit of television viewers. Only now are reporters getting into Chechnya to see the truth. And, be sure, it's only a matter of time before Russian defence ministry officials are abusing those journalists the same way Nato's flacks attacked those reporters who revealed Nato's bloody ineptitude in Yugoslavia.

How can you blame the Israelis for "defending" themselves in Lebanon, an Israeli journalist asked after his country's strike against power stations and motorway bridges - which followed the Israeli wounding of a Lebanese civilian and a subsequent Hizbollah rocket attack across the Lebanese border. "After all, look what Nato did." Quite so.

Russia's population is as outraged at the bombings of civilian apartment blocks in Moscow as Nato countries were at the Serb atrocities against Kosovo Albanians. But just as Nato's bombing campaign provoked the worst Serb atrocities - and a humanitarian disaster - so Russia is now provoking a humanitarian catastrophe in its crusade against "Islamic terror". Islamic terror. The words are carefully chosen, for what American would object to a war against "Islamic terror"? What Israeli would object to such a campaign?

It all seems so familiar. Since Nato/Israel/Russia/the Anglo-American air force in the Gulf never - ever - intend to kill civilians, their deaths are always to be blamed upon Milosevic/the Hizbollah/"Islamic" rebels or Saddam. When you're in the air force, it's good to have clean hands.

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