Monday, July 31, 2006

Greece vs. Germany in the World Cup (Monty Python)

[From Andy Markovits:}
Dear Friends,
DO take a look at this HILARIOUS short clip.
It will cheer you up and warm your heart in these dreary times.
As ever

Why bomb UN observers? (Stuart Elliott)

Stuart Elliott explains the obvious (which is often a necessary and useful activity). --Jeff Weintraub
Stuart Elliott (New Appeal to Reason)
Monday, July 31, 2006
Why bomb UN observers?

A leading left-wing economist asked on his listserve "why bomb UN observers?" When writing on the US economy, this economist is long on research, when it comes the Middle East it's another story. Some members of the list have engaged in all sorts of wild speculation.

It's actually amazingly simply to find the explanation. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon [UNIFIL] has a website and issues press releases, which can be found here.

I've excerpted some of the reports which appear below. I've added emphasis (bold + italics) to highlight the portions indicating Hezbollah firing from spots near the UN posts or on UN posts.

This is, as Jeff Weintraub, might put it, intended to be a small, modest contribution to lifting the fog of war and the smoke of bias.

July 20
Hezbollah firing was also reported from the immediate vicinity of the UN positions in Naqoura and Maroun Al Ras areas at the time of the incidents.

July 24
One unarmed UN military observer, a member of the Observer Group Lebanon (OGL), was seriously wounded by small arms fire in the patrol base in the Marun Al Ras area yesterday afternoon. According to preliminary reports, the fire originated from the Hezbollah side during an exchange with the IDF.

July 25
This morning, Hezbollah opened small arms fire at a UNIFIL convoy consisting of two armored personnel carriers (APC) on the road between Kunin and Bint Jubayl. There was some damage to the APCs, but no casualties, and the convoy was obliged to return to Kunin.

July 26
Another UN position of the Ghanaian battalion in the area of Marwahin in the western sector was also directly hit by one mortar round from the Hezbollah side last night. The round did not explode, and there were no casualties or material damage. Another 5 incidents of firing close to UN positions from the Israeli side were reported yesterday. It was also reported that Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of four UN positions at Alma ash Shab, Tibnin, Brashit, and At Tiri.

The number of troops in some Ghanaian battalion positions is somewhat reduced because of the increased safety risk for the troops due to frequent incidents of Hezbollah firing from the vicinity of the positions, and shelling and bombardment close to the positions from the Israeli side.

July 27
Hezbollah firing was also reported from the immediate vicinity of the UN positions in Naqoura and Maroun Al Ras areas at the time of the incidents.

July 28
There were two direct impacts on UNIFIL positions from the Israeli side in the past 24 hours. Eight artillery and mortar rounds impacted inside an Indian battalion position in the area of Hula, causing extensive material damage, but no casualties. One artillery round impacted the parameter wall of the UNIFIL Headquarters in Naqoura. There were five other incidents of firing close to UN positions from the Israeli side. It was also reported that Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of five UN positions at Alma Ash Shab, At Tiri, Bayt Yahoun, Brashit, and Tibnin.

July 29
There were two incidents of firing close to UNIFIL positions from the Israeli side in the area of Marwahin and Deir Mimess in the past 24 hours. At the same time, it was reported that Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of six UN positions at Tibnin (2), At Tiri, Beit Yahoun, and Alma Ash Shab (2). UNIFIL strongly protested all these incidents to the Israeli and Lebanese authorities respectively.

July 30
It was reported that Hezbollah fired rockets from the vicinity of three UN positions in the area of Tibnin, At Tiri and Brashit. They also fired small arms fire from the vicinity of two UN positions in the area of Alma Ash Shab and Al Duhayyra. UNIFIL strongly protested all these incidents to the Israeli and Lebanese authorities.
It was reported that Hezbollah fired rockets from the vicinity of this UNIFIL position prior to the aerial bombardment. Hezbollah also fired small arms fire from the vicinity of the same position. They also fired rockets from the vicinity of two UNIFIL positions in the area of Tibnin and At Tiri in the central sector. There was one more incident of firing from the Israeli side close to UNIFIL position in the area of Mays al Jabal, when 10 tank rounds impacted 100 meters from the UN position. UNIFIL strongly protested all these incidents to the Israeli and Lebanese authorities respectively.

July 31
Two tank rounds from the Israeli side impacted directly on a UNIFIL position in the general area of Hula yesterday afternoon, causing extensive material damage, including the ammunition shelter, but no casualties. One aerial bomb impacted in the vicinity of a UN position in the area of Alma Ash Shab yesterday morning, causing damage to the parameter wall. It was reported that Hezbollah fired rockets from the vicinity of this UNIFIL position prior to the aerial bombardment. Hezbollah also fired small arms fire from the vicinity of the same position. They also fired rockets from the vicinity of two UNIFIL positions in the area of Tibnin and At Tiri in the central sector.

(My computer has been a little balky today, so it possible I have some of the segments under the wrong date. If anyone catches an error, please let me know.)
// posted by Stuart @ 2:39 PM

Former peacekeeper Lewis McKenzie on the Israeli/Lebanese crisis (CBC)

Retired Canadian Major General Lewis McKenzie, a veteran of peacekeeping operations in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia, interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the current Israeli/Lebanese crisis. MacKenzie has a lot of intelligent and sensible things to say on matters ranging from the military and political aspects of the conflict and the propaganda war surrounding it to the possibilities for an effective multi-national peacekeeping force (which he regards, probably correctly, as extremely unlikely). As one might expect, the interviewer is interested in issues concerning Lebanese civilian casualties and Israel's accidental attack on a UN observer post, in which a Canadian peacekeeping soldier was killed. MacKenzie, who said that he wanted to help dispel some pervasive "myths" about the conflict, made an important point that I think deserves to be emphasized, because it should be obvious but seems to be widely overlooked.
Now, please don't think I'm being cavalier about life here. I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination. But with the amount of firepower that's gone into Lebanon over the last couple of weeks, the death toll is unbelievably low, in accordance with the delivery of that firepower, which means that targets are being selected pretty darn closely. Beirut is not being "flattened." [....]
This interview came before the disastrous accidental bombing of civilians in Qana on July 30, but the point remains valid. Listen to the recording HERE.

--Jeff Weintraub
Independent Media Review Analysis (IMRA)
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Canadian killed from UN force complained his position shielding Hizbullah

"...the tragic loss of a soldier yesterday who I happen to know and I think probably is from my Regiment. We've received e-mails from him a few days ago and he described the fact that he was taking within - in one case - three meters of his position "for tactical necessity - not being targeted". Now that's veiled speech in the military and what he was telling us was Hizbullah fighters were all over his position and the IDF were (sic) targeting them and that's a favorite trick by people who don't have representation in the UN. They use the UN as shields knowing that they can't be punished for it."

Retired Canadian Major General Lewis MacKenzie interviewed on CBC Toronto radio 26 July 2006
For recording:

[JW: Incidentally, UNIFIL itself has repeatedly confirmed Hezbollah's use of this tactic.]

Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
(Mail POB 982 Kfar Sava)
Tel 972-9-7604719/Fax 972-3-7255730

Diplomacy in action (Not a parody)

From a Ha'aretz article (via Ami Isseroff):
Iran is a significant, respected player in the Middle East which is playing a stabilizing role, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Monday,during a visit to Lebanon.

"It was clear that we could never accept a destabilization of Lebanon, which could lead to a destabilization of the region," Douste-Blazy said in Beirut.

"In the region there is of course a country such as Iran - a great country, a great people and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region," he told a news conference.
No one expects precise factual accuracy, or even plausibility, or even the appearance of honesty from diplomats in such circumstances. But this is unusually breathtaking bit of malarkey, almost sublime in its own way (and, apparently, not a parody from the Onion).

In the real world, of course, Iran has poured billions of dollars and other resources into Hezbollah over the decades, has provided Hezbollah's stockpile of over 10,000 missiles, undoubtedly gave Hezbollah the green light for its latest provocation--and, overall, is clearly committed to playing a destabilizing role both in Lebanon and in the Middle East more generally. But aside from that, I suppose....

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. And we can't just say, "Well, that's the French. They have no shame in these matters"--though that would be true, of course. Everyone does it. Like it or not, this is the world of international diplomacy.

P.P.S. When French diplomats are accidentally caught saying what they really think (which is not always the same as telling the truth), the results are often no better. As Ami Isseroff couldn't help observing, whereas Iran is "a significant, respected player in the Middle East which is playing a stabilizing role," Israel is "that shitty little country." Well, you can't please everyone.

Fighting Hezbollah in the worst way possible (Ami Isseroff)

Ami Isseroff, who has been dubious about the the current Israeli operation in Lebanon from the start, is increasingly concluding that it has been an unwise and poorly conducted initiative that is likely to lead to unfortunate results for Israel--above all, a major political victory for Hezbollah, which is in a position to claim "victory" with any outcome other than catastrophic defeat. (A similar analysis was offered a week ago by Shalom Lappin in "Israel's Strategic Quandaries in Lebanon".)

However, Isseroff also argues that the context for the present situation was set by a string of mistakes and miscalculations stretching back over two decades, for which the blame is very widely distributed. Isseroff is convinced that the Israeli government is now Fighting Hezbollah in the worst way possible, but he also recognizes that, in the real world, any effort to deal with the threat posed by Hezbollah faces intractable dilemmas which make it very, very difficult to do better--and, furthermore, that there is no simple and easy way out of the crisis at this point.

Readers should be warned that Isseroff's analysis of these dilemmas, of the historical context that has helped to shape them, and of what he sees as the dangers and errors in the present Israeli/Lebanese crisis is likely to be depressing--especially since he has no good solution to propose. People who are willing to face that risk will also find it perceptive, informative, and usefully thought-provoking. Is Isseroff's overall analysis of the present situation correct? I'm not sure--and at this point it's not clear that anyone can be entirely sure--but there's no doubt that it's well reasoned, solidly grounded, and alarmingly plausible. Some highlights follow, but read the whole thing.

--Jeff Weintraub
Ami Isseroff (MidEastWeb)
July 31, 2006
Fighting Hezbollah in the worst way possible

When this war began, I observed that Israel had every right to defend itself, but that "Actions that may be "justifiable" may not be wise." What is happening in Lebanon is shaping up as a first class debacle--a "me'hdal" in Hebrew. As usual in such cases, everyone is quick to blame someone else, and to offer their favorite solutions. Culprits are not scarce, including past and present Israeli governments, the UN, the USA and Europe. We cannot blame Hezbollah or Iran or Syria. When the lion gets out of the cage and starts eating people, we don't blame the lion. That is its nature.

Let's trace some of the errors that were made, to get us to the present situation.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon. That was mistake number one. Ariel Sharon can be blamed for that, but he had partners. The long occupation precipitated the rise of the Hezbollah. It may have begun as a grass-roots movement against the occupation, but it quickly was transmuted into a fundamentalist Shi'ite terror group that vows to wipe Israel "out of the world" as Hassan Nasrallah says.

In 2000, Ehud Barak withdrew Israeli troops from Lebanon with the blessings of the UN, but with no adequate safeguards against the continued presence of Hezbollah. For that we must blame Barak, the US government and the UN and the Lebanese government, if it is considered to be responsible for itself. Mistake number two. This mistake empowered the Hezbollah, which was now able to claim that force was the only way to deal with Israel successfully. [….]

About this time, Israel also decided to cancel the operationalization of the Nautilus system, an apparently fool-proof defensive weapon that would have provided a method of destroying rockets using laser beams. Mistake number three. At the same time, despite the growing threat of Iranian and Hezbollah and Palestinian missiles, Israel invested nothing in civil defense. Mistake number four.

Israel also steadily reduced the training standard of reserve units, for budgetary reasons. The result is that there are few reserve units that are ready for combat. Mistake number five.

For six years, Israel watched as the Hezbollah armed itself and did nothing. Israel watched, the UN watched, everyone watched and did nothing. In 2004, when Hezbollah captured and killed soldiers and captured Elhanan Tennenbaum, Israel gave in to their demands in a shameful deal that traded dead bodies for live prisoners and further enhanced the prestige of Nasrallah and the Hezbollah. Mistake number six.

In 2005, during the brief and ill fated Cedar Revolution, neither Israel nor anyone else seized the opportunity to insist on disarming the Hezbollah. The US and France put their backing behind the puppet government of Fuad Seniora, which has a Hezbollah gun to its head. Seniora now praises the Hezbollah as heroes who defend Lebanon. Mistake number seven.

All of these mistakes were made before the tenure of the present government - made and inherited. The present government made a number of errors that were evident from the first day. The fact that there is a disaster in progress should have become obvious even to the government after Israel lost 8 soldiers in Bint el Jbeil. Even if that didn't faze them, the killing of 56 civilians in Qana should have given someone a clue that something is wrong. Even Amir Peretz should have understood that there is a problem.

IDF and the government wanted to combat Hezbollah in the worst way possible, and they proceeded to demonstrate the worst way to fight Hezbollah. Mostly, the government threw away the IDF book and the Israeli government book on how to fight wars, and threw in a few more errors. They proved the correctness of IDF doctrine by performing the control experiment: Do everything wrong and see what happens.

Military force is a last resort, after diplomatic initiatives have been exhausted. The model is 1967. During the long period of diplomacy, forces can be mobilized and trained. This is especially important if reserve units were not adequately trained. At least, the reserves should have been called up the first day of fighting. When war becomes inevitable, Israeli doctrine insists on carrying the war to enemy soil and out of Israeli territory ASAP. This is done by massed concentration of forces at key points, mobility and surprise. This requires masses of troops and armor from the first hours of the attack, following lightning air raids. Wars have to be short. This is dictated by economic factors and also by the world diplomatic situation. It is taken for granted that any war in which Israel appears to gain an advantage will be stopped by the UN after a brief period. [….]

Since the Intifada, and the experience of Jenin in particular, Israel should have learned that civilian casualties must be avoided. The US can kill as many people as it finds necessary in Falluja or Afghanistan. Nobody will ask the US to halt operations for 48 hours while they investigate why the civilians died in Falluja. This may be unfair, but it is the way the world works. [….] Israel could not, as critics claimed, have used massive air power in Bint Jbeil. If it was not evident at the time, it was evident after the death of 56 civilians in Qana.

Granted that the Israeli government was justifiably afraid of another Lebanese war and all that it entails for political reasons, and granted also that the US had insisted that Israel cannot harm the "democratic" regime of Seniora. Perhaps this precluded a massive invasion. It did not preclude calling up the reserves and training them so that they would be there when needed. In any case, given such constraints, someone should have asked if the war was winnable. If it was not winnable, then no matter how just it might have been, there was no point in fighting it. [….]

The idea behind the Israeli strategy is good: fight a guerrilla war with guerrilla tactics. Kill Hezbolla soldiers rather than trying to hold real estate, hit and run, "get thar fustest with the mostest" as Nathan Bedford Forrest, father of modern guerrilla warfare explained. This strategy requires two or three things that Israel doesn't have. The first is a very long time. Israel cannot operate in Lebanon for more than a few weeks. Guerrilla wars take years. The second is an infinite capacity to absorb casualties. The eight Israeli dead of Bint el Jbail caused an uproar in Israel and discouragement that was probably greater than that caused among Chinese Communists by the great retreat. This was used to good effect by the Hezbollah, who are well aware of how Israeli society works. It also requires having "the mostest" at all times. Israel failed to muster the needed manpower.

As international pressure grew, the Israeli government continued and continues to act as if it has all the time in the world. Disastrous errors such as bombing ambulances were brushed off with perfunctory apologies or often, with no apology at all and no explanation. Only when four UNIFIL personnel were killed did the IDF and Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally bestir themselves to apologize and promise an investigation.

Above all, the Israeli government and the IDF misunderstood the necessary objectives. From the first, the government talked about "hurting" Hezbollah. They did not understand that any confrontation that does not completely destroy Hezbollah makes it stronger. The game is set up that way. If Hezbollah kills eight Israeli soldiers it is a big victory for Hezbollah. If Hezbollah kills Israeli civilians it is a big victory for Hezbollah. If Israel kills Lebanese civilians it is a big victory for Hezbollah. If Israel kills a hundred Hezbollah it is an even bigger victory for Hezbollah, because Fuad Seniora hails Hezbollah as patriots who defend Lebanon. Heads I win, tails you lose.

It is not easy to know what to do in this situation. To stop now, without a real arrangement for disarming Hezbollah, would give Nasrallah and the Hezbolla a great victory. It would be a tragedy for Lebanon, for Israel and for hopes for peace and moderation. Using greater force or different tactics might work, or it might make a bigger mess. We can know what is clearly wrong however. It is wrong to make believe everything is OK, and to keep saying everything is OK, when everyone knows it is now. It is wrong to keep doing the same thing, when the same thing isn't working. Continuing in the same way seems almost certain to give Hezbollah a great victory, because the potential setbacks are even greater than the ones behind us. We can imagine what would happen if Hezbollah succeeds in killing several hundred Israeli soldiers or bombs the Haifa petrochemical complex, or if contrarily, Israel kills hundreds of civilians in a single incident.

In 1968 IDF had a crucial encounter with Yasser Arafat and the Fatah movement in the town of Qarameh in Jordan, during a reprisal raid. Fatah held their own against inadequate and unprepared IDF forces. They were able to claim a "victory." It was the first Arab victory against Israel and it made the career of Arafat. Bint el Jbail was the Qarameh of Hezbollah. Hezbollah managed to kill eight Israeli soldiers. No matter that the IDF killed 26 Hezbollah on the following day. It happened for exactly the same reasons as Qarameh - underestimating the enemy, poor preparedness, too little force used in a dubious action.

The Israeli government and the IDF are not alone in this effort. The US, and more especially France, which did nothing to stop Hezbolla and which have propped up the shoddy Seniora government and tried to sell it as "democracy" were at fault too. Hezbollah would not have dared to do what they did without the consent of the Lebanese government, and the government would not have given its consent without the knowledge that its western patrons would look the other way. Uncritical media coverage of Lebanese casualties didn't help. A CNN correspondent admitted that what he had been passing off as "reporting" was unadulterated Hezbollah pressmanship, and there are others spreading false rumors in the "alternative" media (see Fog of War... )

We should all understand what is at stake. As I noted previously, Hezbollah is out to destroy Israel., but that was not the main point of that article. It is hardly news that Hezbollah is out to destroy Israel. The real problem is that each confrontation in which the extremists gain a victory builds the forces of insanity and is a defeat for the forces of moderation. Even in the Arab world, there were many who hoped that Israel would be able to rid Lebanon and the Middle East of the Hezbollah. Apparently, instead, Israel has succeeded in uniting Shi'ite and Sunni under the banner of Shi'ite Islamist extremism. Nasrallah is bidding to become the new Nasser, the new Arafat and the new Saddam Hussein, all rolled into one under the banner of Shi'a Jihadism. Thanks to a combined effort of the IDF, the Israel government, fashionable PC fascists and Jihadist groupies, careless, unprofessional and sensation-seeking media and misguided US and European policy, together with the moral turpitude of the Lebanese government, he may well succeed.

Has Hezbollah overreached? (Michael Young)

At the moment, it looks as though Hezbollah is reaping massive political benefits from the Israeli/Lebanese crisis it provoked. The Lebanese journalist and political analyst Michael Young, opinion editor of the Lebanon Daily Star, argues that this is a temporary situation, and that once things settle down it will turn out that Hezbollah miscalculated dramatically. When the rest of the Lebanese political system has had a chance to catch its breath, there will be a massive backlash against it, which could include a significant segment of the Shiite community. However, this process will take a while to work itself out.

How much this proves to be wishful thinking remains to be seen. But Young is a perceptive and tough-minded analyst who is always worth taking seriously, and the fact that his analysis here (complemented by his Washington Post piece on July 25, "Break the Shiites Away from Hezbollah") runs counter to the prevailing conventional wisdom is one more reason for giving it some consideration.

To help put this analysis in context, it helps to be aware that Michael Young is a secular liberal from a Christian background, and Nabih Berri (mentioned in the title of his article) is the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament and long-time head of Amal, which is the other main Lebanese Shiite party besides Hezbollah.

--Jeff Weintraub
The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Thursday, July 27, 2006

Desperately waiting for Nabih Berri
By Michael Young

Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, waited until the early hours of Wednesday morning to inform us that the phase of bombing "beyond Haifa" had begun, even as he justified Hizbullah's actions as part of a national Lebanese effort - unlike his earlier claim to be fighting on behalf of the Arab and Muslim umma. This came only hours after another party official, Mahmoud Komati, stated that Hizbullah had been surprised by Israel's reaction to the capture of two soldiers on July 12.

Komati's admission was troubling for four reasons. It was probably untrue, since Hizbullah almost certainly factored in what the Israelis might do when it planned the soldiers' abduction; the admission was designed to shift blame away from Hizbullah, since if it had known about the Israeli response, hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese would hold the party accountable for their fate; and if Komati was telling the truth and Hizbullah did not know, then the party is guilty of having provoked a national catastrophe based on deficient planning.

The fourth reason was more prosaic: It was contradicted by what Nasrallah later said. In his statement on Al-Manar, the secretary general declared that Hizbullah knew Israel intended to launch a major military operation in October. In that case it was surely aware that the Olmert government might engage in harsh retaliation before that deadline. And if that wasn't plain enough, the muscular Israeli response in May, after there was cross-border rocket fire from Lebanon, should have made it clear.

From Hizbullah's mood it is apparent that Nasrallah is pursuing an indefinite war for political survival. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not reassure him, nor was she expected to, by laying down a series of diktats during her visit to Beirut rather than flexible negotiating positions. The latter will have to wait until her return to the region, when real bargaining begins. And this will last a long time.

But how long can Nasrallah last? Much has been made of the secretary general's celebrated steadfastness and the fact that he has before him only two choices - victory or defeat. If that's his narrow reading, then he is heading toward heartbreak, because sooner or later the weight of the Lebanese sectarian system is likely to impose defeat on him if he refuses to make necessary concessions. The reason is simple: No Lebanese leader - not Amin Gemayel in 1982, Michel Aoun in 1989, or Emile Lahoud in 2004 - can indefinitely bend the country to the breaking point, or push it toward communal destabilization, without the old sectarian ways kicking in to impose a correction. And in the absence of concessions by maximalist leaders, the system has usually collapsed into war.

It has been obvious in the past year that for all its military prowess, Hizbullah has had no inkling about the subtleties of domestic sectarian politics. Perhaps that is because the Shiites were never truly afforded a way into the system before 1975, when the Civil War started. But it is also because the party spent 15 of the post-war years pampered by Syria - allowed to amass a huge military arsenal and pursue a war option while being guaranteed a bloc of seats in Lebanon's Parliament. There was little hard work involved and none of the Byzantine give and take that sectarian groups must engage in to build coalitions across religious lines.

Nasrallah is all soaring ambition, which is precisely why he never took to the pettiness and symmetry of sectarian haggling. And today, with Hizbullah fighting a war on behalf of, variously, the Arabs, Islam, Lebanon, and the Shiites (who can forget Nasrallah's initial cry after the Israeli onslaught that Israel would never defeat the children of Mohammad, Ali, Hassan, and Hussein), it might be his own domestic partners who have the final say in how Hizbullah behaves.

Nasrallah would now scoff at this. But as the conflict drags on, the weight of the refugees, the fact that their long dislocation will negatively affect Shiite power as a whole, that most Lebanese oppose an open-ended conflict, and the rising economic cost of the hostilities, will push the secretary general's adversaries, but perhaps also, and more importantly, his own Shiite comrades - notably Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri - to question the wisdom of further obstinacy. Nasrallah cannot declare war on all of Lebanese society. It seems far more rewarding for him to take a step back now and see what he can yet salvage.

Berri will play a pivotal role in the coming weeks. As the senior Shiite official in the country, he finds himself awkwardly caught between his community and the state. For the moment Nasrallah has only authorized the speaker to negotiate on his behalf in the matter of a prisoner exchange and a cease-fire. However, Berri is unlikely to relish the idea of permitting a Shiite Gotterdammerung, and Nasrallah's dilemma offers him a way back into the political game after years of erosion in his power. The parliamentary majority is hesitant to demand anything of Nasrallah without a Shiite partner, and their eye is firmly on Berri.

That's one reason why Berri's unfriendly meeting with Rice on Monday was a good thing. It enhanced the speaker's credibility with his coreligionists, showing he was no American patsy, even as the secretary of state acknowledged by meeting Berri that any international peace plan for Lebanon required his approval. However, it is still premature for Berri to risk his standing with Nasrallah, and with his own electorate, by asking him to be more malleable. If the speaker does jump ship, it won't be before many more weeks of fighting and a likely intensification of the violence. More cynically, Berri might be waiting to see if Hizbullah loses ground militarily before making any such move.

Nasrallah has declared a war beyond Haifa, while the Israelis are now engaged in a ground war beyond Bint Jbeil. But Hizbullah may soon be fighting on two fronts - against Israel in the South and, figuratively, inside Lebanon. Let us hope that Nasrallah does not carry his battle beyond Bint Jbeil as well, this time in the direction of Beirut and after Beirut.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

American Jew-hater shoots Jews in Seattle (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

This attack occurred on Friday. A report from Seattle is posted on the Engage website. This news story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was was headlined:

'I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel'
Six shot, one killed at Seattle Jewish Federation

--Jeff Weintraub

How much damage in Beirut? (Stuart Elliott)

Stuart Elliott, in his progressive pro-labor New Appeal to Reason blog, tries to offer a small but useful corrective to the current media frenzy on this subject. When media images are being used as part of a propaganda war, it's often not a good idea to treat them naively and unreflectively. As always, Elliott's discussion is reasonable, humane, and factually careful (here is a previous example)... so people ought to read it before reacting with a knee-jerk ideological reflex in one direction or another.

For people interested in doing something practical to help out, Elliott concludes:
Even though, the media may not be doing a stellar job putting the damage into perspective, there is tremendous human suffering in Lebanon and Israel. Please take a look at my previous post on some ways to help. And, then help.
--Jeff Weintraub
Stuart Elliott (New Appeal to Reason)
Saturday, July 19, 2006
How much damage in Beirut?

A letter to the Wichita Eagle earlier this week complained that there had been previous letters backing Israel and said that all that was needed was to see the pictures of Lebanon on television.

I know the writer. He's a decent guy, which might be too much to say of some other letter writers.

Tonight after work, some errands, book store shopping, and supper at the Church's chicken buffet, I turned on the tube and, not finding any entertainment worth watching I took a look at the cable news stations. Imagine my surprise when I saw Michael Young, editor of the Daily Star being interviewed against a Beirut skyscape. Nary a bomb crater or demolished building in sight.

According to Deborah Gordon, one of Wichita's leading Israel's bashers, Israel is bombing Lebanon back into the stone age.

Some stone age!

From what I've caught of TV news coverage, it has done a very poor job of putting the bombing in proper perspective. I've seen lots of pictures of bombed buildings, but I've not seen a single map of Beirut showing the areas that have been bombed, nor an aerial survey of the city. Admittedly, I'm not a cable news junkie, so I might have missed it.

But Israeli pharmacist Shimon Zachary Klein, who blogs on the Israel-Palestinian conflict has located a very helpful map. (Hat tip: Jeff Weintraub

Klein writes:
The actual damage is only confined to those areas where the Hisbollah terrorist organization is active: command, military, and logistics locations used for weapons transport....
[The media goal seems to be] to convey the idea that the entire city has been destroyed when 99% is untouched.
Only Hizbollah command and weapons centers and weapons transport sites have been attacked. [This is] Less than 1% of the entire city.
I've come across reports in recent days that tend to confirm Klein's analysis.
  • In a radio interview retired Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie said that only a 15 block square area of Beirut had been bombed. Now in my hometown of Winfield, Kansas (population 12,000) that would be an enormous area. In New York city, or Beirut, Lebanon, not so huge. (I'll try to track down the link to the interview.)
  • A NPR report noted that the new conflict had put a halt to the building boom in Beirut. Many buildings and areas had still not been rehabbed from the civil war twenty years ago.
  • A CNN reporter has revealed that he and others are able only to visit and photograph what Hezbollah wants them to.
  • J. Michael Kennedy of the LA Times wrote an article which put things in perspective.
Swaths of the southern suburbs are in ruins after 11 days of Israeli attacks. The main road from the south is bombed out and impassable. The main road to Damascus is knocked out. Hotels have emptied. Electric power comes and goes.

But the main shopping street of Hamra in west Beirut was jammed with cars Saturday morning. Stores were open, at least for a few hours - even clothing shops that sold no clothes.

"Now is not the time to be buying clothes. Now is the time to buy food," said Fouad Naim, manager of the Antonio Baldan men's store. "But some who have been wearing the same thing for the last 10 days have come to get something new. You can smell them when they come in."

The newly built center of the city, with its fashionable shops and banking center, was eerily empty, save for a smattering of people in what few cafes were open. The tourists who made it one of the busiest parts of the city have long since gone, either by sea or overland to Syria or Jordan.

But on the main highway going north up the coast, more stores and restaurants were open, including fast-food standbys such as Hardee's, KFC, Subway and Burger King.

On Saturday afternoon, the road was jammed with cars as it passed the port and headed north, past modern shopping malls and other developments that are a part of the rebuilt Beirut. A turnoff to the right leads to the mountains above. Virtually all of this territory is home to the Christians of Lebanon, who allied themselves with the Israelis during the invasion of the country in 1982.

In Bikfayya, the roads were more crowded than usual, because this is one of the routes to the Syrian border now that the main highway has been knocked out by Israeli jets.

Even with that, the scene was almost pastoral, with a neat town square surrounded by small, well-kept shops. At her fruit and vegetable stand, Lena Bochebel said that the trauma of the city below was a world away.

"Here there is no war, and all people are happy because we all get along," she said. "We're taking care of people. We are all Lebanese people."

She pointed to the street leading off to the right, where the high school was perched on a hill overlooking the valley below. She said the school, the church and the local hotels were filled, many with people who had fled from the south.
Even though, the media may not be doing a stellar job putting the damage into perspective, there is tremendous human suffering in Lebanon and Israel. Please take a look at my previous post on some ways to help. And, then help.

// posted by Stuart @ 11:17 PM

Whose lives count more?

That is not my question. It was posed on July 19 by the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, in a statement that has been widely quoted and repeated.
Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, said last night that 300 people had been killed, 1,000 wounded, and 500,000 displaced in Israel's week-old onslaught. He said he would seek compensation from Israel for the "immeasurable loss".
Mr Siniora said: "Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries? ...." [Guardian - July 20, 2006]
The relative values placed on the lives of people from different groups and countries is not a pleasant subject to discuss. However, since Prime Minister Siniora raised it, and since public discussion of the Lebanese/Israeli crisis and the world response to it has been full of the usual complaints from the Arab world about "double standards" and western "hypocrisy," his point is worth addressing.

Siniora's sense of anguish about the death and destruction in his country is understandable and appropriate. But his rhetorical question is quite ironic, because it is obvious that the answer is the opposite of what he (no doubt sincerely) suggests. On the basis of news coverage and public outrage during the past two weeks, it is very clear that on a person-for-person basis, the deaths of Lebanese civilians count far more than the deaths of civilians in Chechnya, Iraq, Darfur, and a range of other places. And the more specific answer to Siniora's question is that, as a rule, civilians who die in Middle East conflicts involving Israel, directly or indirectly, count far more than civilians killed in other conflicts. I'm not saying that this is either right or wrong--just noting the reality of the situation, which many people seem to ignore.

So, frankly, this is the wrong way to pose the question, and those who accept and repeat Siniora's implied answer are being misled. The life of every human being should be valued, and the violent death of any human being--especially an innocent civilian--should be cause for grief. This definitely applies to Lebanese (and also, incidentally, to Chechens, Russians, Kurds, Iraqis, Darfuris, and Israelis, among others).

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

What Ahmadinejad meant

In October 2005 the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gave a speech in which he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map"--quoting a well-known declaration by the Ayatollah Khomeini. In the same speech, according to the Al Jazeera translation, Ahmadinejad explained that Israel's "annihilation" is a necessary part of the "historic war" between Islam and the West.

In fact, all this has been the official policy of the Iranian Islamic Republic since it was established after the 1979 revolution. But in recent years, during the period when the elective part of the Iranian government was formally (though impotently) controlled by reformers led by President Khatami, this position had not been declared in such straightforward and aggressive terms, at least in forums where it would be picked up by the international press. With the resurgence of the hard-liners and the collapse of the reformist camp, that situation has apparently changed.

The phrase "wiped off the map," or something close to it, was the translation used by almost all international news reports to capture the relevant statement by Ahmadinejad. However, Juan Cole argued at the time that this translation was tendentious and misleading, and that in the original Farsi the meaning of this formulation--both as enunciated by the Ayatollah Khomeini and as quoted by Ahmadinejad--was actually fairly passive and un-threatening, "almost metaphysical". Some of us could not help thinking that Cole's interpretation amounted to a strained and unconvincing attempt to whitewash the very clear message intended by Ahmadinejad and understood by his audience (e.g., see here and here). As I remarked at the time:
I might even be willing to concede, in principle, that some of the reactions to Ahmadinejad's statements about the necessity for Israel's long-term elimination may have been too alarmist. I realize that Cole's aim is to try to lower the emotional temperature, and that's not entirely a bad thing. But it seems to me that (at the very least) he has gone overboard in the opposite direction. OK, it's hard to get the tone precisely right in such matters. But there's a point at which this kind of argument crosses the line into wishful thinking and disinformation.
Well, here is another piece of evidence. Below is a poster currently on display in Tehran with an English translation of Khomeini's injunction: "Israel must be wiped out [of] the world" (quoting the "Leader of Martyrdom Seekers Imam Khomeini"). Since it makes sense to presume that this translation reflects the official view of the Iranian regime, I find this interpretation more convincing than Juan Cole's

--Jeff Weintraub

"A billboard of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, dominates a Tehran street." (New York Times - July 30, 2006)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The dilemmas of war between Israel and Hezbollah (Shimon Zachary Klein)

The voices of ordinary Israelis have been largely missing from the reporting of the Lebanese/Israeli crisis. Here is a view from an Israeli pharmacist and blogger, Shimon Zachary Klein, in his weblog on The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. (I was alerted to this by Ami Isseroff via ZNN.)

(Incidentally, Klein claims that news reporting from Beirut has presented a greatly exaggerated impression of the extent of damage in Beirut from Israeli bombing--see here. This suggestion is certainly plausible, based on past experience, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's correct. So I'm curious to know how correct it is.)

--Jeff Weintraub
Shimon Zachary Klein (in his weblog on The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict)
Saturday, July 29, 2006
The Dilemmas of War between Israel and Hezbollah

The war has now entered a very crucial phase. Press and horrifying TV reports of injuries, death and indescribable suffering are occurring to innocent Lebanese citizens, who are in the areas where tough battles between Israeli Forces and Hezbollah are raging. It does not matter who one supports, but the heart-rending scenes of suffering that innocent Lebanese people are undergoing cannot fail to leave one unmoved. Israelis are also suffering from the volleys of Katyusha rockets. The destruction and suffering of Israelis is no less! (See below)

At the start of the war, there was support for Israel’s cause in trying to push the murderous Hezbollah from Israel’s northern border after its kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Many people say that Israel’s reaction was “disproportionate”. The description “disproportionate” has been bandied about so much that it has lost any relevance. The kidnappings are not the sole reason for Israel’s reaction! The continuous Hezbollah provocations on the northern borders eroded Israel’s patience! Can one say that the constant hostile incidents on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, initiated by Hezbollah since Israel’s unilateral pullout from Lebanon in 2000 is not sufficient reason for Israel to open fire on them? The Hezbollah did not invent kidnappings on 12 July 2006. There had been previous kidnappings over the years and negotiations for release. This latest kidnapping was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Hezbollah is an evil, terrorist organization. They are well trained and organized. It is possible that Israel’s intelligence underestimated their tenacity, prowess and motivation. Iran and Syria are supporting Hezbollah and are arming this organization to carry on the fight against Israel. Hezbollah hides behind civilians, threatening them at gunpoint to provide them with shelter in the areas where they live. Some Lebanese homes have become armament stores and command headquarters for Hezbollah. It would not be surprising if Hezbollah ordered innocent civilians to remain in their homes and not heed IDF (Israel Defense Force) warnings to vacate in preparation for the battles ahead. Hezbollah did this in order to achieve three basic goals:

  • Lebanese suffering will receive increased coverage by the media that will work in Hezbollah’s favor.

  • The Arab states and other powerful terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, will support Hezbollah in their fight against Israel.

  • The UN will come under pressure from the ineffectual Lebanese Government and the Arab states to get support for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

  • Hezbollah and Al Qaeda are not allies but it is a matter of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” in this case. Hezbollah will try to gain support from any quarter for its cause of the destruction of Israel.

    The accidental shooting of four UN personnel who were part of UNIFIL was an unfortunate incident. One should view this in the same light as “friendly fire” on Israel soldiers by their own. In wars, unintentional accidents occur due to incorrect judgment. The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan’s rash statements blaming Israel for this unfortunate incident was not constructive. It somehow casts a deep suspicion as to his fairness of judgment in this situation.

    Hezbollah must bear the responsibility for the suffering of the Lebanese People. They have made cynical use of their defenselessness for their own crooked propaganda purposes.

    United Nations humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, accused Israel on Wednesday 26th July of committing "catastrophic mistakes" in its attack on Hezbollah, which have caused civilian casualties and alienated the Lebanese public. Israel has not alienated the Lebanese People! It is Hezbollah! They provoked Israel into defending itself from their terror. They used the Lebanese people cruelly for the aims of personal aggrandizement in their hate for Israel. Israel has often stated that it does not intend to occupy Lebanon. Israel’s aim is clear – to remove the Hezbollah terror threat from its border! If this “alienates” the Lebanese people according to Jan Egeland, then maybe the UN should leave Hezbollah to its own devices undeterred! Israel has no argument with the Lebanese People. They are not part of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

    There are calls for a cease-fire. If the warring parties declare a cease-fire prematurely, Hezbollah will view this as a victory – not even a Pyrrhic victory, but a total one. They would adopt a cease-fire for one purpose only – to re-arm and attack Israel at a later opportunity of their choosing. After all, one declares a cease-fire with states and not terrorist organizations. If Lebanon were to declare a cease-fire and one of the conditions would be the reining in of Hezbollah and its demise including its total disarmament in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004) then it would be worthy of support. Naturally, the return of the two Israeli soldiers and possible prisoner exchanges could be part of a watertight agreement in cessation of hostilities.

    Unfortunately, a weak government runs Lebanon, which has no power to replace Hezbollah with the Lebanese Army on Israel’s border to ensure peace or to negotiate an end to the war. In this respect, it resembles President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. The latter also has no power to negotiate the release of the soldier, Gilad Shalit in Gaza. Terrorist organizations – Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza run both entities. areas affected as of 21.pdf

    Friday, July 28, 2006

    Where is the Lebanese/Israeli crisis heading? - Some tentative analyses & speculations

    These were some of my thoughts about a week ago. They didn't pretend to be anything more than semi-informed speculation (or very tentative analysis), and many aspects of the situation remain very unclear and unpredictable--not only in Lebanon & Israel themselves, but also in the wider arena of international politics, diplomacy, and public opinion. But some of my guesses from a week ago are beginning to look more plausible, so perhaps these tentative analyses are worth sharing.

    --Jeff Weintraub

    -------- Original Message --------
    Subject: Where is the Lebanese/Israeli crisis heading?
    Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2006 10:02:17 -0400
    From:Jeff Weintraub
    To: X

    Hi X,

    You make a lot intelligent points. I have to be quick right now, but here are some brief and preliminary responses.
    Jeff - Like you, I'm very concerned and disturbed by what's going on in Lebanon and Israel. It's particularly concerning because the US has gotten itself into a position of negligible influence. Thanks to this stupid administration ignoring Israel and Iran, etc.
    This list of other wars doesn't convince me of anything. It just shows how horrible people are when they enter a state of war and killing. It doesn't set a standard of proportionality.
    Well, actually, that was precisely Stuart Elliot's point. The people talking about "proportionality" are overwhelmingly people who are using this language to criticize Israel on the grounds that its actions are somehow "disproportionate." Elliott makes it clear that almost all discussions focusing on alleged "proportionality" or "disproportionality" are fallacious and irrelevant. At the very least, if one wants to talk about "proportionality" (or "disproportionality") one has to ask seriously, "proportionate" (or "disproportionate" to what?

    Some people seem to have missed Elliott's point (which seems quite clear and straightforward to me).
    Following the argument by Elliott, proportionality has to depend on your aims, not just a mathematical formula. So what are Israel's aims? Clearly they want to send a strong message to Hezbollah and Hamas that they can't get away with kidnapping and other incursions with impunity. Second, they'd like to wipe out or weaken Hezbollah's missiles.
    That's a good question, and obviously the right one to ask. I don't pretend to have a precise answer to that, but I think I'm beginning to see the outlines of one--and most of the news reporting and analysis so far has been completely unhelpful in making things clear regarding these issues.

    With regard to the Gaza crisis, I have the increasingly strong impression that the Israelis went in without any clear sense of what they were trying to accomplish. With the Lebanese/Israeli crisis, the situation is quite different in fundamental respects, including this one. My impression is that they have a more coherent and plausibly defensible plan--which, of course, doesn't mean it will be successful.

    Let me just mention that if Israel could actually destroy all or most of Hezbollah's enormous rocket stockpile and create a situation in which Iran & Syria couldn't simply re-supply them, this would be a major achievement and a perfectly sensible and justifiable war aim. If, in addition, they could prevent Hezbollah from continuing to occupy southern Lebanon as an independent state-within-a-state, this would be a significant accomplishment which, in the long run, would be good for Lebanese as well as Israelis.

    The question is whether or not, and to what extent, these goals can be accomplished. I don't know the answer to that, but (unlike similar situations in the past), it seems to me that the Israelis realize they can't possibly accomplish this by themselves. They want political & diplomatic intervention by the so-called "international community," but they also have calculated (probably correctly) that this can't and won't happen without the kind of military pressure they're applying right now.

    There is every indication that, in applying that military pressure, the Israelis have focused overwhelmingly on hitting strategic targets and have been making strong efforts to avoid civilian casualties. (If that weren't true, then the numbers of civilian casualties would not be so low in proportion to the other conflicts in the region mentioned by Stuart Elliott.) That impression could turn out to be wrong, but so far I haven't seen any information to contradict it.

    All this may or may not turn out disastrously. But it's definitely wrong to believe that the Israelis are simply blowing things up out of a blind desire to blow things up. It's also wrong to believe that it would be a good thing, for either Israelis or Lebanese, to give Hezbollah an enormous political victory at this point by simply stopping the war without some steps toward a long-term political solution.
    OK - but if they also want to keep open the possibility of separate and peaceful coexistence with moderate neighbors, is the killing of civilians and destruction of their infrastructure going to serve these ends? They may hope it will encourage moderates to rise up against the terrorists in their midst and throw them out. I don't see that happening.It certainly hasn't happened in Gaza. Rather, it hardens an anti-Israel view in the general populations and breeds another generation of resentful people who will be susceptible to demagogic leaders.
    I think Israel should have used a graduated approach of military response and threats for more and diplomacy, and given the Lebanese government a chance to negotiate with Hezbollah while there was still time to save the infrastructure and civilian population.
    Pull in US and UN diplomats. Instead, they've mounted an all-out attack. (Followed George Bush's approach in Iraq ---and look where that's led us. What's the long-term strategy? See Krugman today. There was none! It was omnipotent fantasy thinking.)
    That "graduated approach" may sound appealing, but it is pretty certain that it would have accomplished nothing. As for Krugman's column--usually Krugman is right, but in the one sentence you're referring to I think he's wrong. For one thing, it clear that part of the purpose of the the Israeli operation in Lebanon (only part of the purpose, but an important part) is precisely to "pull in US and UN diplomats." The question is what those diplomats are going to do. In that respect, re-read what the diplomats & heads of state said in The G-8 statement on the Middle East crisis. The solution outlined by the G-8 statement strikes me as the right way to go ... and it happens to dovetail quite closely with the solution outlined by Chibli Mallat in .Chibli Mallat - "A Lebanese initiative" (Bitterlemons-International). All the other stuff is just unhelpful hyperventilating, as far as I can see.
    So, lets hope for the best...that the fighting ends soon and some diplomacy is at least given a chance to work.
    I'm sad to say that this has it backwards. If it weren't for the current fighting, diplomacy would have no chance to work. (The record of the past 6 years makes that clear.) And whether or not diplomacy has any "chance to work" now depends on how the fighting is ended. The hard reality is that if the fighting is ended with a political victory for Hezbollah, the chances that diplomacy can accomplish anything worthwhile are precisely nil.

    It may sound odd to say this, but in the present Lebanese/Israeli crisis (matters are different in Gaza), I feel safe in saying that the ones who most want a constructive international diplomatic solution are the Israeli government. The fact that there is no hint of this in the reporting of the crisis is simply one more sign of the lousy condition of journalism and public discourse in the US right now.

    Jeff Weintraub
    -------- Original Message --------
    Subject: Hezbollah and the IDF, Part 2
    Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2006 23:00:18 -0400
    From: Jeff Weintraub
    To: Kevin Drum (Washington Monthly)

    Hi Kevin,

    Regarding Hezbollah and the IDF, Part 2 ...
    Conservative pundits are seemingly united in their belief that Israel shouldn't leave Lebanon until Hezbollah is completely destroyed. Earlier today I asked if this was even feasible
    If the question is put that way, then I think the short answer is pretty obviously no. However, there may be other, more illuminating ways to frame the question. In this respect ....

    Aaron Rutkoff's analysis and your response both strike me as sensible. Similar points have been made by some of the discussions collected in those round-up posts by Norman Geras.

    There is an additional dimension to this. I doubt that anyone in the Israeli government or armed forces believes that military action, by itself, can solve the problem. I the short run, they can damage Hezbollah quite a lot (and, in this respect, they're obviously interested in reducing Hezbollah's enormous stockpile of missiles, which has qualitatively increased the threat to northern Israel). But if there's no political follow-up, Hezbollah will still control the border area, they can claim a big propaganda victory just from having survived, and in due time the Iranians and Syrians can replace their missiles.

    On the other hand, the Israelis certainly don't want to occupy southern Lebanon again! In retrospect it's clear that doing this did, in fact, reduce the threat to northern Israel in the short term--but it was too painful to the Israelis, and it helped to build up Hezbollah's popularity, so it was dramatically counterproductive in the long term.

    So I'm beginning to get the impression (which was greatly strengthened by the diplomatic outcomes of the G-8 conference) that the Israelis do want to see some international political follow-up to this military operation ... and that the Israeli & US governments have at least the rudiments of a coherent strategy for promoting this ... and that they believe the Israeli military operation can help lay the groundwork for it. At the moment, of course, all this is just semi-informed speculation on my part. And even if the Israelis do have some coherent plan in Lebanon (unlike the case in Gaza, where I suspect they went in without really quite knowing what they were trying to accomplish) that they can coordinate with the US, that's no guarantee that it will work. Condoleeza Rice appears to be trying to put together a multi-lateral, multi-national diplomatic & political solution to the crisis--but the track record of such efforts in the past has been pretty dismal.

    I touched on some of these matters in an exchange with someone else a few days ago (below).

    Hoping for the best (but not strongly expecting it),
    Jeff Weintraub

    P.S. In this connection, two of the more intelligent and usefully thought-provoking analyses of the current options and dilemmas in the Lebanese/Israeli crisis have come from the Lebanese Michael Young ("The meaning of a Hizbullah victory"), currently under Israeli bombardment in Beirut, and Shalom Lappin ("Israel's Strategic Quandaries in Lebanon"), now in London but recently teaching in Haifa. Both of them are exceptionally well informed, perceptive, and tough-minded analysts, always worth taking seriously. I'm thinking of maybe writing up something based on and/or commenting on these two pieces, but in the meantime you might want to have a look at them..

    One difference in emphasis is a bit intriguing and ironic. Lappin comes from the Zionist left and the peace camp, but is a very "tough dove." He believes that the Israeli military response is certainly justified ... but, to my slight surprise, has already decided that it can't have a successful result. So he recommends, basically, that the least bad option--which is still pretty bad, but not as bad as the alternatives--is for the Israelis to agree to a quick cease-fire, cut their losses, and get out while the getting is good. "The truth of the matter is that there are no good choices in this case. It is necessary to find one which does the least damage, and to recognize that it will be seriously imperfect [....]"

    Michael Young, on the other hand, is especially alarmed by the catastrophic consequences that Lebanon would suffer from a Hezbollah victory--and one implication of his analysis is that the scenario just sketched out would amount, effectively, to a Hezbollah victory. Unfortunately, just about any outcome that did not constitute a clear and unambiguous defeat for Hezbollah means a political victory for them.

    I don't think either of them offers an especially convincing solution, but they do help make the dangers and dilemmas more vivid and concrete. (Just the thing to lift our moods, right?)

    -------- Original Message --------
    Subject: Re: The G-8 statement on the Middle East crisis
    Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 09:20:44 -0400
    From: Jeff Weintraub
    To: XX

    Hi XX,
    Jeff -- One gets the sense that the powers-that-be are willing to give Israel X number of days to cripple Hezbollah before playing out the usual script of intervening... but will Israel really be able to cripple Hezbollah enough to allow the Lebanese to control South Lebanon...? Sounds iffy...
    Iffy indeed. In fact, it seems pretty clear that bombing Hezbollah & its military supplies, by itself, probably can't accomplish anything lasting. Hezbollah has a lot of strategic depth, and it obviously has spent decades preparing for a situation like this. Some analysts have been speculating that a ground invasion of southern Lebanon might be the next step, but that means increased Israeli casualties and political fallout both inside Israel & internationally ... and, in the end, the Israelis would just have to pull out again.

    I suspect you're right that the basic scenario will play itself out, but perhaps with a few modifications this time. I don't pretend to know what the various governments involved in all this have in mind--especially since I also suspect that most of them are improvising as they go along. But it may be that in this case, unlike most past situations, the Israeli government actually wants some degree of intervention by the so-called "international community." That is, the crisis might prod the outside world to exert serious diplomatic & political pressure on Hezbollah & its foreign backers, along with the Lebanese government, to reduce Hezbollah's control of south Lebanon--and, critically, to make it more difficult for the Iranians and Syrians to continue to supply Hezbollah with long-range rockets. I see some signs (including the G-8 statement) to make me believe that the US & at least some of its allies might have some such scenario in mind. I hope so, and I hope it works ... because this is clearly not something Israel can do by itself.

    Well, enough guesswork. We'll see.

    Waiting and worrying,
    Jeff Weintraub

    Hezbollah missiles and the IDF

    Ami Isseroff passed along a video of an Israeli drone targeting a Hezbollah missile truck (with a long-range Iranian missile) as it tries to hide in a civilian residence. Obviously, one can't vouch for the accuracy of all the details in the accompanying description, but the seems like an entirely plausible example of incidents that must be happening all over Hezbollah-controlled parts of Lebanon.

    --Jeff Weintraub

    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    Nasrallah clarifies Hezbollah's perspective on the Jews

    From a speech in October 2002, reported in Lebanon's premier English-language newspaper, the Daily Star:
    Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Tuesday [....] that "Christian Zionists" were gaining strength and had a powerful impact on US foreign policy. [....]
    Nasrallah said their aim was to return the Jews to Israel and rebuild their temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, over the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
    However, Nasrallah added, "if they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide."
    (Perhaps Nasrallah was referring to Hezbollah's role in blowing up the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994?)

    I'm sorry to inconvenience Hezbollah, but I'm afraid they'll have to come get me here in Pennsylvania.

    --Jeff Weintraub

    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    ... No, It's Survival (Richard Cohen)

    A passionate but also sober and cogent piece by Richard Cohen (whom I mildly criticized in a recent post). What he says here may sound depressing, but it's entirely right and gets to the heart of the matter. Including this:
    If by chance you have the search engine LexisNexis and you punch in the words "Israel" and "disproportionate," you run the risk of blowing up your computer or darkening your entire neighborhood. Just limiting the search to newspapers and magazines of the past week will turn up "more than 1,000 documents." Israel may or may not be the land of milk and honey, but it certainly seems to be the land of disproportionate military response -- and a good thing, too.
    The list of those who have accused Israel of not being in harmony with its enemies is long and, alas, distinguished. It includes, of course, the United Nations and its secretary general, Kofi Annan. It also includes a whole bunch of European newspapers whose editorial pages call for Israel to respond, it seems, with only one missile for every one tossed its way. Such neat proportion is a recipe for doom.
    The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that it makes you wonder if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general.
    Why wonder? The connection is pretty obvious.

    Of course, it's not always a matter of conscious hostility. Sometimes it's just ingrained, taken-for-granted bias that is in large part a residual effect of persistent long-term demonization of Israel (along with an understandable reluctance to face up to some of the more depressing underlying realities of the situation). And in some cases there are even elements of serious analysis and genuine moral concern involved--not every argument that harps on Israel's allegedly "disproportionate" response can simply be dismissed. Furthermore, this time around we haven't seen such an explosion of open hatred against Israel as in previous crises. (Although that's a matter of degree.) But all those qualifications don't affect the basic point. This pervasive, thoughtlessly reflexive condemnation of Israel's "disproportionality" (sometimes, admittedly, coupled with brief pro-forma critical comments about Hezbollah) can't be understood except in connection with an underlying anti-Israel bias that long ago hardened into "common sense" and that helps shape the immediate response to every new crisis.

    It's important not to misunderstand or deliberately misconstrue what this means. Are Israelis right to be concerned about genuine long-term threats to their national and physical survival? Yes, definitely, and any discussion which ignores, dismisses, or trivializes such concerns--which many do--is not worth taking seriously. Does the survival of Israel sometimes require responses that other people will regard as "disproportionate"? Yes. Does that mean that every Israeli action taken on this basis is justified or intelligent? No, that doesn't follow at all, and it's obviously not true. In fact, the imperatives of national survival have sometimes been used to rationalize unjust, disastrous, and self-destructive policies. Does it mean that everyone who ever criticizes Israel or Israeli policies (as I do, for example) should be seen as an anti-Zionist or even anti-semitic bigot? No, that's stupid ... and, in most cases, a dishonest red herring. Criticism is not the same thing as demonization or persistent bias--but that's not equivalent to pretending that demonization and persistent bias don't exist.

    Having said that ... read Cohen's whole column.

    ---Jeff Weintraub.
    Washington Post
    Tuesday, July 25, 2006; Page A15

    ... No, It's Survival
    By Richard Cohen

    If by chance you have the search engine LexisNexis and you punch in the words "Israel" and "disproportionate," you run the risk of blowing up your computer or darkening your entire neighborhood. Just limiting the search to newspapers and magazines of the past week will turn up "more than 1,000 documents." Israel may or may not be the land of milk and honey, but it certainly seems to be the land of disproportionate military response -- and a good thing, too.

    The list of those who have accused Israel of not being in harmony with its enemies is long and, alas, distinguished. It includes, of course, the United Nations and its secretary general, Kofi Annan. It also includes a whole bunch of European newspapers whose editorial pages call for Israel to respond, it seems, with only one missile for every one tossed its way. Such neat proportion is a recipe for doom.

    The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that it makes you wonder if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general. Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that proportionality is madness. For Israel, a small country within reach, as we are finding out, of a missile launched from any enemy's back yard, proportionality is not only inapplicable, it is suicide. The last thing it needs is a war of attrition. It is not good enough to take out this or that missile battery. It is necessary to reestablish deterrence: You slap me, I will punch out your lights.

    Israel has been in dire need of such deterrence ever since it pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 and, just recently, the Gaza Strip. In Lebanon, it effectively got into a proportional hit-and-respond cycle with Hezbollah. It cost Israel 901 dead and Hezbollah an announced 1,375, too close to parity to make a lasting difference. Whatever the figures, it does not change the fact that Israeli conscripts or reservists do not think death and martyrdom are the same thing. No virgins await Jews in heaven.

    Gaza, too, was a retreat. There are many ways to mask it but no way to change the reality. The government of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon concluded that Israel was incapable of controlling a densely populated area full of people who hated the occupation. Israel will in due course reach the same conclusion when it comes to the West Bank, although the present war has almost certainly set back that timetable. The fact remains that for Israel to survive, it must withdraw to boundaries that are easily defensible and hard to breach.

    It's clear now that those boundaries -- a wall, a fence, a whatever -- are immaterial when it comes to missiles. Hezbollah, with the aid of Iran and Syria, has shown that it is no longer necessary to send a dazed suicide bomber over the border -- all that is needed is the requisite amount of thrust and a warhead. That being the case, it's either stupid or mean for anyone to call for proportionality. The only way to ensure that babies don't die in their cribs and old people in the streets is to make the Lebanese or the Palestinians understand that if they, no matter how reluctantly, host those rockets, they will pay a very, very steep price.

    Readers of my recent column on the Middle East can accuse me of many things, but not a lack of realism. I know Israel's imperfections, but I also exalt and admire its achievements. Lacking religious conviction, I fear for its future and note the ominous spread of European-style anti-Semitism throughout the Muslim world -- and its boomerang return to Europe as a mindless form of anti-Zionism.

    Israel is, as I have often said, unfortunately located, gentrifying a pretty bad neighborhood. But the world is full of dislocated peoples, and we ourselves live in a country where the Indians were pushed out of the way so that -- oh, what irony! -- the owners of slaves could spread liberty and democracy from sea to shining sea. As for Europe, who today cries for the Greeks of Anatolia or the Germans of Bohemia?

    These calls for proportionality rankle. They fall on my ears not as genteel expressions of fairness, some ditsy Marquess of Queensberry idea of war, but as ugly sentiments pregnant with antipathy toward the only democratic state in the Middle East. After the Holocaust, after 1,000 years of mayhem and murder, the only proportionality that counts is zero for zero. If Israel's enemies want that, they can have it in a moment.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    Jan Egeland condemns Hezbollah's war crimes

    Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has been one of the most admirable figures involved in trying to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Egeland has made continuous (though mostly unsuccessful) efforts both to help the victims and to rouse the world's conscience. And for an international civil servant, he has been unusually honest and unsparing in describing the extent of the atrocity, the culpability of those who are perpetrating it, and the inadequacy of the world's response.

    According to the report below, it appears that Egeland has brought some of this same candor and moral seriousness to the Lebanese/Israeli crisis. I don't mean this as an endorsement of all his judgments. Egeland was right, though unsurprising, when he "condemned the killing and wounding of civilians by both sides." This is what one would expect from a UN humanitarian official, and it also happens to be appropriate. He also called Israel's offensive "disproportionate" and "a violation of international humanitarian law." I happen to think this is quite wrong (partly for reasons explained here and here), but it is the UN line, so perhaps it's not surprising that Egeland shares it to some degree, especially since his focus is on humanitarian relief and protecting victime of violence.

    What is more rare is that Egeland sharply criticized Hezbollah as well--not indulgently or in passing, in the usual manner, but forthrightly and angrily. In the course of this campaign, Israel may or may not have committed specific acts that violated the laws of war, but Hezbollah's whole strategy is a war crime per se, as Egeland points out. And this is not only true of its indiscriminate rocketing of civilian areas in northern Israel, which even high UN officials like Kofi Annan have explicitly condemned. Many of the people who hyperventilate about Israeli "war crimes" in Lebanon do not seem to be aware that hiding behind civilians for protection against bombing--Hezbollah's standard modus operandi--is not just clever and un-sporting. It is a war crime.
    The UN humanitarian chief, returning from a visit to Beirut, has accused Hizbollah of being "cowardly".
    Jan Egeland blasted the group's strategy of "blending" in among Lebanese civilians, causing the deaths of hundreds. [....]
    Speaking to reporters at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on his return, he slammed Hizbollah for hiding among civilians.
    "Consistently, from the Hizbollah heartland, my message was that Hizbollah must stop this cowardly blending... among women and children," Mr Egeland said.
    "I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this.
    "I don't think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men. [....]
    I feel sure that from Hezbollah's perspective, being called cowards is much more offensive than being called war criminals. One might respond that if a group like Hezbollah isn't allowed to hide among civilians, it might as well close up shop and go out of business. I won't bother to give the obvious answer.

    --Jeff Weintraub

    [P.S. I notice that Norman Geras has also called attention to Egeland's statements, in a more general post on "War Crimes in Lebanon and Israel" that is well worth reading. --JW]
    Tuesday, July 25, 2006
    Aid Chief Blasts Hizbollah

    The UN humanitarian chief, returning from a visit to Beirut, has accused Hizbollah of being "cowardly".
    Jan Egeland blasted the group's strategy of "blending" in among Lebanese civilians, causing the deaths of hundreds.
    In Lebanon on a mission to organise the aid effort, he toured the rubble of Beirut's bombed southern suburbs.
    The area was once a Shi'ite district where Hizbollah guerrillas had their headquarters.
    Mr Egelund condemned the killing and wounding of civilians by both sides.
    He called Israel's offensive "disproportionate" and "a violation of international humanitarian law."
    Speaking to reporters at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on his return, he slammed Hizbollah for hiding among civilians.
    "Consistently, from the Hizbollah heartland, my message was that Hizbollah must stop this cowardly blending... among women and children," Mr Egeland said.
    "I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this.
    "I don't think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men.
    "We need a cessation of hostilities because this is a war where civilians are paying the price," said Egeland as he headed to Israel.

    Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld in Iraq - "A Banana Republic Coup D'Etat" (Thomas Ricks via Belgravia Dispatch)

    I haven't yet read the new book by Thomas Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. But Ricks, who is the senior Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post, has a solid record of informed and insightful analysis. And the reviews of the book that I have read so far suggest that it may be one of the more important and valuable analyses of how and why the 2003 Iraq war (which I believe was both necessary and justified) and its aftermath (which it was always clear would be crucial) were planned and conducted with such spectacular and irresponsible incompetence. (This would put Fiasco in distinguished company with Trudy Rubin's Willful Blindness, Larry Diamond's Squandered Victory, George Packer's The Assassin's Gate, Gordon & Trainor's Cobra II, Peter Galbraith's The End of Iraq, etc.--and I mention only books by people who have genuinely wanted the post-Saddam reconstruction of Iraq to succeed.)

    Greg Djerejian (in his Belgravia Dispatch blog) offers one striking tidbit from Michiko Kakutani's New York Times review of Fiasco.

    --Jeff Weintraub
    Gregory Djerejian (Belgravia Dispatch)
    July 24, 2006
    A Banana Republic Coup D'Etat

    Ricks via Kakutani:
    Mr. Ricks argues that the invasion of Iraq “was based on perhaps the worst war plan in American history,” an incomplete plan that “confused removing Iraq’s regime with the far more difficult task of changing the entire country.” The result of going in with too few troops and no larger strategic plan, he says, was “that the U.S. effort resembled a banana republic coup d’état more than a full-scale war plan that reflected the ambition of a great power to alter the politics of a crucial region of the world.”
    Query: How soon before Ricks gets tarred as a defeatist, appeasing America-hater by dim blogospheric and talk-radio blow-hards?

    Posted by Gregory at July 25, 2006 02:28 AM