Sunday, July 16, 2006

Some perspectives on the Middle East crisis (Norman Geras)

Norman Geras usefully pulls together some commentaries on the unfolding Middle East crisis I am in full sympathy with Norm's opening remarks:
If you're looking for any wisdom from me on this, I have none to offer. Here are some reading links to pieces I've found interesting and/or informative.
Norm will continue to update this collection. In this connection, I would also mention Chibli Mallat vs. Rami Khouri on the Lebanese/Israeli crisis and two thoughtful discussions by Jonathan Edelstein here and here.

--Jeff Weintraub
Norman Geras (Normblog)
July 16, 2006
The crisis in the Middle East (updated)

If you're looking for any wisdom from me on this, I have none to offer. Here are some reading links to pieces I've found interesting and/or informative.
"Do not meet troubles halfway," a Jewish proverb goes. Olmert has opted to go all the way, setting goals that may prove to be unattainable. If he succeeds he will be a hero. Failure would invite swift censure in a country that judges its leaders by results, not by good intentions.
That's from a Sunday Times profile of Ehud Olmert. In the same newspaper, see this piece by Hala Jaber on Hassan Nasrallah:
Regarded as a terrorist leader by the United States, Israel and many other countries, Nasrallah is seen by hundreds of thousands of Lebanese as a great resistance fighter. .....
Some Lebanese politicians have expressed misgivings over Nasrallah's determination to continue armed resistance since the Israeli pull-out, and the devastation wreaked on the country in response to Hezbollah’s actions last week will have made him more enemies. .....
The country is divided between those who blame Nasrallah for bringing down the wrath of Israel on Beirut, and the Shi'ites and other minorities who have rallied behind him. Some critics accuse him of putting Syrian and Iranian interests ahead of Lebanon's.
For Nasrallah the days ahead will show whether he has committed political suicide or can rally the country behind him.
Julie Flint writes on attitudes inside Lebanon:
Few Lebanese accept Hezbollah's claim that its intent was to barter the release of the handful of Lebanese still held in Israeli jails. They blame Hezbollah for plunging Lebanon back into war, without consulting a government of which it is now part, for reasons that have nothing to do with Lebanon: the need, imposed by its own raison d'etre, to show solidarity with suffering Gaza and, more reprehensibly, the desire of its Iranian and Syrian sponsors to show that they are regional powers indispensable to peace.
But there is fury, too, towards Israel, whose wildly disproportionate use of force risks economic collapse in a country where the national debt is twice the national income and possibly, in a worst-case scenario, new civil war as positions polarize around Hezbollah.
Shmuel Rosner (via Jeff) on Israeli attitudes:
In this atmosphere, no military officer and no civilian decision-maker can even think about restraint. Reaching at least one of the two goals they set for this current operation in Lebanon - bringing the soldiers back home and "changing [the] rules of the game," meaning no more Hezbollah militias on the Israeli border - will decide not only the future of the northern front but also the political future of Israel's leaders.
Henry Siegman writes about Israel's right to react but not to over-react, and distinguishes between the Gaza and Lebanon issues:
Israel's response to the terrorist assault in Gaza and the outrageous and unprovoked Hizbollah assault across its northern border in Lebanon, far from providing protection to its citizens, may well further undermine their security by destabilising the wider region.
On the surface, the situations in Gaza and in Lebanon may seem similar, but there are important differences.
Eric Lee on why the left should be supporting Israel 'while... insisting that the Israeli military behave according to international law and keep civilian casualties to a minimum'. And today's leader in the Observer, which argues that '[t]he world community needs to recognise that, though their current tactics are unacceptable, the Israelis' war aims are reasonable', and calls for a united diplomatic effort:
No one doubts that Israel has a right to respond to the capture of two of its soldiers by the Hizbollah militia last week. That capture was effected during a raid that violated an internationally recognised frontier. Israeli forces defending their own national border sustained casualties. By any standards, that is an act of war.
In addition, the civilian population of northern Israel has been subjected to intermittent, random bombardment by Hizbollah rockets for years. This too is illegal and unacceptable and, even if casualties are limited, should be recognised as such by the international community. .....
The tragedy of the current crisis is that the Israeli response to Hizbollah's aggression has displayed a disregard for civilian casualties that has played directly into the hands of all those in the region who stand to benefit from conflict.
Update at 3.00 PM: Thomas O'Dwyer (hat tip: L) seeks the views of Israeli analysts, some of whom tell him that Hizbollah miscalculated and that the Israeli government is making things up as it goes along. From which:
"There is a big difference this time", says Avi Segal, a lecturer at Ben Gurion University - specialising in military policy, security and government in Israel. "In past operations in Lebanon, Israel was acting against puppet governments - the real government in Lebanon was the Syrians. I always thought it was a bit foolish to try to influence the Syrians by creating a crisis in Beirut. Now the situation is different. There is a Lebanese government, the Syrians are outside Lebanon, and so Israel can demand that the legitimate Lebanese government bring Hizbollah under control. The Lebanese have an army 70,000 to 80,000 strong, Hizbollah in the south has something like 3,000. So now security must begin in Beirut, they must control the south, because no sovereign country can continue to suffer this intolerable situation."
Michael Young (also via Jeff) on the need for diplomacy to take over:
Israel wants Lebanon to pay an onerous price for its ambiguity on Hezbollah: it has imposed an air and sea blockade and is launching air attacks well into Lebanon, including several on the Beirut airport...
... But Syria is the nexus of regional instability, giving shelter to several of the most intransigent Palestinian militants, transferring arms to Hezbollah, and undermining Lebanon's frail sovereignty.
Israel can brutalize Lebanon all it wants, but unless something is done to stop Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, from exporting instability to buttress his despotic regime, little will change.
Once the Israelis end their offensive, Hezbollah will regroup and continue to hold Lebanon hostage through its militia, arguably the most effective force in the country...
It would be far smarter for Israel, and America, to profit from Hezbollah's having perhaps overplayed its hand...
What to do? While the United Nations has been ineffective in its efforts toward Middle East peace, it may be the right body to intervene here, if only because it has the cudgel of Security Council Resolution 1559, which was approved in 2004 and, among other things, calls for Hezbollah's disarmament.
A Lebanese blogger (via Michael Totten) reacts:
We have no sympathy for Israel's position right now. None.
We have sympathy for the Israeli civilians being hit by Hezbollah bombs, but there is no justification for Israel's action.
Ratna Pelle:
Obviously we all are worried about the current escalation, but many unjustly put the blame mainly on Israel.
Lisa Goldman posts a translation of a piece by Yossi Gurvitz. Strongly critical of the present Israeli actions, Gurvitz sketches an alternative:
Israel's answer should be simple: an ultimatum to the Lebanese government to return unhurt all the Israeli prisoners, within one week. At the same time, we should demand that Nasrallah be arrested and put on trial at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, because the shelling of civilian areas is certainly a war crime. If Israeli pressure is joined by international pressure, it will strengthen the Lebanese government and help it to dismantle the Hezbollah - and the dismantling of the Hezbollah is a UN demand.

At the same time, Israeli Air Force planes should reduce to dust the palace of the tyrant in Damascus, and bomb its army from the air. That way Israel will destroy the real target - while simultaneously helping to liberate Lebanon. That message - that a murderous Arab tyranny is collapsing because it tried to undermine its two democratic neighbours - will provide great encouragement to the Arab street.
That is the path we could have taken, if we had only stopped to think. But no: We let the blood blind our eyes and our thoughts, we listened to the army's promises, and we let it do its job.

An anguished leader in The Daily Star puts its hope in America:
We are holding out hope that the Americans will be faithful to the values that they have championed and protect us from further harm.
[I'll be updating this post with further links during the course of today.] ---------------
Norman Geras (Normblog)
July 17, 2006
The crisis in the Middle East 2

This post continues where yesterday's of the same title left off: it provides reading links to pieces I've found interesting and/or informative.

Several pieces in the Daily Telegraph present the conflict as orchestrated from Tehran, with Israel fighting the cause of the West. Dore Gold:
[P]rimary responsibility for what is happening rests squarely with Iran and its local proxies.
Lead editorial:
All civilised countries, France and Russia included, should unite in halting the ambitions of this aggressive regime, which is perhaps three or four years away from developing a nuclear bomb.
From a report by Anton La Guardia:
Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader who had been a strong foe of Israel during the civil war but then became a powerful critic of Syria, summed up the situation as follows: "The war is no longer Lebanon's... it is an Iranian war. Iran is telling the United States: You want to fight me in the Gulf and destroy my nuclear programme? I will hit you at home, in Israel."
And this report by Alec Russell:
The Bush administration made clear yesterday that it saw the crisis in the Middle East as an opportunity for the world to deal once and for all with Hizbollah and to rein in its sponsors, Iran and Syria.
Hizbullah, according to this report, should be taken at its word. But see this from The Big Pharaoh (hat tip - StM):
Nasrallah's voice tone was the first thing I noticed when he appeared on TV today. I didn't pay much attention to what he was saying, I was only attracted to his tone of voice and his composure. I was seeing a new Nasrallah. The Hizbollah leader was speaking in an unusually soft voice that was mixed with exhaustion and bewilderment. Yes he was issuing threats and promising more surprises, but the Nasrallah I saw today was very different from the one I know. Gone was the powerful voice, the machismo, and the wide eyes. Today's Nasrallah was confused, soft, and vulnerable.
I believe the new Nasrallah is not just the result of the Israeli bombardment, but of the fact that he finally realized he dragged Lebanon to a terrible war and many Lebanese, as well as almost all Arab governments, won't forgive him for that.
Spirits are high in Syria (via Andrew Sullivan):
I think we are closing the noose on Israel.
A view from Beirut (hat tip - Jeff):
This evening, Hajj Abed, an old man from Saida who is regularly quoted on this blog as an example of Sunni sentiment in Lebanon, said, "What are they doing? What does Lebanon have to do with Haifa? Why strike Haifa? What's there for us? What will it accomplish?"
Contrarily, many in the Shia community are remaining loyal to the cause, but becoming ever more disheartened. Zeina, a Hezbollah supporter, claims she does not want the destruction of Israel. She supports Hezbollah for sectarian Lebanese issues and because of the legacy of the organization in her area. They helped her and her family when they needed the support most. She supports their policy objectives: to free the prison, and return the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon. She supports a Palestinian state. She supports a strong Lebanese state. She does not support te destruction of Israel, or taking the lives of Israeli civilians. However, the more Lebanese civilians are killed, the more faith she places in Hezbollah.
Zeina, and the Shia community, are in a tight bind. They need to have a major internal sect discussion about their goals for the nation. They need to hammer out the inconsistencies of supporting a strong state, while also supporting an independent, state-within-a-state militant Islamic party that commits aggressive acts against neighboring countries and places full allegiance in foreign governments. It's quite an awkward spot.
Tim Hames thinks that 'events are not "out of control" [in the the Middle East], the region is not "on the brink of war"' - but also that '[the] road has rarely looked more perilous'. Planning for the biggest evacuation of British citizens since Dunkirk:
British nationals will be ferried off in landing craft and helicopters over several days. Those removed by ship are likely to be taken to Cyprus while negotiations continue to try to end the conflict.
Tony Blair and Kofi Annan call for an international force to police Lebanon's border with Israel.
What George Bush said to Tony Blair at the G8 summit:
See, the irony is what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s***... .....
I'm just going to make it up. I'm not going to talk too damn long like the rest of them. Some of these guys talk too long.
Posted by Norm at 12:40 PM |