|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
SATURDAY NEWS ROUNDUP
Israeli offensive to continue; cabinet to vote Sunday on UN truce deal (Haaretz)
Peace resolution for Lebanon unanimously approved at U.N. (WP)
Fresh Israel raids after UN vote (BBC)
Hezbollah's rocket strategy (Jamestown Foundation)
Longtime Hezbollah member provides glimpse into group (McClatchy)
Huge oil spill off Lebanon threatens to ravage life in the sea (McClatchy)
Iran likely to defy UN on nuclear package (The Guardian)
U.S. ambassador says Iran is inciting attacks (NYT)
Focused on 9/11, U.S. is seen to lag on new threats (NYT)
A link to al Qaeda surfaces among alleged terror plotters held in Pakistan LAT) How the plot underscores al-Qaeda's weakness
By Tony Karon, Time.com, August 10, 2006
Ironically, al-Qaeda finds itself substantially weaker organizationally at the very moment where the political conditions for its existence may never have been better. Muslims around the world are far more enraged by the U.S. today than they had been five years ago, fueled by shooting wars in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan. Even if Bin Laden arguably helped provoke the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, he has not managed to capitalize on the resultant outrage. In fact, it is among the active jihadists on some of those battlefronts that his isolation is most palpable.
Even the Qaeda element in the Iraqi insurgency looked for immediate leadership not to Bin Laden and Zawahiri, but to Musab al-Zarqawi, who lived among them -- and whose relationship with "al-Qaeda central" was always testy. When Zawahiri publicly criticized the Palestinian Islamists of Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for contesting democratic elections, both organizations sharply rebuked him; they made clear they had no need of advice from the self-styled sheikhs of global jihad broadcasting not-quite-live from among the peasants of Waziristan. And the extent of their isolation was most evident in recent weeks when, as the Arab street rallied to the cause of Hizballah in its battle with Israel, al-Qaeda central appeared caught between Arab public opinion and its own instinct to vilify Hizballah as Shi'ite interlopers.
After a few statements from Qaeda supporters condemning Hizballah, Zawahiri finally urged support for the organization, although it's not clear that anybody cares. For angry young Muslims in search of a warrior icon of jihad, Hizballah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah cuts a far more appealing figure as his men trade blows and hold their own with the most reviled enemy of the Islamists than does Bin Laden, whose followers are more likely to target random civilians than "infidel" soldiers. [complete article]
A fight against terrorism -- and disorganization
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, August 9, 2006
Early this summer, a new strategy for combating terrorism, described by its authors as "revolutionary" in concept, arrived on President Bush's desk. The highly classified National Implementation Plan for the first time set government-wide goals and assigned responsibility for achieving them to specific departments and agencies.
Written by officials at the National Counterterrorism Center, under a directive signed by the president last winter, the 160-page plan aspires to achieve what has eluded the Bush administration in the five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: bringing order and direction to the fight against terrorism.
In the years since Bush stood atop the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center and pledged retaliation against "the people who knocked down these buildings," the federal government has undergone an unprecedented expansion and reorganization.
Yet the counterterrorism infrastructure that resulted has become so immense and unwieldy that many looking at it from the outside, and even some on the inside, have trouble understanding how it works or how much safer it has made the country.
Huge amounts of money have been spent -- $430 billion so far on overseas military and diplomatic counterterrorism operations, according to the U.S. comptroller general, a tripling of pre-9/11 expenditures for domestic security programs to an estimated $50 billion to $60 billion this year, and untallied billions more in state and local money.
Institutions historically charged with protecting the nation have produced a new generation of bureaucratic offspring -- the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) and Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism (JITF-CT), the Treasury Department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA), and the FBI's National Security Service (NSS), to name a few -- many with seemingly overlapping missions.
New laws have broadened domestic enforcement powers, and the Justice Department has been radically restructured to emphasize counterterrorism. The FBI, where counterterrorism now accounts for half of all investigations, has nearly doubled its budget to $6 billion since 2001 and added 7,000 employees. Twenty-two domestic agencies have been combined under the new Department of Homeland Security, while separate counterterrorism divisions now exist in virtually every nook and cranny of the federal government, from the Transportation Department to the Food and Drug Administration.
Outside Washington, 42 states have established intelligence "fusion centers" -- centralized locations where local, state and federal officials operate joint information-gathering and analysis operations.
The proof that it is all working, White House officials often say, is that there has been no attack on U.S. soil since 2001. [complete article]
See also, The response to the real threat of terrorism has only made things worse (Dan Plesch).
Comment -- Al Qaeda has not only been weakened by counter-terrorism but the inherent weakness of the concept of "global jihad" has become increasingly evident. The global jihadists are by nature marginalized, alienated outsiders. Their involvement in a "global" movement says as much about their difficulty being part of a local movement as it does about their grandiose ambitions. Instead of having genuine political goals, their ideology is anchored in the theater of the terrorist act itself. As violent and dramatic as any of those acts might be, they should not be viewed as a prelude to some wider event -- except, of course, when the response to the act provides it with an otherwise inaccessible global reach.
While the Bush administration wants to hail the disruption of the latest plot as a major victory in the war on terrorism, it's worth paying attention to the fact that the key to success began with a tip followed by an old-fashioned undercover operation. How passe! Such pre-9/11 thinking! It must make Dick Cheney cringe. On the other hand, absent the Brits limp-wristed law-enforcement approach to combatting terrorism, we might have been in for another round of "who could imagine...?" Who could imagine that explosives could be made from liquids, or that planes could be turned into missiles? Israel must win
By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, Haaretz, August 11, 2006
...Israel's inability to defeat Hezbollah, at least at the tactical and operational level, makes it look less like a valuable ally and more like a liability. This is particularly the case because of the impact - well understood in Washington particularly in the post-September 11 environment - of Arab perceptions of Israeli strength or weakness on their assessment of U.S. capabilities. The Bush administration's pro-democracy strategy also makes it far more difficult for it to ignore the stridently anti-Israeli views expressed by the proto-democratic governments in Iraq and Lebanon.
The fact that the United States has spent major diplomatic capital providing Israel with an unprecedented window of opportunity to deal with Hezbollah, facing down both its European allies and the Arab League, and complicating efforts to launch multilateral sanctions against Iran, makes matters even worse.
This is especially true when U.S. domestic political developments are taken into account. In the past, Israel could depend upon a basic consensus among both Republicans and Democrats that it was a valuable, indeed indispensable, ally that occupied the moral high ground. The political sands, however, are shifting. Anti-Israeli sentiments are rife among Democrats - 59 percent want the U.S. to be more "evenhanded" in the Middle East - some of whom appear to be convinced that the Bush administration's deposition of Saddam Hussein was masterminded by "neo-conservatives" in Israel's interest. [complete article]
Comment -- Isn't it fascinating that a desire for evenhandedness can be characterized as a form of hostility! Pro-Israeli Howard Dean quickly learned that whoever dares utter the word "evenhanded" in reference to America's role in the Middle East will suffer a swift and harsh rebuke from the Israel Lobby. Suitably chastened, he joined the ranks of the 99% of the Democratic Party's leadership who studiously ignore the 59% of Democrats who favor fairness.
And what happened to all that post-election discussion about the importance of values? Isn't fairness a profoundly important and universal human value? Wouldn't America and all Americans make a gigantic step forward if they could convince the rest of the world of one thing and this one thing alone: We believe in fairness and we endeavor to act with fairness. Olmert cannot remain in the prime minister's office
By Ari Shavit, Haaretz, August 11, 2006
Ehud Olmert may decide to accept the French proposal for a cease-fire and unconditional surrender to Hezbollah. That is his privilege. Olmert is a prime minister whom journalists invented, journalists protected, and whose rule journalists preserved. Now the journalists are saying run away. That's legitimate. Unwise, but legitimate.
However, one thing should be clear: If Olmert runs away now from the war he initiated, he will not be able to remain prime minister for even one more day. Chutzpah has its limits. You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power. You cannot bury 120 Israelis in cemeteries, keep a million Israelis in shelters for a month, wear down deterrent power, bring the next war very close, and then say - oops, I made a mistake. That was not the intention. Pass me a cigar, please. [complete article]
See also, The foresight saga (Ze'ev Schiff), As casualties mount, Israeli reservists voice concern over inadequate equipment, training (WP), Israeli public believes IDF not winning the war (Haaretz), and Antiwar camp in Israel comes out of bunker (LAT). Israel asks U.S. to ship rockets with wide blast
By David S. cloud, New York Times, August 11, 2006
Israel has asked the Bush administration to speed delivery of short-range antipersonnel rockets armed with cluster munitions, which it could use to strike Hezbollah missile sites in Lebanon, two American officials said Thursday.
The request for M-26 artillery rockets, which are fired in barrages and carry hundreds of grenade-like bomblets that scatter and explode over a broad area, is likely to be approved shortly, along with other arms, a senior official said.
The debate over whether to ship Israel the missiles, which include the cluster munitions and use launchers that Israel has already received, comes as the Bush administration has been trying to win support for a draft United Nations resolution that calls for immediate cessation of "all attacks" by Hezbollah and of "offensive military operations" by Israel.
Arab governments, under pressure to halt the rising number of civilian casualties in Lebanon, have criticized the measure for not calling for a withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.
While Bush administration officials have criticized Israeli strikes that have caused civilian casualties, they have also backed the offensive against Hezbollah by rushing arms shipments to the region. Last month the administration approved a shipment of precision-guided munitions, which one senior official said this week included at least 25 of the 5,000-pound "bunker-buster" bombs. [complete article]
See also, Israel hits tower in Beirut, warns of more bombing (WP).
Comment -- So what's the message? We hoped the smart bombs would be enough, but what the heck -- you can have the dumb ones too. What next? Tactical nuclear weapons? Will we soon miss the Shebaa standoff?
By Augustus Richard Norton, Daily Star, August 11, 2006
Bush is a one-trick pony when it comes to terrorism, so he has little need for nuance or contradiction. Hizbullah is designated by the United States as a "terrorist group," a label that Israeli officials use with alacrity to cement support for their actions. The word "terrorism" is a convenient rhetorical bludgeon. It substitutes for serious thinking and leads to the nonsensical conclusion that whatever Hizbullah does is an act of terrorism. The result is a US policy that supports Israel's "counterterrorism" war to the point that one-third of Lebanon's people are now refugees, hatred of America has become red hot, and the war has caused a major rift with important European allies.
All of this to fight terrorism, we are told. The war's hefty death toll includes hundreds of Lebanese and dozens of Israeli civilians, human sacrifices on the altar of the "war on terrorism." What most casual observers are not expected to know, but what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Bush should know, is that the six years between Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 until the momentous Hizbullah attack on July 12 were comparatively placid. During that period, one Israeli civilian was killed by Hizbullah weapons (and five more were killed in a Palestinian operation that may have been helped by Hizbullah). Meanwhile, more than a score of Lebanese civilians were killed, either by hostile action or by mines left behind by Israel. The dead deserve that we not treat their violent end lightly. Haviv Donon, 16, who was felled by a Hizbullah antiaircraft round fired at Israeli planes violating Lebanese airspace, and Yusif Rahil, 15, a shepherd killed by an artillery round intended for Hizbullah after an attack in the Shebaa Farms, were innocent victims. Thankfully, such victims were far fewer then than may be commonly imagined.
There were serious clashes in the vicinity of the farms, part of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights claimed by Lebanon during that six-year period. Nine Israeli soldiers died in Hizbullah attacks in the contested area and 16, including eight on July 12, were killed along the international border in seven clashes. Some of the attacks were in retaliation for Israeli-caused deaths in Lebanon. At least 21 Israeli soldiers were also wounded. By way of comparison, an average of 25 Israeli soldiers died annually during Israel's occupation of Southern Lebanon, according to Justice Minister Haim Ramon. More Israeli soldiers already have died in the present war.
With one possible exception, there were no purposeful attacks on Israeli civilians across the Lebanese border. This is important to recognize because it illustrates that the task of maintaining stability across this hostile border was neither impossible nor infeasible. Indeed, the rules of the game were well understood by both Israel and its Hizbullah foe. [complete article] Hezbollah missiles rain down on tanks
By Stephen Farrell and Ian MacKinnon, The Times, August 11, 2006
From a hill overlooking the Lebanese El Marj valley yesterday we watched Israeli tanks, above, crawling across a battlefield that they have yet to secure four weeks into this bitter war.
Hezbollah anti-tank missiles screamed in from the hazy hills and smashed into a Merkava tank, leaving it crippled. The crew could be seen sprinting to a second tank beneath clouds of smoke as artillery and missile fire thundered overhead. Another incoming missile sent a cloud of sparks billowing skywards just a few feet from a third tank. Later we saw a fourth crippled tank being towed to safety.
All this was happening just a few hundred yards across the border, within sight of Israel's red-roofed kibbutzim. Small numbers of Hezbollah fighters with Sagger and sophisticated TOW anti-tank missiles were tying down entire units of Israeli armour and infantry as they sought to advance to the villages of Khiam, Marjayoun, Taibeh and Kafr Kila.
Israel's response to Hezbollah's fierce resistance is a significant increase in its ground offensive.
But as the death toll mounts and Hezbollah continues to rain rockets on northern Israel -- yesterday it killed a woman and her three-year-old son -- Israelis are starting to show concern that their country is being sucked back into the flames of Lebanon, from which it retreated in May 2000 after previous illfated ventures. [complete article]
Hizbullah declares victory
By Roee Nahmias, Ynet, August 11, 2006
Hizbullah did not wait for the official UN Security Council announcement on a ceasefire and launched its own media campaign declaring it had 'won the war against Israel.'
In the latest video aired on Al-Manar TV the terror group says it "defeated the invincible army" and "July-August 2006: Legend shattered."
The new video clips show thousands of supporters waving Hizbullah and Lebanon flags.
These clips, which are aired between regularly-scheduled programs, include excerpts from Hassan Nasrallah speeches in which he had promised victory; similar videos were aired during the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. [complete article]
See also, Hizbollah's iron discipline is match for military machine (Robert Fisk) and Hizbullah's resilience built on years of homework (CSM).
The ground war
By Kevin Sites, Yahoo, August 10, 2006
Taylor says the one tactical area where the IDF has been particularly effective is also the area where they've been the most criticized: Attacks on villages where they believe Hezbollah supplies are stockpiled.
"The villages are used as logistic bases," he says, "but they usually fight from bunkers in outlying areas. They have tunnel systems with camouflaged entry points where they can enter in one place and exit somewhere else. We've been fairly successful at cutting off the supplies from the villages, which forces them to come out eventually." [complete article]
Comment -- So there you have it! Straight from the mouth of Major Lior Taylor, an Israeli infantry battlefield officer: Hezbollah fighters do not hide among civilians. Push for Lebanon agreement at U.N.
BBC News, August 11, 2006
World powers are stepping up efforts at the UN to reach agreement on a Security Council resolution aimed at ending violence in Lebanon and Israel. A meeting of key Security Council members ended without agreement late on Thursday. More talks are due on Friday. However Russia says a deal may be a long way off and it plans to table a separate draft calling for a three-day truce for humanitarian purposes.
Note: The headline and text in this BBC report is likely to be updated later today.
Israeli military chiefs strongly opposed to truce terms
By Shlomo Shamir, Aluf Benn and Yair Ettinger, Haaretz, August 11, 2006
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said late Thursday, ... there was still no agreement on a resolution calling for an end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah but that he hoped for one on Friday. "I have not at all given up on the prospect that we might yet vote tomorrow," Bolton told reporters after a day of talks. "We have not yet reached agreement but will continue to work on it and will continue to work on it this evening and meet again early tomorrow morning."
When describing the Lebanese position, Gillerman was somewhat less enthused, insinuating that Beirut's diplomacy was puerile: "Lebanon stands by the same position it has maintained thus far, a position that makes many demands that might even be called crybaby?" [complete article]
Comment -- It's hard to imagine that this would be possible, but placed alongside Israel's UN ambassador, John Bolton comes off sounding like a professional diplomat! Dan Gillerman, on the other hand, should be treated as an object of Israeli national shame. He accuses the Lebanese government of being a "crybaby" yet if Israel was to ever face the level of destruction that it has callously brought down on its neighbor, I guarantee that the emotional outburst from Israel's leaders would make Lebanon's current reaction look like a study in transcendental equanimity. Israel, Hizbullah a disgrace, says U.N. as aid is blocked
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, August 11, 2006
The United Nations emergency relief coordinator yesterday branded Israel and Hizbullah a disgrace for their refusal to stop fighting long enough to allow vital aid to enter southern Lebanon. Jan Egeland said there were 120,000 civilians stranded without necessary supplies in southern Lebanon.
"It's a disgrace really, because the parties to the conflict, Hizbullah and the Israelis, could give us access in a heartbeat, and then we could help 120,000 people in southern Lebanon," he said in Geneva.
"I don't think any military advantage has been gained in these last days or will be gained in the next hours but we could save a lot of lives." [complete article] 101 uses of chaos
By Mark LeVine, TomDispatch, August 10, 2006
Perhaps the greatest illusion of any strategists, leaders, or generals is that they are in control -- and perhaps the most hubristic version of this illusion is the belief that they can use chaos itself to further their control, to strengthen their situation. Our world today reminds us constantly that you ride that tiger at your peril.
Object lesson one: Iraq. While the world's attention and the headlines now focus on the Israel-Hezbollah war, recalcitrant, fracturing Iraq continues to spin out of the Bush administration's control. On August 3, Thom Shanker of the New York Times reported on a blunt warning from John B. Abizaid, commander of American forces in the Middle East, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: "[S]ectarian violence in Iraq, especially in the capital, Baghdad, ha[s] grown so severe that the nation could slide toward civil war."
Three days later, Times reporter Dexter Filkins published a disturbing (if, by now, familiar) piece pointing yet again to the Bush administration's mismanagement of its occupation of Iraq. Headlined Baghdad's Chaos Undercuts Tack Pursued by US, the article explained that civil-war level chaos has forced American military commanders to abandon the administration's program of "Iraqifying" the security of the capital and other major cities. Once again, U.S. troops were being called in to patrol Baghdad's violent streets.
The truth is, however, that since American troops first arrived in the capital just over three years ago, it's hard to remember a time when chaos wasn't said to be enveloping parts of Iraq. From the moment the looting of Baghdad began and those victorious troops guarded nothing (except the Oil Ministry), fawda -- an Arabic word that suggests chaos but with a graver emphasis on discord and hostility -- has ruled the land. Yet an American general in the Filkins piece is quite typical when he claims, of the most recent manifestation of the chaos, "I don't think anyone could have anticipated the [recent] sectarian violence." [complete article] Fighting by proxy
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, August 9, 2006
As summer turns to autumn we are likely to see the Hizbullah proxy war morph into an even uglier fight between the United States and Israel, on one side, and Iran, on the other. Israeli officials are increasingly forthright in saying that their current effort to neutralize Hizbullah, and Washington's eager endorsement of this effort, is part of a larger strategic campaign being waged against Iran, one of Hizbullah's chief sponsors, at a time when Tehran is getting fearfully feisty.
Pre-empting Hizbullah now is, for Israel, an indirect way of dealing with Iran sooner rather than later, Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to Washington, told me in an Aug. 5 interview. The timing of Israel's confrontation with Iran has little to do with the event that triggered the Israel-Hizbullah war -- the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in early July -- and everything to do with Tehran's growing familiarity with the arcane science of nuclear fission. By most intelligence estimates, unless Iran is stopped it will learn how to master the uranium fuel cycle at its Natanz facility in a matter of months, making it able to secretly produce bomb-grade fissile material when it pleases. This is one reason why Iranian negotiators have been stringing out the talks with the EU-3-Britain France and Germany -- as well as the United States, despite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's admonition way back in early June that Tehran had only "weeks, not months" to respond.
For Israel, preventing Iran from gaining this know-how is its true "red line" --the line that cannot be crossed—far more than when Tehran actually builds a bomb (which could be years away). Once Iran knows how to enrich uranium for weapons by experimenting with its small-scale 164 centrifuge cascade at Natanz, it is only a matter of time before it surreptitiously develops a nuclear weapon, the thinking goes. And by the latest estimates, despite technical setbacks, this breakthrough could happen within the next several months as Iran continues to perfect its processes at Natanz, says Israeli ambassador Ayalon. "We have said [it could be] the end of 2006, if they are not interrupted," he told me in our interview. "Recently they may have been set back [by technical problems], but I would say they will achieve this now in the first quarter of 2007."
So by Israel's reckoning, there's not much time for "later." Ayalon, who has warned about Iran's growing influence for years, says the continuing Israeli campaign in Lebanon is partly directed at constraining Iran. "First, the physical degradation of Hizbullah denies Iran a really powerful tool. Secondly, there is the political and prestige blow to Iran. Until now Iran was on the march and nobody stopped it. Here for first time there is a line in sand they could not cross [in Lebanon]. This is how I think history will view this." [complete article]
Comment -- The war against Hezbollah is really a pre-emptive war against Iran, not a war launched by Iran. This view, first murmured at the outbreak of war has grown into a body of opinion and yet a corollary to this view which, at least to me, seems no less evident is this: The line, "They started it," had been agreed upon by Israel and the U.S. before they (Hezbollah) started it.
If history will indeed view the war in Lebanon the way Israel's U.S. ambassador, Daniel Ayalon, says it will, then that totally depends on Israel having all the time it needs to finish the job and that in turn depends on the United States (perhaps with some British assistance -- a reminder about the existential threat to civilization posed by "Islamic fascists") ensuring that diplomacy does not have the unfortunate result of bringing about a premature peace. Lebanese direct growing anger at U.S.
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, August 10, 2006
With his arm raised and fist clenched, Sheikh Hussein furiously expressed a sentiment rapidly taking hold here.
"We know who our first enemy is: America," he shouted before tearful mourners at a funeral Wednesday for 30 civilians killed by an Israeli airstrike on Monday. The white-turbaned sheikh led the crowd in a militant chant: "Death to America! Death to America!"
Even as Israel continues to pound Beirut's southern suburbs, and agreed Wednesday on plans to expand its four-week-old offensive as far as 18 miles into southern Lebanon, many here increasingly blame the US for its extensive military and political support for the Jewish state.
"Israel wants to stop the war, but America orders them to continue," the sheikh asserted later in an interview. "This is the American freedom?" [complete article] Regressing a full generation
By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz, August 10, 2006
Now it is already clear that the goal of the war is - how original - to win! And it actually makes no difference what this victory signifies in real terms, such as stopping the Katyusha fire or security arrangements. The only thing that matters is giving the Israeli public a feeling that "we showed them."
The feeling of victory is a subjective, internal Israeli matter, just as restoring "deterrence capability" - the description of the war's goals that most closely approaches rationality - is also an internal Israeli matter that bears no relationship to the enemy's perceptions. [complete article] It is Lebanon, not Israel, that faces a threat to its existence in this war
By Ahmad Samih Khalidi, The Guardian, August 10, 2006
As Lebanon is brought to its knees, and Israeli leaders promise yet more of the same, there is something truly extraordinary about the manner in which the war on Lebanon is being portrayed as a war for Israel's survival, as if it were the existence of the Jewish state that were at risk.
Whatever else it may be, this is a war between palpable unequals: a giant nuclear-armed power with the most advanced western military hardware and a potential ground force of up to 650,000 trained men, against a tiny third-world guerrilla force of around 5,000 fighters, armed largely with second-hand former eastern bloc hardware (the first Katyusha rockets were developed in the early 1940s) and castoffs from Iran and Syria.
The idea that the latter can pose an existential threat to the former, under any foreseeable circumstances, is risible at best and disingenuous at worst. [complete article]
Comment -- Israel is about to be annihilated. The world stands on the brink of a second Holocaust... Well of course, that's all just hysterical hyperbole, but if you think about the phrase, "existential threat," although no one says flat out that the Jewish people are about to get wiped out, we're certainly meant to be aware that this is the core fear lingering in the heart of most Israelis and much of the diaspora. Yet although this fear is rooted in an horrific historical fact, its being reality-based has never prevented its being cynically fashioned into a tool of political convenience.
Some facts worth remembering right now are that Hezbollah's ground incursion into Israel involved a handful of fighters who snuck across the border on July 12 and promptly ran back, hostages in hand. The war that has subsequently unfolded has -- almost without exception -- followed a recurring pattern. Israel bombs Lebanon; Hezbollah responds with a volley of Katyusha rockets. Israel launches a cross-border incursion; Hezbollah fights back, but stays on the Lebanese side of the border. "Existential threats" notwithstanding, by all objective measures Israel has primarily been involved in offensive military action and Hezbollah has been involved in defensive military action. Yes, Katyusha rockets kill Israeli civilians indiscriminately, yet the fact is that while Hezbollah's "indiscriminate" "terrorist" violence during this war has killed about twice as many Israeli soldiers as Israeli civilians, Israel's highly discriminate campaign using precision weaponry and pinpoint targeting has by most estimates killed many more Lebanese civilians than Hezbollah fighters.
"Existential threat" is a term like "weapons of mass destruction" -- it really should mean something. Yet those who blithely exploit it as an emotive devise may discover some day -- a day when it's vital that these words sound a genuine alert -- instead they will be ignored because we had already become accustomed to them meaning nothing.
And if anyone wants to ponder a real and profound existential threat -- not to Israel but to human society as a whole -- it is this: That the most powerful instrument for guiding human behavior; the means through which people can discover news ways of thinking; in fact, the very thing that makes us human -- our capacity to use language -- this itself is constantly being eroded by its wanton misuse. How so? Because we tolerate being governed by hypocrites and liars; because we have a higher esteem for power than truth; because we pay more attention to sound than meaning; and because we shy away from discriminating between the known and the unknown. (So there! I too can rant.) Tactics that have kept the Middle East's most powerful army at bay
By Nicholas Blanford, Daniel McGrory, and Stephen Farrell, The Times, August 10 2006
For four weeks Hezbollah's fighters have defied the might of the Israeli military.
A guerrilla force that was supposed to be crushed in days has prevented Israeli troops capturing more than a handful of villages in southern Lebanon, killed more than 100 Israeli soldiers and civilians and is still raining missiles on northern Israel. In the eyes of Arabs and Muslims Hezbollah has already "won" the month-long war simply because it has not been defeated by the Middle East's most powerful army.
Hezbollah has made good use of the six years since Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon. With help from Syria and Iran it has amassed large arsenals, laid traps, built an intricate system of bunkers and tunnels, studied Israeli military tactics and developed a well-trained force of highly motivated fighters.
Israeli soldiers have been shaken by the fighters' skill and commitment, describing them as an army, not a rabble. "Even I have been surprised at the tenacity of these groups fighting in the villages," Timur Goksel, who served with UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon from 1979 to 2003, said. "They have fought far beyond my expectations and they haven't even committed all their fully experienced troops yet." [complete article]
See also, Hezbollah leader defiant (BBC).
Comment -- The principal training ground for Israeli soldiers are the occupied territories - a good place for honing an attitude of superiority without acquiring real combat skills. How much skill does it take to harass Palestinian civilians held up a check points or to flatten a house with a bulldozer? The irony of the age of asymmetrical warfare and the one that most in the West prefer not to articulate is this: If the battlefield truly was evenly balanced in terms of troops numbers and weaponry the odds would always be stacked against the "professionals" since they will never match their opponents in their knowledge of the territory or their passion to defend it. IDF still not in control of strip along Lebanon's border
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, August 9, 2006
The large number and the location of the casualties that the Israel Defense Forces sustained Wednesday indicate that the army does not yet control the narrow strip along the border, although this stage of the ground operation was supposed to have been completed already.
The two battles also reveal a great deal about Hezbollah's method of fighting. They took place in two relatively small communities, Ayta al-Shab and Debel, close to the international border, on territory that until May 2000 was in Israel's Security Zone. [complete article]
To the Litani... and back?
By Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, August 9, 2006
...while some senior defense officials said Tuesday that the occupation of land up to the Litani was necessary to stop the rockets, deep down they admitted to be praying for some sort of diplomatic initiative that would stall and save them from the massive ground invasion. [complete article]
See also, Israel suffers its bloodiest day in war with Hezbollah (McClatchy). At U.N., France presses pullback of Israeli troops
By Colum Lynch and Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 10, 2006
France on Wednesday introduced elements of a draft resolution urging Israel to begin withdrawing thousands of troops from southern Lebanon "at the earliest" possible date, as the United States warned that the next 24 hours are crucial because of Israel's threat to launch a ground invasion of Lebanon.
The possibility of escalating violence in the region raised the stakes in diplomatic efforts by the United States and France to bring a halt to the four-week conflict. The U.N. Security Council's five major powers -- the United States, France, Russia, China and Britain -- agreed to hold a new round of talks Thursday morning to try to narrow the differences.
John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and France's U.N. ambassador, Jean Marc de La Sablière, said that the two sides had made progress in talks Wednesday evening but that important differences remain. "My sense is that we're getting closer in a way to resolving some of them," Bolton said. "But I don't want to underestimate the conceptual and operational differences that we're trying to overcome." [complete article]
Labour rebellion gains pace as tanks start drive into Lebanon
By Philip Webster, The Times, August 10, 2006
The Labour revolt over Lebanon grew last night as an aide to the Government's defence ministers quit his post in protest at Tony Blair's stance.
Jim Sheridan, MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire South, became the first parliamentary private secretary -- the unpaid assistants to ministers who are one step away from ministerial rank -- to go public with his concerns about the Middle East. He criticised the decision to allow American planes carrying bombs to Israel to refuel at Prestwick airport.
Other aides, including Ann Keen, Gordon Brown's PPS, supported the growing calls for an immediate recall of Parliament to discuss the crisis, a move that ministers were resisting. However, there were growing signs that they will eventually agree to a special sitting early next month. [complete article] Old feud over Lebanese river takes new turn
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2006
Israeli bombing has knocked out irrigation canals supplying Litani River water to more than 10,000 acres of farmland and 23 villages in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, prompting accusations here that Israel is using its war against Hezbollah to lay claim to Lebanon's prime watersheds.
Heavy fighting and a series of targeted strikes on open water channels and underground water diversion pipes have suspended much of Lebanon's agricultural use of the Litani River along the coastal plain and in parts of the Bekaa Valley near Qaraoun Dam, said water engineers who have surveyed the south.
The damaged or broken facilities include a pumping station on the Wazzani River, whose inauguration by Lebanon in 2002 prompted Israel to threaten military action because it diverted water a few hundred yards from the Israeli border, in a watershed that feeds the Jordan River, Lebanese officials said. At the time, Hezbollah promised to defend the facility.
The strikes went largely unnoticed by the outside world in the nearly monthlong air assault targeting Hezbollah guerrilla strongholds in southern Lebanon. But Lebanese point to the extensive damage to their irrigation and drinking water system as evidence that border security and water issues remain intertwined in a region short on both. [complete article] Thousands of Lebanese refugees now face difficult living conditions
By Shashank Bengali and Leila Fadel, McClatchy, August 9, 2006
The living victims of the war in Lebanon - those who've fled the war zones in the south and in Beirut's southern suburbs, and those who've stayed - are facing a humanitarian crisis that's stretching this country to the breaking point.
More than 700,000 people who've left their homes are now confined to schools, mosques, public parks or the crowded apartments of friends and strangers generous enough to offer them shelter.
Bathrooms and kitchens are in short supply in the temporary shelters set up in Beirut and other cities. Hygiene is suspect. Many children are developing scabies and other infections, aid workers say.
Many of the thousands squatting in homes are running out of money, and aid agencies are struggling to find them to deliver mattresses and blankets.
In the south, the few thousand who remain live under siege. The roads out of their villages have either been bombed by Israeli forces or are too dangerous to travel because of battles raging nearby. They can't leave, and humanitarian aid can't reach them.
Water and food are running out in many villages. Relief groups struggle to operate amid battles and a road network that's been destroyed by Israeli air strikes. [complete article] Why America can't end the conflict
By Mark Perry, Bitterlemons, August 10, 2006
The language of the war on terrorism has opened a chasm between the United States (which has a small Muslim population) and Europe (which has a significant, and growing, Muslim constituency). The Bush administration seems stunningly unaware that European nations might have difficulty explaining to their Muslim constituencies why their troops are being used to police Muslim lands. Which is why I believe we here in America will simply be incapable of stitching together the international agreement that is essential to bring this conflict to an end.
I have spent three years meeting with and speaking with Hizballah leaders. I have met them at all levels of their organization. I have walked the streets of South Beirut, speaking with Shi'ite families. Not once, not ever, have I heard one anti-Semitic remark. Not only that, but one Hizballah leader told me bluntly that Hizballah "has no argument with Jews, but with Israel." His response was emotional: "We're human beings. We're not racists and we're not barbarians." Of course, he may well have been lying and I may have been gulled by his sweet words. Or perhaps Jeffrey Goldberg is right when he noted that al-Manar producers never said anything overtly anti-Semitic in front of him because "they are slightly more schooled in let's say obfuscation or public relations."
There it is: the only reason that we can't find evidence of Hizballah's anti-Semitism is because they've become so adept at not talking about it. Those clever bastards. [complete article] Hypocrisy and the clamor against Hizbullah
By Jonathan Cook, Electronic Lebanon, August 10, 2006
A reader recently emailed to ask if anyone else was suggesting, as I have done, that Hizbullah's rocket fire may not be quite as indiscriminate or maliciously targeted at Israeli civilians as is commonly assumed. I had to admit that I have been ploughing a lonely furrow on this one. Still, that is no reason in itself to join everyone else, even if the consensus includes every mainstream commentator as well as groups such as Human Rights Watch.
First, let us get my argument straight. I have not claimed, as most of my critics wish to argue, that Hizbullah targets only military sites or that it never aims at civilians. According to the Israeli army, more than 3,300 rockets have hit Israel over the past four weeks. How can I know, or even claim to know, where all those rockets have landed, or know what the Hizbullah operatives who fired each rocket intended to hit? I have never made such claims. [complete article] Birth pangs of a new Christian Zionism
By Max Blumenthal, The Nation, August 8, 2006
Over the past months, the White House has convened a series of off-the-record meetings about its policies in the Middle East with leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a newly formed political organization that tells its members that supporting Israel's expansionist policies is "a biblical imperative." CUFI's Washington lobbyist, David Brog, told me that during the meetings, CUFI representatives pressed White House officials to adopt a more confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand as it ramped up its military conflict with Hezbollah.
The White House instructed Brog not to reveal the names of officials he met with, Brog said.
CUFI's advice to the Bush Administration reflects the Armageddon-based foreign-policy views of its founder, John Hagee. Hagee is a fire-and-brimstone preacher from San Antonio who commands the nearly 18,000-member Cornerstone Church and hosts a major TV ministry where he explains to millions of viewers how the end times will unfold. He is also the author of numerous bestselling pulp-prophecy books, like his recent Jerusalem Countdown, in which he cites various unnamed Israeli intelligence sources to claim that Iran is producing nuclear "suitcase bombs." The only way to defeat the Iranian evildoers, he says, is a full-scale military assault.
"The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty," Hagee wrote this year in the Pentecostal magazine Charisma. "Israel and America must confront Iran's nuclear ability and willingness to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons. For Israel to wait is to risk committing national suicide." [complete article] Marshall Plan, minus the plan
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2006
More than THREE YEARS after the United States kicked off the biggest nation-building effort since the Marshall Plan, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki last month made this astonishing plea to Congress: "It is imperative that the reconstruction start now!"
Americans can be forgiven for asking, "Huh?" After all, haven't taxpayers already spent more than $30 billion trying to turn Iraq into a thriving democracy? Wasn't Iraqi oil money supposed to be paying for the rebuilding by now? What happened?
The answer is, precious little. Although the U.S. has already burned through more cash in Iraq than it did in Germany or Japan during the entire post-World War II recovery period, it has failed to spark peace or economic renewal.
Iraq still produces less oil than it did under Saddam Hussein, according to the most recent State Department figures. Electricity generation is hovering above prewar levels, but higher demand means that many Iraqis -- including the entire population of Baghdad -- are worse off than under Hussein.
Scores of health clinics and hospitals are unfinished, their doors and windows walled up with concrete. Raw sewage continues to flow directly into the Tigris River. The U.S.-trained police force is riddled with death squads. And then, of course, there is the unrelenting daily violence unleashed by the same Sunnis and Shiites who were by now supposed to be happily employed in U.S.-funded work projects.
President Bush once boasted that the aim in Iraq was to build the "best" infrastructure in the region. Now, top U.S. officials claim that the goal is only to "jump-start" the economy. The president's vision of building a city on a hill has been scaled back to pouring a concrete slab. [complete article] Future of Palestinian Authority in doubt: Haniyeh
By Mohammed Assadi, Reuters, August 10, 2006
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas questioned on Wednesday whether the Palestinian Authority can continue to function with key lawmakers and ministers in Israeli jails.
The comments were the first by Haniyeh to question the viability of the Palestinian Authority, which was created under peace deals with Israel in 1994, since a Hamas-led government took power in March.
Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, trounced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in a January parliamentary election. [complete article] Behind Israel's delayed invasion
By Tony Karon, Time.com, August 9, 2006
Throughout the Lebanon crisis, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has insisted that a return to the status quo ante is unacceptable -- a radical Iran-backed militia could not be allowed to operate along Israel's northern border, as Hizballah was doing on July 12 when it captured two Israeli soldiers. But Israeli leaders are also mindful of the danger of restoring the status quo of six years ago, when Israel occupied southern Lebanon at the cost of a slow, but steady flow of casualties inflicted by Hizballah guerrillas that eventually forced its withdrawal.
A wariness over plunging back into what Israelis remember as their own Vietnam may help explain Israel's caution over expanding the ground war. And so even though the Israeli cabinet on Wednesday gave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the authority to order a wider invasion, Israeli officials made clear that ordering such an move further north into Lebanon would wait a few days to see the outcome of the diplomatic wrangling at the U.N. [complete article] IDF aims to clear out rockets up to Litani River
By Aluf Benn, Shmuel Rosner and Amos Harel, Haaretz, August 9, 2006
The security cabinet approved Wednesday a broader ground offensive by the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon, authorizing troops to push at least up to the Litani River some 30 kilometers from the Israel-Lebanon border.
The offensive would not begin for two or three days so as not interfere with ongoing efforts to broker a cease-fire at the United Nations, said one minister in the meeting.
Labor Party Ministers Shimon Peres and Ophir Pines-Paz, who abstained from voting, said all diplomatic channels must be exhausted before the war is expanded. Shas's Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai also abstained, saying the ground operation should not be widened until air strikes have run their course.
During a break in the cabinet meeting, Olmert telephoned U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to provide her with an update on the situation.
Some ministers had argued that the military must deal more blows to Hezbollah before a Middle East cease-fire is imposed.
Yishai said after the meeting that the proposed new ground offensive in Lebanon was expected to take 30 days.
"The assessment is it will last 30 days. I think it is wrong to make this assessment. I think it will take a lot longer," he said. [complete article]
40,000 soldiers await word to enter southern Lebanon
By Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, August 9, 2006
Tens of thousands of IDF troops amassed along the northern border Wednesday evening in preparation for Israel's largest and deepest ground incursion into southern Lebanon since the beginning of Operation Change of Direction last month.
Some 7,000 IDF troops were operating in southern Lebanon Wednesday, clashing with Hizbullah guerrillas in several villages while holding and maintaining position along a 10-kilometer-deep security zone the IDF had created. An additional 40,000 IDF troops and reservists were waiting along the northern border in preparation for the major push to the Litani. [complete article]
See also, Casualties in heavy fighting between IDF, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon (Haaretz), Israel shuffles command of Lebanon offensive (WP), and Israel having to fight for every inch (The Times). Bush cease-fire plan may be a poisoned chalice - for Israel
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 8, 2006
...it seems pretty clear that the French agreed the cease-fire draft with the U.S. safe in the knowledge that others in the Security Council would ensure that it couldn't pass without taking account of Arab objections. They have said bluntly that if Israel thinks Hizballah can be destroyed militarily, then it's welcome to test that theory with Israeli troops. But for French troops to be deployed, a political deal with Hizballah is a prerequisite. So, the Israelis know that the deployment of an international force will depend on their accepting an outcome that is considerably less than they launched the war to achieve.
An even stranger dynamic at work here in the Bush administration's insistence that Israeli forces be allowed to remain in control of southern Lebanon until an international force is deployed, in order to avoid creating a "vacuum" into which Hizballah could move. This point is obviously the basis of Arab objections, simply from the point of view that a cease-fire that includes an Israeli presence on Lebanese soil will not be accepted by Hizballah, and will actually give it a pretext to continue fighting. [complete article] Lebanon is 1 of 5 regional wars
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, August 9, 2006
After four weeks of violent but inconclusive warfare, there were almost as many diplomats as missiles flying overhead in Beirut in the last few days, signaling a shift from fighting to negotiating, as the war's true dimensions and stakes suddenly become more evident. This is not one war, but five, and in the political arena they will all be fought simultaneously.
On the surface, the situation seems clear. Israel and Hizbullah have effectively fought each other to a draw, despite Israel's huge advantage in military power and its savage will to pummel all of Lebanon. Destroying Lebanon and slowly eroding Hizbullah's capacity to fire missiles would entail a very high political cost for all concerned, and so diplomacy must take over now.
The first draft of the United Nations Security Council resolution to end the war agreed by the French and Americans is significant but flawed. It is significant because it mentions all the key issues that are important for both sides and that have not been resolved through war - occupied lands, cross-border attacks, return of prisoners, and mutual respect of sovereignty and the 1949 Armistice agreement.
The resolution is flawed because it favors Israel on all the key issues: it says Hizbullah started the conflict, demands unconditional return of Israeli prisoners only; allows Israel to keep attacking; does not demand an immediate Israel withdrawal from Lebanon or subsequent Israeli withdrawals from the Shebaa Farms that Lebanon says is Lebanese land; and it demands an international force in South Lebanon and disarmament of Hizbullah before all of Lebanon's legitimate demands are met. [complete article] End this tragedy now
By Fouad Siniora, Washington Post, August 9, 2006
A military solution to Israel's savage war on Lebanon and the Lebanese people is both morally unacceptable and totally unrealistic. We in Lebanon call upon the international community and citizens everywhere to support my country's sovereignty and end this folly now. We also insist that Israel be made to respect international humanitarian law, including the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, which it has repeatedly and willfully violated.
As the world watches, Israel has besieged and ravaged our country, created a humanitarian and environmental disaster, and shattered our infrastructure and economy, putting an intolerable strain on our social and economic systems. Fuel, food and medical equipment are in short supply; homes, factories and warehouses have been destroyed; roads severed, bridges smashed and airports disabled.
The damage to infrastructure alone is running into the billions of dollars, as are the losses to owners of private property, and the long-term direct and indirect costs due to lost revenue in tourism, agriculture and industrial sectors are expected to be many more billions. Lebanon's well-known achievements in 15 years of postwar development have been wiped out in a matter of days by Israel's deadly military might.
For all this carnage and death, and on behalf of all Lebanese, we demand an international inquiry into Israel's criminal actions in Lebanon and insist that Israel pay compensation for its wanton destruction. [complete article] Israeli force can stop the rockets, but for how long?
By David Goldberg, The Guardian, August 9, 2006
In one of the tractates of the Talmud - that vast repository of rabbinic law and lore - there is a discussion about the difference between killing in self-defence and murder. A man came before the eminent Babylonian sage Raba and said that he had been ordered by the governor of his town to kill a third party in order to save his own life. Was he permitted to do so? No, ruled Raba, the principle that if someone intends to kill then you kill him first only applies if thereby the life of the intended victim is spared. Otherwise, "Say not that your blood is redder than his; perhaps his blood is redder than yours." Even in extreme circumstances we should comply with certain rules of moral conduct that enable societies to function and sovereign states to maintain relations with each other.
War, too, has its own rules of limitation and restraint, enshrined in just-war theory, the Geneva conventions and international law. Prominent among them is the doctrine of proportionality: that the response to aggression should be commensurate with the act.
It would be true to say that Israel has always taken a robust attitude towards reprisals. Zionist policy from pre-state days was to respond to Arab attacks with double force, as a deterrent. David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, was the supreme exponent of this approach. Yet, interestingly, shortly after Israel's stunning victory in the six day war he counselled returning almost all of the captured territories because, in his view, after such a comprehensive thrashing the defeated Arab nations would leave Israel in peace for at least a decade. Moshe Dayan was dispatched to his desert kibbutz to tell the old man to pipe down. Piecemeal colonisation of the West Bank followed, in retaliation for Arab refusal to recognise or negotiate with Israel, which is why almost 40 years on there are 250,000 Jewish settlers on Palestinian land and no resolution in sight to the claims of Palestinian statehood.
The present eruption in Lebanon is the latest in a long list of major wars, smaller campaigns, two intifadas, terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and targeted assassinations that have bedevilled the region since 1967. Both peoples have been corrupted by the situation. Neither can claim moral superiority. [complete article] Clearing the path for U.S. war on Iran
By Gareth Porter, IPS (via Asia Times), August 10, 2006
Israel has argued that the war against Hezbollah's rocket arsenal was a defensive response to the Shi'ite organization's threat to Israeli security, but the evidence points to a much more ambitious objective - the weakening of Iran's deterrent to an attack on its nuclear sites.
In planning for the destruction of most of Hezbollah's arsenal and prevention of any resupply from Iran, Israel appears to have hoped to eliminate a major reason the US administration had shelved the military option for dealing with Iran's nuclear program - the fear that Israel would suffer massive casualties from Hezbollah's rockets in retaliation for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
One leading expert on Israeli national-defense policy issues believes the aim of the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah was to change the US administration's mind about attacking Iran. Edward Luttwak, senior adviser to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, says administration officials have privately dismissed the option of air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities in the past, citing estimates that a Hezbollah rocket attack in retaliation would kill thousands of people in northern Israel.
But Israeli officials saw a war in Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah's arsenal and prevent further resupply in the future as a way to eliminate that objection to the military option, says Luttwak. [complete article]
World to end on August 22
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, August 9, 2006
Better cancel those holidays. We now have a date for Armageddon, and it's a week on Tuesday - August 22.
This information comes from no lesser source than the Wall Street Journal, where Bernard Lewis, President Bush's favourite historian, provides the details.
"In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity," the professor writes, "there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time - Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long-awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined.
"Mr Ahmadinejad [the Iranian president] and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the US about nuclear development by August 22. This was at first reported as 'by the end of August', but Mr Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise."
Lewis continues: "What is the significance of August 22? This year, August 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to 'the farthest mosque', usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (cf, Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and, if necessary, of the world."
This sort of quasi-religious scaremongering always finds a receptive audience in the United States, especially among Christians of the jihadist persuasion. At 90 years old, Professor Lewis may have completely lost his marbles, but he is still feted by the White House (vice-president Dick Cheney was guest of honour at his birthday party in April), and the Wall Street Journal describes him as "a sage". He is credited with coining the phrase "clash of civilisations" back in 1990 and now seems intent on making it a reality. [complete article] Anti-U.S. feeling leaves Arab reformers isolated
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, August 9, 2006
Moderate reformers across the Arab world say American support for Israel's battle with Hezbollah has put them on the defensive, tarring them by association and boosting Islamist parties.
The very people whom the United States wanted to encourage to promote democracy from Bahrain to Casablanca instead feel trapped by a policy that they now ridicule more or less as "destroying the region in order to save it."
Indeed, many of those reformers who have been working for change in their own societies -- often isolated, harassed by state security, or marginalized to begin with -- say American policy either strangles nascent reform movements or props up repressive governments that remain Washington's best allies in the region.
"We are really afraid of this 'new Middle East,' " said Ali Abdulemam, a 28-year-old computer engineer who founded the most popular political Web site in Bahrain. He was referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's statement last month that the situation in Lebanon represented the birth pangs of a "new Middle East."
"They talk about how they will reorganize the region in a different way, but they never talk about the people," Mr. Abdulemam said. "They never mention what the people want. They are just giving more power to the systems that exist already." [complete article]
U.S., France at odds on resolution for Mideast
By Colum Lynch and Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 9, 2006
The United States and France have split over key provisions in a compromise resolution to end hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, triggering intense diplomatic scrambling, according to European and U.S. officials.
The two co-sponsors of the resolution had agreed on the need for changes after Lebanon's proposal Monday to deploy 15,000 troops in the south, but Washington and Paris have basic differences over the issues and the scope of other modifications that Beirut had requested.
France wants to incorporate ideas from Lebanon's new proposals, particularly on two issues: deploying Lebanese troops alongside a more robust version of the U.N. force now in Lebanon as a means to expedite an Israeli withdrawal, and settling the status of Shebaa Farms, the officials said.
But the United States, which has accepted Israel's concerns on both issues, thinks that a strong international force still needs to be in place before an Israeli withdrawal to ensure that the Shiite militia is not able to resume control of southern Lebanon or shoot at Israeli forces as they pull out, U.S. and European officials say. [complete article]
Angry MPs demand recall of parliament
By Patrick Wintour, Ewen MacAskill and Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, August 9, 2006
Up to 100 MPs, most of them Labour, are to demand an immediate recall of parliament to debate the crisis in Lebanon because of growing fears about the government's strategy.
The call is expected to come in the next 48 hours and its organisers have been in discussion with the Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist parties. Negotiations are also under way with campaign groups backing the call for an immediate ceasefire that attracted the support of 200 MPs.
Jon Trickett, chairman of the Compass group of 50 leftwing MPs and a force behind the appeal, said: "In this crisis, parliament needs to speak for the nation. We are living in a 24/7 society, yet our parliament seems so ossified that it goes into recess for 11 weeks and there seems no way for backbenchers to bring MPs back."
The demand will be made in a letter to Jack Straw, the leader of the Commons. The Speaker will take the decision, on the recommendation of the government.
The mood in Downing Street is that there is no great need for a recall. However, cabinet sources acknowledged that if the moves towards a UN resolution collapse, that could change. [complete article] Support for Hezbollah strengthens with every bombed Beirut building
By Daniel McGrory, The Times, August 9, 2006
Ayyad Ammar moved among the rescuers clawing through the ruins of a Beirut apartment block yesterday morning, holding up a photograph of his 14-year-old grandson and asking if anyone had seen the boy.
Ahmed Kanj had gone to play computer war games in the internet cafe at the foot of the seven-storey building minutes before an Israeli missile struck.
A fireman told the old man finally that he had found the teenager's broken body at daybreak. Mr Ammar bowed his head and began to weep as the crowd around him swore vengeance against Israel for the massacre on Hajjaj Street. The walking wounded and families searching for missing relatives began chanting the name of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, even though most who live here support Amal, a rival Shia group.
Diaa el-Husseini, 34, a market trader, who lived in the adjoining tower block, said: "We thought we were safe here so we stayed. We are not fighters. We are families who only want a peaceful life, but Israel wants to terrorise us all into leaving the southern suburbs of Beirut. Today we all feel part of the Hezbollah resistance." [complete article]
Peace between Hizbullah and Israel? It almost happened
By Nicholas Noe, Electronic Lebanon, August 8, 2006
While it is certainly true that Hezbollah's leader, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, has long called for Israel's "disappearance," it is important to remember, especially now as the wheels of international diplomacy finally seem to turn, that Nasrallah and leading Hizbullah figures at one point accepted that a regional peace agreement involving Syria, Lebanon and Israel would end Hezbollah's state of belligerency in the region.
Indeed, several months prior to Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000, Nasrallah publicly announced, in a leading Arab magazine, that if Syria struck a deal with Israel which ensured a full Israeli withdrawal from all Lebanese territory, "Hizbullah would relocate in the South, but [would] not have any form of security force, since it is a resistance movement whose goal is the liberation of land and not an alternative to the government." In a subsequent interview, Nasrallah added, "We are convinced that the signing of a peace agreement will be a victory for the resistance and the rationale of resistance."
Of course, his comments in support of the Syrian-Lebanese-Israeli peace process that was to reach its climax in Geneva in March 2000, represented a pragmatic reading of domestic and regional power dynamics. Amid a general air of accommodation created by Mohammed Khatami's 1997 presidential win in Iran, the Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Ayatollah Mohajerani had proclaimed in 1998 that, "if Israel withdraws from South Lebanon with guarantees for fixed and secure borders, there will be no further need for Hizbullah's resistance operation there." In an even more definitive statement in June 1999, Syria's ambassador to Washington, Walid al-Muoalim, made it clear that "Hizbullah's [leadership] understands that every agreement accepted by Syria, Israel, and Lebanon will obligate it as well." [complete article]
'We are just hit-and-run guerrillas'
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, August 10, 2006
Sheikh Bilal: You want to know what this war is all about? We understood that after the abduction of Israeli soldiers in Gaza, Israel was ready to raze Gaza. And then we came into the picture and diverted all their attention to us [by abducting Israeli soldiers]. This forced Israel to disengage from taking on the weak Palestinians and engage our forces.
Asia Times: Do Hezbollah's designs go beyond Lebanon?
Bilal: Hezbollah is only for Lebanon. We do not have any designs beyond Lebanon or Palestine. [complete article]
See also, The sheikh behind Hizbullah (CSM). Left or right, Israelis are pro-war
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, August 9, 2006
As Israel's war with Hezbollah finishes a fourth difficult week, domestic criticism of its prosecution is growing. Yet there is a paradoxical effect as well: the harder the war has been, the more the public wants it to proceed.
The criticism is not that the war is going on, but that it is going poorly. The public wants the army to hit Hezbollah harder, so it will not threaten Israel again.
And while Israelis are upset with how Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has run the war, they seem to agree with what he told aides this week -- that given the weaponry and competence of Hezbollah and the damage already done to Israel, "I thank God the confrontation came now, because with every year their arsenal would have grown." [complete article]
See also, Israelis confront 'new kind of war' (WP) and Across northern Israel, a 24-hour dash to evacuate 15,000 people (WP). Muslim charities say fear is damming flow of money
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, August 9, 2006
In a Detroit warehouse, boxes of diapers, water-purification tablets, lentils, rice, powdered milk and cooking oil are stacked almost to the ceiling, destined for Lebanon. More packages, mostly from individual donors across the country, arrive every day.
But nobody -- not even the charity that is collecting them -- is very happy about it.
"Obviously, it makes more sense for us to get financial contributions. Obviously, this is the most inefficient way to do humanitarian aid," said Mohammed Alomari, a spokesman for the charity, Life for Relief and Development in Southfield, Mich.
Charities prefer that people send money rather than food, medicine or other goods, because in-kind donations force the charities to pay for shipping, delay the arrival of the aid, and saddle relief workers with the task of sorting and distributing items that may not be needed.
The problem, according to relief groups, is that many people who are inclined to write checks for emergency aid and reconstruction in Lebanon are afraid of ending up in some government database of suspected supporters of terrorism. [complete article]
Comment -- Although it's good to see the Post covering this issue, the one glaring omission in this piece is any mention of Hezbollah's role in the relief efforts in Lebanon. Hannah Allam reports that, "Hezbollah has emerged as the largest relief provider in war-ravaged Lebanon. Its efforts dwarf those of the government and international aid agencies," but of course in the U.S. media as a whole, this dimension of Hezbollah gets played down - it doesn't fit well inside the narrative of Israel's fight against terrorism. Israel isolates Tyre with threat to bomb all traffic
By Jonathan Steele and Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, August 9, 2006
Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over Tyre yesterday morning, warning people not to use vehicles south of the Litani river, heightening the city's sense of isolation.
All roads north and south of the port city have been cut by bombing in the last few days and Israeli authorities have refused permission for any ships to dock.
The travel ban had no time limit and mentioned no exceptions, even for ambulances and humanitarian convoys. Addressed to "Lebanese civilians south of the Litani River", it said: "Read this carefully and follow its instructions. The Israeli Defence Forces will escalate their operations and will strike with force against terrorist elements who are using you as human shields and firing rockets from inside your homes against Israel..." All vehicles would be bombed the letter said. It was signed "State of Israel". [complete article] Shiites press for a partition of Iraq
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2006
They have a new constitution, a new government and a new military. But faced with incessant sectarian bloodshed, Iraqis for the first time have begun openly discussing whether the only way to stop the violence is to remake the country they have just built.
Leaders of Iraq's powerful Shiite Muslim political bloc have begun aggressively promoting a radical plan to partition the country as a way of separating the warring sects. Some Iraqis are even talking about dividing the capital, with the Tigris River as a kind of Berlin Wall.
Shiites have long advocated some sort of autonomy in the south, similar to the Kurds' 15-year-old enclave in the north, with its own defense forces and control over oil exploration. And the new constitution does allow provinces to team up into federal regions. But the latest effort, promulgated by Cabinet ministers, clerics and columnists, marks the first time they have advocated regional partition as a way of stemming violence.
"Federalism will cut off all parts of the country that are incubating terrorism from those that are upgrading and improving," said Khudair Khuzai, the Shiite education minister. "We will do it just like Kurdistan. We will put soldiers along the frontiers."
The growing clamor for partition illustrates how dire the country's security, economic and political problems have come to seem to many Iraqis: Until recently, the idea of redrawing the 8 1/2 -decade-old map of Iraq was considered seditious. [complete article] Almost 2,000 bodies taken to Baghdad morgue
By Alister Bull, Reuters, August 9, 2006
Almost 2,000 bodies were brought to Baghdad's morgue last month, an official said on Wednesday, recording the highest number since an attack in February on a Shi'ite shrine that sparked a wave of sectarian bloodshed.
Morgue assistant manager, Doctor Abdul Razzaq al-Obaidi, told Reuters about 90 percent of the deaths were due to violence in the capital, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up their troops levels to combat sectarian bloodshed.
"Most of the cases have gunshot wounds to the head. Some of them were strangled and others were beaten to death with clubs," said Obaidi.
The morgue toll was a jump from 1,595 in June and is the largest number since the aftermath of the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra, blamed by the U.S. and Iraq on al Qaeda. [complete article]
Comment -- This is a trend that gets relentlessly worse - no tipping point, relief or even a plateau in sight. The only question seems to be whether the sectarian violence maintains a steady climb or whether it is shifting to exponential growth. So what's our role in Iraq's civil war?
By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, August 9, 2006
For the Bush administration... any admission that the Iraqi civil war is in fact a civil war destroys whatever remains of its justification for our presence there. For while it is true that the withdrawal of our forces will probably unleash even greater sectarian mayhem, it is also true that our presence cannot stop it and that our presence there has also greatly diminished our diplomatic and military capacity to accomplish anything else anyplace else.
If Iraqis have embarked on a bloody partition of their nation -- and to all appearances they have -- then the one remaining task for any non-indigenous force within Iraq is to help ensure that that division takes place with as little slaughter as possible. In the best of all possible worlds, the Iraqi parties would agree on their new lines of demarcation.
Agreement or no, however, the job of keeping the mayhem to a minimum would best be performed by forces with no perceived stake or history in the conflict -- that is, by a United Nations deployment of troops from nations that are neither Muslim nor Christian.
For George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, however, such a messy and sad resolution would make unmistakably clear the full dimensions of their folly. It's not true that they don't have a plan for Iraq. Their plan is to avoid having such a resolution occur on their watch, to delay the disintegration of Iraq, for which they more than anyone else are responsible, until Bush is out of office and they can lay the blame for this catastrophe on his successor. [complete article] War crimes act changes would reduce threat of prosecution
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, August 9, 2006
The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments.
Officials say the amendments would alter a U.S. law passed in the mid-1990s that criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions, a set of international treaties governing military conduct in wartime. The conventions generally bar the cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment of wartime prisoners without spelling out what all those terms mean.
The draft U.S. amendments to the War Crimes Act would narrow the scope of potential criminal prosecutions to 10 specific categories of illegal acts against detainees during a war, including torture, murder, rape and hostage-taking. [complete article] Talking to the enemy
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, August 8, 2006
Israel and the United States have made it clear that a precondition for peace in Lebanon must be a guarantee that there is no return to the status quo: Hezbollah's rockets must no longer pose a threat to Israel's security.
Even so, there was another dimension to the regional prewar status quo that also made it untenable: Neither Israel nor the U.S. was willing to accept the political reality of either Hezbollah or Hamas. In as much as that reality was tolerated it was only in the sense that a final solution had yet to be found. There was little evidence that acceptable solutions included the possibility of embracing the full political legitimacy of the Islamists. Hamas and Hezbollah needed to be annihilated, dis-empowered, or effectively isolated, and the only question was how this could be accomplished.
Israel's choice for dealing with Hamas was through a war of attrition. If its leadership could be assassinated, imprisoned, the operations of government strangled, and the Palestinian people "put on a diet," support for Hamas and an appetite for resistance would supposedly wither. That was the theory, and even while the war in Lebanon continues, the Israelis are still engaged in their experiment on the human guinea pigs of Gaza. In their latest move, an attempt to assassinate Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, was apparently made by sending him a poison-filled letter.
The kidnapping of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, supposedly provided a justification for switching from siege to all-out assault. The world's response - or lack of it - then gave the Israeli government a gauge for assessing its political freedom if it were to open a second front by taking on Hezbollah.
Whether Hezbollah purposely lit the fuse, unwittingly triggered a war, or was even baited into providing Israel with a casus belli, is open to debate. What is clear is that the IDF was on a hair-trigger state of readiness to unleash its response. What is equally clear is that most of what has subsequently unfolded has not proceeded according to plan.
The conflict with Hezbollah remains intractable not simply because Israel's foe has proven far more resilient than anticipated, but because Israel and the United States remain unwilling to abandon their dream of eradicating the "Party of God." Hezbollah too, nurtures its own dream of destroying the "Zionist regime," yet there is certainly evidence that Hezbollah (and Hamas) are capable of learning to live with a demon that they can't actually wipe out.
If and when Israel and the U.S. eventually realize that their Islamist foes not only refuse to be crushed but are actually growing from strength to strength, they will also be forced to accept the inevitable: they will have to talk to the enemy. Ironically, their insistence on putting off that day only means that opponents whose current weakness might make them somewhat more accommodating, will have even less reason to compromise in the future. Arab League accuses U.N. of standing idly by Lebanon 'bloodbath'
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, August 8, 2006
An Arab League delegation accused the Security Council on Tuesday of standing by idly while weeks of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah sew "the seeds of hatred and extremism" in the Middle East.
"It is most saddening that the council stands idly by, crippled, unable to stop the bloodbath which has become the bitter daily lot of the defenseless Lebanese people," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al-Thani, the head of a three-man Arab League delegation, told the 15-nation council.
"What is happening will sew the seeds of hatred and extremism in the area and provide a pretext for those who feel that the international community is taking sides and lacks fairness as to this dispute," he told the 15- nation council. [complete article] Hezbollah's relief efforts reach thousands in Lebanon
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, August 7, 2006
While its fighters battle Israeli forces in the hills of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah's relief workers in the capital are fighting on a different front: in sweltering kitchens, on soccer fields and in makeshift clinics.
Known in the West mostly for suicide bombings and kidnappings, Hezbollah has emerged as the largest relief provider in war-ravaged Lebanon. Its efforts dwarf those of the government and international aid agencies, and they're cementing its role as Lebanon's leading social-welfare organization.
The militant group's vast social services wing is spending $500,000 a day to provide food, shelter, medicine and security in Beirut for 155,000 people displaced by the fighting with Israel, according to Hezbollah officials, who provided refugee rosters and intricate spreadsheets to document their work.
Workers for other aid organizations warn that those figures could be exaggerated, but they don't dispute that the group's coffers are deep and its relief programs effective.
With many Western aid agencies frozen in Beirut because of security restrictions or because their governments bar them from working alongside what's considered a terrorist organization, Hezbollah appears to many refugees as their sole provider. Even more than its battlefield success, that image is crucial to Hezbollah's post-combat staying power as it struggles to keep its promises to thousands of supporters who lost children, homes and jobs in a conflict triggered by the group's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. [complete article]
Destruction, death, and drastic measures
By Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch, August 8, 2006
"I care about my people, my country, and defending them from the Zionist aggression," said a Hezbollah fighter after I'd asked him why he joined the group. I found myself in downtown Beirut sitting in the backseat of his car in the liquid heat of a Lebanese summer. Sweat rolled down my nose and dripped on my notepad as I jotted furiously.
"My home in Dahaya is now pulverized," he said while the concussions of Israeli bombs landing in his nearby neighborhood echoed across the buildings around us, "Everything in my life is destroyed now, so I will fight them. I am a Shaheed [martyr]."
He asked to remain anonymous, and that I refer to him only as Ahmed.
The late afternoon sun was behind him as he told me just how hard his life had been. When he was eleven years old, he and his youngest brother had been taken from their home by Israeli soldiers and put in prison for two years. I asked him what happened to him there, but that was a subject he wouldn't discuss. One of his brothers was later killed by Israeli soldiers. After his release from an Israeli prison Ahmed was spending his teenage years in southern Lebanon when he was caught in crossfire between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli soldiers near his home. He was shot three times. Many years before, his father had been killed by an Israeli air strike on a refugee camp in south Beirut.
"What are we left with?" he asked, while the angle of the sun through the windshield highlighted tears welling in his eyes, "I know I will die fighting them, then I will go to my God. But I will go to my God fighting like a lion. I will not be slaughtered like a lamb." [complete article]
See also, U.N. to hold special session over Israel's alleged human rights violations (Haaretz) and Israeli soldiers find a tenacious foe in Hezbollah (WP). How the U.S. fired Jack Straw
By William Rees-Mogg, The Times, August 7, 2006
When Jack Straw was replaced by Margaret Beckett as Foreign Secretary, it seemed an almost inexplicable event. Mr Straw had been very competent -- experienced, serious, moderate and always well briefed. Margaret Beckett is embarrassingly inexperienced. I made inquiries in Washington and was told that Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, had taken exception to Mr Straw's statement that it would be "nuts" to bomb Iran. The United States, it was said, had put pressure on Tony Blair to change his Foreign Secretary. Mr Straw had been fired at the request of the Bush Administration, particularly at the Pentagon.
Shortly before he was dismissed, Mr Straw went on his charming tour with Condoleezza Rice, in which they visited his Blackburn constituency. This had been given two explanations. One was that the US Secretary of State was hoping to protect Mr Straw, as a fellow foreign minister, against the undiplomatic attack from the Pentagon. She wanted to keep Mr Rumsfeld's tanks off her turf. She had found Mr Straw competent and effective. If that were so, Dr Rice lost that battle in the Washington turf war.
The alternative explanation was more recently given by Irwin Stelzer in The Spectator; he has remarkably good Washington contacts and is probably right. His account is that Mr Straw was indeed dismissed because of American anxieties, but that Dr Rice herself had become worried, on her visit to Blackburn, by Mr Straw's dependence on Muslim votes. About 20 per cent of the voters in Blackburn are Islamic; Mr Straw was dismissed only four weeks after Dr Rice's visit to his constituency. It may be that both explanations are correct. The first complaint may have been made by Mr Rumsfeld because of Iran; Dr Rice may have withdrawn her support after seeing the Islamic pressures in Blackburn. At any rate, Irwin Stelzer's account confirms that Mr Straw was fired because of American pressure. [complete article] 'Turkish artillery opens fire on Kurdish guerilla camp in N. Iraq'
Cihan News Agency, August 8, 2006
The Turkish military has opened fire on a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camp in northern Iraq, according to reports by the Peyamner News Agency (PNA).
According to Arbil-based PNA, which is close to Massoud Barzani's Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Turkish artillery fire commenced on Monday evening, targeting a suspected PKK camp near the village of Beduhe, and continued on Tuesday morning.
Local villages quoted by PNA described the artillery fire coming from the Turkish side of the border as "heavy."
Turkey threatened to carry out cross-border operations against PKK terrorists hiding in northern Iraq if the US forces in Iraq and the central Iraqi government fail to remove the PKK from Iraq. [complete article] Then and now: Requiem for Baghdad
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, August 8, 2006
These days, when I drive around Baghdad, I sit in the back seat of the car with gauze curtains drawn down so nobody on the street can see me. I have a second car following 100 yards behind to make sure we are not trailed. We try to avoid police and army checkpoints in case they are death squads. My driver, a Sunni Muslim, is rightly frightened of the overwhelmingly Shia police and police commandos. He has fake identity papers so that it is no longer clear to which religious community he belongs.
This may not be enough. Coming from the airport, we avoid most checkpoints by taking a serpentine route through the city. At one moment we roar along a highway and then, still at speed, we abruptly divert down an alleyway, weaving between heaps of rotting garbage. I have always known roughly where Sunni and Shia live in Baghdad, but I am now acquiring detailed knowledge of its sectarian geography. A small mistake could have lethal results. The cemeteries are full of Iraqis who were caught in the wrong district.
This vast city of seven million people, almost the size of London, is breaking up into a dozen cities, each one of which is becoming a heavily armed Shia or Sunni stronghold. Every morning brings its terrible harvest of bodies. Many lie in the street for hours, bloating in the 120F heat, while others are found floating in the Tigris river.
In June, 1,595 bodies, often tortured with an electric drill or by fire, were delivered to the Baghdad morgue. In July, the violence was far worse.
In all of Iraq, in June, 3,149 civilians are known to have been killed, more in one month than the total death toll in Northern Ireland in 30 years of violence. [complete article] Sunnis form their own militias in fight for Baghdad
By James Hider, The Times, August 8, 2006
American and Iraqi troops fought a pitched battle with one of Baghdad's most powerful Shia militias yesterday as they sought to seize control of the capital back from sectarian death squads and criminal gangs.
But as 3,700 extra US troops were deployed on the streets of Baghdad its terrified citizens, having lost faith in the Iraqi security forces, are forming their own militias.
The Times learnt yesterday that Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni Vice-President, is forming a unit of the National Guard that will act as his personal bodyguard and fend off attacks against Addumiyah, a Sunni district surrounded by overwhelmingly Shia districts.
It will be the first official Sunni militia group and a counter to security forces that have been heavily infiltrated by Shia militias. [complete article] Sadr more cautious
By Robert H. Reid, AP (via Yahoo), August 7, 2006
U.S. and Iraqi forces strike the Baghdad base of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — but his gunmen hold their fire. U.S. soldiers kill 15 of al-Sadr's followers, drawing little more than a few perfunctory complaints.
That's a dramatic departure in style for the youthful firebrand, who launched two major uprisings against the American-led coalition two years ago when U.S. authorities closed his newspaper and pushed an Iraqi judge into issuing an arrest warrant against him.
If anything, al-Sadr is more powerful today than he was then. But that power is also a restraint: al-Sadr has more to lose by an intemperate move now than in 2004. [complete article] Baghdad blasts kill at least 19
BBC News, August 8, 2006
At least 19 people have been killed and scores hurt in a series of blasts in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Two bombs claimed at least 10 lives and injured 69 people in a busy market in the al-Shurja district. [complete article]
See also, 2 Iraq journalists reported slain in Iraq (AP). Israel vows to widen war on Hezbollah
By Megan K. Stack and Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2006
On one of the deadliest days of nearly a month of warfare, Israeli bombardment killed at least 61 people Monday in strikes on a busy south Beirut neighborhood, the eastern Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon.
With diplomatic overtures for a cease-fire stalled, Israel vowed to expand its offensive. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would place "no limits" on the army in its efforts to move Hezbollah fighters in south Lebanon out of firing range on Israel. [complete article]
Israel warns of more strikes around Tyre
CNN, August 8, 2006
One leaflet, which a Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. reporter showed on the air, said that "terrorist elements ... are using you as human shields by launching rockets toward the state of Israel from your homes."
The translated leaflet continued, "All cars and of any type will be shelled if seen moving south of the Litani River because it will be considered a suspect of transferring rockets, military ammunitions and those causing destruction."
The warning is in effect for all residents south of the Litani River. Tyre is the largest city in that region. [complete article]
UN halts convoy to south Lebanon
BBC News, August 8, 2006
The UN has abandoned for the day any attempt to get an aid convoy through to south Lebanon, citing security fears.
The decision comes a day after Israel imposed an open-ended curfew on all residents south of the Litani River. [complete article]
Comment -- It's not clear to me whether Israel truly intends to widen the war or whether the wave of destruction we are now witnessing is more like the final movement in the IDF's symphony of violence - a way of declaring, "we didn't hold back; we threw everything at them; we really showed them they can't mess with us." And whether Hezbollah "gets" the message may for now be less important than whether it's a message that sounds credible to Israelis themselves. Though Olmert has said emphatically, "We have to stop the rockets," even that goal is acquiring shades of gray as Defense Minister Amir Peretz said today that:
in the absence of a diplomatic agreement, he had instructed the army to "take control" of launching sites "wherever they are to minimize the fire of Katyusha rockets and take the Israeli people out of the shelters."Lebanon's proposals change dynamics
By Michael A. Fletcher and Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 8, 2006
U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah stalled Monday amid growing divisions over terms to end the conflict. President Bush called for swift passage of a U.N. resolution, but Lebanon won Arab League support for major revisions to expedite a cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli forces. [complete article]
Cabinet will send army to South - if invaders leave
By Leila Hatoum, Daily Star, August 8, 2006
Defense Minister Elias Murr said Monday night after a Cabinet session that the government would deploy 15,000 troops along the UN-demarcated Blue Line as soon as Israeli forces withdrew. The Cabinet made the decision in a unanimous vote, Murr told reporters. Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said the government reserved the right to ask UNIFIL for help in deploying army forces in the South. [complete article]
Olmert: Lebanon decision to deploy 'interesting,' needs studying
By Yoav Stern, Aluf Benn and Amos Harel, Haaretz, August 8, 2006
For the purpose of the deployment, the Lebanese defense minister Monday announced the mobilization of 15,000 reservists. All Lebanese soldiers who were discharged in the past five years will be called up for duty.
The soldiers will be mobilized August 10-16, in keeping with orders published in Lebanon on Monday.
The measure was announced by Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi al-Aridi, who outlined the considerations that led to the decision. Al-Aridi said that the upcoming political developments were dependent on the response of the international community to the decision.
According to the minister, in recent weeks, the heads of the Lebanese security forces have been party to government discussions and have indicated their needs ahead of the deployment in the south.
"Our objective is to bring about a cease-fire and emphasize Lebanon's right to its land and sovereignty," al-Aridi said.
He stressed that the decision was taken as part of Lebanon's efforts to demonstrate a willingness to make progress toward a resolution of the crisis and the implementation of the seven-point plan approved by the Lebanese government.
The plan calls for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the Shaba Farms area, a prisoner exchange deal and a state monopoly on the use of weapons in its territory.
Al-Aridi hinted that Lebanon was expecting positive reactions to its decision.
He also added that, following the deployment of the army in the south of the country, Hezbollah would remain in the area "as a party that represents an entire segment of the population."
Al-Aridi stressed that the organization would remain a partner to decision-making in the country and that the deployment of the army was designed "to reap the fruits of Lebanon's military achievement." [complete article]
Comment -- By most accounts, the Lebanese Army is sorely lacking in the military capacity to disarm Hezbollah. Indeed, there's little reason to think that an army frequently mocked for its lack of experience could be successful in a task that Israel has failed to accomplish during a month of war preceded by eighteen years of occupation. Nevertheless, if what in reality is a political objective - fully integrating Hezbollah into Lebanon's political system - is not reduced to a military goal (disarmament), then Lebanon's army could well provide part of the solution. Their entry into southern Lebanon - if unchallenged by Hezbollah - might just give the Israelis enough of a diplomatic fig-leaf for them to withdraw and declare victory. Whether the IDF wants a way out really hinges on whether they can accept that their defanging operation has succeeded in no more than filing a few sharp edges off Hezbollah's teeth. The fact that Ehud Olmert describes the Lebanese plan as "interesting" suggests that the Israelis recognize that a diplomatic resolution crafted in Beirut is likely to have a stronger footing than anything dreamed up in New York. U.S. clout a missing ingredient in Mideast
By Tyler Marshall and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2006
As the Bush administration seeks to negotiate a diplomatic end to the fighting in the Middle East, it finds it has a strikingly weak hand.
The war in Iraq, a halting U.S. response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and now the prolonged fighting in Lebanon and Israel have led to intense anti-Americanism in the Arab world. Alliances with longtime Arab friends are strained. And the U.S. lacks relations with two key regional players: Iran and Syria.
"The Lebanon crisis is the end of the myth that we can tell the world what to do and they'll line up to do it," said Nancy Soderberg, a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration. "They are going to have to do real diplomacy." [complete article]
See also, This is diplomacy? (Dan Froomkin). Probe into KBR role in Nigeria bribe case
By Michael Peel, Financial Times, August 7, 2006
A subsidiary of Halliburton is under investigation by the UK's Serious Fraud Office over the US oil service company’s part in an alleged plot to pay more than $170m (£89m) of bribes to win billions of dollars of work at a giant Nigerian gas plant.
The SFO said it had carried out searches at business and residential premises as part of the probe into KBR, whose work on the project was underwritten partly by British government money.
The SFO's action opens a fresh front in a high-profile case being investigated in the US, France and Nigeria. For part of the period under investigation, Halliburton was headed by Dick Cheney, the US vice-president. [complete article] The loser in Lebanon: The Atlantic alliance
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, August 8, 2006
The [Security Council] resolution ... seems to satisfy the French and Americans - but no one else, and so angered Arab diplomats that Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, denounced it publicly, while privately calling the resolution "a surrender document".
A spokesman for Hezbollah in Beirut was even blunter, saying that the resolution was "dead on arrival". He added, "The French caved in to American and Israeli pressure. Israel gets to stay on our land. We are required to disarm. Why isn't an international force deployed in northern Israel? Our arms get cut off and the US gets to fly cluster munitions into Ben Gurion [Airport in Tel Aviv]. Just who do they think is winning this war?"
For now, Condoleezza Rice is hailing the US-French draft as a symbol for US-European cooperation. But for many European diplomats, agreement on the draft resolution has only papered over a deepening rift between the United States and its European partners, with some European diplomats muttering that America's real goal is to induce the Europeans to wade into Lebanon on the side of a defanged and humiliated Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "bragged that Israel would destroy Hezbollah", a French diplomat said in Washington, "and if he can't do it that's his problem. I don't care what the secretary of state says, we're not going to do it for him."
There are more difficult days ahead - particularly when the US and France square off in the coming week over the draft of a second resolution. With nearly everyone now wondering whether the US position in the Middle East is unraveling, one UN diplomat said the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict may spell the end of an era in which the US and Europe established a tradition of diplomatic cooperation: "We might as well face up to it. Sooner or later the United States is going to have to choose what is more important - its strategic alliance with Europe, or its friendship with Israel." [complete article]
Comment -- The UN diplomat (who I understand to be European) presenting this as an American choice seems to be serving European vanity by placing the matter in American hands. Just as much as this being an American choice it is also Europe's and whatever the Europeans might say, when push comes to shove they have a habit of accommodating themselves to America's diktats without a great deal of protest. Ultimately, the only way the overarching equation will change is if on both sides of the Atlantic there is an understanding that the U.S. needs Europe more than Europe needs the U.S. - or at least, that the need is totally mutual and must therefore be based on mutual respect. Israeli warplanes drop 2,000 bombs on 1 village
By Kursat Bayhan, Zaman, August 6, 2006
With its Lebanon campaign entering its 25th day, Israel has brought parts of the country to a virtual ruin.
On Saturday, an Israeli offense consisting of more than 250 air attacks dropped 4,000 bombs within seven hours.
The border village of Aytarun was hit by 2,000 bombs and almost completely destroyed.
The total death toll from the attacks is approaching 1,000. One third of those deaths are from children under 12.
Lebanese Health Minister Muhammed Jawad Khalifeh announced their fuel reserves would only support their hospitals, where nearly 3,000 wounded are under treatment, for another week.
"If the situation continues, then it is likely that the hospitals will close within a week," Khalifeh said. [complete article]
See also, As shelling continues, few residents remain in towns that once took refugees (NYT), There are burnt-out tanks, but few Israeli troops (The Guardian), and In southern Lebanon, weary resignation (WP). This draft shows who is running America's policy... Israel
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, August 7, 2006
So the great and the good on the East River laboured at the United Nations Security Council - and brought forth a lemon. You could almost hear the Lebanese groan at this draft resolution, a document of such bias and mendacity that a close Lebanese friend read carefully through it yesterday, cursed and uttered the immortal question: "Don't these bastards learn anything from history?"
And there it all was again, the warmed-up peace proposals of Israel's 1982 invasion, full of buffer zones and disarmament and "strict respect by all parties" - a rousing chortle here, no doubt, from Hizbollah members - and the need for Lebanese sovereignty. It didn't even demand the withdrawal of Israeli forces, a point that Walid Moallem, Syria's Foreign Minister - and the man the Americans will eventually have to negotiate with - seized upon with more than alacrity. It was a dead UN resolution without a total Israeli retreat, he said on a strategic trip to Beirut.
A close analysis of the American-French draft - the fingerprints of John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, were almost smudging the paragraphs - showed just who is running Washington's Middle East policy: Israel. And one wondered how even Tony Blair would want to associate himself with this nonsense. It made no reference to the obscenely disproportionate violence employed by Israel - just a sleek reference to "hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides" - and it made only passing reference to Hizbollah's demand that it would only release the two Israeli soldiers it captured on 12 July in return for Lebanese and other Arab prisoners in Israeli jails. [complete article]
See also, While the U.N. fiddles... the Middle East burns (The Independent), Lebanese reject French-U.S. plan (CSM) and Cease-fire draft at U.N. falters amid Arab criticism (NYT). Arab world finds icon in leader of Hezbollah
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, August 7, 2006
The success or failure of any cease-fire in Lebanon will largely hinge on the opinion of one figure: Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, who has seen his own aura and that of his party enhanced immeasurably by battling the Israeli Army for nearly four weeks.
With Israeli troops operating in southern Lebanon, Sheik Nasrallah can continue fighting on the grounds that he seeks to expel an occupier, much as he did in the years preceding Israel's withdrawal in 2000.
Or he can accept a cease-fire -- perhaps to try to rearm -- and earn the gratitude of Lebanon and much of the world.
Analysts expect some kind of middle outcome, with the large-scale rocket attacks stopping but Hezbollah guerrillas still attacking soldiers so that Israel still feels pain.
In any case, the Arab world has a new icon. [complete article]
See also, Al-Qaida claiming new recruits in Egypt, but it may be just talk (McClatchy) and Militants deny joining al Qaeda (CNN).
Comment -- If the war on terrorism had actually been about defeating al Qaeda, a few people in Washington might now actually be waking up to a possibility that surely no one inside the circles of power would ever dare utter: In the war between Hezbollah and Israel, a victory for Sheik Hassan Nasrallah will be a defeat for al Qaeda. Nasrallah has established himself as iconic political leader in the Arab world in a way that Osama bin Laden never could. While bin Laden is a jihadist ideological figurehead, the movement he leads is incapable of having a grassroots foundation. It can only appeal to the marginalized. And each time al Qaeda makes another attempt to jump on Nasrallah's bandwagon, all that they accomplish is to underline the fact that behind the jihadists' grandiose rhetoric, these are nothing more than a scattered group of men with wild-eyed dreams and very little political foundation. They are certainly dangerous, but they can't take over the world or even the Middle East. Lebanon as a metastasis
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, August 7, 2006
The "Sixth War" of the Arabs against Israel - that's how the current war is referred to in the broadcasts of the popular television station Al Jazeera. The first war was in 1948, and the Arab countries and Palestinians took part in it. In the second, in 1959, Israel fought Egypt. In the third, in 1967, the Arab countries participated again, and in the fourth, in 1973, Egypt and Syria were involved. The fifth in 1982 was against the Palestine Liberation Organization. Now in the sixth, it's just the Hezbollah vs. Israel.
This weekend in a mini-market in East Jerusalem's Beit Hanina neighborhood, one of the customers said that he considers this sixth war to be the first serious one. "For the first time an Arab leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is teaching Israel a lesson with his small organization," he said. [complete article] A disciplined Hezbollah surprises Israel with its training, tactics and weapons
By Steven Erlanger and Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, August 7, 2006
Hezbollah is a militia trained like an army and equipped like a state, and its fighters "are nothing like Hamas or the Palestinians," said a soldier who just returned from Lebanon. "They are trained and highly qualified," he said, equipped with flak jackets, night-vision goggles, good communications and sometimes Israeli uniforms and ammunition. "All of us were kind of surprised."
Much attention has been focused on Hezbollah's astonishing stockpile of Syrian- and Iranian-made missiles, some 3,000 of which have already fallen on Israel. More than 48 Israelis have been killed in the attacks -- including 12 reservist soldiers killed Sunday, who were gathered at a kibbutz at Kfar Giladi, in northern Israel, when rockets packed with antipersonnel ball bearings exploded among them, and 3 killed Sunday evening in another rocket barrage on Haifa.
But Iran and Syria also used those six years to provide satellite communications and some of the world's best infantry weapons, including modern, Russian-made antitank weapons and Semtex plastic explosives, as well as the training required to use them effectively against Israeli armor.
It is Hezbollah's skillful use of those weapons -- in particular, wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles, with double, phased explosive warheads and a range of about two miles -- that has caused most of the casualties to Israeli forces. [complete article]
See also, How long can Hezbollah hold out? (The Times) and In one Lebanese town, anger converts some to the Hezbollah cause (McClatchy).
Comment -- For almost a month now we've been reading stories about how surprised Israel, the US and much of the world is at Hezbollah's resilience and military prowess. A few points on this subject merit being underlined -- either because they don't get stated often enough or aren't being said at all.
1. Hezbollah -- just like Israel -- relies on a foreign power for military support, yet Hezbollah's use of Iranian weapons makes it no more nor less an instrument of the Iranian government than Israel is an instrument of the U.S. government.
2. Again and again we've been told about the inadequacy of Israeli intelligence in estimating how well Hezbollah had prepared for this fight, yet with equal frequency we are told that they have an arsenal of 12-15,000 rockets. If so much of the Israeli intelligence was lacking, it seems reasonable to keep a skeptical eye on these rocket numbers. Government and military officials find it very difficult to admit how little they actually know.
3. Hezbollah is a Shiite Islamist organization and Hassan Nasrallah is clearly attentive to his international audience. Nevertheless, at the end of the day what sustains this fight is the defense of home turf. Iran threatens to use 'oil weapon' in nuclear standoff
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, August 7, 2006
Iran warned Britain and the US yesterday that the international community could face a new oil crisis if the United Nations security council imposes sanctions on Tehran over its alleged attempt to acquire a nuclear weapons-making capability.
Speaking in Tehran, Ali Larijani, the country's chief nuclear negotiator and head of the supreme national security council, said Iran would be reluctant to cut its oil exports. "We do not want to use the oil weapon. It is them who would impose it upon us."
But Mr Larijani added that if the west did decide on sanctions, "we will react in a way that would be painful for them ... Do not force us to do something that will make people shiver in the cold." [complete article] Pressure mounts for Turkish strikes against Kurds in Iraq
By Andrew Borowiec, Washington Times, August 7, 2006
Intensified attacks by Kurdish separatists are putting increased pressure on the Turkish government to strike at rebel bases in Iraq.
Washington has warned Turkey to refrain from any cross-border action, but diplomats say Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has replied that Kurdish violence "has gone beyond the limits of tolerance."
The public and the influential Turkish military have been demanding a more effective action against the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, known by its acronym, PKK. Some diplomats say that sooner or later, Turkey will enter Iraq in hot pursuit, whether Washington likes it or not. [complete article] Half of U.S. still believes Iraq had WMD
By Charles J. Hanley, AP (via Yahoo), August 7, 2006
Do you believe in Iraqi "WMD"? Did Saddam Hussein's government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?
Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq.
People tend to become "independent of reality" in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull.
The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.
Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents -- up from 36 percent last year -- said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack whose stated purpose was elimination of supposed WMD. Other polls also have found an enduring American faith in the WMD story.
"I'm flabbergasted," said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration's shaky WMD claims in 2002-03.
"This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence," Massing said. [complete article] Mindless in Iraq
By Peter W. Galbraith, New York Review of Books, August 10, 2006
I arrived in Baghdad on April 14, 2003, as a news consultant to the ABC investigative team led by veteran correspondent Brian Ross. Before the war, Brian had broadcast a profile of Uday and one of his first stops in Baghdad was at Uday's riverside residence. In the basement of the partially looted house, Bob Baer, another ABC news consultant, made an astounding discovery, the personnel files of the Saddam Fedayeen. We were amazed that the military had not inspected or secured such an obvious location and Ross made that point in his exclusive ABC news report. ABC had no further use for the files; but they had obvious value for the US military, containing as they did the names and addresses of the main resistance to the American occupation. I had thought Ross's story would arouse some interest from the Pentagon but there was no reaction. I then called Paul Wolfowitz's office to see if I could discreetly hand them over to the military. (I was still a professor at the National War College -- and therefore an employee of the Defense Department -- and wanted to help.) Although we were staying in the Ishtar Sheraton, a hotel guarded by US troops, the deputy secretary of defense could not arrange to pick up these documents before I had to leave the city.
In the three weeks that followed Baghdad's fall, I was able to go unchallenged into sites of enormous intelligence value, including the Foreign Ministry, Uday's house, and a wiretap center right across Firdos Square from the Sheraton. All three had many sensitive documents but even weeks after the takeover, the only people to take an interest in these document caches were looters, squatters (who burned wiretap transcripts for lighting), journalists, Baathists, Iraqi factions looking for dirt on political rivals, and (possibly) agents of countries hostile to the United States. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA had a workable plan to safeguard and exploit the vast quantities of intelligence that were available for the taking in Iraq's capital. That information might have provided insight into terrorism -- the Foreign Ministry documents included names of jihadists who had come into Iraq before the war -- and the incipient insurgency. [complete article] Who wants to stop the violence and who doesn't?
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, August 7, 2006
"When this UN security council resolution is passed, we're going to know who really did want to stop the violence and who didn't." With these words, Condoleezza Rice yesterday postured as a would-be peacemaker and threw down the gauntlet to Hezbollah. Yet look at what the draft resolution proposes and it's transparent that all the Security Council is willing to do is confirm its reputation as the abused child of American interests.
Here's a clue that this feeble institution isn't seriously attempting to act as an honest broker. This is how the Jerusalem Post gloats in reaction to Bush and Rice's "unflagging support" and the fruit it has born at the UN:
How on earth did Jacques Chirac agree to a resolution that didn't even call for an immediate cease-fire or an immediate Israeli pullback from southern Lebanon, that allowed Israel to retaliate if attacked in the future, and called for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the unconditional release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev? ... the proposal includes almost all the goals that Israel set out to achieve in this war.Indeed, while the resolution calls for "the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks," it merely requires that Israel ends "all offensive military operations." Israeli troops will continue their "defensive" presence in Lebanon.
The Lebanese government insists that it cannot support a UN resolution that fails to call for the withdrawal of Israeli troops, but unless the permanent members of the council bother listening to Qatar -- currently the only Arab member of the council -- Lebanon's appeals risk being ignored. Perhaps this explains why, at the beginning of this war, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, while addressing the Lebanese people, Hezbollah's fighters, and the Israelis, chose not to address the international community:
I will not offer words to the international community because I have never for one day believed that there is any such thing as an international community, just as many in our nation feel.Herein lies the most corrosive idea of all: the idea that there are no practical means for representing the common interests of humanity. The ineffectual efforts of the UN do little to challenge this point of view. Can Nasrallah be proved wrong? Journalists have a greater responsibility today than ever before
By Rami Khouri, The Observer, August 6, 2006
When Israeli, Arab and other journalists merely parrot their government lines, they do everyone a disservice. When they repeat the hysterical assumptions and flawed interpretations of their semi-crazed politicians - as I believe is common in Israel today - they become instruments of war, rather than purveyors of fact and dispassionate analysis. But when they cut through official spin and associated propaganda, and help their public understand the roots of the problem, and thus the path to its resolution, they rise to their highest professional and personal stature. So here's what I would say to journalists in Israel: read Deuteronomy and act on its moral and political principles.
Deuteronomy, a pivotal book of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), is supremely relevant here because it blends the three issues that I believe Israeli, Arab and international journalists must affirm in order to honour their professional dictates along with their own humanity. These are: good governance anchored in the rule of law; a moral foundation for human relations anchored in the dictate to treat others as you want others to treat you; and the towering divine commands to 'choose life' and 'pursue justice'.
Deuteronomy is an appropriate balm because it emphasises - in both human society and the divine plan - the central value of justice that is anchored in a system of codified laws that are administered fairly by compassionate and competent judges. The most beautiful and powerful part of Deuteronomy is verses 18-20, ending with: 'Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.'
How is this relevant to the Israeli-Lebanese war today and issues beyond this round of fighting? I believe it is crucial, because the single biggest reason that Israel has found itself locked in ever more vicious wars with assorted Arab neighbours is its refusal to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians and other Arabs on the basis of the rule of law, and to resolve disputes on the basis of both parties enjoying equal rights. [complete article] Charity wins deep loyalty for Hezbollah
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, August 6, 2006
Hezbollah fighters move like shadows across the mountains of southern Lebanon; its workers in towns and villages, equally as ghostly, have settled deeply into people's lives.
They cover medical bills, offer health insurance, pay school fees and make seed money available for small businesses. They are invisible but omnipresent, providing essential services that the Lebanese government through years of war was incapable of offering.
Their work engenders a deep loyalty among Shiites, who for years were the country's underclass and whose sense of pride and identity are closely intertwined with Hezbollah.
Their presence in southern Lebanon is so widespread that any Israeli military advance will do little to extricate the group, which is as much a part of society as its Shiite faith.
"The trees in the south say, 'We are Hezbollah.' The stones say, 'We are Hezbollah,' " said Issam Jouhair, a car mechanic. "If the people cannot talk, the stones will say it." [complete article] Livelihoods in Lebanon blown out of the water
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2006
First, the fish died.
Just days after Israeli airstrikes destroyed a power plant near the fishing harbor and sent a huge plume of oil seeping into the sea, Yahia Hamadi began seeing the sheen of their scales on the surface of the water.
The ones that weren't dead were contaminated, the fishermen knew, and their poisoned eggs would produce no offspring next year.
It is a disaster that will last for years, fishermen here agreed when they stopped in daily to check on their boats during Israel's relentless bombing campaign in southern Beirut.
As it happened, the trouble had only begun.
On Friday, the fishermen of Ouzai trickled toward the port as usual, only to find it no longer existed.
The fish auction house was gone. The boat repair shop was gone. So was the small cafeteria where a fisherman could get a sandwich or a cup of tea after a long day at sea.
Worst of all, so were their boats: a night-long barrage from the air and sea had left hundreds of boats in charred, smoking ruins.
"I saw something that is indescribable. It was a feeling I can't begin to tell you. All of a sudden, I found out I have nothing," said Hamadi, a Beirut native whose 27-foot diesel-powered boat was reduced to shards of wood floating in the inky sea. [complete article] Israel detains key Palestinian
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2006
Israeli forces arrested the speaker of the Palestinian parliament early today in the West Bank, adding to the more than two dozen members of the Hamas government in custody.
Israeli vehicles surrounded the Ramallah home of Aziz Dweik and took him in for questioning, an army spokesman said.
"They've been looking for him for a long time -- ever since the capture of the Israeli soldier," Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said. "Israel is a state above the law. There's no point in even questioning why. They do whatever they want." [complete article] Sharon set the stage his heir reacts on
By Ethan Bronner, New York Times, August 6, 2006
A senior Israeli official who has known Mr. Sharon for 30 years and spoke only on condition of anonymity, said by telephone: "His whole life's work was almost destroyed by Lebanon. There was no way he was going to do anything more there."
He noted the mordant twist in the fact that Mr. Olmert has found himself fighting a war on two fronts -- Hamas in Gaza, to the south, and Hezbollah to the north -- a situation Mr. Sharon had studiously avoided.
"Sharon never had to prove he was Sharon," the official said. "To be prime minister of Israel, the Jews must trust you and the Arabs need to fear you. Sharon had those qualities. Olmert still needs to prove that he is Sharon." [complete article]
Comment -- This philosophy of fear resonates with the Bush administration's post-9/11 perspective. Moreover, both echo the psychology of colonialism: all challenges to political authority will be addressed with the same solution - brute force. Why U.S. policy toward Tehran will only make matters worse
By Nisid Hajari, Newsweek, August 14, 2006
On Iranian state TV these days, the appeals to solidarity with Hizbullah are anything but subtle. One slick video collage zips from U.S. President George W. Bush hailing the dawn of a new Middle East to a Beirut apartment tower being obliterated by Israeli missiles. Urgent, martial music pounds through a slide show of further contrasts -- Bush and a screaming Palestinian girl; Condoleezza Rice and fear-stricken refugees fleeing southern Lebanon; John Bolton and a dead Lebanese child. Then, a pause: defiant Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah addresses an adoring crowd. When the music picks up again, Katyusha rockets fill the skies and Israelis cower in bomb shelters.
Those who argue that the battle in Lebanon is really a proxy war with Iran for supremacy in the Middle East need not look far for evidence. Yet the picture that Iran presents on the ground is both more complex than that and, given the stalemate over the country's nuclear program, more worrisome. The greatest concern: everything that's happening in Lebanon, Iran and the United States right now is stiffening Tehran's resistance to what the United Nations Security Council demanded last week -- a suspension of the country's uranium-enrichment program. [complete article] Baghdad's chaos undercuts tack pursued by U.S.
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, August 6, 2006
Over the past year, as American commanders pushed Iraqi forces to take over responsibility for this violent capital, Baghdad became a markedly more dangerous place.
Now the Americans are being forced to call in more of their own troops to bring the city under control.
The failure of the Iraqis to halt the slide into chaos in Baghdad undercuts the central premise of the American project here: that Iraqi forces can be trained and equipped to secure their own country, allowing the Americans to go home.
A review of previously unreleased statistics on American and Iraqi patrols suggests that as Americans handed over responsibilities to the Iraqis, violence in Baghdad increased. [complete article] 'Civil war' is uttered, and White House's Iraq strategy is dealt a blow
By Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, August 6, 2006
Late last year, during a major address in Annapolis, President Bush introduced a new phrase for his Iraq policy: "Plan for Victory." With those words emblazoned on a screen behind him, he laid out a possible exit path for American troops, who would gradually cede control to their Iraqi counterparts.
But that phrase has all but disappeared as scenes of horrific sectarian violence have streamed onto American television screens unabated. And when the United States commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, his testimony that "Iraq could move towards civil war" if the strife would not end overshadowed any talk of victory.
Those two words -- civil war -- further complicated what was already a daunting challenge for the administration: convincing battle-weary Americans that the war was winnable while acknowledging the grim reality of the bloodshed. [complete article] Now comes the next war
By Rami G. Khouri, Newsweek, August 6, 2006
The Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbullah has battled Israel tenaciously for nearly a month, at horrendous cost to the people and infrastructure of Lebanon. Soon comes its next fight -- a postwar political reckoning. Whether the party emerges from the current conflict weaker or stronger -- and stronger seems the answer now -- it will then have to battle the country's other political, religious and ethnic groups for the soul and identity of Lebanon.
This face-off will transcend borders, for it is a microcosm of the wider struggle in the Middle East. On one side is the American-led West and Israel, with some very quiet Arab allies; on the other is the movement to affirm an Arab-Iranian-Islamist identity. The ultimate contest will be the confrontation over Iran's nuclear program, followed by the ongoing tug of war over Hamas's democratic incumbency in the Palestinian territories. As for today's war, the Lebanon-Israel conflict will shape the contours of this emerging ideological battle in a variety of important ways. [complete article] No let up in Lebanon war
By Alaa Shahine, Reuters, August 6, 2006
Israeli troops fought gun battles with Hizbollah in south Lebanon and warplanes hit roads and bridges across the country on Sunday, hours after the U.N. Security Council received a draft resolution to end the war.
President Bush, whose country is Israel's chief ally, was happy with the French-U.S. draft that could be put to the vote on Monday or Tuesday. But Lebanon said the text fell short of what it wanted to halt the 26-day-old conflict that has killed at least 800 people.
"We would have liked to see our concerns more reflected in the text," Lebanese Foreign Ministry official Nouhad Mahmoud said at the United Nations.
"Unfortunately, it lacked, for instance, a call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces which are now in Lebanon. That is a recipe for more confrontation," he said. [complete article]
See also, Hizbollah kills 10 Israeli soldiers (Reuters).
U.S., France draft plan for Mideast truce
By Walter Hamilton and Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2006
The draft U.N. resolution seeks "a full cessation of hostilities," calling on Hezbollah to immediately stop all attacks and for Israel to cease "all offensive military operations." The wording suggests that Israel would retain the right to act defensively, a term that could be interpreted broadly. [complete article]
Comment -- If the terms of this truce are clearly tilted in Israel's favor, it begs the question: Is the resolution going to be worded in a way designed to actually bring about a ceasefire, or in a way that paints Hezbollah as the party unwilling to stop fighting? The real estate war
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, August 6, 2006
This miserable war in Lebanon, which is just getting more and more complicated for no reason at all, was born in Israel's greed for land. Not that Israel is fighting this time to conquer more land, not at all, but ending the occupation could have prevented this unnecessary war. If Israel had returned the Golan Heights and signed a peace treaty with Syria in a timely fashion, presumably this war would not have broken out.
Peace with Syria would have guaranteed peace with Lebanon and peace with both would have prevented Hezbollah from fortifying on Israel's northern border. Peace with Syria would have also isolated Iran, Israel's true, dangerous enemy, and cut off Hezbollah from one of the two sources of its weapons and funding. It's so simple, and so removed from conventional Israeli thinking, which is subject to brainwashing.
For years, Israel has waged war against the Palestinians with the main motive of insistence on keeping the occupied territories. If not for the settlement enterprise, Israel would have long since retreated from the occupied territories and the struggle's engine would have been significant neutralized. Not that a non-occupying Israel would have turned into the darling of the Arab world, but the destructive fire aimed at Israel would have significantly lessened, and those who continued to fight Israel would have found themselves isolated. [complete article] Public support in Israel frays as toll climbs
By Molly Moore and Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, August 6, 2006
With much of Israel's northern population huddling in underground shelters and Hezbollah proving more resilient than Israeli leaders had publicly predicted, Israel's news media, intellectual elite and public are starting to question the judgment of the country's political and military leadership.
After an extraordinary national surge of unanimity during the first days of the conflict, public support is starting to fray, with some of the nation's most influential voices criticizing political leaders and Israel Defense Forces generals for military strategies they say have failed to protect Israeli citizens.
They blame Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz for trying to lull citizens into a false sense of security, fault generals for relying too heavily on air power to destroy Hezbollah rocket launchers, and worry that Israeli troops may not have been prepared to defeat a force far tougher than Palestinian fighters. [complete article] Arab citizens directing anger at Israel as frustration mounts with each new death
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, August 6, 2006
There is no public bomb shelter in any of the Arab communities. Many residents stand in stairwells or cling to the walls during the air-raids. The Asadi family of Dir Assad goes into their reinforced room or the southern-facing stairwell.
"In the Koran it says death will overtake you even if you are in a high tower. Despite that, I go into the shelter each time," Mohammed Asdi said yesterday. "I haven't left the village since the troubles started. I barely even go to weddings, only when I have to. I go for 10 minutes, eat quickly, nervous the whole time," he says.
The television remotes are working overtime these days. The televisions are on in every Arab home in the Galilee. On Al Jazeera or the Lebanese stations, things look different. "The longer it continues the greater the anger. You can't ignore the images, the sounds. What do you mean, where is the anger directed? At Israel, of course," a Dir Assad resident said yesterday. [complete article]
Comment -- Why, I wonder, would there be no bomb shelters in any of the Israeli Arab communities? Negligence on the part of their own municipal leaders? Or perhaps the central government imagines that a poorly protected Arab population might serve as a shield to their Jewish neighbors? Critics cite 'constrained' Mideast policy
By Glenn Kessler and Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, August 6, 2006
The Bush administration's policy of refusing to engage with nations and groups linked to terrorism, including Syria, Iran and Palestinian factions, has sharply limited U.S. maneuvering room during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, according to former administration officials and outside experts.
Iran is Hezbollah's prime sponsor, and Syria is the key conduit for the flow of missiles that have rained on Israeli territory -- facts that experts say make those countries essential to achieving a lasting solution. But after nearly six years in office, the administration has had increasingly limited contacts with those countries, if such contacts exist at all. Former officials charge that the administration has missed numerous opportunities to encourage Syria and Iran to cooperate more closely with U.S. interests.
"This has constrained U.S. foreign policy in many damaging ways," said Flynt Leverett, a White House official during President Bush's first term who said he argued unsuccessfully for deeper engagement with Syria. "The United States does not have effective diplomatic channels for managing the situation, much less resolving it." [complete article] A string of intelligence failures
By Ahmed Rashid, International Herald Tribune, August 6, 2006
What is it about the intelligence failures by Western armies and governments in the past few years? Despite being armed with the latest high-tech paraphernalia, the richest countries in the world have gone through stunning reversals of fortune when it comes to intelligence gathering and assessment.
Israel completely underestimated the extent of Hezbollah's rocket arsenal and its apparent ability to continue firing those rockets even when under intense Israeli bombardment. Hezbollah has become the hero of the Muslim world because it managed to spend the past six years digging tunnels and bunkers along the Israeli border, which the Israelis neglected to monitor. The Israeli press is already talking about the need for a thorough investigation into the country's intelligence services.
In Afghanistan, NATO and U.S. forces grossly underestimated the Taliban's capacity to mount a vicious counteroffensive after NATO deployed in southern Afghanistan in May. The Taliban have suddenly emerged with battalion-size deployments of up to 400 heavily armed men, despite the overwhelming and devastating reach of U.S. air power. No one predicted the use of suicide bombings - 54 this year alone, when last year there were none. [complete article]
Comment -- While I agree with most of Ahmed Rashid's explanations for this litany of intelligence failures, I would go one step further. At the heart of the cultural arrogance to which the West has fallen victim is a technology fetishism. Our susceptibility to be awed by gadgetry, makes us incapable of recognizing the limits of technological power. We have made gods out of our machines and pledge obedience to their commands - even when they do not answer our prayers! Washington's Cold War echoes
By Julia E. Sweig, Washington Post, August 6, 2006
The journalist Scotty Reston once said that Americans will do anything for Latin America except read about it. After years of neither reading nor doing much about the region, Washington is gazing south once more, roused by the petrodiplomacy and anti-American rhetoric of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Latin America has long been the road where the United States test-drives its policies of the moment -- be they wars against communism, drugs or terrorism -- before taking them global. In particular, Washington has often fixated on personalities, such as Cuba's Fidel Castro or Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, as the sources of the region's maladies.
Enter Chavez, Washington's Latin bad guy du jour. By flirting with rogue regimes from Pyongyang to Tehran, giving Havana an economic and political boost, and seeking to export his oil-fueled, left-wing "Bolivarian revolution" throughout the region, Chavez has played into Washington's worst fears about what happens when its traditional subordinates run loose. [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Ending the neoconservative nightmare
By Daniel Levy, Haaretz, August 4, 2006
'The U.S. is the kiss of death' in the Arab world
By Jim Lobe, IPS (Asia Times), August 5, 2006
Yet more proof of the limits of Israeli unilateralism
By Christoph Bertram, Daily Star, August 3, 2006
Lt. General Dan Halutz: A history of miscalculations
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, August 3, 2006
Israel cannot crush Hezbollah
By Robert Pape, New York Times, August 3, 2006
Lebanese sovereignty: Will it be restored?
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, August 3, 2006
Nasrallah and the three Lebanons
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, August 3, 2006
Israel's most unsuccessful war
By Ze'ev Sternhell, Haaretz, August 2, 2006
What can Israel achieve?
By Immanuel Wallerstein, Middle East Online, August 1, 2006
Has Israel's assault weakened Hezbollah -- or made it stronger?
By Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, July 31, 2006
Is Israel fighting a proxy war for Washington?
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, July 30, 2006
How can 'terrorism' be condemned while war crimes go without rebuke?
By David Clark, The Guardian, July 31, 2006
Qana strike: civilians in the line of fire
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, July 30, 2006
Why good countries fight dirty wars
By Caleb Carr, Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2006
Losing hope in Iraq
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad interviewed by openDemocracy, August 1, 2006
9/11 panel suspected deception by Pentagon
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, August 2, 2006
9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes
By Michael Bronner, Vanity Fair, August 2, 2006
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