Thursday, August 24, 2006

A view from Syria

UPI reports the latest Syrian view:

Syria's official Tishreen daily said in its editorial Thursday the U.S. administration will try to find new pretexts to achieve what the Israeli war machine failed to accomplish in Lebanon. The state-run paper argued the Bush administration sees the war on Lebanon as its own, not just Israel's, and is seeking to turn Lebanon into an Israeli protectorate. That's why, it claimed, Washington coordinates with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government around the clock and speeded up its diplomatic efforts in the U.N. to allow it to continue its aggression on Lebanon in different ways. It said Israel saw Security Council Resolution 1701 that stopped the war as a break to assess its calculations and allow pressure on the Lebanese resistance to take its course, adding the U.S. administration is seeking to take revenge from the resistance. "What is happening in Lebanon and the U.N. circles indicates the war on Lebanon stopped, but did not end; while Olmert's government is drowning in its losses and wants to reclaim its dignity at any cost, relying on the unlimited American support," the Syrian daily asserted. It said the London-based Amnesty International human rights organization on Wednesday had accused Israel of war crimes in Lebanon, adding the group "undoubtedly took into consideration that the Bush administration is a partner in these crimes."

UPI's report is a summary of the latest Arab editorials, interesting reading.

It's worth remmebering that there are no independent media in Syria; all papers and broadcast media are government controlled. The Tishreen is an official government organ anyway, so it's quite safe to assume that its printed views are indistinguishable from those of Syria's ruler, Bahar Assad.

Read the rest!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Syria rejects UN troops presence

A commentary on prospects for peace

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calls for 15,000 UN-back soldiers to be deployed in southern Lebanon, expanding the presence of the small, existing UN Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has been there since 1978. France, which pushed hard for the measure and was expected to lead the mission, backpedaled furiously a few days ago. (Jules Crittenden argues that since we don't speak French, we must have misunderstood what they meant.

[O]ne must understand that when France suggested it wanted to broker peace in Lebanon, it did not necessarily mean “broker” or “peace” or “Lebanon” in the way we might understand those words. The same is true when France further suggested it wanted to “lead” a “strong” “multinational” “force” there.

But I digress.)

Anyway, Italy has pledged 3,000 troops but there is still no chain of command established or a clear mission or rules of engagement or anything that would make the UN force a, well, military force. Already, UN spokespeople have ruled out absolutely that the reinforced UNIFIL will disarm Hezbollah, which the Lebanese government also has said it will not do and which is (sort of) called for by the same UNSC Resolution 1701.

Other than Israel and the sea, southern Lebanon borders Syria. Since Syria is the main supplier of Hezbollah's weapons, one might imagine that UNIFIL would take an interest in patrolling along the Syrian border, on the Lebanese side, of course. And so UNIFIL might take such an interest, if indeed a new UNIFIL actually ever sets foot there (which I doubt).

Syria has no interest at all in any new UNIFIL, however pusillanimous it may be, in stepping onto Lebanese soil, and Syrian dictator President Bashar Assad restated only last week that no peace is possible with Israel. As Lebanon's Daily Star reports,

Indeed, as the recent declaration made by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem during his brief visit to Lebanon indicated, the prospect of a wider regional war is something these regimes actually welcome. For the strong showing that Hizbullah has made, the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure notwithstanding, is encouragement enough for these regimes, with their minds and hearts still stuck in the 1980s, to revive the old dream of defeating Israel militarily through involvement in a war of attrition and thus achieving military glory that will boost their credentials both at home and abroad. With the US caught in the Iraqi quagmire and its power seemingly neutralized as a result, this prospect might appear more and more tempting with each passing day.

Add to these things that Syria has continued to resupply Hezbollah with weapons since the ceasefire went into effect (as confirmed by Israeli surveillance aircraft, the announcement of which has been studiously ignored by Western media) - well then, it shall come as no surprise that Assad,

... was quoted Wednesday as rejecting the deployment of UN troops along the Lebanon-Syria border, saying such a move would create animosity between the two countries.

"This is an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty and a hostile position," Assad told Dubai Television. The TV station's anchor quoted Assad without showing video of the interview, which would air later Wednesday.

Assad also urged the Lebanese government to adhere to its responsibilities and not embark on anything that could sabotage relations with Syria.

Does it not bring a tear to your eye that Syrian dictator President Assad is so concerned about Lebanese sovereignty? I mean, it's not like Syria ever occupied Lebanon or did something truly dastardly like, say, assassinating Lebanon's prime minister.

Fer shur Assad doesn't want Lebanon to do anything that "could sabotage relations with Syria," since Assad & Co. consider Lebanon to be a Syrian satrapy - so the Lebanese better not get any silly ideas such as actually being a self-determining people. And most of all they may not disarm Hezbollah, Syria's only real means, at present, of fighting Israel.

Now, the questions are whether the new, reinforced UNIFIL will, (a) ever be formed and if so, (b) will it defy Assad and deploy along the Syrian-Lebanese border anyway, because otherwise it cannot minimally fulfill UNSC 1701's mandate wishes.

Here's your four-letter answer: No, no.

Read the rest!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lebanese govt.: We will not disarm Hezbollah

The Lebanese government has announced it will not disarm Hezbollah. Israeli editorialists are claiming this refusal violates the terms of the ceasefire as demanded by UNSC Resolution 1701, voted unanimously last Friday.

But does it? Consider some of the text of the resolution:
OP3. [TheUNSC] Emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory ... for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;
In other words, the UNSC never did call for Hezbollah to be disarmed absolutely. The resolution grants the Lebanese government the authority to permit Hezbollah to retain its arms. And that, Lebanon's government announced, is exactly what it is going to do.

However, it will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with committee work (and the UNSC is one big committee) that the resolution apparently contradicts itself later, calling for :
... full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state,
The Taif Accords came to be in October 1989, when "the Lebanese National Assembly met in Taif, Saudi Arabia to ratify a 'National Reconciliation Accord' under Syrian and Saudi tutelage."
The Taif accords transferred power away from the Lebanese presidency, traditionally given to Maronites, and invested it in a cabinet divided equally between Muslims and Christians. The Taif accords also declared the intention of extending Lebanese government sovereignty over southern Lebanon. Though Israel eventually withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, armed Hizbollah militia remained in control of the area, apparently maintaining a tacit arrangement whereby Hizbollah could harass Israel within limits, but not so seriously that it would provoke a massive retaliation.
My analysis:

The arrangement between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government will no longer be "tacit." Since 2000 Hezbollah has won seats in the Lebanese parliament and two Hezbollahis are cabinet ministers of the Lebanese government. In weeks and months to come Hezbollah's influence inside Lebanon, high before the war, will come to dominate. By the end of this year, conservatively, there will be no meaningful distinction between Hezbollah troops and Lebanese troops. The Lebanese national army and the Hezbollah military wing will be, for all practical purposes, the same - and Hezbollah will be in control.

Ehud Olmert and Neville Chamberlian - soul brothers

"Peace in our time?" No, not under the provisions of UNSC 1701. The ineptitude of the Olmert government in prosecuting its war against Hezbollah, most of all its refusal to force a decision quickly against Hezbollah's armed force, has endangered Israel more than ever. Israel may boast that it destroyed thousands of Hezbollah rockets before firing, but that means nothing - Iran and Syria will resupply them in short order.

Israel faces very difficult times to come, and very violent ones. This war is very far from over. As former prime minister Benjamin Natanyahu told the Knesset Monday,
"Unfortunately, there will be another round [in this war] because the government's just demands weren’t met" by the cease-fire agreement that went into effect Monday morning.

"The [kidnapped] soldiers weren’t returned home, the Hizbullah was not disarmed … Right now, we are [merely] in an interim period between wars," Netanyahu warned. "And there is no one who will prevent our enemies from rearmed and preparing for the next round."
In the same session, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik of Olmert's own Kadima party "called for the establishment of an emergency national unity government" to "prepare us for the next war."

We may hope and wish otherwise, but hope is not a method and wishes are not plans.

Read the rest!

More heat on Olmert

The Jerusalem Post continues to turn up the heat on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert:

From all sides of the political spectrum calls are being raised for the establishment of an official commission of inquiry to investigate the Olmert government's incompetent management of the war in Lebanon. These calls are misguided.

We do not need a commission to know what happened or what has to happen. The Olmert government has failed on every level. The Olmert government must go.

The Knesset must vote no confidence in this government and new elections must be carried out as soon as the law permits. If the Knesset hesitates in taking this required step, then the people of Israel must take to the streets in mass demonstrations and demand that our representatives send Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and their comrades out to pasture. ...

Because of the Olmert government's failures, ever greater battles await us. As the dangers mount by the hour, we must replace this misbegotten government with one that can defend us.

Yossi Klein Halevi writes,

However hard Ehud Olmert tries to spin it, the U.N. ceasefire that began yesterday is a disaster for Israel and for the war on terrorism generally. ...

As one outraged TV anchor put it, Israeli towns were exposed to the worst attacks since the nation's founding, a million residents of the Galilee fled or sat in shelters for a month, more than 150 Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed along with nearly a thousand Lebanese--all in order to ensure the return of U.N. peacekeepers to southern Lebanon.

However, a columnist in Israel who thinks Olmert should be run out of town is far from sure it can actually take place.

Anyone who observed [Olmert’s] nine years as mayor of Jerusalem knows that he is quite comfortable swatting away public criticism and a hostile press. He will pay no heed to those in the media who began calling for his resignation over the weekend, and he is more than willing to take on his political rivals.

Meanwhile, his coalition seems stable. All the parties’ leaders were partners to the war decisions and they will find it hard to jump ship. It’s also difficult to see who can mount a real opposition to Olmert. The Left is still powerless, with scant public support. On the Right, Binyamin Netanyahu has yet to regain his credibility, almost totally destroyed in the last election.

Of course Netanyahu has acted as an admirable spokesman for Israel, giving the government his unstinting support throughout the crisis, but his efforts were mainly targeted at the foreign audience and it has yet to be seen whether that will be enough to reduce the deeply-held suspicion held toward him in what was formerly the Likud electoral heartland. He would be wise not to pounce too quickly and open himself to accusations of political opportunism at the expense of our soldiers. Right now, he seems to prefer a wiser, long-range strategy, and if he manages to enlist former chief of General Staff Moshe Ya’alon, he will start on the long road to political recovery.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to see where Olmert goes from here. Save for a dramatic military operation, perhaps a well-deserved attack on the Iranian nuclear project, he has no way to regain his lost credibility.

Read the rest!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Perspectives on bias

Israel's Haaretz newspaper offers a, "Postwar self test: Are you an anti-Semite?"

One of the more fruitless debates between critics and supporters of Israel, is where to draw the line between candid criticism of Israeli policy, and anti-Semitism.

As a public service, we present the following post war self-test, to assist readers in placing themselves along the continuum which stretches from taking rational issue with Israeli policy, and ends in Jew-hate. ...

3. You are CNN. When Lebanese civilians are killed, injured or rendered homeless in Israeli air strikes, you identify the victims as Lebanese civilians and elaborate on their suffering. When Israeli civilians are killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks, you should:

A. Identify them as Israeli civilians and elaborate on their suffering.
B. Identify them as Israelis, thus calling into question whether they are civilians.
C. Omit them, and elaborate on the suffering of Lebanese civilians.

Guess which choice CNN habitually used? Then we have a certain Lebanese perspective:

Translation: "Smile son, or they might think we are anti-Semitic."

Read the rest!

Ceasefire holds - so far

As of the time of this posting, Hezbollah has fired no rockets into Israel since the ceasefire went into effect at midnight CDT last night. Some desultory small-arms fire has been exhanged in a couple of places between the IDF and some Hezbollah fighters, but Israel's air force and heavy weapons are silent.

Most observers are less than confident this state of affairs will hold. Consider this Washington Post headline: Cease-Fire Takes Effect; More Fighting Expected (link is perishable).
The Israeli cabinet approved the cease-fire on Sunday. The Lebanese government and Hezbollah agreed to the cease-fire Saturday. Prospects for a lasting halt in the fighting appeared shaky as Hezbollah's leader said his militia would keep fighting Israeli troops as long as they remained in southern Lebanon, and Israeli officials insisted they would not withdraw their soldiers until an international force and the Lebanese army took control of the border area. Assembling an international military force in Lebanon is expected to take at least two or three weeks.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah meanwhile has claimed,
... his guerrillas had achieved a "strategic, historic victory" against Israel.

"We came out victorious in a war in which big Arab armies were defeated (before)," the black-turbaned cleric said.

He further declared that now was not the time to debate the disarmament of his guerrilla fighters, saying the issue should be done in secret sessions of the government to avoid serving Israeli interests.

"This is immoral, incorrect and inappropriate," he said. "It is wrong timing on the psychological and moral level particularly before the cease-fire," he said in reference to calls from critics for the guerrillas to disarm.

Nasrallah, speaking on the day a cease-fire took effect - ending 34 days of brutal fighting between Hizbullah and Israel - called Monday "a great day."

"We are today before a strategic, historic victory, without exaggeration," he said in a taped speech on Hizbullah's al-Manar TV.

He declared that the massive destruction inflicted upon Israel was an expression of what he called its "failure and impotency."
Much of Nasrallah's rhetoric is just bluster; he can hardly confess to his own organization or the world at large that he's been whipped, even if he thinks so, though it's highly unlikely he doesn't actually believe what he's saying. (And it's useful to note that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not claiming Israel has decisively beaten Hezbollah.)

I wonder, though, whether Olmert was sly like a fox and played the UN to gain political-diplomatic cover for crushing Hezbollah before the multinational force arrives. I don't actually think so, but it's possible.

Read the rest!

On the border

I have previously recommended Michael Totten's web site. Michael is a self-described political centrist, 35, a freelance journalist who has traveled at his own expense to many of the world's hot spots to report first-hand. I am fortunate to count him as a pen pal.

Right now Michael is in Israel with a friend. Just before the ceasefire he completed a visit to the Israeli border town of Metulla, where IDF tanks and combat vehicles prepared to enter Lebanon.
To my knowledge, no Katyusha rockets hit Metulla at any time. The little town sits just inside a “peninsula” that juts into Lebanon. It is surrounded on three sizes by Hezbollah’s territory. Presumably Hezbollah didn’t fire rockets at Metulla because three out of four would miss Israel entirely and explode inside Lebanon. So even though Metulla is literally on the front line, it may be the safest town in all of Northern Israel.

All day long thunderous outgoing artillery tore holes through the sky on the way to Hezbollah targets. But as soon as the ground invasion began, all fell eerily quiet.
Michael does not write with the "breathless drama" style of so many mainstream reporters, who seem to think every story is a potential Pulitzer winner. Michael's style is straightforward, factual and devoid of slant. Refreshing! His essays are photo-rich, too. Read the whole thing!

Read the rest!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Unexploded ordnance danger to Lebanese

When hostilities finally cease, whether attained though force of arms or diplomatic means, Lebanese civilians will still face the danger of unexploded Israeli munitions, especially in southern Lebanon.
According to experts, Israeli forces have been firing around 3,000 rockets, artillery shells, cluster bombs, and other artillery into Lebanon each day, for the past 27 days of the conflict.

It is estimated that around 10 percent of these munitions have not exploded, so it is likely there are more than 7,000 unexploded munitions across the conflict zone.
There's no doubt that some weapons dropped or fired by Israeli forces have turned out "dud." The dud rate for ordinary bombs or artillery shells is extremely low, significantly less than one percent. So far, according to news reports, the IDF (Israeli army) has fired just over 100,000 artillery rounds into southern Lebanon. Not all of these were explosive, though; a large number were illuminating, or flare rounds and some other numbers were smoke for concealment of IDF troops as they moved across the battlefield. Nonetheless, the vast majority would have been explosive rounds or bomblet rounds.

Artillery bomblets, called DPICM, are packed 88 per shell, each bomblet weighing less than a pound. In the air, over the target, the shell casing breaks apart and the DPICM bomblets are dispersed as they fall.

They are principally designed to penetrate light armor. Their dud rate ranges from two to five percent when they fall onto hard-packed soil or rock, and higher when falling upon steeply sloping or soft terrain such as mud or snow.

If only five percent of the IDF's artillery rounds have been DPCIM, though, that means that potentially several thousand bomblets did not explode.

Since 1991's Gulf War, when the US first identified the severe problems unexploded DPICM causes for postwar activities, US DPICM bomblets have been manufactured with a failsafe mechanism that explodes duds after an short interval has passed. Whether the IDF's munitions include this failsafe I do not know.

The IDF has fired some MLRS artillery rockets at Hezbollah positions. These are filled with 644 DPICM per rocket; there are no MLRS rockets with a solid-explosive warhead.

Based on the target types the Israeli Air Force has attacked, the vast majority of aerial bombs dropped have been high-explosive bombs ("iron bombs"), not cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are militarily ineffective against infrastructure targets. Nonetheless, it can be expected that some number of cluster bombs have been used against Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon. These bomblets are much larger, weighing up to 40 pounds each. They are actually less dangerous to postwar civilians than DPICM because they are much more easily seen and can be avoided.

There is also an artillery shell called FASCAM that lays down instant minefields, with either antipersonnel or antiarmor mines. The mines are of either "short delay" or "long delay," referring to the time that elapses before each mine detonates on its own. These shells, if the IDF is even using them, will present practically no postwar hazard.

Even with the best dud rates of bomblets, there will be a signficant hazard for people after they move back to their homes in southern Lebanon. Particularly dangerous are the DPICM bomblets because they may be covered by a thin layer of soil from wind or rain runoff. They are small and difficult to see even lying on top of the ground. This will indeed be a serious postwar issue.

Update: The United States has agreed to sell Israel more artillery rockets, of the kind fired by the US-made Multiple Launch Rocket System. (I served as operations officer for 3d Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, based at Ft Bragg, NC and which was equipped with 27 MLRS launchers.) A single laucnher holds 12 rockets at a time. They can be fired singly or up to all 12, which takes 48 seconds. One launcher's full load carries more than 7,700 DPCIM bomblets ("submunitions" as they are called). The impact area of all those submunitions encompasses 600,000 square meters, or 60 percent of a square kilometer. This weapon was used with very deadly effect in 1991's Gulf War against Iraqi artilery - so lethal was MLRS that Iraqi soldiers called it "steel rain" (the few who lived through it, anyway).
Israel has long told American officials that it wanted M-26 [MLRS] rockets for use against conventional armies in case Israel was invaded, one of the American officials said. But after being pressed in recent days on what they intended to use the weapons for, Israeli officials disclosed that they planned to use them against [Hezbollah] rocket sites in Lebanon. It was this prospect that raised the intense concerns over civilian casualties. ...

State Department officials "are discussing whether or not there needs to be a block on this sale because of the past history and because of the current circumstances," said the senior official, adding that it was likely that Israel will get the rockets, but will be told to be "be careful." ...

In the case of cluster munitions, including the Multiple Launch Rocket System, which fires the M-26 [rocket], the Israeli military only fires into open terrain where rocket launchers or other military targets are found, to avoid killing civilians, an Israeli official said.
That means that if Hezbollah decides to continue rocketing northern Israel it will simply locate its launchers in urban areas near civilians, as it has been doing all along.

The M-26 standard rocket ranges out to 30 kilometers. There is an extended-range model that flies considerably farther but carries fewer submunitions to make room for more rocket fuel. In the 1980s the US Army developed a rocket called ATACMS that ranges to 150 kilometers, also with a DPICM warhead. This rocket is so large that an MLRS launcher can carry only two, but its DPICM load is much greater. This rocket has been sold to few other countries, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, and Bahrain being examples.

MLRS was designed in the late 1970s to attack large armored Soviet formations if the USSR ever invaded western Europe. It is so powerful that it replaced 8-inch howitzers in the US Army. That the 8-inch howitzer was capable of firing atomic projectiles and the MLRS is not reveals a lot about its destructive capability.

Read the rest!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Split in Israeli politics on the war?

Heretofore, media have reported near unanimity among Israeli political factions about prosecuting the war, with some polls showing up to 90 percent of Israeli adults supporting it.

Now a fissure, however small has appeared.

The political left in Israel slammed the Wednesday afternoon cabinet decision to widen the military ground offensive in Lebanon.

Meretz MK Ran Cohen called the move "unfortunate and dangerous." He said continued operations will "increase the large number of victims and will not solve the problem."

Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On added the decision "will distance the chances of a cease-fire and of quiet in the northern communities."

Meretz Chairman MK Yossi Beilin said the cabinet "made a tragic mistake that is liable to unnecessary lengthen the war? Rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to leave Lebanon and let its army deploy in the south, Israel is entering deeper into Hezbollah's trap on the verge of a war of attrition on the ground."

Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh said the cabinet decision is "insanity testifying to military arrogance." He said Israel was closing the window of opportunity that was opened by the Lebanese government.

The "window of opportunity" referred to was the Lebanese government's call for a ceasefire after Israel withdraws from Lebanon, to be followed by the deployment of 15,000 Lebanese national troops to southern Lebanon. As I explained in my Aug. 4. post, "Why did Israel attack Lebanon?" even Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud has said bluntly that the Lebanese army "is not an army to fight a war." Furthermore, the Lebanese government has never referred to Hezbollah as a "militia," since that would recognize that UN Resolution 1559, calling for all Lebanese militias to disarm, applies to Hezbollah. This the Lebanese government denies, always characterizing Hezbollah as a Lebanese "resistance movement."

Between 40-50 percent of the Lebanese army consists of members of Hezbollah, which is a political party inside Lebanon as well as a militia. To expect that any number of Lebanese army troops in southern Lebanon will control Hezbollah's well trained, well equipped and highly disciplined fighters is simple fantasy. Here's a brief synopsis why.

Read the rest!

Whither Israeli Arabs?

Many people are not aware that Arabs make up a fifth of Israel's population. Sixteen percent of Israel's population is Muslim (almost two percent of Israels's Arabs are Christian, the rest are something else). Almost all are Muslims and some members of the Knesset are Israeli-Arab Muslims. The number of Arabs in Israel is growing, relative to the Jews, because Arab parents have more children than the Jewish parents. In fact, at current growth rates of Jews and Arabs in Israel, Arabs could become a numerical majority by mid-century, maybe sooner.

Until yesterday, Hezbollah had a word for Israeli Arabs: "targets." Hezbollah rockets have struck Arab neighborhoods in Haifa, killing Arab Israelis. However, yesterday Hezbollah chief terrorist Hassan Nasrallah,
... warned all Israeli Arabs to leave the port city of Haifa so the militant group could step up attacks without fear of shedding the blood of fellow Muslims.

Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, has been the frequent target of Hezbollah's rocket attacks.

"I have a special message to the Arabs of Haifa, to your martyrs and to your wounded. I call on you to leave this city. I hope you do this. ... Please leave so we don't shed your blood, which is our blood," Nasrallah said.
It's worth noting that Israeli forces warn everyone in the Lebanese combat zone to leave to avoid being killed, but Nasrallah wants the Jews to stay in Haifa precisely so he can kill them.

Israeli news reporter and Arab, Riad Ali, says that in the name of Allah,
This is the time to address the Arab citizens of Israel, and tell them that the time has come for them to decide where they stand. And they should do so for their own sake, and not for the sake of the Jews. For the sake of the values they want to instill in their children. For the sake of retaining their intellectual dignity. It is clear to all that a Hamas-led Palestinian government and a Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon will not bring democratic societies with a flourishing political and social pluralism. It is clear that in regimes such as those, the rule of law, human rights, the freedom of religion and worship, women's rights, the freedom of creation, the freedom of movement, the freedom of expression and thought - all will be alien, ridiculed concepts, to say the least.
Read the whole thing.

Read the rest!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Julles Crittenden has an incisive, insightful piece in the BostonHerald about photo fakery, concluding,

Everyone in the news business gets taken for a ride sooner or later. It’s an occupational hazard. What is surprising is the scale of it in Lebanon. And what is tragic about this is, as a Boston Herald photo editor noted, editors everywhere can no longer trust the pictures from Lebanon. The public cannot know what is staged and what is real. They cannot know the true scope of the devastation that Hezbollah’s aggression against Israel and its cynical tactics have brought on the Lebanese people. The con artists have shafted themselves and their own people with their cheap tricks.

But it also indicates that Hezbollah and Palestinian movie-set directors are trapped by oldthink. They've been hosing the West with "fauxtography" for so long that they do not realize thatthe media environment has changed. As Jules points out, there are countless eyeballs examining the photos and video released by news media from the theater. Jules names a few blogs that exposed the Photoshopped fakery of Adnan Hajj's pic of Beirut being bombed.

Another example: the "the unluckiest multiple home owner in Beirut," a Beirut woman photographed wailing over "the wreckage of her apartment" on July 22. Then on Aug. 5 the same woman, in the same clothing, was photographed wailing at the destruction of her house in the suburbs of Beirut.

Michelle Malkin has a long, illustrated post led by an expose of the New York Times' run of this photo of a "dead bombing victim."

NYT's caption: "The mayor of Tyre said that in the worst-hit area, bodies were still buried under the rubble, and he appealed to the Israelis to allow government authorities to pull them out."

The only problem is that there is a whole series of photos showing this same man running around the area. Besides, he seems pretty clean to have been "buried under the rubble," doesn't he?

NPR ran the same photo on its web site with a more realistic and quite plausible caption - that the man had fallen down and was being helped up.

Jules Crittenden is correct: the Lebanese people are suffering enough and their plight doesn't even need such propagandistic exaggeration. These fraudulent audiovisuals increase our skepticism of all such reports. For my earlier post on this topic, see here.

Update: Today the NYT today ran a correction: "The man pictured, who had been seen in previous images appearing to assist with the rescue effort, was injured during that rescue effort, not during the initial attack, and was not killed." It took them 20 days, but better late than never, I suppose.

Read the rest!

Hard bombing

Some thoughts on why Israel is bombing Lebanon so severely can be found here.

Read the rest!

Minute by minute

The Wall Street Journal has a page called Mideast Crisis Tracker that is, "Updated regularly with news on the Israel-Hezbollah-Lebanon crisis." Excellent resource - no editorializing, just what has happened. Free to non-subscribers.

An entry from yesterday says this about the prospects of the Lebanese national army successfuly disarming Hezbollah.
Tuesday, Aug. 8

11:45 p.m.: With the U.N.pushing to disarm the militant group Hezbollah, the U.S. and other countries have expressed confidence that Lebanon's army can handle the job with help from a multinational force. But Lebanese commanders believe the task could prove difficult. Lebanon's military is poorly equipped and fragmented along ethnic and religious lines. Its police force has 20,000 members, but fewer than half have guns or ammunition. Some of the weapons they use are World War II-era rifles. Lebanon's army, the other branch of its security forces, currently numbers about 40,000. Some of its tanks were produced in the 1940s, say senior army officers. And American-made helicopters it has purchased are one-engine models that are no longer legal to fly in the U.S.

Read the rest!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Blogging from the battle zone

Via I have learned of two blog sites authored from the war zone, one in Haifa and the other from Lebanon.

The Haifa site is called, "Israel-Hezbollah War" and describes itself as, "A view of the current (July 2006) Israel-Hezbollah war from an Israeli living in Haifa (under Katyusha rocket attack)."

Its author, David Lisbona, writes of what his family does when air raid sirens sound. He even posted an MP3 file of what the sirens sound like.
I don't recommend doing it near someone anxious or someone who's been in a war - Irit's daughter (who lives in Tel Aviv) turned as white as a sheet when she heard it, even though I told her it was just me. Israelis have a lot of fear. ...

[T]he alarms do have one major downside - they are in themselves very scary. Imagine if you heard a certain , very definitive loud noise several times a day bearing the message "Look, mate, you may die in a minute or so if you don't take shelter". One elderly lady already died from cardiac arrest on her way to the shelter. It's not surprising that some people prefer denial. The residents of Kiryat Shmona , an Israeli town of 20,000 people only 10 km from the Lebanese border who have suffered the worst Katyusha shelling by far in the last 10 days have only had alarms since the last few days. Before that they had no warning -residents there are supposed to stay in shelters 24 hours a day. But you can go crazy having to sit around all day in a confined space and probably more and more people have been going out for a breather. The army used to say that they couldn't provide warnings for the short-range Katyushas (like those that hit Kiryat Shmona) but now they do, and the locals are hearing 20-30 alarms a day as well as the deafening explosions when the rockets hit the ground or a house and the incessant artillery barrages from Israeli guns. God knows what this is doing to their sanity.
The Lebanese site is called simply, "The Lebanese Bloggers," written by eight Lebanese. The site's most recent entry takes note of the proposal yesterday of the Lebanese government to send 15,000 national-army soldiers to southern Lebanon (I posted about it here). Writes Lebanese author Raja,
Most people though, missed the more important development that took place yesterday – one that was subtle, but nevertheless fundamental in importance.

The major news of the day, for me at least, was the Lebanese government’s actual act of proposing a solution, as opposed to the solution itself. As if to emphasize that point even more, foreign ministers from all over the region traveled to Beirut, despite the war, and held their conference in the Lebanese Serrail (House of the Lebanese Government). These ministers’ apparently exclusive role was to show support for the Lebanese government, and to support a Lebanese initiative to bring this conflict to an end.

The message was clear, and very much needed: the way out of this mess is through the Lebanese state. Only the Lebanese state can absorb the remnants of Hizballah's military wing and subordinate it. More importantly however, the Lebanese state can only do so if it is given the opportunity, and provided with the needed resources and moral support.

Time is not on its side though. Every extra day the conflict lasts, it loses its legitimacy as a result of its impotence, and its resources are stretched to the point where even its current humanitarian functions become untenable.

I hope those seeking a diplomatic solution in New York remember that reality as they try to arrive at an agreement: the only way out of this mess is the Lebanese state. There is no other choice.
Both these sites are worth spending time reading.

Read the rest!

Canada on Hezbollah and Hamas

Canada's federal agency, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC) is Canada’s lead department for public safety. It is somewhat equivalent to the US Dept. of Homeland Security. PSEPC's web site has a page of "listed entities," "... a very public means of identifying a group or individual as being associated with terrorism. The definition of an entity includes a person, group, trust, partnership or fund, or an unincorporated association or organization." The currently listed entities page includes Hezbollah, about which it says this:
Hizballah, meaning "Party of God", is an Islamist terrorist organization based in Lebanon. Hizballah seeks to restore Islam to a position of supremacy in the political, social, and economic life of the Muslim world. The objectives of Hizballah, as derived from its February 16, 1985 political manifesto, include removing all Western influences from Lebanon and from the Middle East, as well as destroying the state of Israel and liberating all Palestinian territories and Jerusalem from what it sees as Israeli occupation, with no option for any negotiated peace. Guided by these goals, Hizballah's ultimate objective is to establish a radical Shi'a Islamist theocracy in Lebanon. Hizballah has been responsible for car bombings, hijackings and kidnapping Western and Israeli/Jewish targets in Israel, Western Europe and South America. Hizballah operates principally in Lebanon, but has also been active in Europe, North and South America, and Africa.
The entry for Hamas, active in Gaza, says this:
Hamas, the Arabic acronym of which means "Zeal", is a radical Sunni Muslim terrorist organization which developed from the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in 1987. It uses political and violent means, including terrorism, to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in Israel. Hamas has stated that "it is in a war with the Jewish people, as well as the state of Israel. The purpose of every operation is to kill Jews; for by killing Jews, all the Zionist settlers and their allies will be driven from the area." Hamas is well‑financed and organized, with its funding coming from an array of sources. In March 1996, Israeli intelligence officials estimated that roughly 95 per cent of the estimated $70‑million a year that it collected went into such charities as hospitals, clinics and schools, with only a small portion siphoned off to pay for weapons and military operations. While some funds supposedly raised for charity go directly to the military wing, some of the charity funds intended for activists, families, and institutions are "leaked" to the terrorist apparatus and are used for terrorist activities. The charity associations pay fines and assist the families of the arrested activists or the activists themselves. In other words, funds need not be utilized exclusively for weapons, explosives or logistical support to facilitate terrorist activities. Since 1990, Hamas has been responsible for several hundred terrorist attacks against both civilian and military targets. Hamas has been one of the primary groups involved in suicide bombings aimed at Israelis in the course of the intifada that started in September 2000.
I added the italics to emphasize the central goals of these two organizations. Site found via Tigerhawk blog, which has some thoughts about the tendency to make moral equivalence between the state of Israel and Hezbollah/Hamas.

Read the rest!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lebanese army to deploy south - if . . .

The Lebanese government has agreed to deploy 15,000 national army troops to southern Lebanon.

But there's a catch (this is the Middle east we're talking about, after all).

The Lebanese prime minister rejected a U.N. cease-fire plan backed by President Bush, demanding on Monday that Israel immediately pull out from southern Lebanon even before a peacekeeping force arrives to act as a buffer between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert has repeatedly said that Israel will not agree to a ceasefire until a multinational force (MNF) is in place in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has said that it will not agree to a ceasefire until all Israeli troops have left Lebanon.

Today's proposal by the Lebanese government is no breakthrough. It really conforms to the Hezbollah position, no surprise since the Lebanese cabinet, which voted to send the 15,000 troops, includes two Hezbollah members. They will not deviate from the policy of Hezbollah's chief, Hassan Nasrallah. It would be literally life risking for them to do so.

Moreover, observers of all perspectives, including Lebanon's president, agree that the Lebanese army is hopelessly outmatched by Hezbollah's military wing. If Israel withdrew before a ceasefire (ain't gonna happen) and if the Lebanese army moved in it would be dominated by Hezbollah and would effectively become just an agent of Hezbollah's wishes. This is no formula for peace.

Israel, though, is at least slightly hoist on its own petard because PM Olmert has also stated that Israel desired the deployment of the Lebanese army in all of southern Lebanon. He can hardly object to a proposal by Lebanon's government to do so, even though its terms are other wise unsatisfactory. However, PM Olmert also demanded the expulsion of Hezbollah from the area, and fulfillment of United Nations Resolution 1559, which demands Hezbollah be disarmed. Before the war began on July 12, Lebanon's army was unable either to expel or disarm Hezbollah even if it had wanted to. Now it is hardly likely that it wants to try.

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton "said he thought the Beirut government's decision to deploy troops in the South was a positive development," but he could hardly say anything else since the UN has been calling on Lebanon's government to exercise soverign authority over all Lebanon since at least 2004. Besides, as a diplomat, Bolton can only treat the Lebanese proposal as a step in the right direction, though there are leaps left to go.

For the near term, and I'd say longer than that, the fighting will continue. Hezbollah and Israel both claim they are winning. One thing's for sure - Lebanon is losing.

Read the rest!

Lebanese prime minister: no massacre after all

We awoke this morning to reports that Israeli planes had killed at least 40 civilians in the town of Houla. In a report time-stamped at 10:14 a.m. EDT, Reuters reported,

"An hour ago, a horrific massacre took place in Houla village as a result of the intentional Israeli bombardment that resulted in more than 40 martyrs," Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told an Arab foreign ministers meeting in Beirut.

But not so fast. Now Haaretz reports,

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Monday reversed his earlier claim that 40 people had been killed in an Israel Air Force strike on a southern Lebanon village earlier in the day, saying that there was at least one person dead.

"The massacre in Houla, it turned out that there was one person killed," Siniora told reporters. "They thought that the whole building smashed on the heads of about 40 people... thank God they have been saved."

Rescuers said that some 50 people had been found alive in a shelter under the ruins of a bombed building in the border village of Houla.

Even so, it could have been a much more lethal attack than it turned out to be. But this is good news. And it should lead us to remember the old Army adage, "First reports are always wrong."

Read the rest!

The attack of civilians in wartime

With all the news from the Middle East,it was easy to forget that yesterday was the 61st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The blog Hootsbuddy's Place notes the day with the reminder that Nagasaki was atomic-bombed three days later, and includes this interesting (and saddening) information:
Nagasaki is famous in the history of Japanese Christianity. Not only was it the site of the largest Christian church in the Orient, St. Mary's Cathedral, but it also had the largest concentration of baptized Christians in all of Japan.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Age, civilians have inevitably suffered greatly in war.

Although no one knows how many Hezbollah fighters have died in the Israel-Hezbollah war, figures released by both sides should be treated skeptically. Hezbollah admits to only a few dozen and Israel claims a few hundred, though Israel has lowered its estimate in the last few days.

That being said, there is no doubt that civilians in both Lebanon and Israel are suffering greatly. Early last week CNN said that according to the UN High Commission on Refugees, 880,000 Lebanese civlians had been driven from their homes because of the war, as had 300,000 Israeli civilians. Late last week the total estimate topped a million.

Human Rights Watch has stated that both sides are guilty of violating laws of war in the nature of the fighting. Its has a site devoted to the topic called, "Questions and Answers on Hostilities Between Israel and Hezbollah. James Joyner provides some illuminating excerpts.
What is Hezbollah’s status in relation to the conflict?

Hezbollah is an organized political Islamist group based in Lebanon, with a military arm and a civilian arm, and is represented in the Lebanese parliament and government. As such a group, and as a party to the conflict with Israel, it is bound to conduct hostilities in compliance with customary international humanitarian law and Common Article 3, which as stated above applies to conflicts that are not interstate but between a state and a non-state actor. As is explicitly stated in Common Article 3, and made clear by the commentaries of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the application of the provisions of Common Article 3, as well as customary international law, to Hezbollah does not affect its legal status.

Was Hezbollah’s capture of Israeli soldiers lawful?

The targeting and capture of enemy soldiers is allowed under international humanitarian law. However, captured combatants must in all circumstances be treated humanely.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah has stated that the captured soldiers will be used to negotiate the release of Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab prisoners from Israel. The use of captives who are no longer involved in the conflict for this purpose constitutes hostage-taking. Hostage-taking as part of an armed conflict is strictly forbidden under international law, by both Common Article 3 and customary international law, and is a war crime.

Which targets are Israel and Hezbollah entitled to attack under international humanitarian law?

Two fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law are those of “civilian immunity” and the principle of “distinction.” They impose a duty to distinguish at all times in the conduct of hostilities between combatants and civilians, and to target only the former. It is forbidden in any circumstance to direct attacks against civilians; indeed, as noted, to do so intentionally amounts to a war crime.

It is also generally forbidden to direct attacks against what are called “civilian objects,” such as homes and apartments, places of worship, hospitals, schools or cultural monuments, unless they are being used for military purposes. Military objects that are legitimately subject to attack are those that make an “effective” contribution to military action and whose destruction, capture or neutralization offers a “definite military advantage.” Where there is doubt about the nature of an object, it must be presumed to be civilian.

The mere fact that an object has civilian uses does not necessarily render it immune from attack. It, too, can be targeted if it makes an “effective” contribution to the enemy’s military activities and its destruction, capture or neutralization offers a “definite military advantage” to the attacking side in the circumstances ruling at the time. However, such “dual use” objects might also be protected by the principle of proportionality, described below.

Even when a target is serving a military purpose, precautions must always be taken to protect civilians.

Read the rest!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Haifa struck hard, Israel responds

The Israeli port city of Haifa was hit by six Fajr-5 rockets fired by Hezbollah today.
A barrage of Hezbollah rockets crashed into Haifa on Sunday, killing at least three people and wounding more than 40, officials said, in the heaviest attack on the port city since fighting with the Lebanese-based militia began nearly four weeks ago. [link]
In Lebanon, a video cameraman at Tyre happened to catch the rockets being fire from outside the city.hezbollah rockets being launched toward Haifa

All six rockets are shown streaking toward Haifa, though the first one is barely seen before leaving the frame.

Click to view the video - it will open in your default online viewer for MPEG files (1.8MB). You can also right-click and save it to your hard drive. The voice speaking is that of an Israeli officer being interviewed.

It took only a short time for the Israeli Air Force to respond. Its spokesmen reported that F-16 fighters destroyed both this launcher and another near Qana that had also fired rockets into Israel.


The day before Israel sent ground troops into southern Lebanon, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that the problem posed by Hezbollah "is in the air." Peres said,

Is Israel's objective now to destroy Hezbollah militarily?
Our objective is to stop the missile attacks by Hezbollah and enable the Lebanese military to take over and prevent Hezbollah from ever again returning to the border of Israel -- as the U.N. resolution stipulates. Our objective also remains the release of our soldiers.

What will determine when Israel stops?
When the attacks stop, Israel will stop.

Will there be a ground invasion of Lebanon by Israel?
No. The problem is not in the ground. It is in the air. If we create a buffer zone, will they get longer range missiles to fire from behind that line? What will then stop Hezbollah from getting longer range missiles from Iran or Syria?

Here is a key point: asked about the utility of an international force in southern Lebanon to stand between Israel and Hezbollah, Peres replied,

They are mistaken. The confrontation is not on the ground. It is in the air. If these U.N. forces can stop Hezbollah from firing missiles and rockets, that is one thing. If they are going to fight Hezbollah, fine. But there is no point to have people on the ground to observe the missiles flying overhead. That is useless.

No one expects that Israel can actually destroy Hezbollah, which is a political and social-network entity as almost as much as a military one. Hezbollah itself, as an organization, will survive and recontitute to some level after Israel's offensive actions cease. But in Israel's view, a defanged Hezbollah that is incapable of launching increasingly long-ranged, increasingly deadly rockets at Israel's cities is infinitely preferable to what Israel has faced until now.

That is why the Olmert government has insisted from the beginning that the war cannot be ended on the basis of the status quo ante bellum. If the status quo had been tolerable to Israel, it would not have counter-struck after Hezbollah's July 12, cross-border raid.

Hezbollah had been launching Katyushas into Israel for several years at the rate of a dozen or so per week. Evidently, Israel even under Ariel Sharon had decided it could endure that. (But, as Peres pointed out in his interview, the concessions it made under Sharon under the "road map for peace" plan were supposed to bring such attacks to an end. They did not.)

All that being said, I believe that the war began as the result of a series of lethal miscalculations on the part of both Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah has already admitted its miscalculation.

Israel has not admitted any miscalculation, but my opinion is that it has made three:

1. It launched its military response with strategic goals, but no real strategic plan to accomplish those goals.

2. It badly underestimated Hezbollah's military capability regarding training, equipment, supply, command and control and fortifications. This led directly to its third miscalculation.

3. It badly overweighted what air power could do.

More about these later.

Read the rest!


What happens behind the scenes of Palestinian "protests" that they don't want you to see. How Palestinian audiovisual productions are designed to deceive Western TV reporters.

Watch this and then read Reuters News Agency's admission that it used doctored photos of Beirut air raid damage.

Update: Bill Roggio is a highly experienced combat correspondent.He writes,
“We are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Ummah.” - Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Ayman al-Zawahiri's words do not only apply to his al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, but to all terrorist organizations. Terrorists do not employ terror tactics because of their military strength, but because of their military weaknesses; they have no hope of defeating modern militaries on the conventional battlefield. They seek to strike at the strategic weakness of democratic states: public opinion. They seek to erode the public's will to fight terror groups. Terrorist organizations skillfully manipulate the media to propagate their message. And in some instances, the terrorists have willing accomplices within the media. The current war between Israel and Hezbollah provides examples of both media manipulation and accommodation. ...

Hezbollah also is notorious for providing 'guided tours' of scenes within Beirut. Charlie Moore, a CNN Senior Producer for Anderson Cooper, explains how Hezbollah staged such a tour for the CNN crew, which included a staged ambulance response and canned death to Israel and America chants.

Read the rest!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

UN Resolution draft's text released

I posted earlier today some reaction to the contents of the draft UN Security Council resolution to be considered by the entire UNSC.

Now the text of the draft has been released, "Resolution on Hostilities in Lebanon and Israel."

Read the rest!

About the UN Security Council

Just in case you were wondering, here are all the members of the UNSC.
The Council is composed of five permanent members — China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States — and ten non-permament members (with year of term's end):

Argentina (2006) Greece (2006) Qatar (2007) Congo (Republic of the) (2007) Japan (2006) Slovakia (2007) Denmark (2006) Peru (2007) United Republic of Tanzania (2006) Ghana (2007)
Under the terms of the UN Charter, the functions and powers of the Security Council are:

  • to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations;

  • to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction;

  • to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;

  • to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments;

  • to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken;

  • to call on Members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression;

  • to take military action against an aggressor;

  • to recommend the admission of new Members;

  • to exercise the trusteeship functions of the United Nations in "strategic areas";

  • to recommend to the General Assembly the appointment of the Secretary-General and, together with the Assembly, to elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice.

    The UNSC's home page is here.

    Read the rest!
  • Draft UN resolution on Israel-Hezbollah

    Here are the details of what is known so far.
    The United States and France agreed Saturday on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for a halt to the fighting between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, but would allow Israel to defend itself if attacked.

    The draft, sent to the entire Security Council for consideration, "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations."
    Hezbollah has already rejected it as written.
    [A] Hezbollah Cabinet minister said Shia guerrillas would not stop fighting until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon. The draft resolution makes no such demand.

    "We (will) abide by it on condition that no Israeli soldier remains inside Lebanese land. If they stay, we will not abide by it," said Mohammed Fneish, one of two Hezbollah members of the government.
    Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was to convene his seven-minister forum in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to discuss the continuation of the Israel Defense Forces operation in Lebanon and the draft resolution. Government officials said initial response to the proposal was favorable, but Olmert's office declined to make any official comment.
    I won't try to predict what the entire UNSC will do.

    Read the rest!

    Saudi Muslim cleric condemns Hezbollah

    The Jerusalem Post reports,
    A top Saudi Sunni cleric, whose ideas inspired Osama bin Laden, issued a religious edict Saturday disavowing the Shi'ite guerrilla group Hizbullah, evidence that a rift remained among Muslims over the fighting in Lebanon.

    Hizbullah, which translates as "the party of God," is actually "the party of the devil," said Sheik Safar al-Hawali, whose radical views made the al-Qaida leader one of his followers in the past.

    "Don't pray for Hizbullah," he said in the fatwa posted on his Web site.

    The edict, which reflects the historical stand of strict Wahhabi doctrine viewing Shi'ite Muslims as heretics, follows a similar fatwa from another popular Saudi cleric Sheik Abdullah bin Jibreen two weeks into the conflict with Israel.

    "It is not acceptable to support this rejectionist party (Hizbullah), and one should not fall under its command, or pray for its victory," bin Jibreen said at the time. That fatwa set off a maelstrom across the Arab world, with other leaders and people at the grass roots level imploring Muslims to put aside differences to support the fight against Israel.
    There's no way to predict how seriously this fatwa will be taken. Last week, al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman al-Zawahri, called on Muslims everywhere to join Hezbollah's fight against Israel.

    Al-Hawali is not exactly a peacenik, though. In 2005 Iraq television aired a segment in which a captured Iraqi terrorist named Saleh Al-Jubouri said that al-Hawali sent his group communiques calling on them to kill Americans and Iraqi policemen.

    Al-Hawali was jailed by the Saudi regime for five years in the 1990s for criticizing the kingdom, especially for giving permission to the US to place troops inside the kingdom to oppose the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in 1990.

    In 2004, three thousand Muslim intellectuals signed an international petition demanding that "prominent Muslim clerics known to be inciting others to violence to be tried by an international court on charges of encouraging terrorism." Safar al-Hawali was named in the petition.

    Saudi clerics are all Sunni Muslims and consider Shia (Shiite) Muslims to be heretical. Hezbollah is dominated by Shia Muslims, backed by almost exclusively Shia Iran. There is a widespread fear among Sunni Arabs that Iran is growing too powerful and seeks not merely to destroy Israel but to dominate Arab countries. Exacerbating this fear is the fact that Iranians are not Arabs; they are Persians.

    For most Sunnis Arabs, then, Iranians are outside the pale for two reasons. One, they are the wrong kind of Muslim. Two, they are foreign to Arabic culture. In Arab culture the strongest unifying force is Islam and the second tribe and family. To Arabs, Iranians fail on the second count and most would say on the first.

    Read the rest!

    Some links

    1. I explained here that most military analysts said at the war's opening that Hezbollah was the best Arab army. Today the UK TimesOnline reports that, "'Hezbollah aren't suckers, they know how to fight.'" It tells of interviews with Israeli soldiers coming off the line of battle.
    On one thing they were unanimous: the prowess of their foe.

    “It was hell. They are really well trained. They’re not suckers, they know how to fight,” said one, slumped on the pavement. “You’re scared the whole time over there. We didn’t get any sleep the whole week.” There was not a voice of dissent.
    2. The Jordanian paper Al Bawaba says that Hezbollah's social network has been torn to shreds by the fighting.
    Israel has been targeting not only Hizbullah's fighters, but also, the social network that prior to the current clashes had served Lebanon's Shiite community with its basic needs. Massive damage to Hizbullah's social facilities along with the huge outflow of refugees from southern Lebanon has weighed heavily on the Shiite group's welfare capabilities. As a result, promises of Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to help the nation's poor Shiite population are being put to the test. ...

    In addition to physical damage to Hizbullah facilities, many Hizbullah operatives, including those in charge of social affairs, have been forced to flee. Consequently, almost all of Hizbullah's welfare activities have come to halt.
    Analysis: I explained here that one of Hezbollah's greatest strengths was its social-support network. With an ineffectual central Lebanese government, Hezbollah gained much support by filling in the huge gaps that the government left open. Even after the beginning of the present war, Hezbollah was active in assisting civilians whose homes had been destroyed or needed food.

    If Al Bawaba is correct, that Hezbollah's ability to offer such support is now in shreds, then it means on the one hand that Lebanese civilians' suffering will be that much less alleviated, and on the other that one of Hezbollah's main domestic strengths is much reduced. This may lead to less support among many Lebanese people. A lot of Lebanese who said before the war that they supported Hezbollah said so not because of Hezbollah's aim to destroy Israel, but because of Hezbollah's social programs. Once those programs are ruined, support based on them may well vanish.

    3. Related, Ahmed Al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based Arab Times, says that Hezbollah "is in a quagmire."
    In what he calls "Beyond Haifa," [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah says his fighters will begin rocket attacks deeper into Israel, south of Haifa. We wonder if Nasrallah took any time to review his achievements in the first phase of the war against the enemy before thinking about the next. So far his only achievements have been causing the destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing of innocent Lebanese. If he begins the second phase the only result will be wiping out of whatever remains of Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing of the rest of the Lebanese.
    Al-Jarallah also says that communications between Iran and Saudi Arabia show that, "... Tehran has started worrying it may lose the war and wants to retreat. However, Nasrallah seems not to have received this information."

    3. Michael Totten, a freelance journalist who recently lived in Lebanon for several months, explains how he is pro-non-Hezbollah Lebanon and Israel at the same time.

    4. The effects of Israel's aerial bombing of Hezbollahi areas of Beirut are graphically illustrated by the New York Times with before-and-after satellite photos. (Registration may be required.)

    5. US UN Ambassador John Bolton has just announced that the US and France have just reached an agreement on a resolution for consideration by the UN Security Council. Mr. Bolton said that the draft has been sent to the other UNSC members.

    ABC News reports,
    An official with knowledge of the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the draft calls for a "full cessation of violence" between Israel and Hezbollah, but would allow Israel the right to launch strikes if Hezbollah attacks it.

    "It does not say immediate cessation of violence," said the official, who spoke anonymously because the draft had not yet been made public.
    Developing . . .

    Read the rest!

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Why did Israel attack Lebanon?

    Some background and a short FAQ

    In 2000, Israel withdrew all its military forces from southern Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982. (Here is why Israel had invaded.) Hezbollah, which formed not long afterward to fight Israeli forces in Lebanon, did not consider its mission complete when Israel withdrew. Supplied and trained by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah continued low-intensity combat against Israel across Israel's border. There were intermittent firefights between Hezbollahis and Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah also began launching Katyusha rockets into northern Israel not long after Israel left Lebanon, though in nowhere near the volume it has launched rockets in the present war.
    Read more »

    Read the rest!

    Hezbollah - a primer

    "Hezbollah" is Arabic for "party of Allah." According to Hezbollah is a "Lebanese Shi'ite Islamist organization." Its general secretary is Hassan Nasrallah.
    Founded in southern Lebanon in 1982 as a response to Israel's invasion there, its original goals were to drive Israeli troops out of Lebanon and form a Shi'ite Islamic republic similar to that created by the Iranian revolution of 1979. Its political stance, in the main, has been anti-Western, and its members have been implicated in many of the terrorist activities that were perpetrated in Lebanon during the 1980s, including kidnappings, car bombings, and airline hijackings, a number of which were directed at U.S. citizens. It has purportedly received strong material support from Syria and Iran and throughout the 1990s engaged in an intensive guerrilla campaign against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. At the same time, Hezbollah actively aided the long disfranchised Shi'ite community in Lebanon, providing social services not offered by the government. In the 1990s the party's candidates won seats in Lebanon's parliamentary elections, and the group's leaders have since sought to soften its earlier image. Despite a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000, the party continued sporadic attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border.
    Right: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah

    A slightly contrary view is offered by Robert A. Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, who says,
    Hezbollah is principally neither a political party nor an Islamist militia. It is a broad movement that evolved in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. At first it consisted of a small number of Shiites supported by Iran. But as more and more Lebanese came to resent Israel’s occupation, Hezbollah — never tight-knit — expanded into an umbrella organization that tacitly coordinated the resistance operations of a loose collection of groups with a variety of religious and secular aims.
    In fact, he says, some of Hezbollah's suicide bombers were actually Christians.

    It should be noted that Hezbollah is a native Lebanese organization, not foreign to the country as the PLO was. Hezbollah has been from its inception virulently anti-Israel. According to Wikipedia,
    Hezbollah views Israel as a whole as "an illegal usurper entity, which is based on falsehood, massacres, and illusions", and follows a distinct version of Islamic Shia ideology developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
    Hezbollah's fundamental tenet is that the state of Israel has no right to exist. It considers Israeli Jews to be occupiers of Muslim land and refers to Israel as "occupied Palestine." Its statements over the years leave no doubt that Hezbollah is devoted to the destruction of Israel and the death or expulsion of Jews from the country. The United States and most Western nations characterize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. However, the Lebanese government says that Hezbollah is a "resistance movement." Until al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, no terrorist organization had killed more Americans than Hezbollah.

    Hezbollah had close ties to Islamist Iran from the beginning, ties that became stronger since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. Through Syria, also closely aligned with Iran, Hezbollah has been armed, trained and otherwise equipped to continue fighting Israel. Some analysts estimate that Hezbollah has been receiving $100 million per year in money and supplies from Syria and Iran.

    At the inception of the present war on July 12, many Western military analysts thought that Hezbollah militia was the best Arab army in the entire Middle East. In my opinion, events since then have proved this analysis correct. Israeli army veterans of the fighting have told interviewers that Hezbollah's fighters are well trained, skilled and well armed.

    Hezbollah has well-developed political and social wings that have enabled it to be a powerful force in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah's social services and social-support structures in southern Lebanon were far more effective than the central government's. Before the war erupted on July 12, Hezbollah enjoyed the support of 30-40 percent of Lebanese people, concentrated in the south but also among many Muslims in the rest of the country. Since the bombing of Lbanon by the Israeli Air Force most surveys show that Hezbollah's support is much greater, although a still-significant minority of Lebanese remain anti-Hezbollah, blaming its extremism for the war. An example was reported in The New Yorker in its Aug. 7 issue by Jon Lee Anderson, reporting from war-ravaged southern Beirut:
    A younger man came up to me and, when we were out of earshot of others, said that Hezbollah had kept bombs in the basement of the mosque, but that two days earlier a truck had taken the cache away. It was common knowledge in Sidon, he said, and everyone was expecting the mosque to be hit. When, the previous evening, displaced people from the south had gathered on the grounds, they had been warned away.

    “Everybody wants to end this Hezbollah regime, but nobody can say anything,” the young man said.
    Regardless of whether Israel finally defeats Hezbollah's fighters on the ground, most political analysts say that Hezbollah will be strengthened in Lebanese politics as a result of the war.

    Read the rest!

    Lebanon - a basic brief

    Lebanon is about 70 percent the size of Connecticut. Before the present war erupted, it had a population of approximately 3,875,000. However, according to CNN this week, an estimated 200,00 Lebanese have refugeed to Syria to escape combat zones.

    The median age of the people is 28, about seven years younger than that of the USA.

    Lebanon is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle east. Seventeen religious sects are recognized by the government. Its population breaks down as follows:

    Muslim 59.7% (Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri), Christian 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant), other 1.3%

    Arabic is the official language, but French, English and Armenian are widely spoken as well.

    Until the 1970s, Lebanon's capital city, Beirut, was known as "the Paris of the Middle East" for its sophisticated, cosmopolitian character. The religious sects of the country generally got along well. However, Christians were politically dominant, guaranteed by the country's constitution. Resentment among the Muslim people began to rise sharply in the 1960s, prodded sharply by Lebanese socialists and secularists.

    In 1971, Jordan expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) into Lebanon. The result was civil war in Lebanon that broke out in 1975 and lasted until 1991. According to,
    Civil conflict resulting from tensions among Lebanon's Christian and Muslim populations and exacerbated by the presence in Lebanon in the 1970s of fighters from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1975 Lebanon's Muslims and leftists supported the PLO and sought more political power; its Christians, seeking to maintain their political dominance, opposed the PLO. The factions fought fiercely through early 1976, and Lebanon became effectively partitioned, with the Christians in power in the north and the Muslims in the south. Fearing an expanded war, both Israel and Syria intervened on the side of the Christians, who had begun to lose ground. Fighting continued at a lower level of intensity until 1982, when Israel invaded southern Lebanon to destroy Palestinian guerrilla bases; PLO forces were driven out of Beirut, and by 1985 Israel had withdrawn from most of Lebanon, which by then was split internally over whether to accept Syria's leadership. In 1989 the Christian leader General Michel Aoun attempted to drive Syria from Lebanon but was defeated, and the Arab League mediated a peace deal; his removal from power in 1990 eliminated the largest obstacle to implementing a 1989 peace accord. In southern Lebanon, fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces continued even after Israel's final withdrawal from Lebanese territory in 2000.
    Here is timeline since 1976 of key events in Lebanon. Of particular note regarding the present crisis are,
    14 Feb. 2005 - Former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri is assassinated while campaigning to win the upcoming election. He was predicted to win massively. Especially worrying for the Syrians was Hariri's ties to the French.
    A United Nations investigation of Hariri's assassination blames Syria for the deed. As a result of mass demonstrations in Lebanon and the threat of sanction, Syria ended its military presence in Lebanon in April 2005, having basically ruled Lebanon for 29 years.

    Israel's campaign in Lebanon from 1982-2000 ended the PLO's activities there. Most Lebanese were not happy to have Israel in their country, but they were just as unhappy to have the PLO there, whom the Lebanese considered foreign invaders as well.

    Next: What is Hezbollah?

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    Welcome to this site

    If you have already read this post, click here.

    Greetings! My name is Donald Sensing. I am the pastor of Barth Vernon UMC in Nashville.

    Earlier this week I asked Tom Nankervis, editor of the Tenn. Conference's email listserv, whether he thought it would be helpful for the Methodists of Tennessee to have me try to make sense of events being reported about the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. He agreed and so this site was born.

    I am a retired US Army officer who entered the ministry afterward. Among other places, I served on the Army Staff at the Pentagon as a plans officer and I am a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College.

    On this site I will try to broaden the context of events reported from Israel and Lebanon. I will try to stick to relevant facts, place them within a broader context, and will make every effort to identify opinion, whether mine or another's, as such.

    This site is a "blog." That means that its entries, called posts, are arranged in reverse chronological order, meaning the newest post is always on top. A number of posts will be visible on the home page and posts older than a week are archived. They can be read by entering the archives page.

    Finally, let us keep the peoples of Lebanon, Israel and Iraq especially in our prayers, and pray that God's justice will finally be established in the Middle East so that peace will reign at last.

    Now, please click here to go to the main page.

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    Comments are on

    I've turned comments on for posts. At the bottom right of every post appears "X comments" where X is the number of comments that have been left so far. Click there to leave a comment that can be read by anyone. To combat spambots, I have turned on "word verification" that will be self explanatory once you go to leave a comment.

    Commenting is provided as a courtesy only. I review all comments before they appear. I do not edit comments, I only approve or delete. My criteria for approving or deleting generally correspond to the following guidelines but in the end are subjective:

    Comments using profanity automatically get deleted no matter how brilliant they may otherwise be.

    No personal attacks, name calling or commercial commenting. Links to your own web site or other relevant web pages are fine.

    Please be brief and relevant to the post.

    I probably won't have time to respond to comments or answer questions posted therein.


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