Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Bombs, Rockets, Diplomats of August

We may be certain about the following events in the next few days:

1.) Continued diplomacy in the United Nations featuring debate between Israel, Britain (the side show could upset Labour), Lebanon, the Arab League, Russia, the United States and France. This diplomacy exists with substantial pressures. Lebanon has presented the option of a Lebanese peacekeeping force in the southern region of that country, however Israel must withdraw. Israel has voted for a major military escalation in that region, but has placed that on hold for two or three days while the U.N. debates a resolution. The U.S. and Israel want to do substantial damage to Hezbollah, because they believe that is a way to attack Iran and Syria.

2.) Hezbollah will continue to harass Israeli ground forces and launch about 120 - 200 rockets per day. More civilians will die.

3.) Israel will continue ground incursions and indirect fire (bombs, artillery) on Lebanese and/or Hezbollah positions. More civilians will die.

4.) Iran and Syria are sidelines by the entrenched-minded president of the one Super Power.

5.) Hezbollah's political standing in Lebanon will remain strong this week, and Lebanon is thus forced to only accept an Israeli withdrawal.

Now the speculation...

Will there emerge a middle ground? The trouble with a four-week-old war is that middle ground can be untenable terrain. A quick sketch of the terrain looks like this:

Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora has an Op Ed in the Washington Post today that calls for an investigation of Israeli war crimes and a number of military steps Israel may never be willing to accept. Siniora seems flush with a sort of confused moral power that is the special trait of a leader whose country has been leveled.

French President Jacques Chirac has called (according to the BBC) for something like an immediate ceasefire. At present, the United States and France are working on the draft resolution for this crisis. The Arab League has raised a number of issues on the behalf of Lebanon.

The BBC also reports that Russia will only vote for a resolution that Lebanon can endorse. This does not mean that Russia will veto a contrary resolution, but it should make us all very uncomfortable. Lebanon is in an interesting position; their remaining source of strength is the very guerillas that started this conflict. The Times of London is the latest source to report on Hezbollah's increasing popularity in Lebanon:
The blockades, fuel rationing, rising prices, power cuts and shortages in the shops affect all Beirut’s citizens.

There is a conviction shared by every community that Israel’s agenda is not solely to crush Hezbollah but to dismantle Lebanon, and particularly Beirut, just as the capital was starting to enjoy an economic and political renaissance. The criticisms of Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese Prime Minister, and of Hezbollah’s behaviour in the first days of the war by opposition figures such as Samir Geagea, the veteran Christian leader of the Lebanese Forces group, and the Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt, are muted now as the Lebanese stage a deliberate show of unity.

The priority instead is to prevent Beirut’s frustration and anger developing into another civil war. This is a city that had spent millions marketing itself as this summer’s new Mediterranean playground, but now it feels more like a prison camp.
That popularity, as well as Hezbollah's military prowess, means that Lebanon will ask for terms that Hezbollah will accept. It is not likely that those terms will be compatible with what Israel will accept.

Israel has declared two things today: 1.) a willingness to expand their offensive, though they've been saying this for some time and 2.) a period of time before this offensive to give diplomacy a chance. They had to do the latter at the very least. Lebanon's proposal of their own peacekeeping force, which Hezbollah appeared to endorse, was not a sign of militant fatigue in a month-long conflict. Rather, this was a diplomatic tactic playing in the meta-battlefield: a reasonable excuse to ask Israel to leave. Of course, Israel cannot trust the Lebanese military. For this reason and the extensive changes to the resolution asked by Lebanon/Hezbollah and others, I do not put much stock in this calm before the storm.

But, it is nonetheless a calm before the storm. If there is a middle ground between these parties, it must be sought out. This means that the United States must pursue the most vigorous diplomacy in the next few days. However, it is likely that Condi will stay in Crawford while the diplomatic levees break.

If those levees break, there will be hell to pay. The scope of that tumult may be our best hope for a solution. The AP reports on Israel's planned offensive:
The proposed operation was expected to take 30 days, Cabinet minister Eli Yishai said. However, an internationally backed cease-fire was expected to be imposed well before then.

"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.

The decision, approved by nine ministers with three abstaining, gave authorization to Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to order the wider offensive and to decide its timing. However, it did not obligate them to act.

Such a move is risky. Israel would set itself up for new criticism that it is sabotaging diplomatic efforts, particularly after Lebanon offered to deploy its own troops in the border area.

Also, a wider ground offensive might do little to stop Hezbollah rocket fire on Israel, while sharply increasing the number of casualties among Israeli troops. A decision to broaden the offensive could also hasten a cease-fire resolution by the U.N. Security Council.

An Israeli security official told Cabinet members the offensive could mean 100 to 200 more military casualties, a participant said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the closed-door meeting. So far, 67 Israeli soldiers have been confirmed killed.
Thirty days is glowing optimism. Why do politicians, throughout history really, yield to such fantasy when they are talking about people's lives? The Times of London has today's "Hezbollah is strong!!!" story:
"It has become clear that areas Israel claims to have cleared of militants remain dangerous and accessible to Hezbollah. The Israeli army is having to return again and again to villages which it says are their control. There never seems to be an end to it.
Two or three days will not see a resolution that can completely end this crisis. The parties remain far apart, the conflict will remain red hot. Only an immediate ceasefire and a peace process throughout the region can cool this conflict down. That peace process would require the United States to support the ceasefire in Lebanon and to re-open talks with Syria and eventually Iran. If this is not done, jihadists will accumulate in the region. They'll coalesce around militant banners.

The Christian Science Monitor:
Nasrallah mocked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his lack of military experience, in his latest television statement last Thursday, saying the Israeli leader was "an incompetent moron," who did not measure up to Mr. Sharon - whose autobiography Nasrallah has read - or other Israeli leaders before him, except in "committing massacres."

"You are looking at a person who can be classified [in the Islamic world] as a hero, or an Arab Khomeini," says Nizar Hamzeh, a Hizbullah expert at the American University of Kuwait, referring to the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The Sunni and Shiite street agree on one thing: After 50 years of Arab defeat at the hands of Israel, Nasrallah was able to change this," says Mr. Hamzeh, who has studied the group for years. "Hizbullah is the model for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hizbullah, backed by allies like Iran, has perfected this kind of guerrilla warfare."
Jamestown Foundation:
In reality, the opposite is the case. Regional capitals and major cities in predominantly Sunni countries have been the scene of regular protests and other forms of dissent in what has been an upsurge of popular support for Hezbollah. In a recent demonstration in Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square, protestors chanted: "with our soul and blood we support you Lebanon…oh beloved Nasrallah, hit, hit Tel Aviv" and "long live the Lebanese resistance…long live the Palestinian resistance…long live the Iraqi resistance" (al-Osboa, August 6).
Jamestown Foundation:
Suaib Didu, the head of a radical Indonesian student organization, the Islamic Youth Movement (GPI), announced that a group of 217 Southeast Asian jihadis have pledged to travel to Lebanon to fight the Israelis. This group, calling themselves the Palestine Jihad Bombing Troops (PBJ), is hitherto unknown. Suaib presented 12 of the 217 jihadis to the press. He denied that the 217 had any links to terrorist or insurgent organizations in the region and said that this was strictly a show of Islamic solidarity and part of their obligation to the ummah (the Muslim community) (, July 19).
Peace must be the immediate priority of the Bush administration, or else the talks at the United Nations will stall. Israel will stand by its demands, and Hezbollah/Lebanon their counter-demands. The war will spread.

When Israel announced a 48 hour bombing pause because of a number of dead Lebanese civilians and international outrage, it appears as though Hezbollag responded with a substantial decrease in rocket fire. Perhaps the same pause can be initiated -- but it would have to be done now. If not, the lesser angels of our nature will prevail.

These steps toward peace would be a departure from the poorly conceived rubric that George "Stay the course" Bush has imposed on the Middle East. He is not the kind to change, as he has denied the terrible devolution of stability in Iraq. That crisis yields these two headlines today.

The Los Angeles Times: "Shiites Press for a Partition of Iraq"

Monsters and Critics: "Turkey 'building up forces on Iraqi border'"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Lebanesse Prime Minister stated in his op-ed piece today inthe Wathington Post that Isreal is "a state that deserves its reputation as a pariah because of its consistent disdain for and rejection of international law and the wishes of the international community for over half a century." This type of talk will not advance the Lebanese cause which requires, most of all, ISREAL to wish to compromise. Additionally, his proposal IGNORES the primary complaint of Isreal--that the Lebanese government allowed Hezbollah to remain armed, and permitted Iran, a Country whose leader has publicly denied the Holocaust and has stated a desire to have Isreal destroyed, to provide arms to Hezbollah. Lebanese is not an innocent actor, but instead a complicit culprit in this current conflict.

9:48 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

You are right, anon. The PM was spouting Hezbollah party lines. Yet, he was not Hezbollah before this war started. He is not in control of the Lebanese government, politically or militarily. Hezbollah does not want a compromise, they want Israelis into their kill zones.

10:31 PM  

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