Friday, July 14, 2006

Notes during a critical moment

Update added below...

This morning's news is focused on Israel's simultaneous military moves inside both Lebanon to the North and Gaza to the South. Reserves have been called up and civilians are sleeping in bomb shelters in peparation for reprisals. (Americans, with customary indifference to the rest of the world's problems, seem more concerned with the price of gas than the fine points of international relations. A lower-level envoy has finally been dispatched to the region but certainly no one with stature of a Colin Powell or Secretary of State.)

Trying to make sense of what is happening here is what I find...

David Bernstein at Volokh suggests Israel is moving to cut off supply lines to their adversaries while at the same time entrapping Itanian forces also there.

...what if Israel's actual main goal is to trap the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who have been aiding Hezbollah (and through Hezbollah, Hamas) for years in Lebanon, where they can be destroyed? That would be a huge strategic victory for Israel.
Among the comments we find "You might be interested to know the following information. According to Michael Ledeen's article over at NRO: The Lebanese Tourism Ministry’s Research Center announced an amazing statistic in early July: in the first six months of the year, 60,888 Iranian tourists visited Lebanon. No other Asian country came close (the Philippines ranked second, with a bit over 12,000). If this is right, it indicates that Iran has increased its presence within in Lebanon."

A look at Ledeen's column makes the whole matter seem cut and dried.
In this war, there is no meaningful distinction between Iran and Syria, they work in tandem. It’s just that Iran gives the orders and Syria obeys...There’s a lot of fanciful analysis of the recent expansion of the war, revolving around a general “why?” and a more specific “why now?”... I don’t think it is worth our time and energy to try to answer the “why now?” except to agree with Allahpundit who remarked that there does seem to be something special about dates numbered “11.” The important thing to keep in mind is that both the Gaza and northern Israel attacks were planned for quite a while, which means that Iran wanted this war, this way. It isn’t just a target of opportunity or a sudden impulse; it’s part of a strategic decision to expand the war.
He goes on to add that Iran "has been at war with us all along," supporting that line of thinking with suggesting that Washington's role in all this is to support local freedom fighters waiting to spring into action to overtun evil regimes whenever they can, namely those in Tehran and Damascus.

This thinking strikes me as positive and hopeful but not realistic. I know the difference between optimism and realism. Been living with it all my adult life. I am more inclined to agree with Juan Cole's summary. "So this was Bush's big success in the Levant. It was as though a chef baked a lopsided wedding cake with a ticking bomb embedded in it, and declared it a culinary breakthrough. Now the bomb has gone off." Bless his heart, Cole keeps on putting out his opinions disregarding the slings and arrows that seem to come from him from all quarters. This post is worth reading.
Bush is aware that the "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon, of which he and the Wall Street Journal were so proud last year, is in danger of being undone. He politely asked the Israelis please not to bring down the Lebanese government, but that is probably as far as he dares go in an election year, given the support for Israel of his evangelical base.

But of course there was always a severe contradiction in the Bush position on the 2005 Lebanese elections, which were the freest and fairest in some time-- given the departure of Syria's military from the country. Those elections brought to power a government in which the hard line Shiite fundamentalist party, Hizbullah, had cabinet posts for the first time. The US under Clinton had consistently warned Beirut not to admit Hizbullah to the government, and even the Bush administration had adopted that position as recently as January of 2004.

Cole has lots of links and I haven't time to drill into them all, but he looks into a lot of corners trying to make sense of what is happening and what might come to pass.

There is a third leg to the Palestinian stool that still has not gone wobbly: the West Bank. As Israel prepares to confront aggression on two fronts, I try not to think of what will happen if forces in the West Bank take it upon themselves to complete the swarm. This is a very scary idea that I have not seen mentioned. It is possible that no one wants to be blamed for "giving anyone the idea."

It was only a few weeks back that I linked to Michael J. Totten's description of his visit to Ramallah. He was struck at the contrast of what he found there and the horrendous conditions he had seen personally in the South of Lebanon.
Hezbollah is moderate and civilized compared with Hamas. So I expected even more visible evidence of derangement in the Hamas government’s capital. But there are at least 100 times as many psychotic billboards and posters in Hezbollah-occupied Lebanon as there are in Ramallah.

Ramallah is also in much better physical condition than the parts of Lebanon ruled by Hezbollah, even though Ramallah has experienced war a lot more recently. In fact, Ramallah is in better condition than any Shia region of Lebanon whether it’s ruled by Hezbollah or not. The only Sunni part of Lebanon that looks nicer than Ramallah is West Beirut.

Further down he writes...

It’s possible the Palestinians in the West Bank have no idea how bad the refugee camps in other countries really are. Or they are so consumed with their own problems that they just don’t care. I do not know.
I’ll say this,
though: Those refugee camps in Lebanon have been there for more than 50 years. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon are not allowed to live anywhere else unless they are Christian. (They aren’t really “camps,” by the way. They are urban, and they are sub-Dickensian slums.) And until last year, vehicles entering the camps were searched by the Lebanese army. Building materials were confiscated. The Lebanese didn’t want the Palestinians to get, you know, the wrong idea. If you want to know what those places are like, just imagine the worst slums you’ve ever seen. Then subtract all the modern building materials. Unspeakable doesn’t even begin to describe them.

My time this morning is running out, but I also want to read observations from non-academic, civilian types whose blogs are more down to earth.

The reader is invited to check out Lisa Goldman and Esther Kustanowitz (today added to my blogroll) as well as Allison Kaplan Sommer, Judith Weiss and Meryl Yourish. I have no idea what they are posting, but those are the places I look when I am trying to get a handle on what is happening with Israel.


This post by Allison Kaplan Sommer has to be the most surreal scene I have read about in a long time.
Thursday night is American Idol night in Israel. That is to say, it's the night when A Star is Born, the local equivalent of American Idol is aired on the most popular of Israel's three broadcast channels.

My seven year old daughter and I have a weekly ritual watching it together. As the news of the day unfolded, I thought of how disappointed she would be when it would be cancelled for news coverage.

But now I see that they are airing it anyway -- but tonight, it's non-competitive. It's a special broadcast designed to entertain and raise the morale of the many families in the north and near Gaza who are confined to their homes and need the distraction.

A little live-blogging -- one of the singers competing -- they are down to the final ten --
a beautiful Ethiopian girl named Israela Asago just said she expects to be called up for reserve duty -- she deals with the parachutes for the paratroopers. Now, in the middle of the show, they are broadcasting live from a bomb shelter in Kiryat Shmona with a bunch of children in it. They are going to take requests from people who live in the north and sing whatever songs they ask for....

Now they are interviewing a family in Nahariya who watched a missile land and explode into the building next to theirs, killing one of their neighbors. Like other parents in the north, part of their suffering is dealing with their bored children cooped up in the house.

Quite the technological world we live in -- as I watch this on television, I am simultaneously visiting Lebanese blogs and reading what is happening to the people affected by the bombs that the IDF is dropping. I am simultaneously heartened to see their anger and outrage at what Hezbollah and Nasrallah are bringing upon their country -- like
this one -- and feel sad that they are caught in the middle of this mess.

More from A Star is Born -- so as not to discriminate on a geographic basis, they are now also talking to residents of Sderot, who are also talking about who they like in the competition.I think I am witnessing the official complete blurring of whatever line ever may have existed once between news and entertainment....
Asher Abrams, posting on Judith Weis' blog, has a string of current links to follow. He has also been reading Michael J. Totten, from April...
The lieutenant was easily ten years younger than me. But he was so ground down from world-weariness he sounded like a man 30 years older who hadn't slept for three days.

“Any minute now something huge could break out," he said. "I am afraid to go home and leave my soldiers. When Hezbollah decides to do something, they do it. And they’re pretty good at it.”

"What do you think they'll do next?" I said.

“I have no idea," he said. "They could do anything. Kidnapping. Sniper.” [Emphasis added. Get that? Kidnapping...]

"How do you feel about that?" I said.

“Well,” he said. “You get pretty cynical about it after a while.”

“Do you think they’re watching us?” Lisa said.

“They are watching you right at this second,” the lieutenant said. “You are definitely being photographed. It’s possible you’re being watched through a sniper rifle.”

To say I felt naked and exposed at that moment would be a real understatement. I felt like my skin was invisible, that psychopaths were boring holes with their eyes straight to the core of my being. At the same time, I knew they did not see me as a person. They saw me as a potential massacre target.

I know Hezbollah wouldn’t hurt me in Lebanon, even though they did call me on my cell phone and threaten me with physical violence. All bets are off while standing next to IDF soldiers in Israel, though. Whoever was watching me surely dehumanized me as a Jew (even though I'm a non-religious "Christian") who belonged to the little Satanic fit-for-destruction Zionist Entity. I wouldn’t say I felt scared. But I certainly didn’t feel comfortable. The earth seemed slightly tilted. Lebanon feels unhinged and psychotic from the Israeli side of the line. At least it did on that day. I kept having to remind myself that the country I love and lived in is not at all represented by the nutcases with guns in the hills who like to pick off Jews on the border.

“How dangerous is it here, really?” I asked the lieutenant.

“I say this to my guys every morning: Everything could explode at any moment. Just after I said it this morning a bus load of pensioners showed up on a field trip. An old woman brought us some food. It’s crazy. They shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be here.”

Read on, friend. You're on your own. I have too much to read without stopping to post...


saz said...

Thanks for this post. I feel like I've found some good info here that I'm not finding thru the normal news channels.

Hoots said...

Thanks, and welcome.
You have a great blog, by the way.

Now if you just put up a few posts...
Kidding -- just kidding!
Don't post til you feel like it.

saz said...

I know - I'm getting that from everyone. I started with a profile and am stuck in place. I guess I'm having too much fun reading everyone else.

Esther Kustanowitz said...

Thanks for the linkage...I appreciate it! Regards from Israel...

Hoots said...

And thanks to you for dropping by. My system is so loaded down with security it tossed the email notifier into the anti-spam folder! Found it two days later.

Be strong and of good faith. I send up a prayer for safety for you, your family and friends.