Monday, July 31, 2006

Nouri Lumendifi makes my day.

This post by Nouri makes me feel better about the future. If every young person around is as bright, assertive and well-informed as he, any problems my generation leaves will be resolved quickly. It's hard to believe he's still a teen, except that he pours out his feelings all in a rush with little regard for hiding anything. Only young people have that much straightforward honesty.

I say rude things to other Arabs about their governments, or countries I should say, all the time. I tell Moroccans and Jordanians I think that their kings are backward. I told a Moroccan lady that made falafels in New York that I thought King Hassan was an imperialist. She didn't care. "I think he was a dick too. $2.50". When I was in Saudi Arabia I had a conversation with a guy who told he hated life in KSA. "There's nothing to do and we can't even flirt in school", we pretty much agreed the country kind of sucked. I am comfortable talking to Arabs about Arab governments; I don't think anybody honestly believes that "our" [Arab] systems are really all that great. I'm not familiar with Iranians, or "Persians" as some here call themselves. I read Iranian newspapers and websites that seem absolute. Monarchists that don't believe the royal family had anything wrong with it. Nationalistic young people that blame Arabs for anything wrong with the country. They seem touchy. Even arrogant.
This is a fun a read as you will find today. Go have a romp and don't miss this delightful snip:
The current Arab system is like an ugly woman. The Arab system when Iran is the regional superpower will be like an ugly woman on methemphetamines. It is easier to help and ugly woman become beautiful than a drugged out ugly woman.
I love it.
Nouri, you are a ray of sunshine for the future! I wish you were not exceptional, but I think you are.

Tragedy in Qana

The images and reports are heartbreaking. Bodies of dead children and their caregivers lined up on the ground, awaiting further handling in accordance with whatever protocols govern treatment of the dead. Of course the photographers and reporters are there. We are long past the day when grief and tragedy were considered private. We live in a time when every anguished cry, every tear is more than just an expression of pain and suffering. Every sob, every roll of the eyes, every shaking head becomes a political statement, heavy with symbolism as it captures in a moment all the justification we need to continue hurting one another. Those not already dead go through the stages of grief as they mourn for those who are, coming quickly to a final stage which allows an expression of corrosive vengeance. The dynamic is the same on all sides of any conflict.

Rather than sifting through the morning news today looking for something catchy to blog, I drilled into some of my referrals. A frequent Google hit for my blog is from readers looking for information about the Bruderhoff. This is not the time to go into that story, but I came to a articulate piece by Johann Christoph Arnold that says what I want to say this morning.

Terrorism can never be overcome with violence. For every terrorist that we kill, one hundred others will come to the forefront. The Cold War...was not won militarily; it was won through God’s intervention in history, with the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall. Earlier, America fought communism with only one result: we produced more and more communists, which is why President Eisenhower used the phrase the “domino theory” to describe the collapse of one country after another to Soviet dominance. We will have similar results with Bush’s plan. Through using violence, we will do nothing else but produce more terrorists who will wreak devastation on the next generation. We can never export true democracy. It has to be given from within a nation.

There must be a better way to protect our nation and the lives of all people who long for peace. In these last years, despite the endless religious talk that goes in Washington, we have become a heathen nation that completely disregards the dignity of human life and the integrity of other peoples on the planet.

There is a different message that has to spread if we truly long for this freedom and democracy. This is the message of peace and non-violence, which respects all nations and all people from Damascus to Tehran, and from Kyoto to Darfur.

If we want peace, let’s remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace who told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. This is the most powerful weapon to combat all terror.

Brother Arnold seems in recent times to have become something of a Luddite regarding the dangers of the internet. I know exactly what he is talking about because it is only through a serious exercise of the will that I myself have been able to control unhealthy predelictions while surfing. The dangers presented here are no less life-threatening than those of alcohol, gambling or any other of the temptations of the world that can scar, even destroy our humanity. And before the reader jumps to the conclusion that I refer just to pornography, let me quickly add that there is a pornography of the spirit that is every bit as addictive and damaging -- an atavistic (there's that word again) impulse that feeds our appetite for violence and revenge, a very mortal and human need to justify collective sins that take the form of war, euthanasia, capital punishment, abortion and the rest of the ways by which we degrade and justify the taking of human life. There are plenty of websites, many on the blogrolls of the most respected names of the blog-world, whose principle grist is meant to keep the fires of revenge burning hot, typically in the guise of patriotism or religion. I read a few myself, but only by way of keeping up with that they themselves would call "tracking an enemy."

Here is Arnold from another source.
Technology is our Achilles heel, which in the end will be worse than any weapon of mass destruction. It will destroy us from within. This frightening trend can only be reversed if more and more citizens listen to their consciences and say, "Enough is enough." Technology puts the "I" in the center and ignores the fact that life is only worth living if "I" depend on my neighbor.

The classics were once an integral part of education. Just about every student read writers such as Aristotle, Novalis, Shakespeare and Dickens. Now, in schools in which every child has access to a computer, children are not even being taught the basic skills of life, such as how to express their thoughts and feelings in writing.

The website "MySpace" alone receives more hits than Google and AOL together. It has 90 billion visitors and about 4l million young users. On the outside it looks beautiful. It supplies anything children should want, giving them the false illusion that they are having community and fellowship with others all over the globe. Yet it does nothing but isolate children and put them emotionally out of touch with reality.

We are infatuated with the ability the Internet gives us. To be able to obtain everything that is available with the click of the mouse gives us power and makes us feel invincible. We also feel that the Internet is the solution to all of our emotional and spiritual problems. For every emotional disorder there is a self-help website or a group blog.

In 1843, Karl Marx said "religion is the opium of the people." Today the Internet is the drug that cures all ills. But we forget too quickly the old saying that "not everything that glitters is gold." The Internet has become our god, our idol, which we now worship instead of God. Yet we have never been lonelier or more isolated from other human beings.

What use is it to have all the possessions the world offers right in my living room if it separates me from other people? The essence of community is being systematically destroyed. If in any culture the minds and hearts of the children and youth have been captured, the war is already won. We are succumbing to the same temptation that Satan put before Jesus: Worship me, and the whole world and its glory will be yours. It is this temptation that Jesus rejected by pointing Satan to the Scriptures.

The greatest challenge of education, the greatest challenge to parents and teachers, is not to teach our children reading, writing and arithmetic, which are important, but to see that they do not become spiritually dull.

So what has this to do with the tragedy in Qana?

Perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything. In many ways this event represents another critical moment in history as it unfolds every morning. We are presented with yet another chance to make informed decisions. But as we make those decisions let us not forget that we are not alone in the world. For every resolution we make to wipe terrorism from the face of the earth by killing its every advocate, know that none of the lives we claim is unattached to others we would rather not kill. The father may be guilty but his child remains innocent. The brother is a monster but his sibling is a saint. The collaborator is poisonous but her family may be unaware of her diabolical secret life. And how will these "innocent" family members react to the loss of their loved ones? How might anyone react? What, after all, is the common human response to the death of a family member? Or even a neighbor or friend?

No need to insult the reader by attempting to answer such questions. There are known, effective techniques for transforming opinions, but killing close family members is not on that list.

I am not writing to take sides. When I speak of the impact of the death of loved ones on innocent survivor my mind also reels with stories of ordinary people whose lives have been claimed by launching those primitive but destructive relics of the last World War, katyusha rockets. People in restaurants, busses or wedding receptions killed or injured by suicide bombers. are every bit as affected as the man I heard this morning on the radio. Having lost his wife and children in the Qana tragedy he said defiantly to the reporter that he was going to return to his house tonight, and his support and encouragement of Hezbollah forces was stronger than ever before.

His response is nothing but human.
Overcoming our suffering calls for a super-human response.
I can't think of anything more to add.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Max Sawicky Speaks. You listen.

The Israel tail wags the U.S. dog in this particular matter because the U.S. thinks it has to lean on Iran. This is idiotic. The U.S. has zero leverage on Iran. Iran can turn Iraq into Somalia. Iran is aided by China and Russia. The U.S. has less than zero leverage on China, George Bush's banker. Russia is wealthy from oil revenues, China from selling us televisions. In other words, sitting on our air-conditioned asses watching the tube makes our foreign policy untenable. What a superpower.

Fred Clark, the Slaktivist -- True Story

No spoilers from me.
Just go read it. It's not too long and it's worth the time it takes.
(Hint: It's about how much you earn and how that compares with what other people earn. That's almost a better tickler than sex.)

I'm a new reader of Slactivist. He blogs all the time, but seems drop one of these little gems more often than most bloggers. I think he should get an editor to comb through his stuff and come up with a book.

Greg Djerejian -- Morality and War-Fighting

Embarrassing. Downright embarrassing that I took this long to read Belgravia Dispatch. I should have known because a lot of people I respect have made reference to him, but being the stubborn type I just didn't let that affect me. Friday's post made me a fan. Gregory Djerejian is a clear-headed thinker with a well-calibrated moral compass and both feet on the ground. He discusses the careless manner in which several people are writing about this war. Having summarized several commentators he concludes...

This speculative dribble isn't only amoral and outrageous. It's also just plain stupid, and shows an abysmal lack of understanding regarding the most basic tenets of counter-insurgency doctrine, as even Rich Lowry feels compelled to write...The fact that any of this passes for hifalutin' commentary, and indeed gets debated in NRO as being even close to the realm of seriousness is, it must be said, rather disturbing.

And making him a man after my own heart he articulates plainly the reason that I don't read Glenn Reynolds.
Cue then Glenn Reynolds who, as is his wont, breezily links to this heady fare with a pithy comment, seemingly blissfully unmindful of the import of what Podhoretz is asking us to contemplate: "JOHN PODHORETZ WONDERS if Israel is too nice to win." Glenn then writes: "This reminds me of Josh Marshall's 2003 worry that we weren't killing enough Iraqis and that this would come back to haunt us. I think they're both probably wrong. I certainly hope so." And herewith the usual pattern with Glenn when he links to something prima facie absurd. Preserve plausible deniability that these are not his views, of course, ("I think they're both probably wrong"), and throw in a good leftist too, when possible, so people don't think it's just a Republican brown-shirt kinda thing or such. And so, another neat little blog-post, you might say, but of course thousands of readers in places like Knoxville and Peoria and Omaha read this, and they see a nice guy, Yale lawyer, and ostensibly serious personage wrestling with, when you cut through all the bullshit and fog, whether Israel, basically, should march into Lebanon south of the Litani, and kill on the spot any Shi'a male between the ages of 15-35, or something like that. Cuz they're Hezbullies, or Hez-lovers, or Gonna-Be-Hez-Soon and Big Things Are Afoot, and sometimes a mega-ass-kicking is just the thing to set the world aright. And while it's convenient to fold in Josh Marshall to the 'genocide-lite' aficionado brigades, much as Glenn likes to enlist Duncan Black as a fevered Ledeenite when it comes to Iran, it's just not accurate.

I have disabled some hyperlinks in case you are wondering. I don't really want to go there. I simply like the snapshot. It captures a moment I don't want to forget. If you want more, they are at the link.

Oh, and before I forget, do go read the rest of the post about morality and the war. Here is a blogger I can respect. He is discerning enough to see between the cracks and secure enough in his own analytical vision that he doesn't need anyone to suck up to him. I have the feeling that if the rest of the world thought he was a nutcase it wouldn't trouble him a bit. But if that were to happen, he might be the only man in the crowd pointing to a naked king and saying something out loud.

When you're done with that, go read this morning's post as well. It's so good that I can't think of anything to add.

Spot. On.

I particularly liked the opening quote from Roger Cohen.
A victory for Hezbollah is a victory for Hezbollah, which is not Al Qaeda, which is not the Palestinian national movement, which is not the Iraqi insurgency, which is not homegrown European Muslim suicide bombers.

Trying to turn the problems of the world into a single undifferentiated issue - the war on Islamic terror - does nobody any good. [Hello...]

Witness the current mayhem, a reflection of a terrible American failure to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in any serious way over the past five years.

Problems must be fixed one at a time, which requires the curiosity to understand them, and to come up with particular solutions. Not everyone in the Middle East wants to be Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, a man generally ready to do America's bidding. Siniora, who is understandably furious, certainly does not
want to be. Nor, of course, does President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But nor do these leaders want to be in the pocket of Iran. The United States has room to probe this ambivalence. But first, of course, it must stop giving a green light to Israel to, in the current parlance, smash terror.

Bush, however, is very unlikely to change course, especially in an American election year. His stance is popular not only with many Jewish Americans, but also the Christian right.

"The United States has been more a party to this conflict than an arbiter," said Mourhaf Jouejati, director of Middle Eastern Studies at George Washington University. "Lebanese democracy, a supposedly cherished American aim, has been sacrificed for the Israeli ally."

Hell hath no fury...

Not wanting to miss my chance to kick a guy when he's down, I need to knock off a line or two about the most venerated snuff film producer of our day, Mel Gibson. Most of US Christendom raised that movie to the status of an icon, but I found it offensive. The nagging question I had as I watched was: What about this movie makes any non-believer want to become a Christian? I have not read that the film has resulted in a measurable swelling of Christian conversions, although the very measurable arithmetic of revenue has been impressive.

Two of my favorite women bloggers are Jews. When Gibson's nakedly anti-Semitic drunken tirade hit the news the story was almost comic relief from writing about this deadly war in Lebanon.

Allison Kaplan Sommer...The only good thing I have to say about Mel Gibson is that he caused me to blog about something other than the war for the first time in weeks...

Meryl Yourish...We had your number years ago, you anti-Semitic creep.

That's enough. He has publically apologized so we are obliged to go easy. But from my impression is that the apology was not for being anti-Semitic but for being drunk.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Is the NY Times making this up?

Banking in the new Iraq...

The two armored vans left a branch of the Warka Bank on Thursday around noon, loaded with 1.191 billion dinars, or nearly $800,000. Almost immediately, on a busy street near the Baghdad zoo, the drivers spotted an oncoming Iraqi Army convoy, led by a shiny new Humvee. They followed standard procedure and pulled over.

But the convoy stopped, and an officer politely ordered the surprised drivers and guards to lay down their guns while his men searched the vans for bombs.

Within minutes all eight drivers and guards had been handcuffed and locked in the back of one of the vans on a suffocating 120-degree day, the cash had been stolen by the men in the convoy — whoever they were — and the Iraqi banking system marked another day of its slow slide into oblivion.

The only thing atypical about Thursday’s robbery, which was described by bank and Interior Ministry officials, is that most private banks try to avoid using armored vans, because they draw too much attention, and instead toss sacks of cash into ordinary cars for furtive dashes through the streets of Baghdad.

However the cash goes out, it risks being lost in the wash of robbery, kidnapping and intrigue that now plagues the system.

"...stolen by the men in the convoy -- whoever they were..."

And this is why we are having a war? This is what passes for success? This is why men die? This is why we have them on that wall???

Treasonous damn media. Why do they want to print such a thing? It's reporting like that that makes us lose the war. Right?

Probably made it up...
Sorry, ignorant leftist fools...

I try hard not to sink to this level of blogging, but sometimes it's like popping chocolate cordials. Too tempting to skip. This isn't carjacking or blackmarketing cigarettes. This is major criminal activity. It's not white-collar crime. It's not at night. It's not sectarian conflict. This is brazen wholesale criminal activity.

Stolen from Lisa Goldman's blog

"I just got into the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the biggest number of hostages ever: The entire nation of Lebanon!"

LINK to Lisa Goldman's blog.

Hezbollah in Lebanon, a child of Iran

Amir Taheri's piece in last Sunday's Times of London is reproduced by Iran Press Service. This is essential background reading for anyone trying to figure out what is going on in Lebanon.

Since 1984 Iran has created branches of Hezbollah in more than 20 countries. None has equalled the success of the Lebanese branch, which until recently enjoyed something akin to cult status among Arabs, including non-Muslims, because of the way it stood up to Israel.
In its power base in southern Lebanon, particularly south Beirut and the Bekaa valley, it is possible for a visitor to spend a whole week without stepping outside a Hezbollah business unit: the hotel he checks into, the restaurant he eats in, the taxi that takes him around, the guide who shows him the sights and the shop where he buys souvenirs all belong to the party.

Hezbollah is a state within the Lebanese state. It controls some 25% of the national territory. Almost 400,000 of Lebanon’s estimated 4m inhabitants live under its control. It collects its own taxes with a 20% levy, known as “khoms”, on all incomes. It runs its own schools, where a syllabus produced in Iran is taught at all levels. It also runs clinics, hospitals, social welfare networks and centres for orphans and widows.

The party controls the elected municipal councils and appoints local officials, who in theory should be selected by the central government in Beirut. To complete its status as a virtual state, the party maintains a number of unofficial “embassies”: the one in Tehran is bigger and has a larger number of staff than that of Lebanon itself.

Hezbollah also has its own media including a satellite television channel, Al-Manar (the lighthouse), which is watched all over the Arab world, four radio stations, newspapers and magazines plus a book publishing venture. The party has its own system of justice based on sharia and operates its own police force, courts and prisons. Hezbollah runs youth clubs, several football teams and a number of matrimonial agencies.

Its relationship with the rest of Lebanon is complex; it occupies 14 seats in the 128-seat national assembly and holds two portfolios in the council of ministers. But it still describes itself as “a people-based movement fighting on behalf of the Muslim world”.

And on and on...

If this information is even partly correct, and I suspect it to be spot on, I would say to those quick to condemn Lebanon for not ridding itself of this poison, "Get real. What world are you in?" It makes Israel's "inappropriate overreaction" look a bit less inappropriate, I would say. Who would know better than Israel what was going on just a few kilometers away?

He only mentioned Nasrallah a couple of times and did not mention Nabih Berri at all. This is background information regarding the origins of Hezbollah as in institution more than an examination of it's operatives. I would be curious to hear Taheri's take on these two characters. We know all we need to know about Nasrallah. But Nabih Berri, twenty years his senior and current speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, remains a dark horse in the curent race.

The name Amir Taheri rang a bell with me. Sure enough he is among the list of commentators I linked to a year ago following Ahmedinezhad's election.

Spotlight on Farrah Gray

We interrupt these unrelenting posts about the problems of the world to turn your attention to one the solutions: Farrah Gray. Almost overnight my little blog has been flooded with what is for me an explosion of Google search hits from inquiries about this guy. My post from a year ago last June is getting more play than almost anything I ever published, an indication that a lot of people are looking for information about this remarkable young man. (If you misspell his name as farah grey the search puts my link at the top. I don't want to think about whether that little quirk has any meaning...)

I do hope someone reading that post will take a look at my rant about education, linked as an afterthought.

Regarding Gray, though, I can't be very helpful. Like Will Rogers, all I know is what I read in the papers, but a quick search of Google News turns up a couple of interesting hits. This ABC news release is typical. My guess is that it was written by Farrah Gray himself (or a subordinate) and provided to ABC verbatim, ready to go.

July 28, 2006 — Farrah Gray began contributing to his family's financial support at the age of 6, and he made his first million by the time he was 14. His success made a lot of people change their thinking about where life in the projects of Chicago's South Side could lead.

His head is shaved, and he now dresses impeccably in expensive, tailored suits when he goes to work in one of his offices in Las Vegas or New York; but he looks only slightly older than his age, which is 21. Part of what motivated him to begin earning money at such a young age was watching his mother work so hard.

"When I went to sleep, she was up; when I woke up, she was up," he said. "So I never really was sure that she did go to sleep. And I really felt that out of that feeling of struggle, my mom had a heart attack, and I said there must be something I can do to help her."

Setting out with an executive-size ambition to make life easier if he could, Gray made use of the most basic resources available to him — such as the rocks he found in the street.

"I started painting these oversize rocks. And I would knock on people'sdoors. Knock hard. And shake people's hand and say, 'Hello my name is Farrah Gray.' I said, 'Would you like to buy this rock? It can be used as paper weights, bookends and door stoppers.' And people would look at me and say, 'Isn't that the rock that was in front of my door?' And I'd say, 'Yes, but it's different now.'"
This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Lots more at the link. And if this kid is even half as terrific as he looks, he's about to make a big national splash that is long overdue. My guess is that he has all his ducks in a row and will know exactly how to take this next big moment to the bank and write even bigger checks against it than before.

You may count me as one of his oldest fans. Thanks to Google searches I have been seeing his name among my referrals weekly, sometimes daily, ever since I put a post with his name in my blog. (Looking at the Nykola link, I see she has quit blogging and gone on to greater things. I'm glad she hasn't killed the archives as well. She has a lot of really good stuff by her name and it would be a shame to lose track of it. If her plans from March are still on track, she is to be married in a few weeks. If that comes to pass, then best wishes to her. I hope one day to see her name up in lights as well...)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Blog links to Lebanon - Israel - Hezbollah - Others

Allison Kaplan Sommer points to a NY Times "must read"

She's right. [Registration costs nothing. If you don't have it yet, you should.]

One woman, who would not give her name because she had a government job and feared retribution, said Hezbollah fighters had killed a man who was trying to leave Bint Jbail.
“This is what’s happening, but no one wants to say it” for fear of Hezbollah, she said.
American citizens remain in some southern villages. Mohamed Elreda, a father of three from New Jersey, was visiting relatives in Yaroun with his family when two missiles narrowly missed his car, while he was parking it in front of his family’s house. His 16-year-old son Ali was sprayed with shrapnel and is now in a hospital in Tyre.
“I have never seen anything like this in my life,” said Mr. Elreda, who arrived here on Thursday morning. “They see civilians, they bomb them,” he said, referring to the Israelis.
“We had to move underground like raccoons.”

Public opinion in Netherlands may be shifting from its anti-Israel bias to a more sympathetic position. Let's hope this indicates some kind of trend for the continent. I have the impression that European public opinion is harshly unsympathetic to anything Israeli. I cannot shake the feling that the anti-Semitism of WWII remains alive and well in plenty of places outside of Germany. I have been tracking this little blog for several weeks. The writer has just returned home (in Holland) from Israel.

Before we came to Holland it almost seemed that all Dutchmen and -women blame Israel for the war and only support Lebanon, and in some cases Hezbollah. The news coverage in most media has been pretty one-sided, and on internet fora and other websites much feedback has been very anti-Israel ( and in many cases - e.g. de Telegraaf - simply anti-Jewish ). In the week since we arrived here I have heard quite different views, I must say. In stores, restaurants etc. people often asked us which language we speak or where we come from, and every time that we said that we are from Israel, and that we basically fled the rockets on Haifa, we received encouragement and only positive feedback, without even one exception. It seems that the average, working, native Dutch(wo)man understands Israel's plight and the problems that we face much better than those whose loud voices appear to dominate the various media.

Dr. Hadar has a link-filled post that will keep a reader busy for several minutes. He refers to Billmon, Haaretz and his own writing, all of which are not to be skipped, quoting at length from the Haaretz piece. This jumped out at me.

Israel is also paying dearly in world public opinion and among most world leaders. The news media, even in the United States, show the vast devastation caused by the bombings, the destroyed houses and buildings, bridges and infrastructures, the hundreds of thousands of refugees and the numerous civilians who were killed.

Olmert and Peretz boast that they had no qualms about exposing the Israeli home front to rocket volleys, which they described as "a strategic change." But did they take into account the economic disaster which the home front is now undergoing? The million people in Israel's north? Did they take into account the bankruptcies, the losses, the unpaid wages and the expected economic slowdown due to halting economic activity in the north, and the growing fears in the center?

Has anyone calculated how many billions would be lost, how many billions the army would demand to requip itself? Did they take into account that because of that Israel would not be able to carry out the plans to bridge gaps, to fight poverty and to assist the weak and elderly?

Most ludicrous of all is to hear Olmert boast of American and British support. If it were up to George Bush and Tony Blair, they would already send the Israel Defense Forces today into Syria as well, to do their work - to the last drop of Israeli soldiers' blood.

So very right. Yesterday as I was thinking about Israel's role in what is in fact a litmus test of whether or not a new kind of non-diplomacy will actually work in the post-WTC, post-Cold War, post-Republican controlled Congress and White House world (with the estimable John Bolton speaking to the world on our behalf)...I was left with one idea: Israel is carrying the water for the whole damn free world and no one is doing anything to give her a hand. This poker-face diplomacy on everyone's part is getting to me.

Billmon's piece is not to be skipped. It's hard to tell if he is more pissed at Israel or her critics. I wish I could write like this...

The Israeli national persona has always had a macho swagger to it (it's part of the rationale for the state -- that Jews should be able to act like "normal" masculine hyperpatriots everywhere) but what we're seeing now is something different. It has a nasty edge of hysteria to it, a compulsive need to prove to the Arabs, and the world, that Israel still can and will stomp on anyone who gets in its way. The fact that Hizbullah is now demonstrating the limits of Israeli power -- or rather, the limits on how much Jewish blood the Israeli government is willing to spend to exercise that power -- is only making matters worse. The Israeli leadership elite is starting to sound like the semen-crusted violence addicts at Little Green Footballs. Given how much real violence the generals and politicians can inflict, that's a sobering thought, to say the least.

Leila Abu-Saba links to a disturbing piece connecting current events to (guess what?) oil. Surprise, surprise!

The bombing of Lebanon is part of a carefully planned and coordinated military road map. The extension of the war into Syria and Iran has already been contemplated by US and Israeli military planners. This broader military agenda is intimately related to strategic oil and oil pipelines. It is supported by the Western oil giants which control the pipeline corridors. In the context of the war on Lebanon, it seeks Israeli territorial control over the East Mediterranean coastline.

In this context, the BTC pipeline dominated by British Petroleum, has dramatically changed the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is now linked , through an energy corridor, to the Caspian sea basin:

"[The BTC pipeline] considerably changes the status of the region's countries and cements a new pro-West alliance. Having taken the pipeline to the Mediterranean, Washington has practically set up a new bloc with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Israel, " (Komerzant, Moscow, 14 July 2006)

Israel is now part of the Anglo-American military axis, which serves the interests of the Western oil giants in the Middle East and Central Asia.

What's that they say?
I report. You decide.

With customary timely precision Michael J. Totten points to a very important piece by Michael Young in the Lebanon Daily Star. Aptly headlined Desperately waiting for Nabih Berri, he underscores the importance of this older, more seasoned Shiite leader in finding some kind of denouement to this tangle. the conflict drags on, the weight of the refugees, the fact that their long dislocation will negatively affect Shiite power as a whole, that most Lebanese oppose an open-ended conflict, and the rising economic cost of the hostilities, will push the secretary general's adversaries, but perhaps also, and more importantly, his own Shiite comrades - notably Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri - to question the wisdom of further obstinacy. Nasrallah cannot declare war on all of Lebanese society. It seems far more rewarding for him to take a step back now and see what he can yet salvage.

Berri will play a pivotal role in the coming weeks. As the senior Shiite official in the country, he finds himself awkwardly caught between his community and the state. For the moment Nasrallah has only authorized the speaker to negotiate on his behalf in the matter of a prisoner exchange and a cease-fire. However, Berri is unlikely to relish the idea of permitting a Shiite Gotterdammerung, and Nasrallah's dilemma offers him a way back into the political game after years of erosion in his power. The parliamentary majority is hesitant to demand anything of Nasrallah without a Shiite partner, and their eye is firmly on Berri.

That's one reason why Berri's unfriendly meeting with Rice on Monday was a good thing. It enhanced the speaker's credibility with his coreligionists, showing he was no American patsy, even as the secretary of state acknowledged by meeting Berri that any international peace plan for Lebanon required his approval. However, it is still premature for Berri to risk his standing with Nasrallah, and with his own electorate, by asking him to be more malleable. If the speaker does jump ship, it won't be before many more weeks of fighting and a likely intensification of the violence. More cynically, Berri might be waiting to see if Hizbullah loses ground militarily before making any such move.

I looked at the twin leadership of the Lebanese Shiite community earlier this week. It remains to be seen which of these two faces of Shiite leadership will benefit most from the current violence.

Berri, whose silence is only exceeded by that of the whole US diplomatic engine, may be losing credibility with his constituents by the minute in an effort to curry favor with other Powers that Be. If he is really committed to representative democracy he ought to be showing some kind of leadership during this crisis. Even a tepid statement or two would win more points than silence.

On the other hand, Nasrallah is looking better and better as the days and teevee appearances go by. From all reports he looks more and more like a pan-Arab future leader emerging from a cocoon. He may be keeping a stiff upper lip in public, but my guess is that as his non-combatant cover gets less willing to cooperate, he may be forced to come to a discussion table.

Or not. Arafat and his group never came to terms with the more boring parts of leadership. Things like providing decent water, taking out the garbage, and putting a corruption-free police force in place to deal with ordinary criminal activity. To the day he died (and apparently to this day as well if the situation in Gaza is any indicator) Arafat lived in a comic-book world of petty politics that played fast and loose with economics and other everyday practical matters. It is quite possible that Nasrallah, who seems to believe all the stuff he says, may be cut from the same fabric.

That complaint from the Christian in the Times who said the Hezbollah people had made it a point to come into their neighborhood to launch rockets from between Christian houses sound credible to me. Such a tactic would be consistent with their other guerilla moves. Not the kind of thing calculated to win friends and influence people. Any people.

Before I forget, I want to link again to Totten's piece from Wednesday. The pictures and lines keep playing in my head.

Syria’s Bashar Assad threatened to make Lebanon burn if his occupation troops were forced out of the country. Most Lebanese think that’s what last year’s car bombs were about. After former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was assassinated downtown, all the car bomb victims were Christian. All the random car bombs exploded in Christian neighborhoods. The idea - or so the Lebanese thought - was to whip up sectarian hatred, to get Christian militias to rearm and retaliate, and to re-ignite the Lebanese war. Assad yearned to burn Lebanon, and he was not shy about saying so. Syria, or so he hoped, might be invited back in to stop the chaos with the soldier’s peace of the Baath.

That plan didn’t work. Hardly anyone wanted a return to civil war. No Christian vigilantes retaliated against Muslims (Sunni or Shia) because they knew it was a trap set by the Baath. That, most likely, is why the siege of the car bombs came to an end.
Lebanese are temporarily more united than ever. No one is running off to join Hezbollah, but tensions are being smoothed over for now while everyone feels they are under attack by the same enemy. Most Lebanese who had warm feelings for Israel -- and there were more of these than you can possibly imagine -- no longer do.

This will not last.

My sources and friends in Beirut tell me most Lebanese are going easy on Hezbollah as much as they can while the bombs are still falling. But a terrible reckoning awaits them once this is over.
...Israel and Lebanon (especially Lebanon) will continue to burn as long as Hezbollah exists as a terror miltia freed from the leash of the state. The punishment for taking on Hezbollah is war. The punishment for not taking on Hezbollah is war. Lebanese were doomed to suffer war no matter what....
Insha Allah, Lebanon might be okay. Perhaps the status quo ante will return, only with a weaker and even more marginalized Hezbollah seething in its corner and thrown off the border. There may be scattered acts of sectarian violence that threaten to ignite into war and never quite do. Kidnappings could come back in style. Al Qaeda may finally have its turn at the Israeli border if their Hezbollah enemy is no longer there to keep them away. I do not know. The Lebanese themselves do not know. But one thing I do know is that after the first war ends there really could be another.

Don’t take your kids. Stay out until further notice.

And down in Gaza, the IDF is getting in the business of closing tunnels. Meryl Yourish links and comments.

A senior officier told Ynet that the area will stretch a kilometer in Palestinian territory, which will be "clean" of building under which tunnels can be dug.

After the northern command's decision to keep Hizbullah away from the border and the new policy under which every gunmen situated a kilometer away from the border is shot at, the southern command decided to implement a similar policy.

I recall a visit to Andersonville, the famous Confederate prison. Seems like tunnels and deadlines go way back in the history of conflict.

And finally, before it gets lost in their avalanche of links and stories, there is a looong email from Beirut to Abbas Raza at 3 Quarks. This is sequel to an earlier letter (shorter) that got some attention. Printed out it runs to about eight pages on Word. Again, this is primary source historical research material. Not organized but also not incoherent, loaded with important content for anyone who wants to understand what is going on.

Snips here. Powerful stuff...

Is there a point to relaying on to you the events of the past few days? I am still stuck to the television. I am still living from breaking news to breaking news. I now get things from the second-tier horse's mouth, so to speak, journalists whom I have taken to hovering around. Khiyam shall soon be rubble. As is Bint Jbeil. After Khiyam will be Tyre. The Beqaa has received pounding. Israelis targeted factories, some operational, others under construction. None were Hezbollah fortresses of course. They also hit a UNIFIL outpost last night killing UN international observers.This will be a long note because it is a cluster from the past few days. It will most likely be a tedious read. It reflects my encounters these past few days, conversations and discussions with friends journalists and analysts as well as vignettes from Beirut under siege...
...The so-called Arab street...has been won in heart and mind by Hezbollah's retaliation to the Israeli assault. The Arab world is mesmerized by this movement that has developped the ability to fight back, inflict pain and for the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict pose a real threat to Israel. Hezbollah does not have the ability to defeat the Israeli army. No one in the region can and none of the Arab states is willing, in gest or merely using the power of suggestion, to challenge Israel's absolute hegemony....
Since the war broke out, Hassan Nasrallah has displayed a persona and public behavior also to the exact opposite of Arab heads of states, he may be in the "underground" for security reasons, but he is not disheveled, he speaks in a cautious, calculated calm, a quiet dignity. His adresses have been punctuated with key notions that have long lapsed from the everyday political vocabulary in the Arab world: responsibility (for defeat, victory and the toll on Lebanon), dignity, justice, compassion (for the suffering inflicted on people and for the Palestinian Israeli victims of Hezbollah shelling in Nazareth and Haifa)...In an interview with al-Jazira, Ahmad Fouad Najm, the famous Egyptian popular poet quoted a Cairene street sweeper who said to him that Hassan Nasrallah brought back to life the dead man buried inside him. This is the "pulse" of the much-dreaded Arab street.
The Jordanians sent us a plane load of emergency relief supplies. It just landed in our destroyed airport. The Israelis gave the Jordanian plane the security cover. Jordan and Kuwait are sending environmental experts to help us clean the sea from the oil and fuel spills that Israelis dumped. Did I mention this? Did I mention that after their warships retreated to a distance safe from Hezbollah's firepower, they spilled enough oil to cause an environmental disaster on our coastline? Did I mention that no one has been able to fish a fish and that the shores are now pitch black?
In the present conflict, a secular egalitarian democrat such as I, has no real place for representation or maneuver. Neither have I and my ilk succeeded in carving a space for ourselves, nor have the prevailing forces (the two poles) agreed to making allocations for us. That is our defeat and our failure. In Lebanon, we are caught in the stampede and the cross-fire. As I noted in one of these siege notes, I am not a supporter of Hezbollah, but this has become a war with Israel. In the war with Israel, there is no force in the world that will have me stand side by side with the IDF or the Israeli state.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A boil is coming to a head

I am posting from a dial-up location and cnnot put together a well-done post, but the message is too important to put off. (Of course the world is hanging on the edge of its seat to know what Hoots is about to say. But again I have to get this off my chest.)

David Hirst, writing at Saudi Debate says that a Sunni-Shiite unity is emerging from the current crisis. Unfortunately it is not the kind of unity that Christians think of when they yes the word ecumenical. It is, instead, a secular unity that can very well threaten not only the stability of non-Muslim societies and countries, but historically Muslim places as well.

This Nasrallah guy is rapidly emerging as a populist hero to millions of Muslims, not just Shiite but Sunni as well. At some level he knows exactly what he is doing and this trans-Muslim appeal is part of the plan. The big picture is that "kings and presidents" seem to be just talking when their constituents are expecting them to do more. Nasrallah is issuing from his bunker a call to arms and action that reaches the most distant corners of the Muslim world. Read the whole piece by David Hirst.

The longer Hizbullah holds out, the more blows it deals the awesome Israeli military machine, and the more the Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah – described by one newspaper as 'the Arab and Muslim leader closest to the hearts of one and half billion Muslims' – will stir the Arab public against their paralytic kings and presidents. It was Sunni Muslims who demonstrated in the streets of Cairo, Amman, Damascus and elsewhere last week. It was Egypt's Sunni Muslim Brotherhood movement that gave voice to what Arab commentators – secular as well as Islamist – are everywhere, and more forcefully, saying: 'Hizbullah, with its modest capabilities, achieved what several Arab governments, with their organized state armies, did not – and contented themselves with silence about the slaughter of our Palestinian brethren.' From his bunker beneath the bombs, Nasrallah – composed, charismatic, brilliantly articulate – quietly suggested to the Umma – or 'Muslim nation' - that if their leaders were not up to their jobs, then their peoples could, like him, do the jobs in their place.

Totten: bad news from Lebanon

Really bad news.
Pictures, too. This is one of the captions.

Here a Christian mob smashes a car in Beirut for displaying a Hezbollah logo. My friend Carine says the atomosphere reeks of impending sectarian conflict like never before. Another Lebanese blogger quotes a radical Christian war criminal from the bad old days who says the civil war will resume a month after Israel cools its guns: "Christians, Sunnis and Druze will fight the 'fucker Shia', with arms from the US and France."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What is a civilian?

As I listened yesterday to a talk show host gushing praise about an Alan Dershowitz column I only heard with half a mind. As he read from the piece I kept hearing the word "civilian" again and again. In the restricted space of about a dozen paragraphs the word appears at least twenty times as Dershowitz sketches a taxonomy of civilians as neatly as any science teacher ticking off categories of Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. With cold-blooded disinterest he lays it out in plain English.

...the recognition that "civilianality" is often a matter of degree, rather than a bright line, should still inform the assessment of casualty figures in wars involving terrorists, paramilitary groups and others who fight without uniforms — or help those who fight without uniforms.
Bevity being the soul of wit, he concludes with this gem:
Every civilian death is a tragedy, but some are more tragic than others.

Get ready, reader. I'm about to tell you that he's right. He's not right in his conclusion, but he is spot on with his observation. As I listened to the solemn reading of this column, with the word civilian drumming again and again, I was struck with the same idea that Dershowitz was discussing, but I was coming to a different conclusion. I realized that he was spelling out in clear language that the word civilian no longer has meaning. Let me explain.

When I was introduced to US history, sometime about the sixth grade, I recall the teacher telling us that one of the reasons the colonists were able to fight against their militarily superior colonial masters was their willingness to fight them any way they could. The most dramatic example was that the English Army, conforming to the protocols of the day (now referred to as "rules of engagement") was decked out in red uniforms, hence the term "Redcoats." They made wonderful targets in the colonial landscape where ordinary citizens (Civilians?) could easily hide behind trees and bushes, wearing the equivalent of modern camouflage uniforms, working as snipers to pick them off one at a time.

Those old muskets were nowhere near as easy to use as today's repeating weapons. It took a long, dangerous amount of time to prepare for one shot, and without the right training, cover and coordination the shooter could be killed after a single shot before he could get the wadding in place for another one. Such were the trials and tribulations of our heroic Sons of Liberty.

I'm afraid these seductive images were playing out in my memory as I listened to the words of Alan Dershowitz being intoned by the talk show host. At some level he reminded me of a lector during the liturgy, reading from one of the Epistles. I almost expected him to conclude, "Here endeth the reading."

This morning I see the piece has inspired a lot of discussion. I see no reason to jump into what Fayrouz has so aptly terms this "dialogue of the deaf." My only reason for mentioning it this morning is to agree with a couple more observers with a better gift for language than I.

PZ Myers, who knows something about taxonomy, writes at Phyrangula, directing his readers to a couple other places, including Juan Cole, who in turn links to Billmon. This morning I don't have the time, energy or inclination to underscore the points these people are making.

If anyone can plow through these various reactions and come away with the notion that great populations of people can be won over (uh, different concept from defeated, by the way) by killing selective numbers of their friends, family and neighbors, I doubt that anything I write will penetrate that midset.

Hearts and minds, indeed.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"...the U.S. is beginning to lose its ability to take the lead in global affairs."

Hey, I didn't say it. He did.
I don't think he's wrong, however.

The whole sentence reads "Well, I remain very skeptical about that and have concluded that in many ways what we are seeing now in the beginning of a process in which the U.S. is beginning to lose its ability to take the lead in global affairs."

I was hoping for shuttle diplomacy imediately after the Hamas kidnapping, before the hostilities triggered by the Hezbollah copy-cat kidnapping.

I will always wonder what might have happened -- or not happened -- had the US put some high-profile ambassadors on the case at that time. Instead, Washington's deafening silence was interpreted by Nasrallah to mean the US didn't want to intervene, even diplomatically. He proved to be correct, I suppose. So instead of winning a few PR points favoring peace, the US allowed Nasrallah to win counterpoints favoring what was advertised (and many bought) as "justice." There is little consolation in knowing that he was wrong. The moment has been forever lost to know if US diplomatic initiatives at that critical moment might have avoided the war now underway.

Lounsbury asks "What would Sun Tzu do?"

He's no pacifist, but The Lounsbury is one helluva critic of how things are going. He's in fine form with this link-filled post. Just in case the reader is tempted to skip the "yellow satire" link, I reproduce it here to set the stage.

Mediator: Can we all agree that blowing little girls' faces off is undesirable?
Hizbullah: Of course, but one must look at ripping-off-little-girls’-faces in the context of a legitimate resistance.
Israel (to mediator): Yes, yes, of course it’s undesirable, but we are talking about a war of survival. War is war. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. And you have to rip some little girls’ faces off to make an omelet when you are fighting for survival. And how can you survive without an omelet? Certainly kidnapped soldiers can’t survive without omelets, so little girls may face the risk of having their faces ripped off.
Hizbullah: We don’t want to rip little girls’ faces off, but what alternatives can one possibly imagine when you are a political party with a large budget and huge population base facing a need of a prisoner exchange? What else is even remotely possible but ripping little girls’ faces off?
Israel: The IDF – Israeli Damsel Faceripping – guidelines are designed only to permit collateral little girls’ faces being ripped off. Nothing worse is acceptable. If we have to collaterally rip off some little girls’ faces to remind our opponent that they are barbarians hiding behind little girls' faces, so be it.
Hizbullah: Our little-girls-face-ripping-off missiles answer to God the most merciful, the most compassionate.
Israel: As Golda Meir once said: we do not actually hate them for ripping off our little girls’ faces but for making us rip off their little girls’ faces.
Hizbullah: And let’s not forget the Palestinians, they have lost their land and some of their little girls’ faces.
Israel: Oh that’s from honor killing, if the girls have sex, they rip off the girls’ faces.(Angry shouting, inaudible)
Mediator (pounding gavel): Inadmissible, we are only talking about face-ripping-off-of-girls in war. We are trying to prevent another Mideast Girl Face Ripping Off Free-for-All.
Israel: Millions of Jewish girls have had their faces ripped off out of sheer cruelty and hate; and dozens and dozens of Israeli girls through suicide bombers and terrorists. We will never forget. So we are accidentally ripping off girls’ faces strategically for survival.
Hizbullah: We are compelled to rip off the faces of little girls in order to hasten justice. We will, if necessary, rip off little girls’ faces until justice is complete and the Compassionate One is sovereign and cruelty is banished.
Israel: We are a humane society and we never rip off faces of little girls except by accident. And by the way, they are overcounting their little girls with their faces ripped off.
Hizbullah: They are deliberately ripping off little girls’ faces every day.
Israel: Blood libel! Blood libel!
Mediator: So will you Hizbullah, stop ripping off little girls’ faces then?
Hizbullah: Not until they retract the blood libel charge.
Israel: Give us back our soldiers!
Hizbullah: Give us back our prisoners!(Incoherent yelling; Pause)
Mediator: Can we agree to limit the number of little girls whose faces can be ripped off?
Israel: We cannot control the number because all such events, if they occur, are purely accidents. This is very very complex.
Hizbullah: Look this isn’t rocket science—
Israel: Actually, it is….(Pause)
Mediator: Should we bring in the rocket scientists?
Hizbullah: Um, uh, . . . is there a . . . um . . . Farsi translator here?
Israel: See, the Iranian Ministry of Ripping Off Little Girls’s Faces is supporting them!
HIzbullah: Is not!
Israel: Is too!
Hizbullah: Blood libel! Blood libel!
Mediator: If we can’t reach agreement on limiting the ripping off of little girls’ faces, we can at least agree in principle that it is wrong?
Hizbullah & Israel (together): Of course. But the other guys won’t stop!
Mediator: So we have an agreement. In principle it is wrong to rip the faces off little girls.
Hizbullah: Subject to the context of legitimate resistance…
Israel: Subject to the context of a war of survival…
Mediator: Can we perhaps agree to a Convention to only to rip off little girls’ faces up to the nose?
Israel: Well, their women wear veils . . . .
Hizbullah: Not kids and not over the face, that’s the Saudis.
Mediator: So up to the nose then…..
Israel: Really, we cannot control that.
Hizbullah: When there is justice, we can talk.

This wicked satire and it's sequels present as much criticism as can be mustered against today's warfare. This "Fourth Generation" stuff is sucking the life out of old-fashioned morality and pumping in a replacement, a toxic mixture of post-modern, neo-something substance, an ersatz-principle formula which is neither non-poisonous nor bio-degradable.

The final reference to the Sun Tzu link should be examined and thought about very closely.

Spiegel Online: "Why Israel's Reaction is Right"

Matthias Küntzel is a Hamburg-based political scientist to whom I have linked before. It is not easy to know how much his opinion reflects those of the man on the street in Germany, but his arguments are iron-clad. He opens with a frank admission that his is probably a minority view. This was published yesterday.

In reality, German and European public opinion does take sides—and it tends to side with the apparent underdog and against Israel. It has almost become areflex on the Continent. In 2003, 59 percent of all Europeans pointed to Israel as the country presenting the greatest risk to world peace. On the third day of the current crisis, fully three quarters of all Germans polled were convinced that Israel was overreacting and using too much force in its response to Hezbollah. And since then, the images coming from the war zone have set the tenor: A cease-fire, most believe, should begin as soon as possible.

I disagree—and have four reasons for doing so.

First, Israel is fighting a just war. Germany and the European Union should unequivocally back Israel....

Second, Israel wants peace....

Third, there is no alternative to Israel’s current military operation.....

Fourth, Israel’s military operation has already resulted in positive effects....

Each of these points is well-argued. He concludes with these two paragraphs:
The pacifist reaction that the Israeli defensive war has triggered in Germany and Europe is not well thought out and is disingenuous. It is also counter-productive. An immediate cease-fire would merely result in a worse conflict in the future. The consequences drawn from Adolf Hitler’s World War II—“Never again fascism! Never again war!”—were intended to prevent an anti-Semitic war from ever again taking place. Today, that lesson has been forgotten. “Never again war against fascism” is all that remains.

Israel must not be forced to abandon its war against Hezbollah, rather it must win the conflict. Just as Hezbollah is fighting the war as Iran’s proxy, Israel is fighting genocidal Islamism as the proxy for the rest of the Western world. The least Israel should be able to expect from the West is that it not be betrayed.

My own pacifism is tempered by a lifetime of studying history and observing the world around me. The capacity of swelling millions of people to be swept away in a frenzy of blind hatred is as obvious to me as any natural phenomenon, from the eruption of a volcano to the global spread of a deadly virus. If I had a remedy I would propose it, but in this case non-violent direct action seems as pointless as the behavior of the suicide bombers themselves.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Background: Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri

These two names can easily become household words. It's time to start learning about them.

One, Hassan Nasrallah, is the sparkplug of Hezbollah. He is 22 years younger than the other. The other, Nabih Berri is Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament and host today to Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. Both came from the Shiite community now showering Israel with rockets.

It was during this time [1989-2000] that Hasan Nasrallah emerged as one of Iran's favorites in Lebanon. He traveled to Iran in September 1989 to meet with Rafsanjani and worked as Hizbullah's "ambassador" to Tehran. In 1991, his mentor Abbas al-Musawi became secretary-general of Hizbullah but his tenure was brief because he was ambushed and killed by the Israelis in February 1992. The Iranian command, headed by President Rafsanjani and the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, nominated the young Nasrallah, then 31, to succeed Musawi. Within the party's hierarchy, the second-in-command was Sheikh Naiim Qasim, a dedicated nationalist who nevertheless lacked Nasrallah's charm and charisma. The support of Khamenei and Rafsanjani secured the job for Nasrallah, and Qasim remained his deputy, a post he holds until today, 14-years later. The ascent of the young Nasrallah was surprising to a majority of veteran leaders in the Shiite community, notably Nabih Berri (by now speaker of the Lebanese Parliament). Only 31 years old, Nasrallah was many years younger than most clerics, regarded politically and religiously inexperienced. He was 22 years younger than Berri. He had spent only two years studying Islam in Najaf, for example, while Musawi had spent nine.

The young leader of Hizbullah started his new career by promising to avenge Musawi's blood. He lived up to his word and on March 17, 1992, a car bomb went off at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people. Nasrallah had sent off a clear message to the world: Hizbullah was a key player in Lebanon that could not be dismissed or eliminated. Musawi's death will be avenged -- but it does not mean that Hizbullah will disappear from after him. In May 1994, Israeli commandos penetrated into Lebanon and captured Mustapha al-Dirani, a pro-Hizbullah member of Amal. An infuriated Hizbullah responded in July 1994 with a suicide bomber blowing himself up at the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people. Hizbullah denied involvement, however, to avoid international pressure to limit its casualties to the battlefield, but everybody knew that Nasrallah was behind the bombing, in retaliation for the capturing of Dirani. For the next 10 years, Nasrallah insisted on mentioning Dirani in every single one of his speeches, telling his audiences: "We do not forget our captured fighters!" Every single time he spoke he hailed Dirani's steadfastness in jail, and promised to have him released. Again, Nasrallah proved true to his word when he conducted a massive prisoner exchange with Israel in January 2004 and among the released Lebanese prisoners was Mustapha al-Dirani.

In July 1993, Israel carried out a massive offensive against Hizbullah, which lasted for an entire week. Nasrallah responded by showering Israel with 142 Katyusha rockets. In April 1996, war broke out again, for 16 days, and Hizbullah responded with 489 Katyusha rockets. In September 1997, Nasrallah's 18-year-old son Hadi was killed in combat, and Nasrallah received news of his death while giving a televised speech with great calm—an act that earned him widespread respect in the Muslim World. The Cairo-based al-Ahram reported on the incident saying:

Sayed Hassan Nasrallah entered the hall in solemn dignity accompanied by Jawad, his teenage son. He stopped before each coffin and offered the Fatiha [the Muslim equivalent of the Lord's Prayer] until he reached the one marked 13. He beckoned an aide and spoke to him in a whisper. The aide summoned two workers of the Islamic Health Association, a Hizbullah outfit. They opened the coffin, exposing a body wrapped in a white shroud. Sheikh Nasrallah's eyes closed, his lips trembled as he offered the Fatiha. Slowly, he bent over and tenderly stroked the head of Hadi Nasrallah, his eldest son, who was 18 years old when he died in battle on September 13 [1997]. Jawad, the younger son, stood still and pale next to his father. A deep silence fell on the room while his right hand rested on his son's chest. It was broken by the clicking of a reporter's camera, but promptly returned when Sheikh Nasrallah looked up in cold surprise.

From World Politics Watch, a daily Web publication about foreign policy, national security and international affairs. More at the link.

CFR has a lot of background information as well.

The government is deeply divided, reflecting the country's fractious population. Many of Lebanon's leaders—including the president and the speaker of parliament—are seen as puppets of Damascus, and the parliament is split between an anti-Syria coalition and a pro-Syria alliance. After a national dialogue between political leaders failed in the spring, the country's leadership just stopped working, says Joshua M. Landis, assistant professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Oklahoma and an expert on the region. The failure of the national dialogue "froze this terrible split in Lebanese politics and made sure [the government] was divided and weak," he says....
Under a system dating to the end of French colonial rule in 1943, the country's top leadership posts are set aside for certain religious groups: the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the parliament must be a Shiite Muslim. These provisions are especially problematic now, experts say. "You've got this wounded president, he can scuttle a few things, but he can't really act," Landis says. "And that's a problem, because he's the commander-in-chief."
The 128 members of parliament are elected to four-year terms. In last year's parliamentary elections, the first since the Syrian withdrawal, seats in the parliament were divided between three main parties:

Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Tide) coalition, seventy-two seats. ...

Amal Party/Hezbollah, thirty-five seats. Hezbollah, the armed Shiite militia backed by Iran, has wide political support in Lebanon's Shiite south, where it is credited with ending the Israeli occupation. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, formed a coalition with the Amal Party, a Shiite group led by Nabih Berri, a former military officer considered one of Syria's main collaborators in Lebanon. The Amal/Hezbollah group is now the main Shiite party in Lebanon.

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), twenty-one seats. ...

Looking at Islam's internal debates

Last week John Burgess linked to Saudi Debate, a site which publishes exactly that: a candid, informed discussion of issues as seen from Saudi Arabia. With the naivete of most Americans I was pleased to learn that Hezbollah was not receiving a blanket endorsement of it's provocation of Israel which has prompted the current crisis. And when a Saudi cleric issued a fatwa against the group I was frankly surprised. This fatwa business is serious, crossing a line separating politics and religion that we Americans like to keep bright.

When I read the first of the two essays at Saudi Debate I got bogged down in the language. Lots of references to fine points of Islamic doctrine and discussion that seemed like doctrinal hair-splitting. But the more I read, the more I realized that these commentators are not writing to or for me, the Western, American reader. They are discussing divisions among themselves, using terms that mean more to them than me.

If the reader is looking for evidence that this or that writer is pro- or anti-American, he looks in vain. Both simply take a hard look at the current situation, trying to see it in a way that makes sense. Both clearly have the Arabian best interests in mind and criticism is intended to be constructive but not damaging. Let no one be misled. Both are what we would call patriots. This approach is seems alien to our own which is by its very nature adversarial.

Having said all that, here is the summary that appears at the site.

24 July 2006: As the death toll among Lebanese civilians rises, Arab states have found themselves torn between their anger at Israel for its barbarism, and anger at the Lebanese Hizbollah organisation for taking the action - the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers - which provided Israel with the pretext for its onslaught. Ignored by the United States, powerless at the United Nations, and lacking influence over the key actors now using Lebanon as their battlefield, the Arab states now find themselves both ineffective as mediators and uncertain as to how to react. In a detailed analysis of the Saudi position, Khalid Al-Dakhil argues on that the Saudi government's refusal to condone Hizbollah's action was the correct decision, though one that has revealed Arab impotence, Iranian ambitions and the true extent of the region's sectarian divide.

By contrast, the criticism of Hizbollah eminating from Arab capitals is regarded by
Madawi Al-Rasheed as a clear sign that governments across the region are concerned that the 'model' provided by the Lebanese group is one that represents a serious challenge to their credibility. By working within Lebanon's democratic system, leading the opposition to Israeli occupation and building bridges with Hamas' Sunnis, Hizbollah has forged an identity which has far deeper roots in popular sentiment than that of its critics among Arab governments. Focusing on the Saudi response to the crisis, Dr Al-Rasheed argues that even in defeat Hizbollah will remain a political force to be reckoned with.

Don't get lost as you read these two pieces. Each is linked to the appropriate author above. I do a lot of reading and don't get lost easily, but I had to study both of these pieces closely to grasp the differences between them...and the differences are not subtle. Both are critical of Hezbollah (or Hizbollah. to which one respectfully refers as Hizb Allah) but for different reasons. And the reasons are not all that a hopeful American reader might want.

I have been puzzled how the Sunni-Shite divide figures into the big picture, and these two pieces are helpful in clarifying that question. Remember that Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Sunni but not without its Shiia component. This demographic is in some way a reflection of global Islam.

Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed is Professor of Social Anthropology at King’s College, University of London. She is currently working on a study of religio-political debate in Saudi Arabia after 11 September 2001.

Saudi Islamists – the majority of whom are Sunnis – proved that they have a love-hate relationship with Hizb Allah. They are envious of its previous record and the popularity of its leader, Nasr Allah. Yet they managed to overlook their religious differences and sectarian identity when they glorified the resistance of Nasr Allah’s men in Lebanon. Salman al-Awdah, a Sahwai sheikh, supported the Lebanese resistance on one of the Saudi-sponsored Arab television stations. Many Saudi Islamists prioritised tawhid al-umma – the unity of the umma – rather than tawhid al-milla – unity in creed and sect – the first being a much needed position during times of crisis.

(Sorry about that, reader. It gets worse.)

Notwithstanding Ibn Jibrin’s fatwa – which is endorsed by many Saudis – Saudi enmity towards Hizb Allah does not solely stem from Sunni-Shia divide. This enmity has other deeper and more fundamental reasons behind it.

First, Saudi Arabia endeavours to destroy any manifestation of political Islam that is anchored in a local nationalist context. While the regime had always supported and patronised Umami (globalised) Islamist movements and trends within the spectrum of Islamism, it had always antagonised and fought against localised national Islamists, like Hizb Allah. Islamists in Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen and – more recently – Iraqi Islamists represented by Hayat Ulama al-Muslimin, all have stories to tell about Saudi animosity towards their programme, which is anchored in one country.

By contrast, globalised Islamist movements – for example al-Qaeda – were initially supported by Saudi Arabia. The regime patronised those leaders who carried the Jihad to distant lands. Its religious scholars glorified the Amirs of Jihad – Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden for example. Umami movements struggled in the way of God abroad: Afghanistan, Philippines, Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia and elsewhere.

[Much more in detail at the link. Very strong writing. Very pursuasive argument.]

The second reason the Saudi regime nourishes enmity towards Hizb Allah is because it has succeeded in bridging the Sunni-Shia schism by embracing the Sunni Hamas organisation and its struggle against a Zionist state determined to eliminate the Palestinians, especially those who reject its terms for peace.

As resistance movements, both Hamas and Hizb Allah accepted to be partners in the struggle in the way of God, thus leaving their sectarian identities behind – something that Iraqi Islamists, both Sunni and Shia, have failed to reach even under occupation or perhaps because of occupation.

[Again, more at the link.]

The third cause of Riyadh’s antagonism stems from Hizb Allah’s acceptance of the democratic process. Hizb Allah has played by democratic rules and abided by its results, while continuing to see itself as a resistance movement that liberated southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. [Nabih Berri, current speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, and Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah both grew from the Amal Movement, the root political group of Shiite Lebanon. The same soil produced both. They share the same constituency.] Hizb Allah developed an all-encompassing social policy that overcame the reservations Islamists had about parliaments, elections, the participation of women in public life and coexistence with other, secular political parties. It accepted to resist Israel with other political parties in Lebanon. Hizb Allah reached out to other groups in a pluralist society like that of Lebanon. Although physically its supporters confined themselves to al-Dhahiyya al-Janoubiyya that developed all the institutions and services associated with a state, it managed to build bridges with other political groups not only in Lebanon but also elsewhere.

[Still more...And saving the best for last...]

Most importantly, the Saudi regime fears the replication of the Hizb Allah model on its own territory and specifically in the oil rich Eastern Province. [more...]
Although the regime reached a reconciliation with the Shia opposition groups in 1993, leading to the return of most Shia exiles from London, Damascus and Beirut, mistrust and latent enmity remain, especially as the regime has failed to restrain the likes of Ibn Jibrin, who continue to issue divisive and bigoted opinions against the Shia. So far the Saudi Shia have held the view that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. They put their intellectual skills at the service of the Saudi regime when it declared its own war on terror against al-Qaeda. Their writers started glorifying Saudi citizenship and partnership, and denouncing Wahhabi radicalism at a time when the regime needed to defeat al-Qaeda cells, and the Saudi Shia were enlisted in the Saudi regime’s battle against radicals whose radicalism was anchored in the Wahhabi tradition.
The Hizb Allah model will remain a source of inspiration for Saudi Shia. In fact, Hizb Allah al-Hijaz had already made an appearance. With the Saudi Shia reconciliation, it seems that this movement began to be consolidated as it attracted those Shia who refused to be part of the Accord reached early in the 1990s.

[Final paragraph. Read it and weep.]

Saudi Arabia wishes the demise of Hizb Allah because it forged a Muslim Brotherhood which the Saudi regime endeavoured to prevent, despite the rhetoric of its support for Arab and Muslim causes. Previously, Israel invaded Lebanon to root out Palestinians. It succeeded in sending the PLO into exile in other Arab countries. Hizb Allah cannot be rooted out. It may be defeated militarily but it will continue to haunt not only the inhabitants of northern Israel but also the Saudi regime for a long time after the fires die down. The support it commanded in the Arab street – and increasingly among Saudis – worries Arab regimes that are regarded by their own people as symbols of treachery and treason. The Arab street has defined its own axis of evil: the Egyptian-Jordanian-Saudi trio who blamed Hizb Allah rather than Israel for the destruction of Lebanon for the second time.

Khalid Al-Dakhil is a Saudi writer and academic. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and has been assistant professor of sociology at King Saud University, Riyadh since 1998. He was a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in September-December 2003. His piece is less powerful but shows just as much frustration with what is happening.

The sixth Arab-Israeli war is being waged on the Lebanese–Israeli border. No Arab State is involved in this war. Lebanese Hizbullah is the only party to this war on the Arab side, and indeed it is Hizbullah that ignited the war. In doing so Hizbullah was representative of no Arab state – not even the Lebanese state, whose nationality it bears and in whose government it participates.

In addition - and as usual - an Arab media war has got under way over the war.

There are numerous reasons why this situation has such enormous significance.

The most important reason is that this is the first Arab-Israeli war that has been waged in the absence of any Arab state. Instead, the Arab states – in particular those which were once called the ‘frontline’ states in the Arab-Israeli conflict – have found themselves in the thick of a war about which they were never consulted or had any idea was going to happen, before it erupted. That is with the exception of Syria, since Hizbullah would not have dared engulf the region in a war without Syria’s agreement, Hizbullah being Syria's most important ally in Lebanon, and Syria being Hizbullah’s most important regional ally after Iran.

[How many times do we need to be told? Not all Muslims are Arabs and not all Arabs are Muslim. If you haven't got it yet, read it again until you do.]

It is indisputable that decisions on the issues of "peace and war" are the exclusive right of the state. An essential characteristic of the state – and in particular the modern state, in the view of the German sociologist Max Weber – is the monopoly it has over the legitimate use of force: including declaring war or peace. Without this the state does not exist. It is impermissible – legally and politically – for any party to infringe this right, and it is highly dangerous for a non-state actor to take matters into its own hands.

Such unilateralism – and the insistence upon it – implies schism in the first place; second, it implies the weakening of the state vis-à-vis other states; and, third, it exposes the very same autocratic and dictatorial attitude which Hizbollah’s leaders themselves know to be a key cause of the political deterioration in the Arab world.
The adventure may succeed but may also end in disaster, and herein lies both the danger and the crime.

In case of success, the adventurer wins everything at the expense of others. In the case of failure he seeks to silence others by claiming: 'I have tried – and now it is your turn to try.' In other words, the interests and the positions of the others are of no value. Thus, the unilateralist impulse is consolidated, the notion of statehood disappears and the destiny of the nation comes to hang on adventurism.

Is this reasonable?


But there is another fact: Lebanon and the region face an aggressive, colonial, settler state, which is implementing its project in a ferocious and systematic manner, against which the Arabs have proved themselves impotent at a time when Iran’s strength and regional role is obviously growing.

It appears that Iran wants to take advantage of the vacuum that Arab impotence has created and continues to create, and which it wants to exploit for the benefit of its regional role. As a result, the Arab states – and principally Saudi Arabia – considered Hizbullah's fedayi operation to be a miscalculated adventure which has pushed the region into a war that accords essentially with Iran’s strategy.

Thus, Saudi Arabia found itself facing a war about which it had not been consulted, in whose objectives it does not believe, and whose repercussions for Saudi interests in Lebanon and the region as a whole are substantial.
Arab collapses come one after another. The major Arab issues have been removed from Arab hands and placed in those of American, Europeans and Israelis instead. It is unacceptable for the Arab role to be reduced either to an insipid and ineffective mediating role – as in Egypt’s case – or to that of offering financial assistance to alleviate the devastation of the seemingly endless Arab catastrophes, as is the case with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

But it is the falling away of the Arab role which has opened the door for miscalculated adventures of the kind now laying waste to Lebanon.

These are the voices of our allies in the region. I take no comfort from what they are saying. If all our prating about democracy is to have any meaning, it seems to me we should be more in the business of winning more support among the great unwashed than those responsible for sending their problems abroad. The leadership of the Middle East has been flush with wealth for my whole lifetime. Why in the world have they not done a better job of bringing their people into the Twentieth Century? If China and India can do it, then why not them?

Victor Davis Hanson analysis

At least two places that I follow link to this VDH piece, so it must be important.

Some final observations on Hezbollah and Hamas. There is no longer a Soviet deterrent to bail out a failed Arab offensive. There is no longer empathy for poor Islamist “freedom fighters.” The truth is that it is an open question as to which regime — Iran or Syria — is the greater international pariah. After a recent trip to the Middle East, I noticed that the unfortunate prejudicial stares given to a passenger with an Iranian passport were surpassed only by those accorded another on his way to Damascus .

So after 9/11, the London bombings, the Madrid murders, the French riots, the Beslan atrocities, the killings in India, the Danish cartoon debacle, Theo Van Gogh, and the daily arrests of Islamic terrorists trying to blow up, behead, or shoot innocent people around the globe, the world is sick of the jihadist ilk. And for all the efforts of the BBC, Reuters, Western academics, and the horde of appeasers and apologists that usually bail these terrorist killers out when their rhetoric finally outruns their muscle, this time they can’t.

Pieter Dorsman liked it. While you're there there is more to read. Don't just skim past.

So did Cliff May at FDD. He linked yesterday.