Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Proxy War: The Israeli-anti-Israeli Debacle

Lebanon has become a battlefield.

The past few days have witnessed continued bombings and tit-for-tat between the IDF Hezbollah’s militants in Beirut.

My friend Lebanon Profile is currently in Beirut and has been writing extensively on the day to day events. Hezbollah unleashed its biggest and deadliest missile in to Israel today killing eight people in the major port city of Haifa. The Israeli cabinet decided to immediately step up their military campaign in order to drive Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.

Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz stated that, “for those who live in the Hezbollah neighborhood in Beirut and feel protected – the situation has changed.” The crisis has showed no signs of abatement or de-escalation – it has been progressively exacerbating.

Amr Moussa, the current Secretary-General of the League of Arab States stated that the Middle East process is ‘dead.’ The situation is a complete catastrophe for the region.

The IDF has claimed that rockets fired in to Israel have been built by the Syrians and the Iranians (the recent missile fired on Haifa was allegedly a Syrian-produced model of a Iranian Fajr-3). If credible evidence ascertains such claims this would open a new chapter in the history of the region. Syria has been suspected in former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s death in 2005 and Iran has been unsuccessfully pressured by the international community to halt its uranium enrichment program.

If Syria and Iran are implicated, this would be a great opportunity for the US to intervene. Despite the shortcomings in Iraq, the US still has its eyes set on Iran and Syria. Both countries have caused trouble for Israel and they’ve maintained a hard-line attitude towards the West and Ahmadinejad of Iran has been notorious for using ranting rhetoric.

The situation in Lebanon has been disheartening and has cast a dark shadow over the future of security in the Middle East as well as any chance of establishing a Palestinian state. As the situation continues to exacerbate, more refined observations began to surface:

1. The rhetoric exchanged between Israel and Hezbollah has proven that a ceasefire can only take place if a mutual agreement is to be arranged (i.e. exchange the soldiers for prisoners)
2. Sectarianism has become more prominent among Lebanese political factions with a formidable size of the population supporting Hezbollah’s retaliatory attacks against Israel
3. As per Moussa’s statement during the recent Arab League meeting, any chances of peace in the Middle East have been curtailed and possibly rendered merely a fantasy
4. Arabs across the Middle East are frustrated of their respective government’s apathy and nonchalance towards Israeli aggression. Regardless of the peace treaties, Egyptian and Jordanian citizens (for example) express agony and anger towards the Israelis yet their governments cannot take hard-lined decisions towards the situation (vis-à-vis Iran which saw Ayatollah Khomeini praise Hezbollah’s resistance).
5. Pan-Arabism has failed in 1960s and the current situation has revealed its absolute fantasy – it will never work.

What should an Egyptian/Palestinian/Jordanian think of this situation? These are some of the sentiments:

1. Anger towards Israeli aggression
2. Anger towards Hezbollah’s hastiness and irresponsibility
3. Anger towards the destruction of Lebanon
4. Anger towards Arab reaction
5. Disappointment of Arab response
6. Anger towards historical negligence of the Palestinians by the Arabs
7. Anger towards viewing the Palestinians as a liability among certain Arab governments
8. Anger towards Islamic extremism, fanaticism and fascism
9. Approval of general European government opinion (i.e. France, Russia and EU) towards Israeli aggression
10. Disgust towards the US’ laissez-faire attitude with a disregard to Lebanon’s destruction
11. Approval of the G8’s stance on the situation

A ceasefire HAS to take in to effect to give both sides ample time to think and resort to the negotiating table. Prisoners must be returned from both sides and Israel needs to halt its aggressive and unilateral approach to the problem as it has so far achieved absolutely nothing.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lebanon In Turmoil Déjà vu?

Lebanon is currently under attack.

After Hezbollah abducted Ehud Goldvasser, 31, from Nahariya, and Eldad Regev, 26, from the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin, Israel decided to take more serious measures – targeting Lebanon and the Lebanese government.

Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport was forced to close after Israeli fighter jets hit all three of its runways, leaving huge craters that rendered them completely unusable. All flights had been diverted (mostly to Cyprus) and all other scheduled flights have been grounded trapping swarms of tourists vacationing in Lebanon for the summer.

Hezbollah retaliated (although they deny their involvement) and fired rockets against the Israeli port city of Haifa which is only 30 km (18 miles) away from the Lebanese border suggesting that Hezbollah potentially possesses rockets which have a much further range than previously thought. Israel responded only an hour ago by hitting fuel tanks in the airport causing them to explode like fireballs. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is certain that the Haifa rockets came from Lebanon and from Hezbollah specifically and they place the blame on the escalation of violence on the guerillas who attacked inside Israel yesterday killing 8 soldiers and capturing Goldvasser and Regev. So far, 50 Lebanese civilians have died during the Israeli raids and most of them were citizens.

In the eyes of the Israelis, since Hezbollah has political leverage in the country and the Lebanese government, this implies that the government is to blame as well. However, Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi denounced the attacks and called for a cease-fire stating that the Lebanese government has nothing to do with Hezbollah’s attacks.

My previous two posts have in essence foreshadowed the current events and thus this is not surprising. However Israel’s retaliation on Beirut and on its airport is grief striking, moreover Israel have also blockaded Lebanese ports and have shelled other Lebanese towns. Israeli jets have also bombed Lebanese army air bases at Rayak and Baalbek TV transmitter in the Bekaa Valley.

The region is on the brink of full-fledged war.

Lebanese citizens are immediately reminded of the civil war in the 1980s and Israel’s occupation in 1982, they are stocking up on food supplies and heading to their other residences in the mountains – away from Beirut. Israel has been dropping Arabic leaflets in Beirut warning citizens to evacuate the southern suburbs of Beirut (essentially the areas concentrated with Hezbollah’s operations/bases).

The following are several observations made:

1) The situation could escalate very quickly despite efforts from Hezbollah to de-escalate. This could further incite Hamas to be involved from the Gazan side and create a ‘real’ two-front war.

2) Rhetoric of violence will continue to originate from Iran and Ahmadinejad. Iran, a Shiite Muslim state helped create Hezbollah under Ayatollah Khomenini. Such rhetroic will certainly incite further antagonism.

3) It will be much easier for Israel to place the blame on Syria and Iran for their military involvement with Lebanon and in planning the organized abduction of the two Israeli soldiers.

4) Israel has acted completely irrationally which the governments of France, Russia and members of the EU highly condemning the attacks and stating that the response was disproportionate.

5) Israeli soldiers have been killed/captured during clashes between Hezbollah, Hamas and the IDF in the past and yet Israeli retaliation has never been this severe.

6) The US might use current events as an excuse to further pressure Iran and Syria and possibly use coercion (military or economic sanctions) against both of them.

7) Israel has the Joker in its playing deck and is the only one capable of de-escalating and halting all the tit-for-tat. If they used the abduction of soldiers in Gaza and southern Lebanon as sparks to ignite the region then the controls are on one side of the playing field (i.e. if they eventually decided to light the cigarette, they should be the ones to extinguish it).

8) Hezbollah will not negotiate with Israel and will only agree to release the soldiers for a prisoner exchange.

9) Lebanese citizens are at the mercy of the Israelis and the stubbornness of Hezbollah. Syrian appointed President Emile Lahoud is a strong Hezbollah supporter and will not allow the Lebanese Army (who are weaker than Hezbollah) to stop the group’s activities.

Hezbollah has acted irresponsibly and Israel responded irrationally and in an erratic manner. The situation is extremely delicate and can reverse years of Lebanese rebuilding and any wounds which might have healed from the civil war.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Back to Tit-For-Tat and Quid Pro Quo: A Regional Intifada?

Just weeks after Palestinian militants captured Israeli Cpl Gilad Shalit on June 25, Hezbollah (a shia Lebanese resistance group considered a source of terrorism by the United States and Israel) captured two more Israeli soldiers. In the process three Israeli soldiers were killed in crossfire as well as two Lebanese civilians during Israel’s retaliation. (The fighting is ongoing at this time)

In my previous post, I asked whether the Palestinians were inciting a third intifada. One can argue that the second intifada had not ended per se. However there is no doubt that a regional intifida has officially commenced, yet remains in its nascent stages.

This has been Israel’s first incursion in to Lebanon since 2000. While the major offensive is taking place in Gaza, Israel continues to push in to Southern Lebanon at the same time facing a two front resistance. Hezbollah sought to capture the soldiers so that they could bargain their exchange for Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Tantalizing with Israeli borders and their posts has been a strategy used by all anti-Israeli resistances including Hezbollah and Hamas (as well as the PLO during the 1970s and 1980s launching attacks from Jordan and Lebanon). Since the Palestinians and their supporters have a much larger damage-infliction threshold than their Israeli counterparts, they have managed to obtain hefty concessions in the past. For example, Hezbollah captured three Israeli soldiers in 2000 and in exchange for their dead bodies (since the soldiers died during Hezbollah’s mission), Israel released 430 Palestinians and Lebanese held in Israel jails – quite a bargain.

Israel is certainly making a statement with its recent incursions, it would do anything in its power (legal or illegal) to secure its borders and keep its population safe. The resistance (Hamas and Hezbollah) will continue to proceed with their missions regardless of international pressure as well as any retaliation from Israel – in fact the latter would probably incite the groups further (i.e. after the death of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004, Hamas gained even more momentum and power as opposed to losing its ground and becoming incapacitated). In essence, decapitation attacks against Palestinian militants and their supporters simply do not work – they backfire completely. Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has placed the blame on Beirut and the Lebanese government for Hezbollah’s actions since the group has political influence in the country. This has given Israel the right to proceed with its incursion since it is an invasion of its sovereignty by another nation-state (Lebanon).

Hezbollah is concerned primarily with the security of Southern Lebanon and secondly with the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation. Hamas is concerned with the latter. The dilemma Palestinians face in Gaza and the West Bank is where to draw the line between moving on with their already damaged lives and continuing to resist Israeli occupation and liberating Palestine. Hamas and to an extent Hezbollah have already solved such a dilemma for them regardless of their wishes – continue to fight Israel.

Olmert’s government should understand that using full fledged force in retaliation is futile on a wider perspective since Hamas and Hezbollah will simply come back stronger and more determined. Ideally, negotiations with Hamas would be ideal however last month’s capture of the Israeli soldier has exacerbated (or rather rendered improbable) that possibility since Hamas does not recognize Israel and sees that regaining back Palestine is impossible through negotiations.

Both organizations will continue to blackmail Israel and use tit-for-tat and quid pro quo strategies to free their people from Israeli jails. Israel is not battling a simply weaker military adversary, it is battling an ideology far more powerful than anybody can perceive – it should find another solution to its problem. Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah stated that he does not intend to turn the region in to a full fledged war zone however if Israel desires so then that will take effect. Moreover, Israel has been using violent rhetoric which could very well blow the situation in to much larger proportions. Similar to the Gaza situation, a small incident could ignite the region (again a la WWI).

Thus decisions and actions from both should be very calculated and careful, if not the region as the Israelis stated ‘would be turned back 20 years.’

Friday, July 07, 2006

The New Intifada?

Palestinian-Israeli tensions have greatly exacerbated in recent weeks. After Palestinian militants captured Cpl Gilad Shalit on June 25, Israel launched its largest ground offensive in the Gaza strip.

Israel’s reaction reveals some interesting observations.

The US has used human rights abuses as excuses to intervene in conflicts around the world while at the same time satiating their ulterior self-interests. The US has done that exceptionally well in Iraq, claiming to remove a tyrannical regime while it accumulates petrodollars and oil supplies in the process. It appears that the US places a valuable premium on human life yet as argued in my previous post “Iraq: No Chance of Perpetual Peace?” a double standard surfaces once Abu Ghraib, Haditha and Guantanamo are mentioned.

A similar case goes for Israel. Israelis place a very high premium on human life (since the population of 6.2 million is only slowing growing at a 1.18% population growth rate with approximately 20% of the population being Arab and 16% being Muslim – these figures exclude Gaza and the West Bank – and thus the country cannot afford to lose its citizens) and would make headlines for a single soldier captured.

Or would they?

In the past, there have been Israeli prisoners of war held by Palestinians for longer and under worse conditions yet Israel has not reacted the same way. It seems that the capturing of Shalit was merely a symbol of action, a spark (a la Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in June 1914 which sparked WWI) and an excuse for Israel to drive back in to Gaza.

A major problem when discussing who’s to blame in this case rests on several factors:

1) Where does the story start? Should one go back and assess Israel’s inhumane treatment of Palestinian women and children as well as those held in captivity or is it merely that Palestinians are savages and that the world needs to sympathize with the captured Israeli soldier and place the blame on the Palestinian Authority? Should one take the ‘easier’ way out and merely blame Hamas since they do not want to recognize Israel and continue to encourage militant attacks? Or should one step back and think why Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and try to dig deeper in to the reasons?

2) Should one view the conflict in a quid pro quo manner? In other words, should an observer equate the Palestinian perpetrators to those of Israel and vice versa? How should standards be set?

Israel has certainly gained incredible media attention for the captivity of the soldier. Despite the fact that acts of terror against Palestinians gain media attention, they are not of the same intensity as their Israeli counterparts. This is in part due to the general bias of the Western media towards Israel as well as Israel’s much lower damage-infliction threshold (i.e. they won’t tolerate large losses of their citizens and large infliction of damage on their society).

On the other hand, Palestinians (with a 'nothing-to-lose-mentality') have a much larger damage-infliction threshold indicating that they will continue to fight Israel and lose thousands of their citizens (as martyrs) in order to establish a state and gain back the land which was rightfully theirs.

The escalating events could very well trigger a third intifada, Israel needs to be very careful of their responses and Hamas should take up the offer of a roundtable discussion. Until then, the situation will continue to exacerbate and any progression made will be rendered entirely futile., The World's Blog Aggregator Blog Directory & Search engine