Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Israel / Gaza / Lebanon Omnibus Update

Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch often refers to a "1938 Alert" whenever he finds evidence of a Western society appeasing Islamic totalitarianism in the manner of a neo-Chamberlain. I might commence a 1914 alert -- referring to a line in a Spengler column the other day where he referred to events in Gaza in early July as having "a disturbing feel of July 1914" -- whenever an event occurs that seems but one more inevitable step to a larger, world-changing conflagration. If the past week is any indication, we have many such 1914 alerts to look forward to.

The Jerusalem Post reports the latest Israeli cabinet meeting had an "atmosphere of war":

The ministers approved plans to push Hizbullah back from the northern border and place pressure on the Lebanese government to dismantle the Islamist organization, as called for under UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

It is more than doubtful diplomatic pressure will succeed. The Lebanese government has already stated that they do not take responsibility for Hezbollah's actions:
"The Lebanese government was not informed and does not take responsibility for what happened on the international border," Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said after an urgent cabinet meeting.

"The government strongly condemns the Israeli aggression which targeted government infrastructure and civilians," Aridi told reporters, adding that the government calls for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council "to deal with these aggressions."

The stubborn refusal to take responsibility for his nation's own borders indicates that the Lebanese state is unable to control Hezbollah, assuming that they even wish to do so. The call for a meeting of the UN security council meeting tells us that Lebanon will try to draw the world to its side, which given the provocations Israel has suffered from within Lebanon's borders really means that they will try to draw the world against Israel.

To protect their citizens, it is not an unreasonable strategy. It is far more likely that Israel will be condemned and shamed into not defending itself than it is that Hezbollah can be neutralized by the government. Thus, the security council is the best way to protect the civilians and infrastructure that will be harmed as a result of Hezbollah's atrocity.

Hezbollah itself has made what appears to be an impossible demand for the return of the abducted soldier, though there is a precedent for the prisoner swap they propose.

The Jerusalem Post article continues:
Following the meeting, the cabinet issued a statement saying, "A new, complicated situation has been created that Israel is obliged to deal with." The statement said this new situation would include special preparations to deal with the possibility that "the enemy will try to cause damage to the home front."

Head of the Home Front Command, Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon, was instructed to prepare for a possibility of a major bombardment of Israeli communities.

The reference here is to the thousands of bombs and missiles that Hezbollah has at their disposal. Supplied by Iran and Syria, these armaments can reach deep into Israel.

The Israeli focus has thus far been southern Lebanon and the infrastructure that connects that are with the Beirut, though the result of last night's cabinet meeting was that the IDF now has wide authority to strike inside Lebanon. This morning they shelled the Beirut airport.

This live blog at Lebanese Bloggers ended several hours ago with these among the last few updates:
Wednesday, June 12, 2006.

Update 37 - 12:36 AM : Just got back after a drive around Beirut, and Aramoun/Khalde, just south of Beirut. I had to drive through the airport highway - which was a terrifying experience. But Beirut is quiet. The police are everywhere. The streets have emptied. It seems too much like the calm before the storm.

Update 38 - 12:47 AM : A well-connected highschool friend called me from Washington DC. I am to expect the worst. I am preparing for it.

Via Big Pharaoh, who has more reporting on Lebanese reaction.

In Gaza, the Israeli military struck and partially destroyed the building that houses the Palestinian foreign ministry. The army is now deep inside Gaza, and the fighting there seems now a matter of attrition: it will end once a sufficient number of "militant" leaders are killed or incapacitated, and probably not before.

The situation Israel is confronted with appears to me to have Iran as the main instigator, and an analysis in the New York Times now suggests the same, and does so with greater authority (though some are quite suspicious of the Times).

The emphasis throughout the Times piece is the central presence of Iran. Steven Erlanger points out that the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit occurred at the worst possible time for the Palestinians:
That seizure came as the Hamas government, led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, was finishing negotiations with the more moderate Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, on a political document that might have allowed the renewal of negotiations with Israel.

On June 22, only three days before Corporal Shalit was abducted, Mr. Abbas and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, were hugging and kissing each other, however reluctantly, at a breakfast whose hosts were King Abdullah II of Jordan and Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate. There, the two leaders promised to meet in two weeks, and both have said since that Mr. Olmert promised an important release of Palestinian prisoners to celebrate a new relationship.

But the soldier crisis has drowned that initiative, as it has drowned the internal Palestinian negotiations and reduced Mr. Haniya and Mr. Abbas, at least for the moment, to near irrelevance. It has bolstered the power of Mr. Meshal and the militants.

One of Erlanger's explicit points is also an inference that can be drawn from many of the news reports about the Israeli response:
The loss of confidence on both sides is extreme, which is why Mr. Olmert has decided that Israel must act to control its own security in Gaza and not expect Egypt or the Palestinians -- especially not Hamas -- to do it for them, suggests Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

"Israel is in a long-term operation to reassert security control," Mr. Steinberg said. Mr. Olmert must try to stop the firing of Qassam rockets on Israel and the smuggling of weapons and expertise from Egypt if he hopes to carry through his plan to pull up to 70,000 Israeli settlers out of the West Bank.

On one side, we have Israel seeking to adjust to a new understanding of the enormous steps it must take to ensure its national security. On another, we have pseudo-states, Palestine and Lebanon, that cannot control the terrorists they harbor. And finally, we have regional powers, Syria and Iran, who have defined their mutual security as the non-existence of Israel, and have shown willingness to employ the ugliest kinds of terrorism to achieve their goals. In Iran's case, their foreign policy is also partially informed by an apocalyptic worldview that they believe will bring mystical rewards for all the discord they sow. No side is capable of bending and no side is willing to compromise. It is a mixture that could bring an all out regional war, as some are already speculating.

UPDATE: Israel struck both the airport and a Hezbollah television station on Thursday, and blockaded Lebanon's ports and airspace. Two Israeli civilians have been killed, along with 47 Lebanese civilians.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is holding Lebanon directly responsible for the attacks; he makes no reference to Syrian or Iranian designs when promising "painful and far-reaching response" if the abducted soldiers are not released.

Some Lebanese civiians celebrate Hezbollah's attack with great joy, and do not seem to care how much of their own country is destroyed as a result of Hezbollah's actions:
In southern Lebanon, often a battleground between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, the soldiers' capture was praised; residents said they had grown accustomed to the kind of fighting that has followed.

"Look, we're used to it. For 25 years, 26 years, it's been like this," said Hassan Qaryani, 21, a butcher from Burj Rahal. He stood with a friend, Mohammed Tahine, near a destroyed bridge, looking down at the rubble and tangled iron rods.

He called the kidnapping "like a crown on my head."

"As soon as I heard the news I was overjoyed," he said. "It was like Italy winning the World Cup."

His friend grinned as he looked at the bridge. "If you don't destroy, then you don't build," he said.

UPDATE: A lot of the reporting has noted Israel's determination to hold Lebanon responsible, but Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters makes a reasonable objection to Israel's strategy:
...I believe the Israelis have made a strategic error. They need to use their resources to attack the root of the problem, or at least one of the two roots [Syria and Iran]. Syria and Bashar Assad have much more influence over Hezbollah than Beirut, and taking the war to Damascus will have more possibility of deterring further attacks and raids than inflaming the Lebanese, who just started to get back on their feet in the aftermath of the Syrian withdrawal. They risk creating another enemy instead of eliminating the one that really matters.

In remarks made at a press conference with Germany's new Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prsident Bush called the terrorist attacks "pathetic", and added:
My attitude is this: There are a group of terrorists who want to stop the advance of peace. And those of -- who are peace-loving must work together to help the agents of peace -- Israel, President Abbas, and others -- to achieve their objective. You got to understand when peace advances, it's in the terrorists' interests in some cases to stop it. And that's what's happening.

It is notable that he did not mention Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh.

Above I noted the attitudes of at least some southern Lebanese. The Washington Post reports the attitudes of Israelis living across that border.
In the kitchen, as Dina Noah prepared a dinner of stuffed peppers, a newscast was recounting the bloody events that had happened on her doorstep. It was a grim soundtrack on a day that, in her view, suggested a weakness she had never known in the country.

"Israel has raised its hands and given up," said Noah, 67, her head wrapped in a simple yellow scarf as she leaned against her kitchen counter. "Only we get killed, not any of them."


Along streets patrolled by border police jeeps, fire engines and a local security force, there was anger and some fear in the calls for an unbridled Israeli retaliation to the ambush and rocket strikes, which lit up eucalyptus groves and sage patches covering the steep borderland hills.

"Israel has to respond -- maybe with an atom bomb to teach them a lesson," said Avichai Hatan, 14, who watched through binoculars a column of gray smoke rising from a fire set by a Hezbollah rocket strike. The rocket had landed a quarter-mile from the town's entrance.

About 350 people live here, many of them Jews originally from Iraqi Kurdistan. For years they have been the targets of Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets, a far more precise and powerful version of the crude missiles Palestinian gunmen have been firing into southern Israel.

1914 indeed.

UPDATE 2: The Israeli foreign ministry has stated that they have intelligence showing that Hezbollah is trying transfer the kidnapped Israeli soldiers to Iran. The IDF has bombed army bases in eastern Lebanon, near the Syrian border, and the EU is calling the Israeli response disproportionate.

The soldiers who were kidnapped were treated not like prisoners of war, but like hostages taken for ransom by a criminal gang: they were hidden in a mosque, then moved about in taxis by terrorists in civilian clothes. The EU and other states asking Israel to offer only a "proportionate" response assume that Hezbollah's crimes are merely a negotiating tactic. Israel has the right to assume the actions are an act of war by the effective government of south Lebanon, and the right to respond with whatever measures they deem necessary.

A negotiation is not required under these circumstances, and the the suffering of Lebanon is entirely the responsibility of Hezbollah terrorists and their sponsors in Syria and Iran.


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