Monday, July 31, 2006

No surprise, but still...

For anyone who's followed the screeds and screeching of the professional ex-leftwinger and longtime off-the-tracks rightwinger David Horowitz, it is certainly not news that he's saying loony things.  That's a real "dog bites man" kind of event.

Still, Billmon's takedown in Uncle Ho Has a Bad Trip Whiskey Bar blog 07/31/06 is pretty darn funny.  Check it out.  A bit of it:

Read it.  It's pretty demoralizing stuff.  Condi Rice is on Iran's payroll, Joe Lieberman ("the one statesman in the Democratic Party who might re-unite this country in the face of its enemies") is going down in flames, and there's a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox that let somebody steal Dave's strawberries!  It's all a conspiracy!!

Israel, Lebanon and an American war with Iran

Israel's current military actions against Gaza and Lebanon, whatever the justifications theoretical or real may be, are genuine problems for the United States.  I'm certainly going to continue to follow the news on those, because they affect the position of the United States forces in Iraq, American interests in the Middle East, the "global war on terrorism" and other things, as well.

My biggest concern right now is that after some months in which it began to appear that the Cheney-Bush administration was pulling back from any consideration of attacking Iran, Bush seems to be using the Israel-Lebanon War to build a justification for just such an attack.

Glenn Greenwald makes a good but disturbing point in Is Bill Kristol writing George Bush's Middle East speeches? Unclaimed Territory blog 07/31/06:

George Bush's radio address yesterday on the Israel-Lebanon war preaches pure neoconservative gospel. Every point the President made would fit very comfortably into a Bill Kristol Weekly Standard column or a Michael Ledeen Corner item. This speech leaves no doubt that, at least rhetorically, the President is still a full-fledged adherent to the tenets of neoconservatism, and thus considers the Israel-Lebanon war to be "our war" in every sense, merely another front in the Epic Global War of Civilizations (a/k/a The Long War, World War III/IV, etc.) ...

Much the same could be said of his somewhat incoherent press conference on Friday with Tony Blair.

Of course, the talk of attacking Iran doesn't preclude an attack on Syria, either.

I'm not completely comfortable with the way Justin Raimondo frames his analysis.  But he's got reason for his basic argument in The Return of the Neocons 07/30/06

War with Iran under current conditions would be a number of things: a war crime, a sin, a horror, a hideous mistake, an extremely foolish risk.  The US Army - you know, the mightiest fighting forces in the history of the world, etc., etc. - haven't been able to secure the city of Baghdad in what's coming up on three and a half years of fighting.  And we're going to widen the war to Iran?  And maybe Syria?

Look at a map of the Middle East.  If the US goes to war with Syria and Iran, American forces will be fighting active wars from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (Syria) to the border of Pakistan (Afghanistan).  And the only way the Army has been able to maintain the current of troops in Iraq has been to raise the age of enlistment for the reserves to 42, stretch the reserves themselves to a point that it will take them years to recover their normal functionality, and accepting characters like the psychopathic killer accused of raping and murdering that 14-year-old Iraqi girl and thugs associated with neo-Nazi groups.

No, trolls, I'm not characterizing the entire Army that way, so bite me.  But the pressure to maintain the current 130,000 or so troops (and growing) in Iraq really has led to that kind of serious deterioration in standards.  I very much supported the War in Afghanistan in 2001.  But what sense the US or NATO presences really have there now escapes me.

Getting out of Iraq is beyond the conceptual powers of the Cheney-Bush administration. But that and much more may be largely out of their hands if the expand the war to Iran, or to Iran and Syria.

And currently, the entire world sees the United States as the only backer of Israel as it blows up dozens of women and children in Qana - except of course for the ever-more-pathetic Tony Blair, who seems doomed to be remembered in history and little more than Bush's poodle.

We can recite the wrongs of Hizbullah, and there are no shortage of wrongs to recite.  We can makes excuses for Israeli strikes in civilian areas, and we can moralize about how no one in the Arab (or Persian) worlds have any right to criticize America and our Christian values and civilization.  Karen Hughes can pump out a few more "America hearts Muslims" ads, and we can pay off a few more Iraqi journalists to write phony stories about the "good news".

But the message that most of the Arab and Muslim worlds are getting about American values is what Israel is doing in places like Qana.  And since the Cheney-Bush team has backed Israel on the Lebanon war to the degree it has, in this case the Muslim world are not being entirely irrational to see the US and Israel acting as almost one entity.  There is plenty of anti-Semitism and wild conspiracy theories in the Arab world, and that s*** makes me sick.

But it's also a fact that Israel's action and the Cheney-Bush policies towards them have a major effect on America's perception and political position in the world, however much we might dislike that fact.  Iraqis already refer to American soldiers there generically as "the Jews".  It is not in America's interests to be identified so closely with Israel's actions in the occupied territories and in Lebanon.

And it is very definitely not in American interests right now to go to war with Iran or Syria.

Helena Cobban, a journalist with extensive experience in Middle East affairs, wrote in June about The incredible shrinking U.S. Salon 06/09/06.  She looks at the effects of the lost war in Iraq on America's standing, and on the risks of doing other things equally or more foolish:

We can see now, indeed, that none of the optimistic scenarios that President Bush and his advisors have spun for Iraq in the past 39 months can be realized within any kind of politically feasible time frame. The White House will likely try to reduce the U.S. troop numbers to below 100,000 before the November midterms, but the tortured security situation inside Iraq is unlikely to improve. (And there are also many scenarios in which developments in Iraq could spin out of control very rapidly indeed.)

That wasn't even two months ago, and the idea that there's any possibility of reducing the US troop levels in Iraq to under 100,000 seems hopelessly outdated.  Sort of a sudden debacle that forces a more rapid withdrawal, of course.

Her article is well worth reading.  She talks about the effects of the Iraq War on Iran, Al Qaida and the GWOT, and Israel/Palestine.  In her conclusion, she raises something that is unthinkable to the blowhard white guys who can't wait to have more wars for somebody else to fight and die in.  But it's something that's well worth considering.  That is, just how wonderful is it to be the "hegemon" of the world and seemingly obliged to mire our armed forces into hideous messes like the Iraq War?  She writes:

Coming out of Iraq, the balance of power between Washington and the rest of the world will likely be quite different.

So as the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, there may be some developments in international politics that will strengthen global stability.  The U.S. may lose the ability it has had for so long to block any resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute that does not conform to Israel's wishes.  The U.S. and the other world powers may finally get serious about trying to stabilize Afghanistan (and other long-neglected parts of the world like Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Darfur), rather than leaving them to fester and thus incubate new al-Qaidas or other, as-yet-unseen networks of stakeless international troublemakers. And crucially, the gross power imbalance between the U.S.'s 300 million people and the 6 billion humans who are not U.S. citizens may finally shift toward a more egalitarian, and therefore more just and stable, position.  But alongside these possible "gains" from the point of view of building a more just world, we also need to tally up the losses inflicted by the whole brutal Bush project in Iraq: primarily, the massive losses inflicted on Iraq's people, but also the losses of American lives and treasure.

I realize there are many Americans who are not as ready as I am to welcome the prospect of a diminishment (or, as I would say, a rectification) of the disproportionate amount of power our nation has been able to wield in world affairs over the past 60 years.  Many Americans today - like many British or French citizens 80 years ago -- think it is somehow "natural" that their nation intervene in the doings of other nations around the world and act as the crucial arbiter in international affairs. (And yes, throughout history nearly all such interventions have always come dressed in "salvationist" garb: Very few nations ever knowingly undertake a war or any other foreign intervention that its people clearly understand to be unjust at the time. If such understanding comes at all, it does so only later.)

Why does U.S. hegemonism in the world seem "natural" to so many Americans? Plumbing the roots of that particular wrinkle on the broader conceit of American exceptionalism would take a long time!  Suffice it to note here that after 9/11 the attacks of that day laid their own potent overlay of shock, fear and anger onto the bedrock of those older American attitudes.  For roughly 30 months after 9/11, feelings of vengefulness, and of the righteousness of American anger (and of all the actions that flowed therefrom), seemed still to dominate the consciousness of a broad political elite in the U.S. It was only after the revelations of Abu Ghraib in April 2004 that the country's mainstream discourse on the war, and on what their vengefulness had caused the U.S. to become, became more self-aware and open to self-criticism.

Today, a clear majority of Americans judge that invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do.  A similarly clear majority say the administration should set a timetable for withdrawal. This willingness to challenge the Bush people's spin on the situation in Iraq is a welcome sign of increased public understanding, but it does not signal any automatic readiness to challenge the principle of U.S. exceptionalism more broadly. Grappling with that issue is, I believe, our next great challenge as a citizenry; and it is a challenge that the events of the next few years will almost certainly force us to confront head-on. (my emphasis)

Widening the war to Iran will make confronting that development a much more urgent and difficult matter.

And if you think Helena Cobban is just some ditzy hippie, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in Do not attack Iran the International Herald Tribune 04/26/06 about several of the major risks involved in attacking Iran, not least of them this one:

Likely Iranian reactions would significantly compound ongoing U.S. difficulties in Iraq and in Afghanistan, perhaps precipitate new violence by Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in all probability cause the United States to become bogged down in regional violence for a decade or more to come. Iran is a country of some 70 million people and a conflict with it would make the misadventure in Iraq look trivial.   (my emphasis)

And he writes:

It follows that an attack on Iran would be an act of political folly, setting in motion a progressive upheaval in world affairs. With America increasingly the object of widespread hostility, the era of American preponderance could come to a premature end.
While America is clearly preponderant in the world, it does not have the power - nor the domestic inclination - to both impose and then to sustain its will in the face of protracted and costly resistance.  That certainly is the lesson taught both by its Vietnamese and Iraqi experiences.
Moreover, persistent hints by official spokesmen that "the military option is on the table" impedes the kind of negotiations that could make that option redundant.  Such threats unite Iranian nationalism with Shiite fundamentalism.  They also reinforce growing international suspicions that the United States is even deliberately encouraging greater Iranian intransigence.
Sadly, one has to wonder whether in fact such suspicions may not be partially justified.  
(my emphasis)

Unfortunately, the developments since July 12 have given us new reason to worry about the Cheney-Bush administration starting a war with Iran.  With no good reason and without the troops or the competence to pull off what they attempt.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Iraq War: After Operation Lightning

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Operation Lightning was the joint US-Iraqi push that started in June aimed at bringing Baghdad under control.  It didn't work out.  Though it was hardly reported on in the US while it was going on, the news of Prime Minister Al-Maliki's visit last week did point out that it had failed.

I don't know if they're still using Operation Lightning for it, since the original version turned out to be Operation Fizzling Sparks as far as its effectiveness.

Military analyst Anthony Cordesman must be an eternal optimist.  Because he's still trying to give the possibilities of some kind of positive outcome to the Iraq War, infintessimal though they may be, a respectable airing.  But he's too good an analyst to pretend it's going well:  The "Baghdad Problem": The Gains and Risk in Sending In More US Troops (Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]) 07/26/06.  He writes:

The announcement that the US is sending more troops into Baghdad is a grim warning of just how serious the situation in Iraq has become.  The fact is that US forces are now strained throughout the country in spite of efforts to create Iraqi military, security, and police forces.  Reinforcing Baghdad inevitably means weakening both US and Iraqi capabilities somewhere else, and despite all of the talk that the insurgency focuses on Baghdad and four provinces, civil strife is steadily broadening in most of Iraq. ...

The political dimension must move in tandem with the military and security dimensions, and it is not.  The fact that Iraqis voted to divide by sect and ethnicity - Arab Sunni, Arab Shi'ite, and Kurd - remains the driving reality.  It is being increasingly compounded by intra-Shi'ite tensions, particularly Moqtada al-Sadr's factions but also tensions between Dawa and SCIRI. (my emphasis)

He basically judges Operation Lightning to have been a total flop:

The Maliki government and the US may have had no choice other than to attempt a show of force in Baghdad when the new government came to power.  For all of the focus on the numbers killed, population movements, other forms of ethnic and sectarian tension, and economic and social pressures were pushing the capital towards civil conflict.  The fact remains, however, that the Baghdad security effort began without critical political progress and without any economic or other social benefits.  Force had to be used in a vacuum, rather than as part of a coherent effort and strategy.

He thinks the plan to have US military police inserted into Iraqi units is a good idea.  But he questions whether the numbers being made available (500-600) can really make much of a difference.

And the ugly reality is, there are scarcely any real Iraqi forces available.  The "government troops" are largely drawn from sectarian militias.  Cordesman writes:

Far more US troops will be needed to occupy the city in ways that can compensate for the fact that the 50,000 odd Iraqi forces initially deployed [for the operation] are not effective or trustworthy - and significant numbers are gone, have clearly taken sides, or are passive.  ...

The problem is that a total of 10,000 US troops cannot hope to secure the city without more trustworthy Iraqi forces, and it simply isn't clear such forces can be created without Iraqi political success and some form of relief or economic aid.  Moreover, US boots on  the ground may buy time, but they do  not substitute for expert knowledge of the city,  language, or religious and cultural affinity.  (my emphasis)

Cordesman clearly is not optimistic about the new push to secure Baghdad:

More "occupiers" simply make the lack of Iraqi political Cordesman: The “Baghdad Problem” unity, and the lack of unity and effectiveness of the government's security forces moreclear.

This is particularly true because the militias and local security forces are now clearly as much of a problem in most major Iraqi cities as the insurgents.  If US forces end upfighting militias, local forces, and elements of Iraqi forces that have taken sectarian sides in Baghdad or anywhere else, they will lose far more politically than they can win at the tactical level.

War, the Republican Party way.  Nothing quite like it.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

The bombing halt

Laura Rozen has been following the Israel-Lebanon war closely at her War and Piece blog, with many links.  She reported on the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, and she's done a lot of work on intelligence issues.  So she knows what to look for.

She's cautioning us not to read too much into the 48-hour bombing pause.  As of her post of 07/30/06, it wasn't even clear how much of Lebanon - or which parts - it was supposed to cover.  In her reading, the Cheney-Bush administration actually pushed for whatever bombing halt there is:

What is interesting: all the signs are that it was Washington that pressured Israel into suspending air strikes in certain areas. That it was described as being in order to allow an investigation into what happened at Qana seems a way to call it anything else but a temporary partial ceasefire. One that there is hardly a word directly from Israel to explain. State did very little to disguise that Israel's agreement to suspend air operations was written hastily on State Department stationery. What's the suggested subtext? I'm just guessing but it seems Rice may genuinely be disturbed that her repeated calls for restraint to avoid civilian casualties were not heeded, and Israel is not happy about what it has been asked to agree to.

I don't want to give any of the administration's senior officials too much credit for normal sensibilities.  They seem to be too much caught up in group think and self-delusion to assume too much humanity on their part.  But it does seem to me at least possible that Condi-Condi, an African-American who is a native of Birmingham, Alabama, may have had a flicker of genuine concern about the civilian casualties in Qana.  Maybe, just maybe, some image of those three little girls killed in Birmingham in their church bombed by some Klan scum occurred to her in connection with the Qana deaths.

Like I said, I don't expect much from this crowd in the way of common humanity or legality.  So even that may be giving her too much credit.

Rozen's reading of the positioning of the US and Israel the last few days is not encouraging at all.  As she sees it, the US has been eager to have Israel deliver a major setback to Hizbullah.  And the Cheney-Bush administration is getting upset with the Israelis for not having delivered militarily.

After the adminstration's performance against the Iraqi insurgency, it's strange to say the least to think of them berating the Israelis for not making more progress against Lebanese Hizbullah.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Iraq War: Al Gore on the war

Al Gore's recent interview in Rolling Stone had quite a bit to say about the Iraq War:  Al Gore 3.0 by Will Dana Rolling Stone 07/13-27/06.  Gore tells Dana:

Right now we are borrowing huge amounts of money from China to buy huge amounts of oil from the most unstable region of the world, and to bring it here and burn it in ways that destroy the habitability of the planet.  That is nuts!  We have to change every aspect of that. ...

But Bush is insulated - his staff smiles a lot and only gives him the news that he wants to hear. Unfortunately, they still have this delusion that they create their own reality.  As George Orwell wrote, we human beings are capable of convincing ourselves of something that's not true long after the accumulated evidence would convince any reasonable person that it's wrong.  And when leaders persist in that error, sooner or later they have a collision with reality, often on a battlefield.  That, in essence, is exactly what happened in Iraq. ...

Bush's whole pose as a compassionate conservative was fraudulent.  His budget was fraudulent.  Even the idea that he would be staunchly opposed to nation building was fraudulent.  I don't mean that he actually knew at the time of the campaign that he was going to invade Iraq - because I don't think Cheney had told him yet [laughs].  ...

[Q:] Let's look at Iraq right now. Is there some way we can pull out?

[A:] We're going to have to pull out of there.  But the hard truth is that even those of us who tried like hell to prevent this catastrophic mistake are now bound to share in the moral consequences of whatever choices we as a nation make in the manner of our leaving.  We have to pursue two objectives simultaneously, and that's always hard.  The first objective is to get the hell out of there as quickly as we can.  The second objective is to avoid the moral mistake of doing even more harm to those people in the manner of our leaving than we did in the manner of our invasion.  And, tragically, it is possible to do even more harm if we are not alert to the ethical choices that we have to make as we prepare to leave.  Unfortunately there are no "good options," because Bush and Cheney have driven us into an ethical cul-de-sac.  General Odom, who used to run defense intelligence, said last year that the invasion of Iraq "will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history."  ...

Look at the looming conflict with Iran over its nuclear program and the bizarre statements by its president.  We have in effect given him 135,000 hostages on his doorstep.  And the government that has just emerged in Baghdad is on much more friendly terms with Tehran than Washington is.

We're all, in some ways, lashed to the mast of our ship of state here.  Because the little group at the helm should resign.  You know, Rumsfeld and that whole gang have made horrible mistake after horrible mistake, and yet Bush continues to keep them in charge.  How do the rest of us play a responsible role in advising the group in the White House that doesn't want to hear what any of us say in any case?

If you had written this in a novel before it all played out, you'd get the proverbial rejection slip - nobody would believe it.  That any group of leaders could be this incompetent, and catastrophically blind to reality.  But here's my point: What they've done with Iraq, what they did with Katrina, is exactly the approach they're taking to global warming.  They're ignoring reality, they're twisting and cherry-picking the evidence to create false impressions that serve the interests of a small, powerful group that has a financial interest in the outcome. ... (my emphasis in bold)

It makes you realize once again how much the Scalia Five of the Supreme Court and our pitifully dysfunctional "press corps" with its War on Gore cost the United States.

I sure hope he runs for re-election as President in 2008.

A Southern Baptist cricitizes Condi-Condi

Well, kinda sorta.  Condi-Condi was the featured speaker at the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) national meeting of "messengers" this year.  The SBC has achieved such doctrinal conformity that the disputes in the denomination look to non-participants like either conflicts over personality and style, or ideological differences between hardline conservatives and hardline-but-smiley-face conservatives.

This is the first I've seen of anyone who was at the SBC national meeting raising any sort of objection to the enthusiastic reception that greeted the Secretary of State who was a major participant in planning a preventive war against Iraq and who staunchly defends the administration policy supporting criminal, sadistic torture.  Wade Burleson, who is on the Missions Board of the SBC and who was also a "messenger" at the national meeting, writes (The Tension Between Missions Success and the Military Killing the Terrorists Grace and Truth to You blog 07/28/06):

I wonder about the fact that we cheer the loudest at the Southern Baptist Convention when a strong, militaristic statement by our Secretary of State is made such as, "We will hunt down and destroy every single terrorist earth [sic] until peace reigns on earth" when it seems we ought to cheer the loudest when we hear statements like, "We will take the gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, tribe, and kindred, and will not rest until Christ reigns in the hearts of mankind."

Whoa, give the guy some credit!  He called that a "militaristic statement"!!

He continues:

Please don't misunderstand. I believe we must fight terrorism militarily.

I am just wondering if we as Southern Baptists are in danger of being more passionate about military conquest than we are gospel conquest.

It's hardly what I would call ringing dissent.  In fact, all he criticizes there is one general statement of Condi-Condi's about the "global war on terror" and suggests that maybe, maybe that Southern Baptists are a tad overenthusiastic about the Cheney-Bush administration's deeds and policies.

He certainly didn't go so far as to criticize the Iraq War or the Cheney-Bush torture policy. 

Friday, July 28, 2006

Iran and Hizbullah

The International Crisis Group has put out an informational and analytical paper that also contains diplomatic suggestions for moving towarrd alleviating armed hostitlities on the Israel-Lebanon border and in Gaza:  Israel/Lebanon/Palestine: Climbing Out of the Abyss 07/25/06

In the section focusing on Hizbullah (pp. 9-16), the ICG authors examine the relationship between Iran and Hizbullah and give quite a bit of attention to the July 12 Hizbullah raid into Israel which touched off the current war between Israel and Lebanon/Hizbullah.  The ICG reports:

At an immediate level, Hizbollah launched its [July 12] operation for the most banal reason of all: because it could. There was, in this, very little that was new. Hizbollah had alled 2006 “the year of retrieving the prisoners”, and, for many months, Hassan Nasrallah had publicly proclaimed the movement’s intention of seizing soldiers for the purpose of a prisoner exchange. In November 2005, he spoke of the “duty to capture Israeli soldiers and swap them for the Arab prisoners in Israel” and, in April 2006, he had threatened to get back the most notorious, Samir Kuntar, even by force; a previous prisoner exchange in 2004 had not included Kuntar because Hizbollah was unable to provide information on Ron Arad, an Israeli soldier who went missing in action [in Oct 1986].  For some time Israeli officials had been warning that the Islamist movement would try to carry out such an operation. And, indeed, there had been several attempts in the past – eleven according to Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament – of which the best known took place in November 2005 and was foiled by Israel.  Speculation that the attack was timed to coincide with Iran’s rejection of the nuclear deal appears, in this light, questionable.

The IGC version suggests that Hizbullah had no particular reason to expect the kind of response to the July 12 raid that Isreal actually unleashed:

The conflagration began with what, from Hizbollah’s perspective, was just another in a history of bloody tit-for-tats, many instances of which go unreported.  It was, to be sure, more audacious and provocative, in that it occurred not in the contested Shebaa but in a non-contested area to the West, where Israeli vigilance was far lower, but not fundamentally different in its objectives.  As their leaders saw it, it would provoke another round of fighting, intense perhaps but contained, and revert to the traditional paradigm of prisoner swaps.

The report includes a long footnote about the denials from Hizbullah that their July 12 action was connected with the Iranian nuclear negotiations:

Hizbollah officials claim otherwise, arguing that Iran had nothing to do with it and, indeed, stood to lose. According to Hussein el Hajj Hassan, a Hizbollah parliamentarian, Iran provides money, but not political direction. “ Iran has no interest in pushing Hizbollah toward a confrontation that could any prior information….I had not consulted anyone of them. Regarding the Iranian issue, if a war takes place in Lebanon, a war will come to an end in one, two, or three months. How long would a war take? A war will eventually come to an end.  What will this change in the Iranian nuclear file? On the contrary, I tell you that if there is a relationship with the Iranian nuclear file, the current war on Lebanon is not in the interest of the Iranian nuclear file. The Americans and Israelis have always taken into account that if a confrontation takes place with Iran, Hizbollah might interfere in Iran’s interest. If Hizbollah is hit now, what does this mean? This means that Iran is weakened in its nuclear file, not strengthened”. Hassan Nasrallah interview, Al-Jazeera television, 21 July 2006. A senior Iranian official agreed: “It is idiotic to think that Iran was behind these attacks in order to divert attention from the nuclear case. It is only going to increase attention to our nuclear case. And the ensuing chaos is Lebanon is detrimental in our interests”. Crisis Group telephone interview, 21 July 2006. Likewise on Syria, Nasrallah noted: “Does anybody believe that a confrontation of this kind will  cancel the international tribunal decision [concerning Rafiq al-Hariri’s murder] if there is an international will to establish an international tribunal?” He concluded: “Are we that crazy that I and my brothers want to sacrifice our souls, our families, our honourable masses and our dear ones in order to have Syria return to Lebanon, or to postpone the international tribunal, or for the sake of the Iranian nuclear file!...This is an insult”. Al-Jazeera interview.

Still, the IGC report stresses the involvement of Hizbullah with Iran and Syria:

Nor should one underestimate the regional angle.  Although there is no evidence that either Syria or Iran directly ordered the attack – and, operationally, considerable doubt that they could do so – it is difficult to imagine it taking place over their objections. The timing was, in this sense, wholly consistent with the mindset in both countries which, each for its own reason but both because they were under pressure, thought they might benefit from reminding the world of their more than nuisance capacity. More to the point, it fit in with a more aggressive Iranian posture that is seeking to assert itself regionally.  (my emphasis)

IGC describes the group this way:

At bottom, Hizbollah is a Shiite movement, indeed the Shiites’ prime organisational asset in a country long reserved primarily for Christian and Sunni Muslim interests.  It is also a national movement, intent on demonstrating cross-confessional appeal as the only effective defender of the country’s security, but it also possesses, critically, a regional identity, being closely tied to and, in some respects, dependent on Syria and Iran.  In a sense, Hizbollah is revolutionary Iran’s proudest achievement, the result of a two-decade long, billions of dollars investment. And it is an intensely ideological movement, holding to a revolutionary, internationalist Islamist creed, intent since Israel’s 2000 withdrawal on expanding its role to the Palestinian arena, all of which made one Lebanese commentator dub it “Islamism’s Trostkyites”[sic].  Hizbollah’s success stems from its remarkable ability to take advantage of the country’s political system and its tragic civil war to give a pan-Islamist revolutionary idea Lebanese roots.

"Islamism's Trotskyites":  I haven't heard that one before.

The IGC explains that because of various internal political considerations in Lebanon and expternal pressures, among the latter the Bush/neocon talk of reshaping the Middle East, Hizbullah has recently presented a confusing picture:

The result is a flurry of apparent contradictions.  Hizbollah gradually has been evolving toward a more mundane political organisation, and justification for its weapons ring increasingly hollow; yet its leaders cling to the dominant paradigm of “resistance” (muqawama).   The movement has joined the government and is ever more present inthe political system;yet, at the same time, it increasingly perceives that system as tainted from the inside, as several of its actors side with the external enemy.  More and more, Hizbollah is viewed as a sectarian organisation partaking in the banal apportionment of resources along confessional lines; yet it remains determined to maintain its image as a national movement and is as committed as ever to its revolutionary agenda.   And while the confrontation with Israel had become more muted, it considered the dangers for the region were becoming greater.  Whatever reasons existed for Hizbollah to transition toward a purely political party, more than enough reasons were pushing it the other way.

From 26 Hezbollah gunmen killed by IDF in Bint Jbail clashes By Ze'ev Schiff and Amos Harel Ha'aretz 07/29/06

The heads of two Israeli intelligence agencies disagree over how much the Israel Defense Forces assault has damaged Hezbollah, although both say the group has been weakened.

The Mossad intelligence agency says Hezbollah will be able to continue fighting at the current level for a long time to come, Mossad head Meir Dagan said.

However, Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin disagrees, seeing Hezbollah as having been severely damaged.

The IDF believes that at least 200 Hezbollah operatives have been killed since the fighting began more than two weeks ago, a military source said Friday.

Both intelligence chiefs agree that Hezbollah remains capable of command and control and still holds long-range missiles in its arsenal, they said at a security cabinet meeting Thursday.

This article provides some accounts of Hizbullah fighting style on the ground:  Wounded troops describe Bint Jbail battle as 'hell on earth' by Nir Hasson and Tomer Levi Ha'aretz 07/27/06.

The wounded soldiers described the battle as a bitter one which took place in a built-up setting, one where enemy forces had organized a well-planned ambush. Soldiers faced gunfire from any and all directions.

"They shot at us from 180 degrees," said one of the soldiers. Most of the dead and seriously wounded are those from the initial wave of ground troops which tried to enter one of thehomes in Bint Jbail.The soldiers who suffered light wounds are primarily those who arrived on the scene to retrieve the bodies of the dead and wounded soldiers lying in the battlefield. ...

One of Hezbollah's most troublesome position from which it fired upon soldiers was the towering mosque in the village.

"There were maybe 30 terrorists [in the mosque]," Shalom said.

Staff Sergeant Avraham Dajan was hit in his arm by shrapnel. "They fired from all directions, we tried to get to the wounded," he said. "As I was about to throw a grenade, I got hit by shrapnel. After I was hurt, I couldn't do anything. I saved myself."

Some of the wounded soldiers spoke of face-to-face clashes with Hezbollah operatives. However, none of the soldiers gave first-hand accounts of such incidents. The soldiers, who serve in the 51st battalion of the Golani infantry brigades, said their stay in Lebanon extended to three consecutive days, during which they managed very little sleep.

In an earlier post today at The Blue Voice, I referenced some other articles about Hizbullah.  And I also quoted from Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods (2004) by John Poole, who writes that Lebanese Hizbullah stresses martyrdom in training new fighters. "This may increase their willingness to engage in close combat".

He reports that by the latter half of the 1990s, Hizbullah had become especially skilled in using human intelligence to target enemy forces. Some of the information may have come from symapthizers in the Lebanese Army, but the group "depended mostly for real-time intelligence on the local population and long-range observation". And he writes:

More often than not, Hezbollah guerrillas would take IDF [Israeli Defense Force] units under fire with small arms or antitank missiles from a populated area. They did so to draw enough return fire to alienate the local population. To evoke a full Israeli response, the Islamic guerrillas would lob a few Katyusyha rockets into their border settlements. In essence, the guerrillas had learned to turn their foe's mindset against him.  (my emphasis)

In an observation that seems very relevant to what little we know of the IDF's experience on the ground in Lebanon the last two weeks, Poole writesthat the villages in southern Lebanon could:

... closely resemble the Vietnamese border hamlets into which 17 fully supported Chinese divisions could only penetrate 30 miles in 1979. Those hamlets were being manned by local militiamen too, as all the Vietnamese regulars were off fighting the Khymer Rouge in Cambodia. If those Lebanese villages had also been linked by tunnel, they would constitute a "soft, underground strongpoint defense" - the state of the art in rural defense. Any intruder risks surprise fire from every direction.  (my emphasis)

He quotes a 1997 report in the Financial Times saying, "Inside the zone [southern Lebanon] itself, the IDF is often pinned down in fixed positions, and no amount of air superiority can compensate for this weakness on the ground."

Poole says of Hizbollah's military methods, including some involving terrorist tactics:

While sneaky and immoral, it was nevertheless very effective. After 20 years of refinement in Lebanon, it had become a unique blend of Shiite martyrdom, high explosives, and guerrilla tactics. Because it spilled over into politics, media, religion, and psychology, it qualified as "4th-generation" warfare. Concurrently being developed (in large part by Sunnis) in Afghanistan and Chechnya was a similar approach.

Another strange George Bush press conference

Excerpt below from President Bush, Tony Blair Hold a Joint News Conference CQ Transcripts Wire/Washington Post 07/28/06.

This is the part where Bush went off in a way that really makes you wonder to what extent he believes what he saying or he's just starying rhetorically on message to what Karl Rove told him in preparation:

QUESTION: Mr. President, both of you, I'd like to ask you about the big picture that you're discussing.

Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today there is an Iraqi prime minister who has been sharply critical of Israel.

Arab governments, despite your arguments, who first criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel.

And despite from both of you warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored.

QUESTION: So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?

BUSH: It's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, "Let's hope everything is calm" - kind of, managed calm.  But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.

And so we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.

BUSH: And make no mistake: They're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for.

In the long term, to defeat this ideology - and they're bound by an ideology - you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.

And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred.  I understand that.  I just happen to believe it is possible.  And I believe it will happen.  [This is a favorite Bush rhetorical device, to refer to unnamed critics who supposedly are saying something, to which he then expresses his own, more appealing attitude; normally, as also in this cae, these alleged criticisms don't sound much like what his actual critics are saying about his policies.]

And so what you're seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles.

For example, you know, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision.  It just frightens them.

And so they respond. They've always been violent.

You know, I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden, Hezbollah's become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time. Or Hamas?  [He's just finished saying that the adherence of the Evil Ideology react against freedom and democracy because it "just frightens them".  Here he is scornfully refuting some "editorial thought" that supposedly says Hizbullah has become violent "because we're promoting democracy".]

One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.

BUSH: And so what the world is seeing is a desire by this country and our allies to defeat the ideology of hate with an ideology that has worked and that brings hope.

And one of the challenges, of course, is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free, that there's other people other than people in Britain and America that would like to be free in the world.  [Like Germany, France, Canada, Australia, maybe?  Plus a few dozen other functioning democracies?]

There's this kind of almost - kind of a weird kind of elitism that says well maybe - maybe certain people in certain parts of theworld shouldn't be free; maybe it's best just to let them sit in these tyrannical societies.

And our foreign policy rejects that concept. And we don't accept it. And so we're working.

BUSH: And this is - I said the other day, when these attacks took place, I said it should be a moment of clarity for people to see the stakes in the 21st century.

I mean, now there's an unprovoked attack on a democracy. Why?  I happen to believe because progress is being made toward democracies. [Now he's back to the notion that Hizbullah attacked Israel because Israel is a democracy.  Or because Lebanon is a democracy.  Or both.  Or something.]

And I believe that - I also believe that Iran would like to exert additional influence in the region; a theocracy would like to spread its influence using surrogates.

And so I'm as determined as ever to continue fostering a foreign policy based upon liberty.  And I think it's going to work unless we lose our nerve and quit.  And this government isn't going to quit.

QUESTION: But I asked about the loss of American influence, and are you worried about that?

BUSH: Well, we went to the G-8 and worked with our allies and got a remarkable statement on what took place.  We're working to get a United Nations resolution on Iran.  We're working to have a Palestinian state.

But the reason why you asked the question is because terrorists are trying to stop that progress. And we'll ultimately prevail, because their - they have - their ideology is so dark and so dismal that when people really think about it, it'll be rejected.

BUSH: They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you.

And my attitude is that now's the time to be firm. And we've got a great weapon on our side, and that is freedom and liberty. And it's got - those two concepts have got the capacity to defeat ideologies of hate.  (my emphasis)

Trying to follow the Israel-Lebanon War

Whenever I try to follow a "fast-breaking" story like the Israel-Lebanon War has been since July 12, I acquire new respect for real journalists, as much as I complain about the many shortcomings of the mainstream media.  Running down facts and sifting verifiable information from speculation, propaganda and disinformation is tough in these situations.  And some journalists are coming through on that.

Josh Marshall links to this story, which suggests that Hizbullah may have been attempting to provoke Israel into firing at the UN observation point that was struck this week, killing four UN personnel: Hezbollah was using UN post as 'shield': Canadian wrote of militia's presence, 'necessity' of bombing by Joel Kom, CanWest News Service/Ottawa Citizen 07/27/06.

Just last week, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener wrote an e-mail about his experiences after nine months in the area, words Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie said are an obvious allusion to Hezbollah tactics.

"What I can tell you is this," he wrote in an e-mail to CTV dated July 18. "We have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both (Israeli) artillery and aerial bombing.

"The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters (sic) of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters (sic) from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity."

Those words, particularly the last sentence, are not-so-veiled language indicating Israeli strikes were aimed at Hezbollah targets near the post, said Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie.

"What that means is, in plain English, 'We've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields and then engaging the (Israeli Defence Forces)," he said.

That would mean Hezbollah was purposely setting up near the UN post, he added. It's a tactic Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie, who was the first UN commander in Sarajevo during the Bosnia civil war, said he's seen in past international missions: Aside from UN posts, fighters would set up near hospitals, mosques and orphanages.

This does not mean there is no reason to question or criticize the Israeli strike on the UN post.  But it does suggest that it may have been done in pursuit of legitimate tactical military objectives.  As the article explains, however, the fact that Hizbullah had been operating around the post in previous days does not necessarily contradict UN claims that no such operations were in progress at the time the post was hit by Israeli planes.  It also mentions in the concluding paragraph that Israel up to that point had not used Hizbullah operations in the area as an "excuse" for the attack.

This article in today's Salon is an important one:  The "hiding among civilians" myth by Mitch Prothero Salon 07/28/06.  It addresses the question that I haven't seen addressed yet in any other media outlet:  is there any independent evidence for the Israeli claim that Lebanese Hizbullah is positioning its fighters, missiles and rocket launchers in civilian dwellings and civilian areas, and are therefore leaving Israel no choice but to strike those civilian areas?

Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around their targets, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths - the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far - on "terrorists" who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. ...

Although Israel targets apartments and offices because they are considered "Hezbollah" installations, the group has a clear policy of keeping its fighters away from civilians as much as possible. This is not for humanitarian reasons - they did, after all, take over an apartment building against the protests of the landlord, knowing full well it would be bombed - but for military ones.

"You can be a member of Hezbollah your entire life and never see a military wing fighter with a weapon," a Lebanese military intelligence official, now retired, once told me. "They do not come out with their masks off and never operate around people if they can avoid it. They're completely afraid of collaborators. They know this is what breaks the Palestinians - no discipline and too much showing off."

Perhaps once a year, Hezbollah will hold a militaryparade in the south, in which its weapons and fighters appear. Media access to these parades is tightly limited and controlled. Unlike the fighters in the half dozen other countries where I have covered insurgencies, Hezbollah fighters do not like to show off for the cameras. In Iraq, with some risk taking, you can meet with and even watch the resistance guys in action. (At least you could during my last time there.) In Afghanistan, you can lunch with Taliban fighters if you're willing to walk a day or so in the mountains. In Gaza and the West Bank, the Fatah or Hamas fighter is almost ubiquitous with his mask, gun and sloganeering to convince the Western journalist of the justice of his cause.

The Hezbollah guys, on the other hand, know that letting their fighters near outsiders of any kind - journalists or Lebanese, even Hezbollah supporters - is stupid. In three trips over the last week to the south, where I came near enough to the fighting to hear Israeli artillery, and not just airstrikes, I saw exactly no fighters. Guys with radios with the look of Hezbollah always found me. But no fighters on corners, no invitations to watch them shoot rockets at the Zionist enemy, nothing that can be used to track them.

Prothero has found in his reporting that Hizbullah is careful to maintain a distance, physical and organizationally, it seems, between the combatants (guerrilla fighters) and the civilian elements of the group - party members, social service operators, etc.:

Hezbollah's political members say they have little or no access to the workings of the fighters. This seems to be largely true: While they obviously hear and know more than the outside world, the firewall is strong.

Israel, however, has chosen to treat the political members of Hezbollah as if they were fighters. And by targeting the civilian wing of the group, which supplies much of the humanitarian aid and social protection for the poorest people in the south, they are targeting civilians. ...

So the analysts talking on cable news about Hezbollah "hiding within the civilian population" clearly have spent little time if any in the south Lebanon war zone and don't know what they're talking about. Hezbollah doesn't trust the civilian population and has worked very hard to evacuate as much of it as possible from the battlefield. And this is why they fight so well - with no one to spy on them, they have lots of chances to takethe Israel Defense Forces by surprise, as they have by continuing to fire rockets and punish every Israeli ground incursion.

The following paper focuses specifically on the similar though separate non-binding resolution on the Israel-Lebanon War that the two houses of Congress passed:  Congress and the Israeli Attack on Lebanon: A Critical Reading by Stephen Zunes (Foreign Policy in Focus paper) 07/22/06.

 It specifically looks at the House version and provides a lot of information in the process of commenting on and critiquing the resolution.

He catches a factual error in the House resolution, which says, "Whereas despite the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, the Government of Lebanon has failed to *disband* and disarm Hezbollah ... "  (my emphasis).  As Zunes explains, "UN Security Council resolution 1559 does not call for Hezbollah or any other Lebanese political party to be disbanded, only for their armed militias to be disbanded."

The actual text of Resolution 1559 is available online under UN Security Council Resolutions 2004; here is the direct link to the text of 1559, though I had some trouble with the direct link.

Resolution 1559 was passed 09/02/04.  I find that some of the reference I see to 1559 in news reports and commentary can be puzzling without knowing the date of the resolution.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

James Bamford on the Iran hawks

One of the leading historians of intelligence matters in the US writes on the Franklin spy case and related matters in Iran: The Next War by James Bamford Rolling Stone 07/24/06.  Bamford reports:

In recent weeks, the attacks by Hezbollah on Israel have given neoconservatives in the Bush administration the pretext they were seeking to launch what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls "World War III." Denouncing the bombings as "Iran's proxy war," William Kristol of The Weekly Standard is urging the Pentagon to counter "this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities." According to Joseph Cirincione, an arms expert and the author of Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, "The neoconservatives are now hoping to use the Israeli-Lebanon conflict as the trigger to launch a U.S. war against Syria, Iran or both."

His articles gives quite a bit of background on Michael Ledeen, a player in the Iran-Contra scandal (which seems to have been the template for much of the Cheney-Bush administration's foreign policy), who is still an avid advocate of the US making war on Iran.

He describes how the Iran hawks are trying to use a similar strategy of hype and fake claims to gin up war against Iran.

I haven't followed this story in close enough detail to say if Bamford's article breaks any new ground here.  But it's certainly an informative and fascinating story.  I was especially interested in the part dealing with an event that has been publicly reported for quite a while but hasn't really gotten much attention from our Potemkin press corps: the leaking of US signals intelligence to Iran, a far more serious breach of security than the Valerie Plame outing - and the latter was serious enough to legitimately be described as treasonous.

Bamford writes:

For years, the National Security Agency had possessed the codes used by Iran to encrypt its diplomatic messages, enabling the U.S. government to eavesdrop on virtually every communication between Tehran and its embassies.  After the U.S. invaded Baghdad, the NSA used the codes to listen in on details of Iran's covert operations inside Iraq.  But in 2004, the agency intercepted a series of urgent messages from the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. Intelligence officials at the embassy had discovered the massive security breach—tipped off by someone familiar with the U.S. code-breaking operation.

The blow to intelligence-gathering could not have come at a worse time.  The Bush administration suspected that the Shiite government in Iran was aiding Shiite insurgents in Iraq, who were killing U.S. soldiers. The administration was also worried that Tehran was secretly developing nuclear weapons.  Now, crucial intelligence that might have shed light on those operations had been cut off, potentially endangering American lives.

On May 20th [2003], shortly after the discovery of the leak, Iraqi police backed by American soldiers raided [Ajmand] Chalabi's home and offices in Baghdad.  The FBI suspected that Chalabi, a Shiite who had a luxurious villa in Tehran and was close to senior Iranian officials, was actually working as a spy for the Shiite government of Iran.  Getting the U.S. to invade Iraq was apparently part of a plan to install a pro-Iranian Shiite government in Baghdad, with Chalabi in charge. The bureau also suspected that Chalabi's intelligence chief had furnished Iran with highly classified information on U.S. troop movements, top-secret communications, plans of the provisional government and other closely guarded material on U.S. operations in Iraq.  On the night of the raid, The CBS Evening News carried an exclusive report by correspondent Lesley Stahl that the U.S. government had "rock-solid" evidence that Chalabi had been passing extremely sensitive intelligence to Iran - evidence so sensitive that it could "get Americans killed."  (my emphasis)

There's a common theme here with the Iran-Contra affair.  In both cases, supposedly tough-minded American hard-liners were conned into supporting a plan that benefitted Iran at the expense of American interests.  Bamford continues:

That night [May 21], Stahl followed up her original report with "new details" - the information leaked earlier that day by Franklin.  She began, however, by making clear that she would not divulge the most explosive detail of all: the fact that Chalabi had wrecked the NSA's ability to eavesdrop onIran.  "Senior intelligence officials were stressing today that the information Ahmed Chalabi is alleged to have passed on to Iran is so seriously sensitive that the result of full disclosure would be highly damaging to U.S. security," Stahl said. " Because of that, we are not reporting the details of what exactly Chalabi is said to have compromised, at the request of U.S. officials at the highest levels.  The information involves secrets that were held by only a handful of very senior intelligence officials."  Thanks to the pressure from the administration, the public was prevented from learning the most damaging aspect of Chalabi's treachery. (my emphasis)

I hope Bamford is wrong in his concluding judgment that the Iran hawks are in the driver's seat on policy right now.  There have been definite indications in recent months that more sensible heads were prevailing on Iran policy.  I hope the latter is correct, and that it continues.

Various articles on the Middle East situation

Here are some of the latest that I've found notable in some way.

This is a rather bizarre piece on "Christian Zionism", i.e., fundamentalist and Pentecostal Christians who eagerly greet every new conflict in the Middle East as a sign of the imminent Second Coming of Christ:  I Want Falwell In My Foxhole by Zev Chafets Los Angeles Times 07/23/06.

Speaking of a Pentecostal minister and her husband, he writes:

Exactly a year ago, she and her husband, Bill, a retired brigadier general in the Georgia National Guard, took me on a tour of Armageddon. Connie read aloud obscure biblical prophecies about the apocalypse, taken from the Old Testament books of Ezekiel and Daniel and the New Testament's Book of Revelation.  Later, Bill pointed out the military terrain in the Jezreel Valley, where he expects 2 billion enemy soldiers to gather against the forces of good.  He wasn't sure what God's strategy would be, but applying military principles, he envisioned something like Sherman's capture of Atlanta, or so it seemed to me.

Secular liberals find this scenario preposterous. On the other hand, many of these same scoffers profoundly believe that high-octane gasoline and the profligate use of electric home appliances will heat planet Earth to a doomsday temperature last experienced 420,000 years ago (when, presumably, gas was a dime a gallon and it was OK to leave the TV on all night).

What a strange framework for this phenomenon!  He equates crackpot fundamentalist apocalypticism with concern about global warming.  But one of those is based on actual science - experiments and observation and measurement - and the other is based on a goofy interpretation of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. "Secular liberals" find the common fundi notions of the End of the World "preposterous"?  Even a little inquiry would show that mainstream Christians also find those ideas ridiculous.

Chafets welcomes the support of the Christian Zionists.  He doesn't inform his readers about the imagined fate of the Jews of the world in the fundi End Times scenario:  that most of them will be slaughtered and the few remaining will convert to Christianity, i.e., stop being Jews.  He talks about donations of "tens of millions of dollars from evangelicals for Jewish causes" but doesn't mention that much of the money from fundi "supporters of Israel" goes to illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, the single biggest barriet to a permanent peace settlement with the Palestinians.

Also from the Times, Who Says War Has to Be Proportional? by Jonathan Chait 07/23/06.  Some immediate answer to the question in the title would be:  international law, the morality of every major religion, plain good sense, elemental good judgment, a desire to avoid escalating war and killing unnecessarily.

Chait's argument is mainly an alibi for civilian casualties inflicted by Israel in Lebanon.  Of course, what's a good argument for discarding law and morality to kill civilians without some fatuous analogy from the Second World War, and that's not missing.  His argument:

Now, it is true that Israel's counteroffensive has taken the lives of several hundred Lebanese civilians (many entirely innocent, others who sheltered Hezbollah rockets) and displaced perhaps half a million more. Every innocent death is a tragedy.

But the brutal fact is that civilian deaths are Hezbollah's strongest weapon.  As Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, once said: "We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable.  The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win because they love life and we love death."

Thus Hezbollah places its rockets and other potential targets in homes, knowing that Israel cannot hit back without creating collateral damage.  This does not relieve Israel of the burden of minimizing civilian casualties as best it can.  The point is that if Israel has to operate under a code of ethics that renders civilian deaths unacceptable, then it automatically loses.  The ramifications would be dire and ultimately aid the cause of Islamic radicals in such a way as to bring about many more innocent deaths over the long run.

By Pallas Athena, if hackneyed sayings were weapons, American hawks would have crushed every Muslim terrorist in the world long ago.  That "they love life and we love death" saying, which Bush has also used, would seem to mean on the face of it that Our Side is more willing to sacrifice for our cause than Your Side.  American conservatives seem to find some deeper meaning in it that's most likely not there.

Chait's article is one more illustration among unfortunately many, many others, that straightforwardly obscene ideas have become "respectable" among large numbers of good Republican white folks.  In the case, the argument that in order to defeat the Evil Muslims who love death more than life, we (or at least Israel) have to discard any "code of ethics that renders civilian deaths unacceptable".  Otherwise people who value death more than life would win out over our Western Civilization that is much superior to that.

This is just another cynical argument from killing civilians.  Plus, I've yet to see more than official Israeli government claims to verify that Hizbullah actually places so many missiles and missile launchers among residential neighborhoods.

And this is another Deep Thought:

Sure, there are hawks who are predisposed to believe in the efficacy of military force. The doves, though, have an equally strong disposition to believe that military force inevitably fails.

As the Daily Howler has been known to ask, what planet do these people we call our "press corps" come from?  In what alternative reality do "doves" even say that "military force inevitably fails", much less have a "strong disposition to believe" it?  Do they make it up on their own?  Or is their some kind of secret journalists' guild that trains people on how to cough up airhead nonsense on a regular basis.  I realize that's a dismissal rather than a refutation.  But what's to refute?  I've never met any "doves" who I've heard say anything like that.

Now, anyone who's not fully aware that every war causes terrible suffering, and that even when war is necessary it's a necessary evil, should really just shut the hell up talking about war at all.  Of course they won't.

So, Pakistán construye un reactor nuclear capaz de fabricar 50 bombas al año, según expertos de EE UU El País 24.07.06 (Pakistan is constructing a nuclear reactor capable of producing 50 bombs per year, according to American experts).  Another victory for the Cheney-Bush nonproliferation policy.

Spain's ruling Socialist Party(PSOE) has criticized Israel for seeking out "civilian victims" (El PSOE asegura que las 'víctimas civiles' son uno de los objetivos buscados por Israel El Mundo 24.07.06.  Israel was predictably unhappy about that.  But the PSOE stuck to its criticism.  The party secretary's statement on the issue also very clearly condemned Hizbullah for terrorist acts and for aiming missiles at civilian targets in Israel.

Laura Rozen writes about Bush's diplomacy allergy Salon 07/25/06:

Increasingly, some former U.S. policymakers and diplomats, including self-described conservatives, are losing patience with the Bush administration's allergy to talking, and are challenging its underlying assumption. The rationale for not talking to rogue regimes and extremist groups is that it rewards or legitimates them, demonstrates appeasement, and therefore sets back U.S. security interests.

"In diplomacy, you do not negotiate peace with your friends," says former Undersecretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Edward Djerejian, who served as ambassador to Syria and Lebanon during the George H.W. Bush administration. "You negotiate peace with your enemies and your adversaries. That is one of the highest tasks of diplomacy.

"In the Arab-Israeli equation, people often say we have to put pressure on the parties to make peace," Djerejian continued. "There's some truth to that. At the same time, you have to deal with all relevant parties in order to obtain the political buy-in and chart out the common ground to make necessary compromises to come to an agreement. For that, you need dialogue and muscular diplomacy."

Blair broke with the Cheney-Bush administration relatively early, or so it appears from his public position.  But Blair has been such a faithful servant, it's hard to know how much this means:  Blair: Situation in Lebanon a catastrophe Yedioth Ahronoth 07/24/06:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday afternoon defined what is taking place in Lebanon as a "catastrophe." According to Blair, the situation is harming the state and weakening democracy.

He said he hoped a peace plan for Lebanon can emerge within days that could lead to a cessation of  hostilities, but said details need to be worked out for an international force before a ceasefire could be declared that would hold on both sides.

"I don't want the killing to go on. I want the killing to stop. Now. It's got to stop on both sides and it's not going to stop on both sides without a plan to make it stop," Blair said. ...

Egypt is also calling for a cease-fire:

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on Monday also called for an immediate ceasefire in Israel's military campaign against Hizbullah in Lebanon, saying a longer term solution could be worked out later.

In a statement carried by the nation's Middle East News Agency, Mubarak also warned that the onslaught could cause "a humanitarian catastrophe."

"The situation is very grave and needs an urgent action to reach a cease-fire and put an endto hostilities," Mubarak said. "After the cease fire we can deal with all issues causing the current problem."

I don't cite this guy enough:  Collateral Damage: An Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon hits a bus filled with women and children trying to flee the region, raising questions about whether Israel is doing enough to avoid civilian casualties by Kevin Sites, In The Hot Zone, Yahoo! 07/23/06

Israeli air strikes are taking a tremendous toll on the civilian population in southern Lebanon, with an attack Sunday on a bus filled with women and children that left three dead and 13 injured, many of them severely. ...

A nurse at the hospital says the victims were traveling from their village of Tairi, fleeing north because of the air strikes, when their own bus was hit. ...

The bus incident is the latest, and one of the most dramatic, illustrations of civilians being killed and wounded by Israeli air strikes, which Israel claims are focused on Hezbollah forces and weapons. Yet the strikes are having a punishing effect on the general Lebanese population and infrastructure.

"People are starting to realize this isn't a war against Hezbollah," says Timor Goksel, former head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon for more than 25 years. "It's a war against the country, against the infrastructure."

Some analysts have theorized that with attacks against civilians and non-military installations, Israel is trying to turn the Lebanese population against Hezbollah by making them pay a price as Hezbollah's host nation.  Goksel says the strategy will never work, since Hezbollah isn't just an organization, but part of the fabric of Shia society.

This is from a Lebanese paper: A new Middle East, or Rice's fantasy ride? by Rami Khouri Daily Star 07/24/06.

Short-term, the US would like Israel to wipe out Hizbullah, allow the Lebanese government to send its troops to the South of the country, ensure the safety of northern Israel, cut Syria's influence down to size, and apply greater pressure on Hizbullah supporter Iran.

The US opposes a cease-fire, therefore, because, "a cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo," Rice said.

This diplomatic position to support Israel's attacks on Lebanon, coupled with rushing sophisticated precision-guided bombs to Israel from the US arsenal, indicates that Washington seriously aims to fundamentally redraw the political and ideological map of the Middle East in the longer term.  If this means yet  another Arab land goes up in flames and war, so be it, Washington seems to be saying. So we now have three Arab countries where American policies and arms have played a major role in promoting chaos, disintegration and mass death and suffering: Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. You can watch them burn, live on your television sets.

Ironically, these were the three countries that Bush-Rice & Co. have held up as models and pioneers of the American policy to promote freedom and democracy as antidotes to Arab despotism and terrorism.  ...

The numbing fact that Bush-Rice fail to acknowledge - perhaps understandably, given the alcoholic's tendency to evade reality - is that Washington now can only speak to a few Arab governments (in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere) who are in almost no position to impact on anyone other than their immediate families and many guards.  (my emphasis) 

The following three articles are from the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly 07/20-26/06.  I'm not familiar enough with Al-Ahram to have a good sense of how useful their articles are.  But here are three of them, for what they're worth.  These articles are not individually dated.  But presumably they were all completed no later than mid-week of last week, before Israel moved significant numbers of ground troops into Lebanon.

The wrath to come by Graham Usher

It is all eerily similar to the hubris that accompanied the first weeks of Israel's 1982 invasion. Then too there were predictions that the PLO would be vanquished "within a week." The PLO fought for over 100 days. Hizbullah is an indigenous movement, with a solid Shia constituency which views it as their only protector. The idea that Hizbullah can somehow be "removed from Lebanon" is an Israeli fantasy. "We will never leave, even if Lebanon is reduced to scorched earth," says Hizbullah cadre, Abdullah Kassir. He means it.

Israel's ambition is driven by the "regional equation." Since 2002, Israel has ploughed a unilateralist path in the Palestinian occupied territories with the encouragement of the United States, complicity of Europe and passivity of the Arab League. The only consistent resistance has come from Hamasand Hizbullah and their regional allies, Syria and Iran. By delivering Hizbullah a mortal blow in Lebanon, Israel believes it can "serve deterrence" on Tehran and Damascus without resort to a regional war. It also believes it can remove the last barrier to knocking over the Hamas government in Gaza.

This is particularly important for Olmert. A shibboleth of the Israeli right and many in the army is that Israel's flight from Lebanon in 2000 cleared the way for the Intifada. The same forces think the Gaza disengagement enabled the Qassam rockets and Hamas's electoral victory. The centrepiece of Olmert's political programme is some kind of territorial redeployment on the occupied West Bank. He knows that "realignment" cannot happen, domestically, if Hamas and the other Palestinian resistance forces are fighting in Gaza and Hizbullah remains armed and in place on the Lebanese border.

Beirut burns by Lucy Fielder

... Hizbullah's support remains strong and Nasrallah's calm, eloquent televised addresses show he is determined not to blink first.  "Just as I always promised you victory, now I promise you victory once again," he said late last week as he literally worked his way up to the bomb-shell - that an Israeli battleship being used to strike Lebanon was burning off the coast.  One youth on Beirut's sea front at the weekend summed up the situation of many Sunnis and others in the country who are torn between support for their usual preferred leaders and fury about the Israeli strikes.  "A week ago, I would have told you I hated Nasrallah.  But now I pray for victory."  The government's pro-Western stance sits uncomfortably with the West's support for the country that is bombing their state back to the dark ages of 1990, when the civil war ended.

With its carefully planned capture of two Israeli soldiers, Hizbullah sought an escalation that would prove what it sees as the logic of force, says Amal Saad-Ghoreyeb, a professor of politics at the Lebanese American University.  It seeks to show once and for all that Israel remains Lebanon's enemy and that the state is powerless to protect the long-suffering Shiaof the south, in particular. Israel's actions play into their hands.  "This disproportionate response to a  military strike will simply show that Israel remains a serious threat and will seize any opportunity to attack Lebanese territory," she said.

Together we stand by Serene Assir

Today, the political line-up [in Lebanon] that preceded the attack remains more or less extant, and calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah continue to be heard, in some ways louder than ever and to a chorus of approval from the international community. "Hizbullah's operation was unfounded," prominent MP and member of the 14 March Movement Samir Franjiyye told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that during the course of the failed Lebanese National Dialogue, "we had worked to prevent this situation by trying to come to an agreement that Hizbullah had to disarm."

Given continued postponements and a total lack of commitment by participants to openness, the dialogue quickly became a non-starter. Now, however, some say that Hizbullah's decision to go it alone has crushed the legitimacy of Lebanon's government. "Hizbullah has essentially denied the state the entirety of its legitimacy by this single act," Franjiyye added. "Only the Lebanese elected government, which represents the will of the people, has the legitimacy to act on issues determining war and peace, and Hizbullah has unjustly claimed it for itself."

The complexity surrounding the current situation in Lebanon is further inflamed by unanswered questions regarding what exactly led Hizbullah to act now. Even more accusatory than Franjiyye was Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, also a member of parliament, who declared Hizbullah is fighting Iran's proxy war with Israel on Lebanese soil. "The war is no longer Lebanon's - it is an Iranian war," he said, adding to the din of voices that appear more than eager to escalate conflict in the Middle East even beyond their means, including that of United States President George W Bush on open mic at the recent G8 summit.

This is a very disturbing report: High-ranking officer: Halutz ordered retaliation policy by Yaakov Katz Jerusalem Post 07/24/06.

A high-ranking IAF officer caused a storm on Monday in an off-record briefing during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike onHaifa.

The officer said that the equation was created by Halutz and that every rocket strike on Haifa would be answered by IAF missile strikes on 10 12-story buildings in the Beirut neighborhood of Dahiya, a Hizbullah stronghold. Since the beginning of Operation Change of Direction, launched on July 12 following the abduction of two soldiers during a Hizbullah cross-border attack, over 80 buildings in the neighborhood have been destroyed.

An official denial followed publication of that news.

Firepower versus brainpower by Yoel Marcus Ha'aretz 07/25/06 reflects some of the concerns about the performance of the IDF that have accompanied the Israel-Lebanon War:
Two weeks after Israel set out to defeat Hezbollah, its military achievements are pretty limited.  A country that stood up to seven Arab nations in the War of Independence, a war of the "few against the many," with an army that pulverized the invading forces of three Arab nations in the span of six days, is now facing an embarrassing role reversal: a war of the "many against the few" in which Israel is on the floorboards.

Who would have believed that a guerrilla organization with a few hundred regular fighters, something like a brigade and a half, could paralyze half a country, firing off hundreds of missiles every day?  A total of 2,200 by Sunday morning, says the defense minister.  Who would have believed that cities like Safed, Acre, Nahariya, Tiberias and especially Haifa, the capital of the North, would wake up every morning to the sound of sirens and deadly rocket fire that would turn tens of thousands of people into refugees and shut down life in a large part of the country?  And that's even before Hezbollah has tried to use its long-range missiles on Tel Aviv.

Saudi king warns of Middle East war Aljazeera 07/25/06 reports on Saudi Arabia's position:

The king of Saudi Arabia has warned that war could break out in the Middle East if attempts to broker peace in the region fail.

In a statement read out on state televisionon Tuesday, KingAbdullah said, "If the option of peace fails as a result of Israeli arrogance, then the only option remaining will be war, and God alone knows what the region would witness in a conflict that would spare no one."

The king appealed to the world to stop Israeli attacks on Lebanon, and also pledged to donate over $1.5 billion to the country, according to the statement by the royal court.

The king has assigned $500 million for the reconstruction of Lebanon, and $1 billion to be deposited in Lebanon's central bank to support the economy.

How Lebanon's Siniora sought Britain's help in May 2006 to disarm Hizbullah

This article from Austria's leading weekly news magazine Profil mentions something I have not seen reported elsewhere:  Nahost: Schlacht ohne Sieger. Warum im Libanon-Konflikt keiner gewinnen kann von Martin Staudinger und Robert Treichler Profil 30/2006 (accessed 07/26/06).  The report:

Im vergangenen Mai reiste er [libanesischen Premierminister Fuad Siniora] zum britischen Premier Tony Blair nach London, um ihn um Hilfe zu bitten. Siniora wollte der Hisbollah ihre letzte Rechtfertigung nehmen, eine bewaffnete Miliz zu stellen - den Streit um die Shebaa-Farmen, die von Israel besetzt sind, laut UN aber Syrien zustehen, tatsächlich aber nicht von Syrien, sondern vom Libanon beansprucht werden. Siniora schlug Blair vor, erst die UN zu überzeugen, dass die Shebaa-Farmen zum Libanon gehörten, danach Israel zum Abzug zu bewegen und anschließend die Hisbollah vor vollendete Tatsachen zu stellen: keine Gebietsstreitigkeiten mehr, also freiwillige Entwaffnung.

Wie erfolgversprechend Sinioras Initiative war, ist ungewiss. Mit der Entführung der Israelis kam die Hisbollah diesem Vorhaben jedenfalls zuvor und torpedierte es.

[This past May [Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora] traveled to London to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in order to ask him for help.  Siniora wanted to take away Hizbullah's last justification for maintaining an armed militia - the conflict over the Sheba Farms, which are occupied by Israel but according to the UN Syria is entitled to them though they are claimed by Lebanon.  Siniora proposed to Blair that he [Blair] first convince the UN that the Sheba farms belong to Lebanon, then convince Israel to withdraw and, finally, to present Hizbullah with an accomplished fact: no more territorial disputes, therefore they should voluntarily disarm.

How successful Siniora's initiative [to Blair] was is unknown.  In any case, with the the kidnapping of the Israelis, Hizbullah forestalled this plan and torpedoed it.]

This is more than a purely minor point in this particular situation.  One of Israel's official claims - which it's genuinely hard for me to believe anyone at all familiar with the situation can take seriously - is that they are trying with this war to force the Lebanese government to take action to disarm Hizbullah.  The fact that Siniora - who up until July 12 was a model for democratization to the Cheney-Bush administration - as recently as May was seriously working on a plan to disarm Hizbullah is something that really should be more a part of the public discussion on this.

Maybe if we had a press corps in America whose main focus was to practice actual journalism, it would be.

And you thought the Cheney administration was reckless in *Iraq* ...

Ken Silverstein is reporting for Harper's online that "a well-connected former CIA officer" is telling him that the Cheney-Bush administration considering deploying American troops to Lebanon (Could U.S. Troops End Up in Lebanon? 07/26/06):

The officer, who had broad experience in the Middle East while at the CIA, noted that NATO and European countries, including England, have made clear that they are either unwilling or extremely reluctant to participate in an international force. Given other nations' lack of commitment, any “robust” force - between 10,000 and 30,000 troops, according to estimates being discussed in the media - would by definition require major U.S. participation. According to the former official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a “multinational” deployment, and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea.

The uniformed military, however, is ardently opposed to sending American soldiers to the region, according to my source. “They are saying 'What the [Cheney]?'” he told me. “Most of our combat-ready divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or on their way, or coming back. The generals don't like it because we're already way overstretched.”  (my emphasis)

What the [Cheney] indeed!

Joschka Fischer on the Israel-Lebanon War, and SPIEGEL mimics some bad habit of the US "press corps"

When I first saw this Spiegel article, I was ready to start harshing on my man Joschka Fischer:  "Krieg gegen die Existenz Israels" ("War against the existence of Israel") Der Spiegel Online 25.07.06.  But whoever wrote the Spiegel report screwed it up.

I'm still a bit disappointed to see that Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister and former leader of the German Greens, has endorsed Israel's position in the war with Lebanon to the extent he has, in calling the Hizbollah attacks a war against Israel's existence.  (This is also called an "existential war", which does not mean it has anything to do with Albert Camus.)  But, as often is the case in diplomacy, context matters.

And the brief Spiegel article gives an inadequate impression of Fischer's position, especially in saying, "Joschka Fischer hat sich in der Nahost-Krise sehr deutlich auf die Seite Israels gestellt" (Joschka Fischer has placed himself squarely on the side of Israel in the Near East crisis.)

Fischer is one of my favorite politicians anywhere.  But he can't seriously believe that Hizbollah's July 12 raid on the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and its subsequent rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, as bad and as criminal as they are, represent a proxy war by Iran and Syria against the existence of Israel.  Maybe Iran and Syria and Hizbollah would prefer that Israel didn't exist as a state.  But none of those three or Hamas either seriously can threaten Israel's existence.  Israel is a regional superpower with up to 300 nuclear weapons.  Despite the surprising problems the IDF seem to be having in Lebanon, it is more than capable of preventing any serious attempt to destroy the country.

The Spiegel article is actually a report on this analysis by Fischer in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: 
Krieg gegen die Existenz Israels 26.07.06.  I'm willing to cut Fischer some slack on the "war against the existence of Israel" framing.  Because the thrust of his article is to insist on the importance of the "Quartet" - the US, the EU, the UN and Russia - pushing in a serious way for a settlement of the outstanding territorial and political issues between Israel and its neighbors, especially the Palestinian problems.

Fischer writes:

Israel wäre gut beraten, auch die politischen Möglichkeiten dieses Krieges zu nutzen und aus einer Position der Stärke heraus initiativ zu werden: mit einem umfassenden Friedensangebot an all diejenigen, die zur Anerkennung Israels nicht nur in Worten, sondern vor allem in Taten bereit sind und auf dauerhaften Gewaltverzicht setzen.

Think big! Dies gilt aber nicht nur für Israel, sondern auch und gerade für die USA und Europa. Der Krieg eröffnet eine Chance für den Frieden, die nicht vertan werden sollte.

[Israel would be well-advised to also use the political possibilities of this war and to take the initiative out of a position of strength:  with a comprehensive peace offer to all those who are ready to recognize Israel not only in words, but above all in deed and to conclude a lasting peace.

Think big!  This goes not only for Israel, but also and particularly for the USA and Europe.  The war opens up a chance for the peace that should not be frittered away.]

Such a comprehensive peace offer is something that Israel has resisted for years.  Reading between the lines here just a bit, Fischer is suggesting that this is an excellent opportunity for the EU to raise its profile and increase its influence in the Middle East.  Because Fischer obviously knows that the Cheney-Bush administration is never going to do anything like this.

The rest of Fischer's article is interesting, and far more worthwhile than anything we're remotely likely to see from any spokesperson of the Cheney-Bush administration.

Die Hisbollah (und nicht die libanesische Regierung und deren Armee) kontrolliert seit dem israelischen Rückzug aus dem Südlibanon die libanesisch-israelische Grenze.

[Hizbollah (and not the Lebanese government and its army) have controlled the Lebanese-Israeli border since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.]

Fischer is saying that everyone concerned, including Israel, is very aware that the Lebanese government is not responsible for the attack of July 12 or Hizbollah's actions generally, which claim is a key part of Israel's justification for wholesale attacks on Lebanon, including areas not remotely controlled by Hizbollah.

Fischer argues that Hizbollah is not pursuing any Lebanese national interest, but more the interests of Syria and Iran.  I'm leery of this particular formulation, because there is no reason that I've yet seen to believe that either country operationally controls Hizbollah.  And its by no means clear that Hizbollah expected the July 12 raid, which Israel used as a justification for making war against Lebanon, to initiate this kind of war.

Still, Fischer's description of the goals in the current situation of what he calls the "rejectionist front" of Lebanese Hizbollah, Iran and Syria is certainly worth considering:

Die Ablehnungsfront suchte aus drei Gründen die Eskalation: erstens, um dem innerpalästinensischen Druck auf die Hamas zur Anerkennung Israels zu entgehen. Zweitens, um den libanesischen Demokratisierungsprozess zu erledigen. Und drittens, um den sich aufbauenden Konflikt um das iranische Atomprogramm in den Hintergrund zu drängen und dem Westen die „Werkzeuge“ für einen möglichen Konflikt zu demonstrieren.

[The rejectionist front sought the escalation for three reasons:  first, to relieve the intra-Palestinian pressure on Hamas to recognize Israel.  Second, to harm the Lebanese democratization process.  And third, to push the building conflict over the Iranian nuclear program into the background and to demonstrate to the West the "tools" [that they have] for a possible conflict.]

Even the "war for Israel's existence" phrase is misleading in itself, and may even be the product of the headline-writer.  (By Hera, the Spiegel article was a screwed-up report on Fischer's article!)

Freilich kann sich diese Strategie, bestehend aus einem Angriff auf Israel und einem Krieg im Libanon und Gaza, als Fehlkalkulation erweisen. Durch den Raketenbeschuss von Haifa, der drittgrößten Stadt Israels, wurde eine Grenze überschritten, die weit reichende Konsequenzen haben wird. Es geht ab sofort nicht mehr überwiegend um Territorium, um Rückgabe oder Besetzung, um ein oder zwei Staaten im Nahostkonflikt, sondern nun wird die strategische Bedrohung Israels (und das heißt: seine Existenz als solche) im Vordergrund stehen.

Die Ablehnungsfront hat die israelische Entschlossenheit und Abschreckungsfähigkeit unterschätzt. Sie hat die Unmöglichkeit einer Rückkehr zum Status quo im Libanon bewiesen. Und sie hat die hegemonialen Ansprüche, vor allem Teherans, sichtbar gemacht. Diese Fehlkalkulation wird vor allem dann sichtbar werden, wenn erstens Israel bei dem begrenzten Ziel massiver Abschreckung bleibt und sich nicht in einen Bodenkrieg im Libanon hineinziehen lässt. 

[Certainly this strategy, based on an attack on Israel and a war in Lebanon and Gaza can turn out to be a miscalculation.  By the rocket attacks on Haifa, the third-largest city of Isreal, a border was crossed that will have far-reaching consequences.  No it has to do not primarily with territory, with withdrawal or occupation, with one or two states in the Near East conflict, but now the strategic threat to Israel (and that means: its existence as such) will be standing in the foreground.

The rejectionist front underestimated Israel's determination and readiness to practice deterrance.  They have proven the impossibility of a return to the status quo in Lebanon, and they have made the hegemonial aspirations, of Iran above all, apparent.  This miscalculation will become most clearly visible, if Israel first sticks to the limited goal of massive deterrence and does not let itself be drawn into a ground war in Lebanon.]

Fischer here is using diplomatic language that can be read flexibly.  But it's clear to me that he's saying that the attacks on Haifa had a drastic effect on Israelis' perception of the war.  And it's hard to miss that Fischer is saying that Israel would be very ill-advised to be sucked into the ground war in Lebanon that's starting to  look inevitable.  Doing so would mean that Israel would forfeit some of the benefits that could come from the new view of the situation that Fischer describes.

Fischer proceeds to outline a strategy - the first point of which he describes in the quote just given, that Israel not get sucked into a land war - that would go far toward neutralizing the "rejectionist front" and move the peace process along.  The second element would be restoring the status quo in Lebanon but with the disarming of Hizbollah mandated by UN Resolution 1559, which would be accomplished with international assistance to Lebanon.  Third would be to build on the possibilities opened up briefly by the position of concern about Hizbollah's actions taken by the (he-doesn't-call-them-Sunni-but-that's-what-he-means) states of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt to push forward the peace process.

Fourth and finally, the "Quartet" would have to get serios about pushing for a comprehensive settlement "led by the USA".

What Fischer is laying out here is a diplomatic proposal that has already to some extent been taken over by events.  Saudi Arabia, for instance, is positioning itself more clearly on Lebanon's side despite its anti-Shi'a position toward Hizbollah.

But he's mainly trying to orient the players' strategic thinking towards a meaningful peace process.  Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a leading European Green, has suggested Fischer as a mediator in the Israel-Lebanon War.  So Fischer surely has in mind in writing this that he could be asked by the EU to play a direct diplomatic role in the crisis.

Und Israel selbst? Hat die Erkenntnis einer neuen strategischen Bedrohung nicht ein neues Nachdenken eingeleitet, das in der Zeit nach dem Krieg manche Kontroversen um Gebiete und Siedlungen überholt erscheinen lassen wird? Dieser Krieg richtet sich gegen die Existenz Israels als solchem. Gewinnt daher die strategische und damit regionale Sicherheit in Zukunft nicht eine wesentlich größere Bedeutung? (my emphasis)

[And Israel itself?  Has the recognition of a new strategic threat not introduced a new reflection, that in the post-war period some controversies about territories and settlements will appear to be overshadowed? This war is directed against the existence of Israel as such. Does not strategic and along with it regional security gain a essentially larger significance in the future?]

What Fischer is saying to Israel is, okay, Hizbollah has been able to strike cities with missiles that you didn't think they could.  It seems to you like a war for the survival of Israel.  So, why not take a new look at a peace process that could really guarantee security for Israel by settling the outstanding issues, including the settlements in the occupied West Bank?

How in the name of Apollo who strikes from afar did Spiegel manage to make this into Fischer positioning himself "squarely on the side of Israel in the Near East crisis"?  That's the kind of bonehead thing we expect as a matter of course from our Potemkin "press corps" in America.  But Spiegel has a reputation of doing real journalism.

Update:  Edward M. Gomez at the World Views blog also gives a brief summary of the Fischer article, which is at least a better summary than Spiegel gave, in the following post:  Views from abroad: Israel vs. Hezbollah, with Lebanon in the middle 07/26/06.