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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Yossi Sarid's Wisdom

This was written by Yossi Sarid in Haaretz. I completely agree with him, and I think this is worth posting in its entirety.

Margaliot / You have been warned
By Yossi Sarid

The government didn't mean it and the military didn't mean it and the pilot didn't mean it. "We didn't mean it" is a good argument, certainly, and yet not good enough. That is the last thing we need: to kill 60 civilians, including 30 children, intentionally, with malice and forethought.

The government warned the residents of southern Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces dropped pamphlets and declared: If you don't run for your lives - you will die. "We warned" and "We warned often" make a good argument, and yet not good enough.

"We are sorry" is also true and very nice, but it is impossible to be too sorry until all the regret is used up.

When hundreds of thousands of people are warned, and women and children are warned, of the bombs and missiles and shells that are about to land on their heads, one must consider the fact that not all of them will flee. It is not so easy to leave home - and who will save those fleeing from the dangers lying in wait along the road? It has happened, and recently, that South Lebanon's refugees were attacked and killed on their miserable way north, and in those cases too we really didn't mean it - sorry! - and we expressed regret.

The contemptible Hassan Nasrallah has also warned us here in northern Israel. He has launched about 2,000 warnings in the form of rockets at our address in the past 20 days, apparently expecting us to be gripped by terror and to get the hint. Some did not understand, didn't want to or couldn't understand it: the elderly and frail and sick and poor and disabled and children with special needs and their parents couldn't. Nor could the owners of chicken coops or orchards, still desperately hoping to save the remnants of their living. Nor could all sorts of stubborn, infuriatingly obstinate people - those not interested in being refugees in their own land.

Instead of abandoning home immediately, tens of thousands of civilians stayed at the front, from Haifa to Kiryat Shmona. Will we agree to excuse Nasrallah of his war crimes just because the farmers and the brave did not heed the call of his Katyusha? Are you kidding - excuse him? A war crime is a war crime is a war crime, and there is no crime without criminals.

That Nasrallah doesn't feel the slightest tremor in his black heart when he essentially invites the IDF to act like him and to kill Lebanese the way he kills Israelis. He is actually interested in killing; he is interested in spilling blood, which greases the wheels of his ambition and those of his masters - preferably the blood of small children. But why are we obligated to be his collaborators? Why do what he wants and play into his hands?

Yesterday, Nasrallah sent another warning that fell nearby. Our colleague Yuval Azoulay was not just warned, but wounded and rushed to the hospital. I wonder if Haaretz will now evacuate its reporters from the north because that scoundrel insists on it. You there at Haaretz - you have been warned.

And as I finish writing, another Katyusha falls on Eitan's chicken coop at the edge of town. What is wrong with us? How many warnings must be sent before we get it? We don't get it, so we stay - less for our heroism and more for our simplistic principles that are afraid to unravel. And if Nasrallah hurts us, our blood will be on his head - even though he warned us.

Here is Qana and here we will leap out of this war - together with all the warned people, whether residents of shelters in South Lebanon or northern Israel. And we'll cry out from the depths of our hearts: Enough.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Situation Revisited

I write this post with the utmost feelings of hopelessness and despair. These emotions are not due to a genetic predisposition to whining, but rather to an-almost-too-cold series of logical arguments that (1) there is no end in sight to Lebanon's current predicament and (2) that even when we arrive at the point where the current conflict is concluded, we will not have achieved anything of benefit to Lebanon.

Add to that, at this point, there is nothing that the Lebanese people or state can do without paying a huge cost, that none of us is willing or able to pay. Not that inaction is any better, for the longer that we fail to act, the weaker our position as a state and a budding democracy. I know many people would disagree with my logic, but I will try to explain anyway at the risk of repeating an earlier post.

Let us begin with an analysis of the regional, international, and local players on the Lebanese scene.

International Players

1- The United States: Finding itself confronted with the current situation - regardless of how - the US chose early on to give Israel the green light to continue its "military operation" in Lebanon. They cannot back down now because they have already taken their stance and any retreat from here will be considered a defeat to them, but more importantly a victory to Hizbulla.

2- The EU: While possibly not content with the way things are going, the EU has little sway on any of the players in the region. Their relations with Israel do not give them any leverage on the Israelies, and their relations with the Iranians are even worse. The EU has been relegated to calling for restraint and to other similar positions.

3- Russia, China and their likes: While not completely thrilled with the turnouts, these two do not have an explicit interest in strengthening the US in the region, and therefore are not committed to solving this crisis.

Regional Players

1- Israel: Possibly caught by surprise when HA captured/kidnapped their two soldiers, I believe their largely civilian cabinet had no choice but to "respond". They could not afford to have the policy of unilateral withdrawals be seen as complete stupidity and had to take action. They refused to stop the offensive at the right point (a few days into the fighing), when their point was made and when it was possible to achieve gains at the Lebanese front. Eventually, their offensive will stop with none or very little of their objectives achieved.

2- Syria: Arguably one of the winners in all of this. With eyes diverted off the international investigation, the regime can breathe a sigh of relief for a while, especially that Israel has been very clear that it has no intention of striking at the Syrians. Why would they? The regime has guaranteed peace and quiet on the Syrian front for decades now. Add to that, the position of their enemies from the March 14 movement in Lebanon has been weakened as they appear more and more irrelevant and helpless. I expect the Syrians to start trying to make up for all the political grounds that they lost in their withdrawal from Lebanon. I worry about more assassinations and pressure against the Lebanese government.

3- Iran: With their proxy in Lebanon on the line, the Iranians have been and will continue to support HA. They have both the financial and the logistic means to keep their support, and regardless of the results of the current military conflict, they always have the option of rearming HA, and reigniting the frontlines - even if they are pushed into Lebanese soil. Shia support for their proxies is unwavering, their strength and political clout in Lebanon undiminished. They must be the biggest winners in all of this. Not to mention their nuclear program which we are not hearing about much at this point.

Local Players
For simplicity I will just classify them as follows:

1- Government and March 14 movement: Largely irrelevant both locally and internationally. In the local scene they have been relegated to humanitarian effort, while internationally all they can do is complain to or complain at the international players whose strategy has been decided (as discussed above) and will not change anytime soon.

2- HA and allies: while HA has sustained damage to its infrastructure, and possibly in combat, it is damage that they seem capable of absorbing for a while to come. Because of the nature of their ideology and their tactics, they are also capable of inflicting damage on their "enemies". They have admitted to pursuing a war of attrition with Israel, one that they are capable of maintaining because of logistic and monetary support from Syria and Iran. Add to that, their nonchalance towards the losses incurred in Lebanon, and the unwavering Shia support for them, make them impermeable to pressure from inside Lebanon, unlike the Israelis who have to keep the war as short as possible lest their people begin to get tired of the situation...


Unfortunately, I can only arrive at the same conclusion that I and many Lebanese bloggers were warning about early on. We all wanted to be wrong I am sure, and I still do. But the more things drag on the more I am convinced of the following. The war against Hizbulla cannot be won using the means currently utilized. The losers now are the March 14 Lebanese, and the government, and to a lesser extent the Americans who have stranded their allies, leaving to look like idiots, and who will have to work extra hard to make up for their lost image as a supported of democracy in Lebanon... The winners are obvious, a bloodied HA, an emboldened Syria, and an Iran that is proving by the day, that it is a regional player that cannot and will not be ignored.
The faster that everyone comes to terms with this, the faster they can adapt their strategies, and until then I see the violence continuing, with everyone (but HA) looking for some achievement that allows them to save face. Until then, the violence will continue, and I can only hope that it does not spiral out of control.

The Shebaa Farms and the Lebanese Government

The Jerusalem Post recently published "exclusive" information that:

The US is "counseling" Israel to negotiate a possible withdrawal from the Mount Dov (Shaba Farms) area with Lebanon as part of a long-term arrangement for Lebanon...This issue was one of the focuses of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's talks in Jerusalem Tuesday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The article then presents the following analysis

Regarding the day after the fighting, however, one component to emerge from Rice's meetings here Tuesday was a feeling among the Americans that eventually getting to a "cessation of hostilities" will entail both Israel and Lebanon - Lebanon, not Hizbullah - being able to point to some kind of victory. In this formula, Israel's victory would clearly be a roundly defeated Hizbullah pushed back from the northern border. For the Lebanese, a victory could be an Israeli withdrawal from Mount Dov, and a massive international aid package.


The US is not pressing Israel on the issue, but is discussing with Jerusalem when the right time would be to put it on the table... The concern in both Washington and Jerusalem is that a willingness to talk about this not be interpreted as a victory for Hizbullah. Nevertheless, the US is counseling Israel to consider when to raise the issue.

On the other hand,

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev, when asked whether Israel would be willing to discuss this matter with the Lebanese, said, "As far as I know, no one in the international community believes that Shaba farms is part of Lebanon."

What is worrying about the Americans' analysis is that there is no mention of a contingency plan in the possibility of an Israeli failure to "roundly defeat" Hizbullah and push them off the border.

Moreover, if the Jerusalem Post's information is anywhere near true, then it reveals the extent that the Americans are wrecklessly compromising the Lebanese government. Fouad Siniora in his speech in Rome alluded to the Shebaa farms and to the Lebanese prisoners. I think he is gambling, spurred on by the US on the exact scenario described above. Some form of military conclusion to the entire offensive on Lebanon would be followed by negotiations which then lead to the return of the two Israeli troops - via the Lebanese government - and the deployment of some non Hezbolla forces in South Lebanon. In return, Israel would release the Lebanese prisoners as well as possibly return the Shebaa farms to Lebanon.

The danger herein lies in that Lebanon cannot afford for its government to fail. It is already strained with the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and its failure to bring it to an end. The Lebanese economy is reeling and there is probably large pressure on the Lira (as the 1 billion dollar Saudi deposit in Banque du Liban seems to indicate). Worse yet, the government has a history of not achieving any major successes mainly due to the stalling of the Syrian stooge in Baabda and the Hizbulla led pro-Syrian Lebanese.

The Lebanese government needs an achievement in the eyes of its people. It needs to be able to show that the path it has chosen, the March 14 path, leads to positive results. Such an achievement can come in the form of liberating both land and prisoners through government led negotiotians.

However, if this government fails to deliver and consequently falls under the strain of internal pressures and external failures, then you can kiss our hopes of democracy and prosperity goodbye.
I hope the Americans realize this.


Meanwhile, Haaretz posted the following:

The United States, which fiercely opposed the calls for an immediate cease-fire during the Rome conference Wednesday, has been working on its own proposal for solving the conflict in Lebanon.
Its initiative calls for Israel's withdrawal from the Shaba Farms and a deployment of NATO forces to guarantee Hezbollah's disarmament.


...The London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat quoted Lebanese sources Wednesday as saying that Rice presented this proposal to officials in Beirut earlier this week. While the U.S. initiative calls for transferring control of Shaba Farms to Lebanon, it stipulates that the permanent international border will not be determined if Syria continues to refuse to agree on the boundaries of this area. The UN is to be in charge of handing Shaba Farms over to Lebanon.

So perhaps there is some credibility to these reports... This still doesn't negate the fact that any such "deal" will have to either go through Hizbolla or be forced upon them - both unlikely scenarios at this point in my opinion.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Right and Responsibility (Translated from an article by Dr. Radwan el Sayyid)

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora in various occasions insists on repeating a phrase that he heard from the late Dr. Constantine Zreik: "It is naturally important to believe that you have a right to one thing or another, but it is more important to earn that right!"

Professor Zreik was referring to two causes in Arab modern history: the Palestinian cause on one hand, and the cause of liberty and building and advancing nations on the other. Nobody (sic) argues about Arab rights in these two vital issues; however, the progress of nations and countries has never been achieved by what they believe is their right, but rather by their willingness to use the power of the state to create the means that make it deserving of those rights.

For two weeks there has been a war, definitely not the first against Lebanon. However striving to earn our rights could make it the last. "Earning" in this case consists of having the will to build a strong and able state, one that spreads its authority to all its territories, establishing its sovereignty and independence, protecting its citizens and their interests as well as their right to a free dignified life.
Such statements, accepted at face value by all Lebanese and most politicians, have seen a lot of debate in the last 30 years, especially in the few months following the death of PM Hariri and the exit of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

There are those who say that the (Lebanese) state has never liberated land, and therefore cannot continue to liberate what remains occupied or to protect Lebanon from agression. So, it is a must to revert to the formula that has succeeded previously, the duality of state and resistance. Also, there are those who say that there is a weakness in the Lebanese structure, not against Israel only, but among the various sects in Lebanon; consequently, there is a need to maintain the "special" relations between Lebanon and Syria to protect Lebanon's internal stability. And finally there are those who have despaired, privately if not publicly, and reverted to a policy of sectarian "self security" as was the case during the Lebanese civil war.

The latest Israeli war on Lebanon has nullified the aforementioned arguments. The logic of the resistance fell in 2000 with the Israeli withdrawal and the logic of deterrence based on the balance of terror fell with the latest Israeli invasion. The logic of counting on our Syrian brothers fell in 2005/2006 because of their attempts at destabilizing us internally. Finally, the logic of self-security immediately leads to civil war as it has before.

Today, we are looking at seven hundred thousand displaced people, destroyed infrastructure and homes in the south and Baalbek and the suburbs, in addition to large scale destruction all over Lebanon. But we also have an unnatural condition that began in 1991 and that has manifested itself completely during this latest Israeli assault- the phenomenon of a state that is legally responsible for all that is going on, for helping the displaced people, for upkeeping the rule of law, but that is not allowed to preside over security or to make decisions of waging war or signing peace or even of reaching the borders of the country. A state that has no capability to answer its citizens' concerns, let alone international concerns. The Lebanese government now is nothing more than a humanitarian mission, and even at that, not very succesful. Kudos to the Arab and international players for acknowleging its existence or even engaging in dialogue with it, and helping it to its feet! On the other hand, what it should be, is an elected power, designated by its people to run their public affairs.

This "wonderful destruction" that we hide in our homes so that we do not see it, those of us who still have homes, has one third of the Lebanese population roaming in its ruins.

This is no longer acceptable regardless of the reasons. As for Arab and international support of Lebanon, it is no longer enough, nor is it useful. Everytime they help us up and we stand helpless, incapable of protecting what has been built, unable to preserve what we have achieved or has been achieved for us.

I see no Lebanese or Arab or Islamic need for all that has occurred, and it will do me no good to hold Israel responsible. God rest Dr. Zreik's soul: We can either earn the right to life and dignity or get trampled upon in the name of the right to life and dignity!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

In an interview published in Haaretz, Martin Kramer, an Israeli professor, former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies discussed the situation in Lebanon. He believes that:

Hizbollah's hubris has created an opportunity for Israel... Hezbollah probably believed it would score a few points in Arab public opinion by a cross-border operation, and that it would make one more incremental change in the rules of
the game. It was a strategic miscalculation...

But more importantly and that pretty much covers why this is going to carry on for a while, Kramer states

In any case, it is in the interests of Israel and the United States to deal with the Hezbollah threat now, and not later in the midst of a far more dangerous crisis over Iran's nuclear plans. So a war now to degrade Hezbollah is a shared Israel-U.S. interest, which means that Israel can wage it without many

Moreover, with such a mandate from the US,

Ending the crisis is obviously not an end in itself. The objective has to be to reduce Hezbollah to a negligible factor in larger calculations, to degrade and deplete its capabilities, to the point where it's about as significant a constraint as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Jordan. It will take some time to reverse the years of neglect, and Hezbollah will not allow the halo around it to be smashed without fighting back. But Israel has a U.S. license to take its time now and get it right, and it would be foolish not to use it.

When asked if he expects the crisis to tear apart the “fragile fabric of Lebanese society”? Kramer’s response was

I don't know about the society, but I do expect it to tear apart the fragile fiction of Lebanese politics. An independent Lebanon is incompatible with an extra-legal, extra-territorial status for any militia. This fact could be papered over before; now it is exposed for all to see.

So there you have it, Israeli thinking. They saw and probably saw to it that their interests converge with those of the west. Iran had alienated most of the players on the international scene so much that they are all willing for Lebanon to pay the price of disarming Iran of any tools that it may use in what Kramer calls a future “Megacrisis”. Moreover, the fact that the perception everywhere is that Hizbollah answers to Iran also explains Saudi Arabia’s position of laying the blame squarely on their feet for Lebanon’s predicament.

The ball is rolling, nobody can stop it now, our civilian casualties will continue to mount and be counted as collateral and our basic infrastructure will continue to be hit, because it is terrorist infrastructure in western eyes.

But who is to blame? Who miscalculated gravely? Who gave our vicious neighbours, not only the excuse but also the necessary international support to carry out its operations in Lebanon? Obviously Hizbollah, who failed to read the situation in its proper geopolitical context and also failed to portray themselves as a purely Lebanese contender on the scene. They bullied the independence movement in Lebanon serving the interests of both Syria and Iran. They blindly aligned themselves with regional players whose international standing at the moment is more than questionable. Their strategy has not changed since 2000, and their quest to make themselves relevant may well end in them becoming less of a player...

In the midst of this struggle between a regional superpower and the proxies of another regional superpower, is poor Lebanon. Our diplomats have their work cut out for them, they have to explain, to plead and to bargain. They have to try and show that what Israel is doing is counterproductive and that such an Israeli policy is nothing more than a temporary solution, that this will only deepen the split in Lebanese society, that they are threatening the budding Lebanese state and our chances of evolving into a real democracy... But alas, the stigma associated with Hizbollah, both internally, on the arab scene and on the international scene, may well be to large to overcome.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Our 3 options, and why we have none

Olmert and Halutz both recently ruled out massive ground operations, putting into question the buffer zone proposition, unless they are trying to mask their true intentions. Simultaneously there is lots of talk on NBC and other sources that a massive ground incursion is indeed in the works. Only time will tell, however, while the ball is currently in the Israeli court, what can Lebanon do ?

I have seen and heard people simplistically giving Lebanon 3 options. Any option that lebanon chooses to pursue has its represcussions on Lebanon itself, that is obvious. Therefore, any choice we make has to be made based on what we predict are the consequences of that option.

1- Help the fight against the Hizbollah: That will lead to having the state pitted against an organization with massive grass roots support in a military conflict. Not only that, but it will be perceived as an operation against a particular sect, the Shiites, and as such, will most probably lead to the kind of civil war that Lebanon is not willing to undertake. I believe that most Lebanese know this and are hence unwilling to consider such an option. Not to mention how morally contentious that issue is...

2- Join Hizbollah in their fight: Also not an option for anyone who is either not Shiite or who does not support HA's goals and/or methods. The reason being simple. HA's ideology, methods, and loyalties are not to the liking of most Lebanese. This point however, does not negate the fact that option 1 is still unfeasible.

3- Wait to see who wins and absorb the attacks: I don't see any other feasible option. Though, I disagree about the relevancy of who wins. You see, noone will win. HA will not lose - at least not its Shiite support - and obviously, Israel will not lose - at least not militarily, that does not mean that it will accomplish its objhectives. As such, the only thing we can do is wait and resume our internal debates and politics from the point we left off before this war. One problem though, all the Lebanese sides, sects and parties will be more polarized than ever, each sticking to their stances more firmly, and each believing that their positions have been vindicated by recent events.

The solution? Unfortunately, its a long term one, one that involves Western help at strengthening the state institutions, and helping it fill the void that HA's social infrastructure currently occupies. Only by means of education, dialogue and alleviating the root causes of extremism can the real problems be solved. Its a grim picture, one that takes patience and dedication to paint over, not military action and shooting off the hip.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


What can I write right now? How can I make myself relevant or useful? Do I march in a peace rally where I fear crazies will be burning flags and chanting war songs? What the hell can I do?

I have recently lost contact with my family who chose to evacuate their home because they couldn't sleep anymore... A garbage truck depot close to where they live got bombed... So they packed up and left. My friends' families all packed up and left. Not a single soul I know in Lebanon stayed in their home... All refugees now, five hundred thousand of them by the latest Lebanese count.

For what ? For whom? This will be over I keep telling myself, but we will come out of it, we will rebuild! But then I ask myself how many times have we "come out of it", how many times have we "rebuilt"... How many times have we had a glimmer of hope and how many times has this been taken away from us. I don't even want to count.

So what will happen when this is over? Lebanon will be in ruins. Thats for granted. Will the Hizbulla problem be solved ? I doubt it. Will Iran and Syria take their hands off my country? Probably not. Will any solution that anyone comes up with really tackle the problems we face? Most probably not. How many years before this happens again? Too few...

Every country is doing its bidding, pursuing its national interests. Iran wants to be a regional power and demands to be acknowledged as such. Syria, well don't even get me started there... Israel is doing what it thinks should be done to protect itself... And us, Lebanon? I don't even know if there even is a Lebanon. We lack a national identity, we lack the proper loyalty to our state, we lack everything. Every disaster we have to live through, every war, every assault, every attack, every time we rebuild the damn country, is a reminder of our sorry state of affairs.
Who do we have to blame ? Everyone. But mostly ourselves. Hundreds of years of coexisting (!), decades of having a country, years after the end of the civil war, many months after we achieved a semblance of sovereignty over our country, have we learned anything from our history ? Will we ever?

That is the question that begs an answer...