Sunday, August 20, 2006

Lebanese Leaders - Who's Scared of Who?

Worth remembering that Guardian interview with Hezbollah cleric Sayed Ali on 29th July, when having laid out the ways and means with which Hezbollah will destroy Israel he gloated: "Even when the battle with the Israelis is over, Hezbullah will have other battles to fight. The real battle is after the end of this war. We will have to settle score with the Lebanese politicians. We also have the best security and intelligence apparatus in this country, and we can reach any of those people who are speaking against us now. Let's finish with the Israelis and then we will settle scores later.

Watching the Lebanese leaders now, can we second guess how they see the outcome of this conflict? They have to marry threats against Hezbollah with threats against Israel. Lebanon's defence minister, Christian Elias Murr, chances his luck: "anyone firing rockets at Israel from the south will be considered a traitor", but he tightropes: "The Lebanese army this time has a clear order to shoot on any intrusion and if we get in war with Israel, this time war won't be like they say between Israel and terrorist, this time they will have to fight the Lebanese army." He expects Hezbollah to pack and go, or so he said.

Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, despite a bitterly divided cabinet, famously gushed with pride and affection, late 2005: "The government considers the resistance a natural and honest expression of the Lebanese people’s national rights to liberate their land and defend their honour against Israeli aggression".

For Lebanese policiticians, it is not a question of hanging onto power, it is a question of hanging on to life. Who's to know what they really think? But as previously mentioned, those Christian and Druze leaders that are ready to speak out are extraordinarily brave. Any comments?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Post Ceasefire Thoughts

It's all in the PR
In May 2005, my friend Lucie and I went to a 3pm showing at the October War Panorama in Cairo. It was created to celebrate the Egyptian victory in the 1973 war against Israel. There was a huge, very empty car park and a display of several captured Israeli tanks. The Panorama itself was built to seat about 250. You get a twenty minute 'entertainment' with rousing marching music and deep-voiced American-accented commentary. The seating section spins slowly and the painted screen and life size figures stay put, or did the seating section stay put. I can't remember, but I do remember being struck by three things. 1. No expense was spared 2. We were the only audience present and 3. The staff (about 2o, box office and stewards) were very charming and the manager offered to run the show again, free of charge.

The Egyptian military success of October 1973 lasted but a few days before Ariel Sharon had the entire Third Army surrounded. So much for the Panorama in Cairo.

This reminds me of my French cousin Danielle who asked, ever so innocently, why the British insist on celebrating victories which were unquestionably French. How important is winning and how important is losing? Holding the IDF off for longer than any other Arab army is winning for Hezbollah. But at what cost? Assad might well declare a Hezbollah victory, but would he want to see his airfields, ports, military installations and communication centres bombed, and still call it a Syrian victory?

With less than a quarter of a percentage point of damage to its entire military arsenal, Israel still has by a very long way the most powerful army in the Middle East and whichever way you look at it - the Hezbollah infrastructure is decimated.

But the prize to the outright victor of this unclear, unresolvable conflict must be given to the media. Up to 10,000 world journalists, television teams, photographers and soon enough documentary film-makers will have influenced the progress and the outcome of this conflict as never before.

Four reasons why will this conflict will go down in history as the best reporters' war ever?

1. Israel and Lebanon are most westernised destinations in the Middle East, and not all that far away (US excluded).

2. These are not expensive countries and you can drink the water.

3. There is no-where else in the world where the journalists can stay in the best hotels, eat in the best restaurants, swim in the most luxurious pools and still hear bombs and missiles hitting their targets.

4. There is no-where else in the Middle East where journalists can drink in the finest bars, shop for the most fashionable labels and not be target practice for fundamentalists.

Where is the next surprise coming from?

I was in the Old City of Jerusalem yesterday, accompanying an intrepid American tourist. She wanted to buy for a crucifix for her grandmother. It was only three days after the murder of Italian student, a volunteer who had been working with Palestinian refugees and had come to visit Jerusalem. As a result, my friend and I elected to stay in the busier parts of the bazaar.

My friend had in her hand a postcard, the one with photographs of Israeli soldiers praying at the Western Wall. A shop owner looked at the card and announced with glee: "Israeli soldiers are rubbish. Did you see? Hezbollah fucked them. Hezbollah fucked the whole Israeli army." This was one happy man. He shouted at us as we walked away, so he could be heard by all his neighbours, he knew he had their support. The Old City of Jerusalem is an intimidating place to be today.

Citizens of the Arab towns and villages in the north of Israeli, who were in the main without shelters or sirens, are hugely critical of their government in this conflict. It won't take much for a pro-Hezbollah hot-head to make a murderous move, and it may take even less for the police to respond in force.

Israeli Jews, who were only just beginning to shop and eat in the Arab towns and villages after a five year haitus, are noting the publicised reactions of some Israeli Arabs and will keep away. The gap between Jews and Arabs in Israel widens and the loyalties between Israeli Arabs and Arabs beyond the green line tightens.

The Israeli government will ignore these developments at their peril

Questions I would like to ask Ehud Olmert before he packs his bags

1. Did you realise how much wall-to-wall coverage this conflict would get world wide, especially in August when there is nothing else going on? The Israel Press Office issued over 4,000 press permits for foreign media at the time of the Gaza disengagement. And it was August.

2. And with all your experience did you not know that human suffering is a good story? Human suffering over-rides theoretical rights and the wrongs - every time. Did your advisors try to estimate how many Lebanese refugees might take to the road? What were those estimates - 500, 5,000 or half a million? When the airforce dropped leaflets and told civilians to take to the road, did your advisors take into count which remaining road those civilians might take?

3. You are not an army man, with a conceptual vocabulary limited to 'advance' and 'retreat'. You have your fingers on the pulse of the most powerful and influential people in the world. You know that when Israel sneezes, a Jewish community somewhere gets bombed. You knew that it would take Israel years to build up its tourist industry again, that the flourishing economy would take a below the belt hit. Even if the IAF scored 100% direct hits, the Arab street would have gone insane with rage. Israel would have been penalised in a myriad of ways. Why did you let the military call the shots?

The question I would like to ask the Chief of Staff before he packs his bags
Before the airforce bombed the power plant in Beirut, did your advisors consider where the 15,000 tons of oil would go? Why didn't you just stick to petrol stations?

Jane's Post Ceasefire Observations
Unlike most of the Israeli media, I do not regard the result as any kind of military failure. Hezbollah awoke a sleeping giant, the giant flailed out, did a lot of damage but didn't quite manage to hit the mosquito. He's not a fool this giant, he's learned a hell of a lot and if he had more time to plan, he would have brought his anti-mosquito spray. He'll know for next time.

Nor do I see this cease-fire as a political failure. Political leaders always make promises they cannot keep. The public is used to it. We never had any chance of getting back the kidnapped soldiers on any terms other than the completely unacceptable ones of Hezbollah and Hamas. I find it hard to believe that there are Israelis who think otherwise. But what I do know is that it will be impossible for Hezbollah to re-arm under everyone's nose. From now its only chance would be to set up shop in Syria and start digging those tunnels again, and will Assad want that? I doubt it.

No, the real failure, the only failure which counts is that Israel has hit an all time low in the world-popularity-contest. This is a disaster for Israel and a disaster for Jews everywhere.

I would really like to know what the Israeli government intends to do about that. Come on Tsippi - don't pack just yet.

Where are you sitting?

There are only two possible views on this post-ceasefire period.

1. If you are in Paris, London or Stockholm it is likely that you see aggressive Israel firing everything it has at the almost defenseless Hezbollah and destroying Lebanon in the process.

2. If you are in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Haifa you see Iran and Syria mount a threatening and intimidating attack on Israel through its proxy Hezbollah and Israel making rather a mess of defending itself.

There is a history of Arab countries funding anti-Israel wars; countries which do not share borders with Israel are those able to fund billions for equipment, those with the oil money. It was Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait funding Syria and Egypt in 1973. Now it is Iran funding Hezbollah.

More to come ...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Taking a Sabbatical

My final word
This conflict, which Israel will win in the short term, will only be won in the long term when (a) a replacement is found for petrol and (b) Europe works out how to manage the extremists in its Moslem minorities. Both being unlikely in the foreseeable future - Israel is in this for the long haul. This is something I only recently understood fully. My thoughts are with the families and friends of all the victims of this conflict and of the fallen soldiers of today, yesterday and tomorrow.

After the conflict
There are now hundreds of blogistes covering the Israel/Hezbollah conflict. Many of those are experts in a myriad of related fields, some are just fine commentators. But there are blogs out there which are easy to find, full of coherent argument, thoroughly researched and often extremely well written.

Having nothing further to add, I will keep quiet until after the ceasefire. Then I plan to nail my colours firmly to the mast with topics about life in Israel which I think merit some fighting talk.

A short list of my favourites:

1. The influence of proportional representation in Israel on just about everything

2. Theodore Herzl was so very clever. He foresaw in The Jewish State (1896), the risk involved allowing military and religious leaders into the heart of political life. Let's look at where that has got us - and is still taking us.

3. And while on that subject, how about the well-trod fast-track for top brass IDF into the boardrooms of industry, manufacturing, transportation, utilities and much else; how does that affect the average man in Ben Yehuda Street?

4. Various sources put the Haredi (ultra orthodox) population in Israel at somewhere between 350,000 t0 600,000. The acknowledged birth rate is 7.5 children per family. I'd like to look at the exponential growth factor and consider how this might affect life in Israel in the future.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Braces and Blows

Here is today's editorial in TheTimes with one huge mistake.

"Whether Hezbollah intended to spark such a ferocious response from Israel is uncertain.":

What!!!! Are the Times leader writers living on another planet? Did Nasrallah think the IAF would wait for Olmert's birthday? His Hezbollah fighters had their filthy fingers on the triggers alright, ready to lob as many of their 15,000 missiles over the border before anyone noticed. They were braced for the response and blow the civilian casualties.

Had they any doubts about the size of Israel's air force they only had to search the Internet. Although I wouldn't advise my readers to do that now; the entire world wants to know how many F16s there are in the IAF and all the obvious sites have collapsed from the pressure.

Monday, July 31, 2006

BBCs Fergal Keane may need some guidance

The questions journalists in Lebanon should be asking the refugees

1. Were there missile launchers in your village?

2. Were there missile launchers in or near your home?

3. Anyone in your family fighting with Hezbollah?

4. Did you see missiles being launched?

5. Did you wonder if the Israelis might respond?

6. What kind of danger did you think you and your children might be in if missiles were launched from your village?

and finally

7. Did the Hezbollah build you any bomb shelters to protect you from return fire?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Truth about the UN post

Tactical Necessity
Kofi Annan may well have accused the Israeli military of carrying out a sustained bombing of the UN base on the Lebanon-Israel border that culminated in the killing of four unarmed monitors. But the barely recorded truth came from courageous UN Observer Canadian Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, one of the four victims.

'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.

"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."

This account has been covered by the Israeli and Canadian press, but I haven't seen it anywhere else.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Not to be Missed

"Chapeau" to the brilliant bloggist Belmont Club. Click on 'Pulp Fiction' and then refer back to today's Guardian interview by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad.

Myths, lies and videotape

July 29th

Lebanon's gain
Dan Gillerman, Israel's formidable ambassador at the UN made this memorable plea to his Lebanese counterpart at the start of the conflict two weeks ago: "You know, deep down, that if you could, you would add your voice to those of your brave countrymen. You know, deep down in your heart, that you should really be sitting here, next to me, voicing the same opinion. You know that what we are doing is right, and, if we succeed, your country will be the real beneficiary. I am sure many of our colleagues around this table and in this chamber, including many of our neighbours, share this sentiment.

Lebanon's fear
But the BBC in particular and the world media in general don't think so. They push the myth that nearly everyone they interview in Lebanon refuses to support Israel. So a warm thank you to today's Guardian newspaper for explaining why. Hezbollah cleric, Sayed Ali, says it all in this interview: "The real battle is after the end of this war. We will have to settle score with the Lebanese politicians. We also have the best security and intelligence apparatus in this country, and we can reach any of those people who are speaking against us now. Let's finish with the Israelis and then we will settle scores later."

If you were Lebanese, what would you be telling the nice man from the BBC? Whenever you hear or see a Lebanese politician or opinion maker criticise Hezbollah publicly, think of the courage it takes.

And take a look at this ...
The IAF is not flattening Beirut, not even 99% of Beirut - although hard to tell if your only sources of information are the BBC, CNN and SKY. Check out this map and be aware of endless repeats of the same videotapes which help create yet another myth.