Sunday, August 20, 2006


Hezbollah claim they cannot withdraw their fighters from the south, since they are the people. And there are suggestions that their weapons will not be given up, but hidden. There is an air of unreality about much comment during these 5 days of ceasefire. It would not be surprising for small arms and even rifles to be concealed. But it would seem to be obvious that it is harder to hide rockets, their launchers and anti-tank weapons. To paraphrase Hans Blix, we are not talking about toothpicks here.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Rethink on Gaza

It's time for the EU to think again in the light of events in Gaza and change its policy with regard to Hamas. As the ICG report says:
The strategy of Fatah, the wider Arab world, Israel and the West alike since the 25 January parliamentary elections has been to isolate and squeeze the Palestinian government in order to precipitate its collapse. The approach was always short-sighted and dangerous and it urgently needs to be revised. [Executive Summary]
This needs to be delinked from the situation in Lebanon, as I argued myself.
First, the Gaza and Lebanon crises need to be dealt with separately. Though related both chronologically and in terms of the sparks that triggered them, the reasons behind Hamas’s action have little to do with those motivating Hizbollah’s. Bundling them together only complicates efforts at resolution. [ES]
Some background:
Although Hamas and other Palestinian organisations announced a unilateral ceasefire [or “quiet”, tahdi’a] in March 2005, armed conflict never came to a halt. Israel refused to negotiate a reciprocal and comprehensive cessation of hostilities. Neither the PA nor Hamas took effective steps to end the launching of rockets by others; the truce was rejected by the Popular Resistance Committees, a militia based in the southern Gaza Strip; and Islamic Jihad over time gave an increasingly liberal interpretation to the right of reprisal it insisted on retaining. [...] until June 2006 Hamas was virtually absent from the battlefield. And while Israel continued to arrest Hamas members and militants in the West Bank, it refrained from anything resembling the comprehensive campaigns against the Islamist movement of previous years.[p2, 5]
Early on the morning of 9 June, 'Israel assassinated Popular Resistance Committee leader Jamal Abu-Samhadana, who had shortly before been appointed commander of a new PA security force controlled by the interior minister and who was accused of involvement in lethal acts against Israelis and Americans, as well as senior Hamas leader Said Siam.' The same afternoon, seven members of the Ghalia family of a Gaza beach were killed in a much disputed incident. 'That evening, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, renounced the March 2005 ceasefire and launched several Qassam rockets toward southern Israel.'

Nonetheless, 'the intra-Palestinian dialogue has made noteworthy albeit still tentative strides, with the achievement of the National Conciliation Document between Hamas, Fatah and other political organisations on 25 June.' This contained an 'affirmation of the Palestinian “right to resist the occupation”, while pledging to “concentrate the resistance in the territories occupied in 1967, alongside political action and negotiations and diplomatic work”. '  It 
does not explicitly provide for recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence or endorsement of existing Palestinian commitments – the three demands put forth by the Quartet4 as conditions for a renewal of relations with the PA government. Nevertheless, it represents a considerable development in Hamas’s positions. As a Palestinian Islamist journalist put it, anyone can see the difference between this document and Hamas’s “anachronistic” charter. (Crisis Group telephone interview, 24 July 2006.) [p3]
On 25 June, militants tunnelled into Israel killed, two soldiers and captured a third. The motivations for this attack will doubtless continue to be debated. The report puts forward an alternative view to that whereby hardliners sought to undermine the agreement that PA prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, was close to reaching with Mahmoud Abbas. They also minimise talk of splits between Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader (see here). As the leader of Hamas’s parliamentary faction, Salah Bardawil put it:
Haniya cannot control policies alone, nor can Mashal control the military alone. The military wing reflects political trends. If Mashal opposed the Consultative Council, they’d expel him. We’re not like Fatah with its lack of leadership. The Kerem Shalom attack was not intended to scupper the National Conciliation Agreement, but rather to accelerate the negotiations. It put pressure on Abbas to sign. After the attack, he backed off from insisting on amendments and on concessions to the Israeli and U.S. position, and the parties agreed to sign. [p6-7]

[note 27] Crisis Group interview, 10 July 2006. Fatah Revolutionary Council member Qaddura Faris concurred: “I don’t buy the argument that Mashal is Hamas’s commander in chief, directing the actions of the military wing. He simply can’t do it”. Crisis Group interview, Ramallah, 6 July 2006.
In the light of all this, it is clear that the policy of the EU (which is part of the Quartet) - of starving the Hamas government of funds (*) - is simply not working.
Moreover, the Lebanese flare-up has concentrated EU minds, convincing some policy-makers of the dangers of violence and radicalisation on two fronts simultaneously and of the possible snow-ball effect. Wisely, some EU officials have concluded that lumping Hamas and Hizbollah together would not serve Europe’s interests: it would make both crises harder to resolve, risk regionalising the conflict, solidify the perception of a Western war against Islam and therefore undermine efforts to promote the political evolution of militant Islamism. [...] As a result, some in Brussels and other European capitals are advocating a more nuanced policy toward Hamas, premised first on decoupling it conceptually from Hizbollah and secondly on reaching some kind of realistic accommodation with the Palestinian government. An EU official suggested that if a national unity government were formed on the basis of the Prisoners’ Initiative, included one or two “reputable members” in key ministries and maintained an effective ceasefire (perhaps with third party monitoring), this – though admittedly falling short of the three conditions – might well constitute a sufficient basis for a fundamental re-evaluation of EU policy toward the PA, even, perhaps, over Washington’s objections. (interview, EU official, Brussels, July 2006) [p8] 
(*) Note 34: “The Quartet did not give Hamas an opportunity to deal with anything. Within three minutes of its electoral victory, a number of officials convened at Davos with Solana at their head and talked about boycotting the Palestinians, while the U.S. and Israeli immediately did this. The Quartet did not even give Hamas the customary 100 days to learn about its program and policies; instead it immediately announced its boycott and siege”. Crisis Group interview, Abu Marzuq, Damascus, 11 July 2006.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Resolution 1701

So, does Israel get any credit, in certain parts of the British media, for agreeing to an end to the fighting? Or the US any for its diplomatic efforts?  Or is this a glorious victory for Hezbollah? Well, as they say, what do you think?

According to C4 News, Sunday (13 Aug), Israel was humiliated, their Prime Minister  "exhausted". 

Back in the real world, The New York Times reports:
American secretaries of state attend Security Council sessions on resolutions only after a deal has been struck. Yet last Friday, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in New York, not only was there no deal, it was unclear whether the Council would even meet. [...] A senior administration official said a crucial moment came when Ms. Rice decided to intervene personally in New York. “Condi sat in her office Thursday night,” he said. “In a very clear moment, she decided to go to New York and just force this through by going there and sitting there until it got done.”
At first, I could only find the text in French: 'Résolution 1701, adoptée à l'unanimité par le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies le vendredi 11 août.' The UN site did not have it first thing Monday, but it's there now, in English.

As I indicated before, many of the principles behind the resolution on Lebanon that has been adopted were anticipated in the International Crisis Group report.
Crisis Group proposes a ceasefire that would include the following three elements:
  • an immediate cessation of hostilities; rapidly followed by
  • early prisoner exchange; and
  • agreement on the dispatch of a multinational force to augment UNIFIL and verify compliance with the ceasefire.
[...] A multinational force [...] has become a regrettable necessity. But its role and mandate will have to be strictly defined to avoid precipitating chaos:
  • It should be agreed to by all sides, Hizbollah included.140 While for now the movement is adamant it will not accept an international force, officials have left the door open by suggesting they would be open to ideas that emerge from internal dialogue.
  • It must be authorised by the UN Security Council [...] and should as much as possible avoid a U.S. flavour. While NATO forces could possibly participate, they should at a minimum be part of a larger contingent to avoid the impression of a Western crusade.
  • It should have a limited mandate: not, as Israel would prefer, to enforce Hizbollah’s disarmament, but rather to verify and monitor both sides’ adherence to the ceasefire while ensuring creation in the south of a weapons-free zone.
  • It should from the outset interact with the Lebanese army.
There is of course a strong argument that this might not suffice to prevent a resumption of hostilities since it would leave Hizbollah’s power largely intact. But anything more at this point would risk unduly prolonging negotiation and, worse, risk destabilising Lebanon’s fragile inter-confessional balance. [p24]

[Note 140] As an Arab diplomat with years of experience in Lebanon put it, “a force will be possible only if all Lebanese parties agree. The government’s agreement is not enough. You need Hizbollah’s agreement – and, implicitly, Syria’s”. Crisis Group interview, 24 July 2006 [My emphasis]
Looking to the longer term:
Hizbollah’s armed status is part of a far larger puzzle that at the very least needs to be taken into account. It is related to Lebanon’s confessional structure and, principally, to the treatment of its Shiite community and long overdue political reform. To undermine Hizbollah’s standing without at the same time addressing Shiite grievances would, again, run the risk of renewed sectarian conflict. In this sense, Resolution 1559, in its insistence on disarmament and international backing in that regard, implicitly threatened the country’s delicate sectarian balance since it meant a significant weakening of the Shiites’ principal representative. The goal, in other words, should not be solely to weaken Hizbollah (or Syria, or Iran), but through an internal Lebanese dialogue, to seriously reform the political system as a whole.
Hizbollah’s fate also is related to Lebanon’s own security doctrine and how its army intends to credibly ensure its defence, as well as to still-open Israeli-Lebanese files: prisoners and the Shebaa farms, as well as the question of respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty. Tackling these problems would be an important way to promote Hizbollah’s political transformation, by removing justifications it invokes for continued resistance and increasing internal political pressure for its disarmament. The goal must be to dry up the sources of Hizbollah’s militant identity gradually. [p25]
Maybe. The report also says, 'In parallel, there should be international commitment to a massive reconstruction effort in Lebanon and, above all, to significantly alleviate the country’s public debt.' As well as the obvious motives, there is a political imperative to this: international assistance should be channelled through the Lebanese government. Hezbollah is seeking to gain more prestige in this area.

Referring to warnings in an earlier report, from December 2005:
Crisis Group recommended a two-track approach: bolstering the central government by assisting in long-overdue political and economic reform, while putting on hold more ambitious agendas such as disarming Hizbollah through implementation of Resolution 1559 or seeking to isolate and destabilise the Syrian regime. That road was not taken. Instead, precious little was done to strengthen the Siniora government or deconfessionalise the political system; much was made – rhetorically at least – of the need to implement 1559’s disarmament provisions...
The link with 1559 was clear; if Hizbollah disarmament was to be put on the table, so too should broader issues concerning the sectarian distribution of power and political representation. Crisis Group wrote that the message was: “come after the weapons, and Hizbollah will go after the fragile political balance”.
A few points from the earlier report:
[Note 151] Shiites are estimated at nearly 30 per cent of the population but have only 21 percent of parliament seats. [Others put the proportion of Shi'a in the population higher.]
[Note 152]  “Arms restore the balance between Lebanon’s three major sects. Historically the Shiites were not empowered by an army, and the result was that their rights were universally trampled over by others”, Crisis Group interview with Ali Fayyadh, [Beirut, 27 October 2005]

The electoral system has sheltered Amal and Hizbollah from genuine competition with independent Shiites in the South. Proportional representation instead of the first-past-the post system might allow new voices to be heard from the Shiite community. [p23]

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More notes

If anybody is wondering about my last post, it was a submission for the Euston Manifesto Debate on  Middle East (it has not appeared there yet). Obviously, I repeat some things from previous posts over the last few weeks. Here are some more details (things that ended up on the cutting room floor, you might say).

In their reporting last week (Monday/Tuesday, 7-8 Aug), the BBC said a couple of times that 'Hezbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon in 2000.' (This may have been the same journalist on both occasions). As we shall see below, this is reflected in at least part of Israeli opinion. But I still think it would have been better to say, 'Hezbollah claim that they drove Israel out...'

On the Haaretz editorial , 'The government is losing its reason', 30 June 2006, to quote this more fully:
In the end, Israel was forced both to negotiate with Hezbollah and to withdraw from Lebanon. [...] Israel also kidnapped people from Lebanon to serve as bargaining chips in dealings with the kidnappers of Israeli soldiers. Now, it is trying out this tactic on Hamas politicians. As the prime minister said in a closed meeting: "They want prisoners released? We'll release these detainees in exchange for [Gilad] Shalit." By "these detainees," he was referring to elected Hamas officials. [...] arresting people to use as bargaining chips is the act of a gang, not of a state.  
It should be emphasized that this relates to the Gaza incident and that the references to Israel  kidnapping people from Lebanon clearly relate to events before the 2004 exchange.

Le Monde diplomatique:  the passage I quoted begins in the French version, 'Contrary to what several French newspapers, including Libération, have written,...' (Contrairement à ce qu’ont écrit plusieurs journaux français, dont Libération). It continues as the English version:
The Israeli government has negotiated prisoner exchanges several times: in 1985 Israel freed 1,150 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for three of its soldiers captured by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).
On my point that 'too many people unthinkingly accept that linkage - or just want to see Israel punished for its actions in Gaza', you may care to use the BBC's 'Listen Again' service for Talking Politics, 12 August 2006, and hear the views of Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent for the London Evening Standard

Monday, August 14, 2006

Some reflections...

...  on media coverage of the crisis (in Lebanon)

As the late Susan Sontag put it,  'Words alter,  words add,  words subtract.' (1)  It is not original to say that this war in Lebanon and Israel is being fought not just with bullets,  artillery shells and rockets,  but also with words:  words on the TV and radio,  in newspapers,  in think tanks and weblogs and other online media.  Words also matter in the search for a UN resolution that could bring an end to this conflict.  As I write,  there is a dispute over the exact meaning of  'the immediate cessation of all offensive military operations'.  On the other hand,  demands for  'immediate Israeli withdrawal'  leave little room for argument.

What follows is unscientific and necessarily incomplete.  It is a personal impression of some of the things that have been said that are wrong and,  more importantly,  of the things that have not been said.  I should also caution that events are moving quickly,  especially on the diplomatic front,  and so consequently is the way this conflict is being portrayed. 

But first the facts (or some of them).
For the last six years,  there had been a sort of armed stand-off between Israel and the Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon.  On Wednesday 12 July,  as well as capturing two soldiers and killing eight,  Hezbollah launched Katyusha rockets,  targeting the town of Shlomi and outposts in the Shebaa Farms area.  Israel responded with air strikes.  Hezbollah responded by launching rockets deeper into Israel.

When the events of 12 July occurred,  most of us were aware that Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon in 2000.  We also had fuzzy memories of the 2004 prisoner exchange and issues like the Shebaa Farms.  We were also aware that Hezbollah had invented the car (or truck) suicide bombings in the 1980's,  carried out hostage-takings and that their terrorist attacks had continued into the 1990's.  But the wave of Shi'a extremism unleashed by the 1979 revolution in Iran seemed to have subsided.  Reformers were gaining at least some power in Iran (this of course went into reverse in 2005).  Above all,  after September 2001,  everybody knew that we were faced by a new wave of terrorism from Sunni groups,  who professed to hate the Shi'a.  The terrorist acts of Shi'a groups seemed to be in the past.  In some ways,  we were prepared to give Hezbollah the benefit of the doubt.

I was also not alone in having doubts,  strong reservations even,  about Israel's reactions to the capture of a soldier near Gaza on 25 June. (2)
Media reaction
To return to events that followed 12 July,  some reaction has been totally predictable.  John Pilger wrote in the The Guardian:
The resistance to rapacious power,  to epic crimes of invasion (which the Nuremberg judges called the "paramount" crime) is humanity at its noblest;  yet the paradox warns us that no resistance is pretty;  that each adds its own form of violence in order to expel an invader (such as the civilians killed by Hizbollah rockets);  and this has applied to heroic partisans in Europe and heroic Kurds and those faceless,  despised Iraqis who have succeeded in pinning down the American homicidal machine in their country. (3)
The "invader" is,  of course,  Israel,  in spite of the fact that Hezbollah initiated the hostilities by firing rockets into Israel and killing eight and capturing two soldiers (in Israel). (4)  A reversal of definitions takes place:  the invader or aggressor becomes the heroic resistance to invasion.

It is easy,  of course,  to ridicule Pilger's rant.  But it is important to note how such views,  or a pale reflection of them,  have seeped into the mainstream.

At the time of the launch of the Euston Manifesto,  Norman Geras and Nick Cohen wrote that 'our discussion focused on our common sense of discord with much current left-liberal thinking.  We talked of how the prevailing consensus had ample representation in the liberal press, on the BBC and Channel 4...' (5)  This was with regard to the dominant anti-war discourse over Iraq.  Taking Channel 4 News as an example,  their coverage of the crisis in Lebanon now seems to be even less balanced.  I wrote myself (on 8 August - to repeat events are moving very quickly) that this is not a matter of direct lies:
It's all done by distortion,  selection and omission.  [In] C4's coverage reporters are constantly trying to make 'points'.  There are various subpoints and subtexts,  but here are the main ones.

'point' number 1all that's needed is for the US (and Britain) to call for an immediate ceasefire.  When a cessation of the violence is proposed,  Hezbollah and the Lebanese government reject it and call for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops.

'point' number 2nobody is prepared to contribute troops to an international force.  France and others have expressed willingness.

'point' number 3in spite of Israel's offensive,  Hezbollah continues to fire rockets into Israel.  Therefore the offensive is pointless.  Even if Israel manages to push them back several miles,  Hezbollah has long-range missiles.  Therefore,  again,  it's pointless.  Hezbollah has different types of rocket.  Most of them are the short-range Katyusha and they only have a few of the longer-range ones (hopefully).

In general,  the real issue  -  the hollowness of Hezbollah's case  -  has not been addressed at all by C4,  and hardly by the BBC on their TV and radio output (though their website has some useful pieces).
Underpinning this,  there are other voices on the web.  See,  for example,  Paul Rogers at Many of these present an extraordinarily unbalanced view of the conflict.  A particularly shameless example is Caroline Pailhe's in Le Monde diplomatique. (6)

Much of the focus has been on the "humanitarian catastrophe"  -  the destruction of infrastructure,  casualties among civilians,  the difficulty in evacuating civilians or getting aid to them.  All this,  undeniably,  has been much worse on the Lebanese side.  Beyond this,  many have shown a readiness to believe that Israel is committing war crimes and a willingness to overlook those committed on the other side.

There has been a great deal of argument about how much coverage has been given to Israeli casualties as against Lebanese. (7)  To a large extent, this is a sterile debate.

War is horrible.  We all know that.  We have tried to mitigate its effects since 1945,  by strengthening the conventions on its conduct.  But it is still horrible.  The important thing is to stop wars breaking out in the first place.  Or,  when they do,  to bring them to an end as quickly as we can,  if possible.

So,  it is important to examine the causes of this conflict.  Rodric Braithwaite writes:
No single event is the proximate cause of the current mayhem [...] The causes go back in almost infinite regression. (8)
This is correct in relation to Gaza and the wider Israel/Palestine issue.  But, considered purely in the context of Lebanon, the more Hezbollah's "case" is examined,  the more it dwindles almost to the vanishing point.

Take the Shebaa Farms.  This is a sliver of land of around 15 square miles.  The UN recognises this as part of Syria.  If Syria conceded that it was part of Lebanon,  then,  in all likelihood,  Israel would have had no problem withdrawing from its occupation there. (9)

Early on in the crisis,  I noted that:  'People speaking for the Arab side usually prefix their remarks with a formula such as,  "nobody speaks about the Lebanese prisoners..."  Yet they are given plenty of access to the BBC,  say,  and they always mention it.'  To confirm this,  an article in The Observer,  to which my attention was drawn later (10):
One senior journalist posted in London,  who asked not to be named,  claims that the origins of the current conflict have not been adequately explained.  "The prisoners' issue remains unresolved six years after the Israelis were forced out of Lebanon.  But nobody talks about that."
Well,  fine,  let's talk about it,  about the Lebanese prisoners held by the Israelis.  It turns out there are 3 (yes, three) that Hezbollah want released (some Israelis say there are one and a half, other people say four).  There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners,  but for that to be relevant,  as with the question of Israel's actions in Gaza,  you have to accept Hezbollah's right to make the "linkage",  to claim these things as a reason for them to attack Israel in the north.  Too many people unthinkingly accept that linkage  -  or just want to see Israel punished for its actions in Gaza.  Whether Hezbollah's actions are actually helpful for finding a solution with regard to Gaza and Hamas is debatable,  to say the least.

But to return to the Lebanese context,  Shebaa Farms,  the prisoners,  these both turn out to be not legitimate grievances,  but pretexts for Hezbollah.  Yet, in spite of this,  or perhaps because of it,  these questions rarely receive proper analysis.  Instead,  ever more fantastical theories are concocted to explain Israel's (and the US's) malevolence.

It is tempting at this point to conclude by saying,  'Hezbollah have absolutely no case at all.'  But let's try really hard and see what sort of a case can be made for them.  There are,  I think,  two things that can be said.

The first point is made by Paul Rogers.  He speaks of 'the Israeli bombardment of the Lebanese border areas,  the Beqaa valley and targets near Beirut at the end of May 2006'  though he admits that 'this,  the most intensive Israeli military action in five years,  was a reaction to rocket attacks from Hizbollah.'  But I have not seen this used elsewhere as an argument in favour of Hezbollah.

The second point is more complex.  Maybe Hezbollah and its apologists are right to claim "linkage" with Gaza and Palestinian issues.  After all,  Palestinian prisoners were released as part of the deal negotiated with Hezbollah in 2004.  And there is another dimension to this.  Dr. Karim Makdisi,  a Lebanese political analyst,  wrote at the time  'that the prisoner exchange has proven to Israel that it doesn’t pay to abduct Lebanese nationals as bargaining chips.' (11)  An editorial in Haaretz,  on 30 June 2006,  clarifies this:  'Israel also kidnapped people from Lebanon to serve as bargaining chips in dealings with the kidnappers of Israeli soldiers.'

Another article in Le Monde diplomatique argues that 'the Israeli government has negotiated prisoner exchanges several times...' (12)  The only problem with this line is that it plays into the hands of the hardliners on the Israeli side.  They will argue:  we should not have negotiated that prisoner exchange;  in fact, we should not negotiate anything with our enemies. (13) It cuts away the ground of the moderates.  I'm prepared to be corrected,  but it's hard to imagine Haaretz making the same point about the soldiers captured near Lebanon.

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah,  has told us in chilling terms that he seeks to defend Lebanon against attacks from 'North Palestine' (broadcast of 9 August, relayed by the BBC without comment).  Hezbollah's war has transformed their rhetoric into action.  It should not be necessary to remind people of the commitment of the Euston Manifesto  -  'We recognize the right of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination within the framework of a two-state solution.'

The real case against Hezbollah is not that it is "terrorist",  but that it is confrontationalist.  And those who glorify it,  or even those who "explain" its actions or seek to find the blame elsewhere,  should know one thing:  their cause is not peace,  but discord and violence.

(1) Susan Sontag,  The New York Times,  May 23, 2004, on the Abu Ghraib scandal inter alia;  quoted in

(2) Doubts about Gaza - see
Also,  Jeff Weintraub and Jonathan Edelstein (the 'Head Heeb') in

(3) John Pilger,  quoted by Norman Geras in  hymning_hizboll.html
See also Harold Evans in The Guardian:   we_are_all_hizbullah_now_reall.html

(4) In the initial incident,  three soldiers were killed in Israel and a further five as they pursued the abductors into Lebanon.

(5) Norman Geras and Nick Cohen in the New Statesman, 17th April 2006.

(6)  Paul Rogers,  Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University; see, for example,  'A proxy war' at
Caroline Pailhe,  Groupe de recherche et d’information sur la sécurité (GRIP), Le Monde diplomatique,  August 2006 - not available on the English language version site at the time of writing.

(7) See,  for example,  Newsnight's Whos_telling_the_truth and comments.

(8) Rodric Braithwaite,  Financial Times,  3 August 2006;  quoted in  whitehall_protests.html;  republished in the Daily Mail,  4 August.

(9) On the Shebaa Farms,  see Bitter Lemons,  Edition 24 Volume 4 - June 29, 2006

 'As Lebanon sinks into crisis,  a new dispute grows - over bias', The Observer, 23 July 2006.

(11) Dr. Karim Makdisi,  'Hezbollah 1, Israel 0',  Bitter Lemons, Ed. 7 Vol. 2 - February 19, 2004

(12) On Israel negotiating prisoner exchanges previously:  'Crimes de guerre, offensive contre la paix',  'Israel’s offensive against peace:  War crimes'.   
(13) Yehoshua Porath,  Bitter Lemons, Ed. 7 Vol. 2 - February 19, 2004;  Ami Isseroff, 'Fighting Hezbollah in the worst way possible'.

Addendum:  Also at,  is an article by Zaid Al-Ali which gives a link to an International Crisis Group report of 25 July 2006.  This is a very detailed analysis,  which should be read.  Its conclusions are reflected in much of the French proposals regarding the crisis and in the UN Security Council resolution that has been finally adopted,  resolution 1701.

 'Israel/Palestine/Lebanon:  Climbing Out of the Abyss',  Crisis Group, Middle East Report N°57.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Channel 4 News

A summary of their coverage of the Lebanon crisis (I have posted the following on their forum).
I don't accuse Jon Snow of crimes or even of a direct lie. It's all done by distortion, selection and omission. As I've said before, in C4's coverage reporters are constantly trying to make 'points'. There are various subpoints and subtexts, but here are the main ones.

'point' number 1: all that's needed is for the US (and Britain) to call for an immediate ceasefire.  When a cessation of the violence is proposed, Hezbollah and the Lebanese government reject it and call for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops.

'point' number 2: nobody is prepared to contribute troops to an international force. France and others have expressed willingness.

'point' number 3: in spite of Israel's offensive, Hezbollah continues to fire rockets into Israel. Therefore the offensive is pointless. Even if Israel manages to push them back several miles, Hezbollah has long-range missiles. Therefore, again, it's pointless. Hezbollah has different types of rocket. Most of them are the short-range Katyusha and they only have a few of the longer-range ones (hopefully).

In general, the real issue - the hollowness of Hezbollah's case - has not been addressed at all by C4, and hardly by the BBC on their TV and radio output (though their website has some useful pieces).
© Channel 4 News
My attention was drawn to the following, from a few weeks ago: Jon Snow (presenter of Channel 4 News) 'recently told a meeting that he had received death threats over his coverage of the Middle East'.

The Guardian article also had this:
One senior journalist posted in London, who asked not to be named, claims that the origins of the current conflict have not been adequately explained. "The prisoners' issue remains unresolved six years after the Israelis were forced out of Lebanon. But nobody talks about that."
I didn't read the article until a link was posted to it on the forum, but I noted around the time of it: 'People speaking for the Arab side usually prefix their remarks with a formula such as, "nobody speaks about the Lebanese prisoners..." Yet they are given plenty of access to the BBC, say, and they always mention it.'

I'm quite happy to talk about the prisoners' issue, seeing as it turns out to be another of Hezbollah's pretexts. Come to think, I did talk about it, on a  thread on the C4 forum, but nobody responded.

In brief, it's not the pro-Israeli lobby that's "in denial", but the pro-Hezbollah lobby.

Finally, I don't want to see death threats made against Jon Snow, or any other journalist, but I think that if C4 had been strongly pro-Israel, the death threats would have been much more real.

Monday, August 07, 2006

All or nothing

On the Shebaa Farms (' érigé depuis 2000 par Hassan Nasrallah en une petite Alsace-Lorraine libanaise'):
«Aussi longtemps que ce prétexte subsistera, les autorités libanaises ne pourront pas désarmer de quelque façon que ce soit le Hezbollah», faisait remarquer hier au Figaro un membre du gouvernement libanais.
[...] «J'estime que le Liban ne rejette pas en bloc le texte de la résolution», a expliqué hier au Figaro Marwan Hamadé, le ministre libanais des Télécommunications. «Le Liban formule plutôt une série de contre-propositions qu'il souhaite voir ajoutées au projet», a dit ce député druze, proche de Walid Joumblatt et partisan résolu du désarmement de la milice chiite. «Ces points essentiels sont le retrait israélien du Liban-Sud, sans lequel les déplacés ne pourront pas rentrer chez eux. Et la mise immédiate du secteur des Fermes de Chebaa sous contrôle international. Le statut futur de cette zone pourrait être discuté ultérieurement, mais il est essentiel, pour pouvoir désarmer d'une façon ou d'une autre le Hezbollah, de le priver de son principal prétexte pour rester sous les armes.»
On the other hand:
Le président du parlement, Nabih Berri, [...] le chef du parti chiite Amal, dont le Liban-Sud est le principal fief, n'est pas seulement le troisième personnage de l'État libanais. Il est aussi le porte-parole officieux de Hassan Nasrallah et l'intermédiaire incontournable de tout dialogue avec le secrétaire général du mouvement [...]. «Cette résolution demande tout au Liban et rien à Israël, a déclaré Nabih Berri. Le Liban est occupé et on lui demande de désarmer. La guerre est celle de tout le Liban et pas seulement celle du Hezbollah !»  Beyrouth réclame un retrait israélien du Liban-Sud  
That rien was what was said to be the everything a few days ago: that Israel stop its bombardment.

Réagissant au rejet du texte par Beyrouth, Paris, via son ministre des Affaires étrangères, a assuré avoir « pris note » des demandes du Liban. S’exprimant au micro de RTL, Philippe Douste-Blazy a toutefois souligné qu'il fallait que le Liban comprenne qu'un accord ne se ferait qu'« à deux », c'est-à-dire avec l'aval de la partie israélienne. Le Liban veut amender le projet de résolution franco-américain  

Subtle differences

The New York Times:

“Our concern, of course, is that the Lebanese government seems to be unhappy with the draft resolution which was produced by France and the United States,” said Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador. “So we are discussing the situation, but unfortunately I don’t think there is a magic wand.” He said that “some of the amendments which we have seen go pretty far from the text which was negotiated, we were assured, in close consultation with the parties, the Lebanese and Israeli governments.”  Cease-Fire Draft at U.N. Falters Amid Arab Criticism

Le Monde:
... a indiqué le représentant de Russie, Vitaly Tchourkine. "Notre souci est que le gouvernement libanais semble mécontent du projet de résolution produit par la France et les Etats-Unis, donc nous discutons de cette situation, mais malheureusement nous n'avons pas de baguette magique", a-t-il résumé, avant d'inviter les Libanais et les pays arabes à "lire très attentivement ce projet", lequel "contient beaucoup de choses qui sont grandement dans l'intérêt du Liban" et "surtout un appel à une cessation des hostilités". L'adoption de la résolution sur le Liban repoussée par les demandes de Beyrouth
The NYT again:

The principal amendment introduced by Nouhad Mahmoud, a Lebanese Foreign Ministry official, would require Israel to hand over its positions in Lebanon to Unifil, the United Nations peacekeeping force, and withdraw its troops from the country “forthwith.” 

Le Monde:
Le Liban avait demandé dimanche, par la voix de son représentant à l'ONU, Nouhad Mahmoud, que le projet de texte"appelle Israël, dès la cessation des hostilités, à céder les positions qu'il détient au Liban à la Finul [Force intérimaire de l'ONU au Liban] et retire ses forces derrière la ligne bleue[...]. "Après quoi la Finul cédera à son tour dans les 72 heures la zone comprise entre le fleuve Litani et la ligne bleue aux forces armées libanaises"

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What will happen now?

UN considers Lebanon truce text Predicting the future is a fool's game,  as everybody knows.  But it is clear that over the next few weeks we will be coming to some critical junctions.

At the moment,  Hezbollah and the Lebanese government do not seem to be prepared to accept a ceasefire,  unless Israel withdraws from Lebanon.  Obviously,  that would not be acceptable to the Israelis.  And the French and anyone else who is prepared to take part in an international force do not see their role as disarming Hezbollah.

But maybe some sort of compromise could be reached with Iran that would allow the violence to cease.  There does not appear to be a mood in Tehran for confrontation.  Their main aim is to keep Hezbollah as a deterrent against Israel and the US.  So perhaps a deal could be reached whereby an international force would take over the areas now controlled by Israel and prevent resupply of rockets to Hezbollah positions,  but would not actively seek to further disarm Hezbollah.  Maybe Hezbollah would get their convicted killer back in exchange for information on the missing airman.

A deal along those lines of course would be far from implementing resolution 1559.  This would have to wait for a longer term deal with Iran,  where they were offered security guarantees in exchange for abandoning nuclear fuel enrichment/ development of nuclear weapons.

It is of course possible that Iran would reject any such deal.  If so,  the future for Lebanon and the region would be bleak.

(Updated 7 Aug)

Update: full text of the draft resolution here.; . A couple more points: mention of Shebaa farms in the draft resolution, but not of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel (not in the Operative Paragraphs). Lebanese government spokesmen are still complaining about the land mines issue, in spite of OP6.

You laughing at me?

Don't mess with Hassan Nasrallah. Michael Young in the NYT Mag (this is a 'must read'):

One evening earlier this summer, Lebanon’s most popular satire show, ‘‘Bas Mat Watan,’’ broadcast a sketch showing an ‘‘interview’’ with Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader and secretary general. ‘‘Nasrallah’’ was asked whether his party would surrender its weapons. He answered that it would, but first several conditions had to be met: there was that woman in Australia, whose land was being encroached upon by Jewish neighbors; then there was the baker in the United States, whose bakery the Jews wanted to take over. The joke was obvious: there were an infinite number of reasons why Hezbollah would never agree to lay down its weapons and become one political party among others.

But it was the rapid reaction to the satiric sketch that sent the more disquieting message. That very night, angry supporters of Hezbollah closed the airport road with burning tires — a warning that they could block at will the main access point in and out of the country — and marched on mainly Sunni, Druse and Christian quarters in Beirut.

Left versus Right over Israel

How much of a "Left-wing" issue is it to be anti-Israel? On Friday (4 Aug), I flicked through the Daily Mail, as I do from time to time.Their coverage in the main is hostile to Israel. They republish Rodric Braithwaite's piece in the FT, they quote extensively from the New Statesman: 'Blair:Blood on his hands' etc. Of course, there is Melanie Phillips, though her latest on the subject is in the Spectator. Also in Friday's edition was a piece by  Richard Littlejohn, which makes the basic point that Hezbollah started the war.

By accident I went into the July 2005 archive of Melanie Phillips' "diary", but I found something more interesting than her recent writings: The argument for disengagement. Here are a couple of extracts (but read the whole thing): 
Because of the dire existential threat Israel faces, and the campaign of demonisation and delegitimisation which has been going on in the west in order finally to turn that existential threat into reality, my views about disengagement have taken second place to the defence of Israel against prejudice, hatred and lies - including the lie that the occupation is illegal. Nevertheless, I have thought from the start that settling the territories was wrong, both morally and militarily, and have also supported disengagement from the start [...]. And yes, I also happen to take the hardest of hard lines against appeasing terrorism. But I believe that there is no inconsistency in my position.
The charge that this is akin to giving in to the demands of Islamic fundamentalists in Britain doesn’t hold water either, because their agenda is totally non-negotiable. Between Israel and the Palestinians there is something to negotiate about, as there has been since the Peel Commission first recommended partition of the land in 1937 - ie, a two-state solution. The fact that the Palestinians refuse to do so but make war instead does not alter that fact.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Reversing the truth

I don't normally waste much time on John Pilger, but since Norman Geras brings it up...
The resistance to rapacious power, to epic crimes of invasion (which the Nuremberg judges called the "paramount" crime) is humanity at its noblest; yet the paradox warns us that no resistance is pretty; that each adds its own form of violence in order to expel an invader (such as the civilians killed by Hizbollah rockets); and this has applied to heroic partisans in Europe and heroic Kurds and those faceless, despised Iraqis who have succeeded in pinning down the American homicidal machine in their country.
It is difficult to make sense of this passage, unless you know beforehand the twisted position Pilger is likely to take. The "invader" is, of course, Israel, in spite of the fact that Hezbollah initiated the hostilities by firing rockets into Israel and killing eight and capturing two soldiers (in Israel). Just as 70 years ago in Spain, those who stayed loyal to the legitimate government were shot on the grounds of "rebellion", so today another reversal of definitions takes place: the invader or aggressor becomes the heroic resistance to invasion.

But we are not yet quite at the point where, as Orwell put it, 'the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world'. Jeff Weintraub drew my attention to a post by David Adler, concerning a report in MERIP by Lara Deeb: 'Deeb goes on to rewrite the history of how the current conflict started: The Hizballah rocket attacks of July 2006, which commenced after Israeli bombardment of Lebanon had begun, have thus far killed 19 civilians and damaged numerous buildings -- nothing like the devastation and death wrought by Israeli aircraft in Lebanon.'

By the time I read the report, on Friday morning, the passage had been rewritten and the following correction appeared at the end of the report. Jeff updated his post accordingly (and was kind enough to link to me).
CORRECTION: Due to an editor's error, the initial version of this article misleadingly implied that Hizballah did not fire any rockets at Israel in July 2006 prior to the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon. In fact, there was a rocket attack in the Galilee on the morning of July 12, prior to Hizballah's raid on the army convoy and the current Israeli military campaign. We regret the error.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Syria's Price?

Martin S. Indyk:
There's no question Iran and Syria helped to light the fire that is now engulfing Lebanon and northern Israel, and if they want to be part of the solution, they could certainly help to douse the flames. But the question is: What is their price? If we were to ask Syria to help, that would be tantamount to an invitation to Syria to interfere again in Lebanon's affairs.
On the misleading historical parallels we keep hearing about:
I was looking at [former Secretary of State] George Shultz's memoirs the other day, and he recalled how President Reagan had sent a note to Hafez al-Assad in 1985 asking him to resolve the TWA hijacking problem, which he did.

Yes, but the context was different. I was involved [in the Clinton administration] with Secretary of State [Warren] Christopher and [Special Middle East envoy] Dennis Ross in several efforts to deal with the situation in Lebanon after Hezbollah launched rockets into Israel. That was in 1994 and again in 1996. And we went to Damascus and got Syria to curb Hezbollah. But the context there was one in which we were engaged in promoting negotiations between Israel and Syria on a peace deal, and Syria had 15,000 troops in Lebanon. And we could go to them and say: If you want us to continue negotiating the peace deal with Israel, you have to stop Hezbollah. The context is very different now. Now, the Syrians have withdrawn their troops from Lebanon, not because of our demands but because of the demands of the Lebanese people. And to ask them now to help solve this problem is to invite them to play a role again in Lebanon, which would be a betrayal of the Lebanese.

In other words, the Syrians would not just simply get in touch with Hezbollah and say, "Stop what you're doing"?

There will be a price, as the Syrians are telling the interlocutors. It's clear that they would be prepared to do that, but there will be a price, and the price will be Lebanon.
See also Joschka Fischer via drinksoakedtrotsforwar.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Blair's speech

In full. Commentators on this have argued that Blair is taking a harder line than previously on Iran and Syria, that he has moved closer to the US position. Well, maybe Iran has changed:
Hezbollah gets their weapons from Iran. Iran are now also financing militant elements in Hamas. Iran's president has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map". (my emphasis)
In other passages, he says, 'Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria are a constant source of de-stabilisation and reaction.' and 'Iran has supported extremist Shia [in Iraq].' That wasn't what the British government was saying 2 or 3 years ago.

I don't agree with everything in the speech: at one point he is close to equating Israeli action in Gaza to that in Lebanon. But there is an important point that is easily overlooked: 
Across the Middle East, there is a process of modernisation as well as reaction. It is unnoticed but it is there: in the UAE, in Bahrain, in Kuwait, in Qatar.
In the last few weeks, the BBC has broadcast a series, 'The New Arab World' (available on their  Documentary archive. Towards the end of Part One, about Dubai and the extraordinary development of its economy, one of their government ministers makes the striking remark: 'Change comes from the periphery.'

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Prisoners (update)

The Egyptian blogger known as Big Pharaoh, alias Qassim Lotfi , says, 'As for the 4 prisoners! inside Lebanon, I am sure there could have been much better ways to win their release.' ('The Guardian') The context of the comment he is replying to makes it clear that he is referring to the Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

On the BBC website - 'Who are the Mid-East prisoners?', 2006/07/26 (their bold, my italics):
Following a major prisoner swap in early 2004, in which more than 400 prisoners were released to Hezbollah in exchange for a reservist colonel and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers, Israel now admits to holding just three Lebanese. Chief among those is Samir Qantar , serving several life sentences for murder after attacking a civilian apartment block in Nahariya in 1979. A policeman, another man and his four-year-old daughter were killed. A baby girl was accidentally smothered by her mother as she hid in a cupboard.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has frequently called for Qantar's release, threatening to derail the 2004 deal when he was excluded from the list of prisoners. His name has once again been raised during the current crisis. Israel has refused to discuss releasing Qantar, often linking his status to its search for information about Ron Arad, an Israeli airman missing since being shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

Israel also holds an Israel man of Lebanese descent, Nissim Nasser, arrested in 2002 and convicted of spying for Hezbollah. The third Lebanese prisoner is a fighter called Yehia Skaff, Hezbollah MP Nawar al-Sahili told the BBC. Mr al-Sahili said that Israel also holds a fourth man, a fisherman called Ali Faratan. Israel is also thought to be holding 25 Lebanese citizens of Palestinian origin, many for conventional criminal offences. Their release is not understood to be at the heart of the dispute with Hezbollah.

Zaki Chehab, in the New Statesman, 24 July:
What prompted the operation to abduct the soldiers was a promise made by the general secretary of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, to the family of Samir al-Qantar, a Lebanese prisoner who has been in an Israeli jail, with no family visits, since 1979. Now aged 43, Qantar was sentenced to 542 years in jail in 1980 for the deaths of three Israelis. Israel refused to release him in a prisoner exchange that took place in 2004.
See also The logic of war (updates) and The fog of war - replies.

Update:  Haaretz had this:
Immediately after soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were captured, Olmert said that Israel would not negotiate a prisoner exchange for their release [...] However, with the fighting still ongoing, government and military sources said recently that Israel would find it difficult to insist on this position in negotiating a cease-fire.

The sources said that Israel would apparently agree to release Abu Amra Mamad, convicted of weapons possession, plus one illegal alien. It will not agree to release Palestinians. A government source added that Israel would also refuse to release Samir Kuntar, who murdered the Haran family and a police officer in Nahariya in 1979. In the last prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, the "Tennenbaum deal" of January 2004, it was agreed that Kuntar would be released only in exchange for information about missing airman Ron Arad. (1 Aug)
I don't know if the prisoner mentioned is the same as the ones named in the BBC article. Names starting 'Abu ...' are usually pseudonyms.  


To return to something I touched on briefly before.

Somebody remarked that, in the Middle East, all conflicts are linked, but they have to be solved one by one. I also heard somewhere that it is the radical ideology (of islamists) that unless you can solve all problems, you can't solve any. That ultimately is their justification for violence. That too is why some are prepared to 'understand' the violence in the absence of 'a long-term solution that will bring justice to the Palestinians'. The quote is from Zaki Chehab in the New Statesman, but many more examples could be found.

That is why I think it is a tactical mistake for both Rice and Blair to talk about 'making a new Middle East'. It allows the BBC to describe him as using 'neo-conservative rhetoric'. This rhetoric too entertains the idea that 'these conflicts are all linked because Islamism is a “seamless totalitarian movement” – in the words of Michael Gove.'  (Gideon Rachman, via Gregory Djerejian )

Clearly, a solution to the current crisis between Lebanon and Israel cannot wait for the problem of Israel and Palestine to be resolved (desirable as that is in itself). I suppose that Syria will have to be offered something, if only the promise of some sort of process on the Golan Heights being restarted. It has been argued, though, that Bill Clinton spent too much time trying to facilitate a deal between Israel and Syria, so that he literally ran out of time in January 2001 for getting an agreement between Israel and Palestine. Still, though the effort failed with Assad, père, it could be worth trying again with Assad, fils.

On the Gaza side, news was coming through Saturday (on the BBC WS) that a deal on the exchange of prisoners for the captured Israeli soldier was getting close.

Update: more talk this morning (1 Aug) on France Inter about an exchange of 2 Lebanese prisoners for the 2 captured Israeli soldiers. French FM Douste-Blazy is in Beirut for talks with his Iranian counterpart.

Update 2: Philippe Douste-Blazy, in his appearance last week on France Inter, had to respond to a bizarre question by a listener, suggesting that France, if it had the military means, should be intervening against the bombardment of Lebanon (by Israel). The minister replied by repeating that an international force could only go in if there is a ceasefire and political agreement (9:23-11:27). In general, he followed closely his master's voice: Liban : le plan Chirac.

For more about the talk of a prisoner exchange, see the update to The Prisoners (update).

'Robin Wright of the Washington Post, who explains how the several Middle East crisis are all linked' -  Joshua Landis. The idea that 'problems must be fixed one at a time' comes from Roger Cohen, via Greg Djerejian. Maybe it was myself who combined the two ideas.