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23 August 2006

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Matthew

Israel's hearts and minds campaign went as well as its ground campaign.

zanzibar

The Lebanese Shia who must be the largest segment of the population have an amazingly uniform view. It seems the Christians are more split.

To an outsider it seems that HA is not pressing its domestic political advantage by pushing for a redrawing of the Lebanese political map. Maybe they are far more subtle and sophisticated?

Mo

Zanzibar,
HA have surprised me and infuriated me many a time with their politics. When it looked like they were going to take Amal and Nabih Berri (A man I detest more than Ariel Sharon and if you knew me you'd know how big a deal that is!) out completely and he was, as warlords do, starting to turn violent, rather than take him on and quite frankly wipe the floor with him, they offered an alliance. Michel Aoun, a Christian and a former Head of the Army and considered once a traitor who had to escape the country via the French Embassy is now their loudest cheerleader and political ally. Their political movements are far too subtle or sophisticated for my head but they sure as hell keep the country together. And I guess that is why they don't try to press any advantage, they prefer the people to come to them.

The biggest result for HA from the above poll is not what the Christians think but what the Sunnis think. Most Sunnis worshipped the ground Hariri walked on and after his death, his son inherited a lot of goodwill. From what I hear from some of his most ardent fans, or ex-fans, its that they have to spit whenever mentioning his name now. If HA manage to take the Sunni vote from the Hariri Bloc in parliament, then the pro-US anti-Syria movement is finished and an orientalist movement will take its place.

confusedponderer

Hezbollah have an ace up their sleeve: 'One man, one vote!'

From Joshua Landi's informative blog SyriaComment.com:

"Shi'ites are terribly under-represented in parliament. They have been kept at the bottom of the Lebanese political heap despite being the largest sectarian community in Lebanon. They accepted this position in the 1989 Taif Accords, largely because Syria allowed them to keep their weapons. Since Syria left Lebanon in 2005 the other Lebanese communities – Sunnis, Druze, and Christian - have been demanding that Hezbollah give up its military weapons. At the same time, they have refused to allow the Shiites their proper constitutional role in government. They can’t have it both ways. If a deal to disarm Hizbullah is to be made in Lebanon, the Shi'ites, who represent 40 per cent of the population, will have to get close to 40 percent representation in parliament."
...
The way Hezbollah has justified maintaining its arms is by focusing on its resistance role. If you want to eliminate that role of resistance, Hezbollah is going to have to be brought into the political center of Lebanon’s government so it becomes an established power, not an outsider throwing stones at a government dominated by others."

http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/syriablog/2006/07/what-role-can-syria-play-in-lebanon.htm

Israel's attacks have only stressed that resistance role, and achieved the opposite than intended, if after all this war was about weakening Hezbollah.

still working it out

"84.6% of Lebanese believed it was due to a premeditated plan."

That's where Hezbollah won the war politically. Nasrallah's initial pause before responding to the Israeli bombing campaign looks to be a stroke of genius that transferred the moral high ground back to Hezbollah in the eyes of most Lebanese.

Of course it helps that Israel's attack was so clearly pre-meditated, and Israel made almost no moves to hide that fact. If they had just had a little more patience and walked the bombing targets up from southern Lebanon to the rest of the country they could have more credibly claimed they were responding to Hezbollah escalations. Then the war might not have been a political failure. The early attack on Beirut's airport now looks like a particularly poor decision.

zanzibar

While we are discussing polls, this poll on what the iraqi's want is quite interesting.

Glen

Pat,

It appears that the IDF has done more for HA then just about anything HA could have done for itself.

I never understood why Israel did not pursue the return of their captured soldiers by direct negotiation with the Lebanese government prior to any military action. This would solidify the Lebanese government's standing while putting HA under pressure. I realize HA is part of the government, but if Israel was serious about splitting HA out, they had to be willing to offer a real carrot (tact recognition of current Leb gov) rather than just bringing out the stick and pounding away. I suspect this tactic would not have been successful in recovering the soldiers, but it would have gone a long ways in the global PR war which Israel and the IDF so badly lost, and could have defined the resulting military action to further split Lebanese public reaction.

I do not understand how Israel and the IDF thought that the bombing campaign they carried out would do anything other than unite the people of Lebanon against them and be viewed by much of the world as a terror campaign. Obviously, they were counting on a lightning quick victory, and were caught with their pants around their ankles when it did not happen.

Israel (and the US) should begin direct negotiations with all of the recognized governments in the ME despite the rhetoric from those countries. Negotiations with the USSR and China were one of the key means use to confront our adversaries during the Cold War, and it could be argued that it was negotiations with the USSR which contributed significantly to the eventual collapse of that country. (Nothing says we're not going away better than us pounding on our enemies' door demanding talks.)

This post reflects much more ignorance than understanding of the current ME situation. It's possible that Israel DID engage in talks with Lebanon prior to war, but if that was the case I never heard it reported.

Just my two cents,

Glen

Frank Durkee

Critical questions for HA are: Do they want to govern or try to in a coalition at this point? I would think not. And what are their long term, 5- 10 year, goals?

zanzibar

Hezbollah have an ace up their sleeve: 'One man, one vote!' - confusedponderer

Well, this is what I am surprised about. They have not yet made a big deal about their demographic advantage and pushed for a new census and change to the French era constitution. Obviously they have a calculation but it is not readily apparent. Since they are already part of the government they are not really taking on a classic opposition party role. Its possible they are being overly sensitive lest the developing consensus fall apart resulting in another civil war.

Mo, Berri seems to be HA's "official" point person for the negotiations with the west. For the meetings with Condi, etc - he represented the HA viewpoint while Saniora seemed more ready to accede to western demands. When is the next scheduled election in Lebanon? The Hariri group should be in a tough spot as they were part of the pro-US "cedar revolution" and if these polls are representative of current sentiment they are on the wrong side. It would seem to me however that Syria could not be very popular simply from a nationalistic viewpoint although HA would feel an obligation due to the explicit support they have received.

shiobhan

I second the query along with commenter "glen" why was their no negotiation with the government of Lebanon regarding captured soldiers? If its important enough to go to war for - surely its important enough to go through every avenue before carpet bombing 'scuse me precision bombing a neighbouring country?

Ghostman

"84.6% of Lebanese believed it was due to a premeditated plan." That's the part that struck commenter still working it out...it strikes me as well. I find it notable for the huge agreement to the proposition across all segments of lebanese society. What does it portend?

What comes to mind is how I react to the same "event"...but when causation in one is unintentional vs. in the second intentional. A simple example...someone accidentally spills a beverage on my brand new suit. The guy is very apologetic....I'll forgive quickly. Another guy actually INTENDED to ruin my suit, he THREW the beverage at me. To him...I'll be mighty angry; might even seek retribution.

So, I suppose that I learn from this poll that Israel may have a very hard time making any sort of inroads towards peace with Lebanon for a good while.

I found many of the above comments interesting. Reminds me of that Israeli saying...how'd it go? "The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to...miss an opportunity." Perhaps Israel should look in its own mirror.

Ghostman

Grimgrin

Glen, I don't think negotiations had anything to do with the collapse of the USSR, sorry. At least not when compared with low oil prices weaking an allready shakey planned economy, a bleeding ulcer of a war in Afghanistan, and growing internal discontent with the lack of political and economic freedom under the Soviet system.

I'd further argue that the point of negotiations isn't confrontation, it's an attempt to reach a state in which both parties can co-exist. If you want to confront someone, an army works much better than a diplomat. Diplomats, as Condi Rice has repeatedly demonstrated recently, are much easier to ignore.

Unfortunately for Israel and everyone else in the region, I don't think Israel can accept co-existance with her immediate neighbours. Israel's need for water resources, and her fear of having strong Arab states on her borders precludes that kind of negotiated coexistance.

That fear was perfectly rational when Israel was surrounded by soviet satelites and one lost war away from a second Diaspora or worse. Now that it's far and away the strongest power in the region, and the only one with a nuclear capability, that myth of Israel's strategic weakness is leading them to behave in massively self destructive ways.

Will

the polling data was quoted by Professor Juan Cole.

For an insightful look at HA, the Sadr militia, and their relation to the Islamic Republic of Iran read
http://nuralcubicle.blogspot.com/
History of HA, Part III which explores the concept of the Shiite "wilayat el-fakih" system invented by Ayotallah Khomeini.

"The recognition of the absolute and supranational political and religious authority of the Supreme Guide, the wali el-fakih (now Khamenei, and before him, Khomeini), constitutes one of the main characteristics (if not the central characteristic) of Hezbollah. A deep understanding of the wilayat el-fakih system is indispensable in understanding Hezbollah’s behavior in matters pertaining to issues of strategic importance."

Nur reads the French and Iralian newspapers and journals and always has valuable insights.

Best Wishes

coaster

I am impressed and intimidated by the quality of this blog and the comments - Col. Lang, you are doing a great job for us all - keep up
The 'intimidation' means that less important comments or trivial thoughts do not crowd out the important ones.

Hal Carpenter

Maybe Israel and Bush will end up creating the first real cohesive nation of Lebanon. Regardless of the complicated and layered loyalties of Lebanese people, I think most people want to feel part of that first Arab army, where honest disciplined men stood up and held back the tide of Israeli power.
Texas courage...Alamo. Arab pride and dignity...Lebanon.
Hezballah's press releases have been honest and accurate, for the most part. I'm sure that they are concealing casualties, etc. But, all in all, their press has been a lot more honest than Israel's.
Hezballah is playing to a Western audience. Arab fanatics don't require truthful press releases any more than the Bush administration does.
If war is untranslated political dialogue, then Hezballah isn't looking for war. In Nasrallah's videos this "terrorist" comes across only slightly more threatening than Mr. Rogers. He's offering reasonable terms in a measured voice and should be taken seriously. If he is murdered instead, our world is on fire.
Hezballah seems trying to negotiate with their restraint. Why didn't they try to shoot for Tel Aviv? Why haven't they responded to many small Israeli grund violations in South Lebanon, including some killings? Why aren't they taking hostages now, which should be pretty easy in a land they know and virtually control?
When you listen to all of the world leadership talking about this mess, Nasrallah sometimes seems like the only grownup in the room.
He must know that peace, money and a secure border are the maximum he can hope for. He could not make the Lebanese go to ideological war under those conditions. Lebanon is Lebanon, because it doesn't do stupid things like that.
This inbalance of power in the Middle East does open possibilities, but who is going to make paniced, humiliated, overarmed little Israel show restraint, bonehead Black and White Bush or that woman who idolized Bush and delivers Cheney's messages by plane? Where's Nixon when we need him? My God, did I say that? See what George Bush has done to me!!
Our world is moving far to fast for America not to be able to replace a failing government for three years. The Bush administration would have been given a no confidence vote following the Katrina mess. That probably would have been the last straw, if not we've had plenty of straws since then.
If we survive Bush, let's ammend our constitution to allow removal for incompetence by a mechanism other than impeachment by a legislature made of members of the same party.
So, I guess it's wait for the coming war and pray for peace, but I think there is a real opening if the Israeli's don't make too much of their loss and Hezballah keeps showing restraint and doesn't make too much of one little win.

Hal Carpenter

Dear Col. Lang,

Just a note to apologize for the lack of manners in my previous post. I had neither a greeting or acknowledgment. I'm picking up bad habits in this frontier mannered virtual world and I appreciate your site as a cultured oassis.
And, my momma taught me better long ago.
Hal Carpenter

sonic

Intersting article here. I know the source is not mainstream, but I know the jounalist and he is a smart guy.

http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/article.php?article_id=9519

Some excerpts

"The southern villages of Lebanon were at the heart of the resistance to the Israeli army, and pacifying Aita al-Shaab was a top military priority for the Israelis. Hundreds of Israeli troops poured over the border and seized a school for the blind overlooking the town, while helicopters dropped other troops behind the town.

The majority of civilians fled to a nearby Christian town, where they were given refuge. Others hid in cellars or in their homes.

Over the next month the village fought off three major assaults by the Israeli army. The battle for Aita al-Shaab would reflect the pattern of resistance across the south.

From the outset of the war, Hizbollah’s ranks were swelled by a mass of former fighters. For some this was their third war - they had first picked up a weapon in the 1960s. The Israelis found themselves fighting the veterans of the 1982 invasion, and the 1993 and 1996 assaults. The vast majority of the fighters were locals, backed by highly trained and well armed guerrillas drawn from across the country.

Across the south the Israelis discovered that instead of facing a few thousand Hizbollah fighters, they were confronted by tens of thousands of armed men.

This was a popular resistance organised in cooperation with Hizbollah or under its leadership. Locals defended villages, freeing up Hizbollah fighters to take the offensive against the invading Israeli troops.

As other Lebanese organisations declared for the resistance, Hizbollah was able to draw on resources well beyond their ranks. In Aita al-Shaab this combination would survive a month long siege by the world’s fifth most powerful army."

"In the second attack, the Israelis advanced across the tobacco fields and seized the bottom of the village,” Ali continued. “They wanted to fight their way up the main street into the neighbourhoods on the hill - if they succeeded they would have split our town in two.”

Here locals held them off, firing out of windows, shop fronts and doorways. The buildings along the central street are punctured by thousands of bullet holes, rockets and heavy machine gun fire.

“We would hold a house until the Israelis called in an air strike - we realised that they always pulled their troops back first, so we knew when it was time to set up new positions. Often their soldiers would seize a street, only for our fighters to appear behind them.”


Glen

Grimgrim,

Perhaps I am tired of hearing negotiations characterized as submission or failure. Certainly no one compares Ronald Reagan to Neville Chamberlain for going to Iceland during the Cold War and negotiating with Gorbachev. Those talks failed. Direct talks during the Cuban Missile Crisis pretty much prevented WW III. Those talks did not fail. It's amazing what can be accomplished with talking when talking must succeed.

I would agree that negotiation is not confrontation, but I have not been a first hand witness to Israel/Arab peace talks, and (after the diplomatic protocol was stripped off) would hesitate to say they were anything BUT confrontations, at least at first. I realize that is not the goal, but it is a much less costly way to initially deal with ones enemies. Talking is the primary tool of diplomacy and it's the height of stupidity to so casually toss it away.

As I indicated, Israel talking to Lebanon would be (at first) more about global PR rather than compromise as I would expect these talks to fail, but they would be talking, and that is an important achievement. You think that Israel needs to learn to act in a manner befitting it's strength rather than it's mythical weakness. On that I could not agree more, but they have a MAD defense and, they do not have a non-nuclear offensive capability which can make the same hostile neighbors cease to exist. So it would seem that talking must succeed.

Thanks for responding. I learn more here about the ME than the rest of the news spectrum combined.

Glen

Grimgrin

Glen, my apologies, I should have made it clear that I don't in any way equate diploma with submission. I just think you have to have certain conditions in place for diplmacy to have a meanigful result, and that those conditions seem to be lacking in the middle east.

As long as we're talking about personal annoyances, I think Chamberlain was in many ways made to be a scapegoat for the west's collective faliure to confront Hitler until it became absolutely unavoidable. The faliure at Munich was a faliure to understand what facism was and what a threat it represented. This faliure wasn't Chamberlains alone, as anyone familliar with how happy the west was to do buisness with Hitler prior to the war knows. It's just that Chamberlain's the one on film holding his little piece of paper, so he gets the blame. Then endless smug columnists invoke his name to try to bully people into treating minor threats as if they were the Wehrmacht circa 1938.

Mo

Various interesting developments coming out of Beirut.

"MP Michel Aoun, urged Hizbullah on Thursday to "reassure" the Lebanese, adding that the resistance should become "legitimate" by being placed under the control of the state. "The resistance achieved a victory and hence should be part of the government according to the Lebanese equation," "

Aoun was HA's no.1 Christian cheerleader and defender so his comments are very interesting. Is he changing sides, being influenced or is he laying the groundwork for something HA is planning?

Meanwhile, Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad said
"The resistance is committed to the cessation of hostilities until the complete cease-fire is achieved,"

"The resistance and the army may decide to confront these violations anytime the government sees the need to take a political decision to put an end to these violations."

"The resistance will not give the enemy the chance to provoke it and lure it into confrontations that Israel could use as a justification to keep its forces in Lebanon,"

What is interesting is that HA is publicly telling the Israelis that they will refrain from major assaults on IDF troops still in Lebanon. Even more interesting is the line that says they AND the army can respond at any time the governement sees the need to act....note, NOT the resistance but the government. The big news here is that HA have just transffered all responsibility for their actions to the government.

Sign of weakness or stroke of genius?

The political machinations of the Arab world are what you get when you decide to make complexity an art form.

zanzibar

"Sign of weakness or stroke of genius?

The political machinations of the Arab world are what you get when you decide to make complexity an art form." - Mo

We have seen that HA is an effective armed force.

Mo, in your observation of domestic Lebanese politics do you believe that HA is equally adept in the Lebanese political realm? How would you compare their political skills with their military skills?

Mo

Zanzibar,

That is really tough question to answer. Militarily they have been able to prepare and act without restraint or the need to answer to anyone, politicaly its harder to judge.

Like I said, the political world in Lebanon is complex. For example, in the 14 years they have been active politically, all but the last one have been under the auspices of Syria. That was, surprisingly, not to their benefit as their main Shia rival was Amal, whose leader is very closely linked with Syria and was happily sharing the spoils of a very corrupt system with them. HA, famed for their lack of corruption,was forced to not take Amal on politically (and in fact ended up forming an alliance as they found they couldn't not trounce them in elections otherwise).

So thats just one example which by itself is an excercise in complexity, imagine having to think like that for every other party in the country!

I would say their biggest problem right now, ironically, is their strength. Proving to the other communities, especially the Christian community which is notoriously fearful of Muslims (I have Christian friends who are still too afraid to visit the old "West Beirut"), that that power will not be turned against them, militarily or politically. I think that will be the biggest test of their political ability over the next year, a year that may very definitely answer your question.

zanzibar

Robert Fisk reporting from Beirut.

HA winning hearts and minds

But for now - and in the total absence of the 8,000-strong foreign military force that is intended to join Unifil with a supposedly "robust" mandate - Hizbollah has already won the war for "hearts and minds". Most householders in the south have received - or are receiving - a minimum initial compensation payment of $12,000 (£6,300), either for new furniture or to cover their family's rent while Hizbollah construction gangs rebuild their homes. The money is being paid in cash - almost all in crisp new $100 bills - to up to 15,000 families across Lebanon whose property was blitzed by the Israelis, a bill of $180m which is going to rise far higher when reconstruction and other compensation is paid.

And this ominous paragraph.

A frightening side to this long-term promise for believers in the UN ceasefire is that Hizbollah has encouraged its Shia population to rent homes in Khalde, south of Beirut, since it intends to delay its entire city construction project for a year - because of its conviction that the ceasefire will break down and that another Israeli-Hizbollah war will only wreck newly built homes.

het

Hello Pat,
I have a dumb question about Hizbullah.
Why did they not use surface to air missles
against the Israeli Air Force?
Is it a matter of resources?
Do they Israelis have effective countermeasures?
Is there another reason altogether?

I'd be interested in your comments.

-het

BadTux

Het, I can answer your question. It's a question of physics. Gravity, to be exact. It takes a lot of energy to overcome gravity. For a rocket to swiftly accelerate to supersonic speeds and reach, say, 20,000 feet, within the 30 seconds or so that a jet plane will stay within its operational range, takes a big rocket. A rocket big enough that it can only be fired from a large rocket launcher that's difficult to hide or disguise.

Israel flew their jets high and used smart bombs rather than flying low and slinging dumb bombs, and won the bet that HA didn't have anything capable of getting that high. If Israel had flown their jets low, HA may have fired off some man-portable SAM's, but basically Israel didn't give them a target to fire at -- a man-portable SAM would run out of fuel long before reaching the 15,000 feet that Israel was bombing from, even if it could get a lock from that distance (which it can't -- some of those Soviet-era man-portable SAM's can't even get a lock from the front, they're only useful for shooting at a departing jet). Israel used jets rather than attack helicopters for their air support -- I saw reports in Haaretz and elsewhere that at least in some operations Israel kept their helicopters at least two miles from known HA positions to keep them from being shot down -- once again denying HA a target for SAM's.

Does HA have SAM's? Well, Israel acted as if they had man-portable devices but not big ones, and used tactics to prevent losses due to man-portable devices. I suspect that's probably the closest we'll ever get to knowing the answer to that question.

-BT

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