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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Mid East July 19

HELENE COOPER and STEVEN ERLANGER, NYT, An Israeli gunner covered his ears as an artillery piece fires towards targets in southern Lebanon from a position in northern Israel
NYT: The outlines of an American-Israeli consensus began to emerge on Tuesday in which Israel would continue to bombard Lebanon for about another week to degrade the capabilities of the Hezbollah militia, officials of the two countries said. Then, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would go to the region and seek to establish a buffer zone in southern Lebanon and perhaps an international force to monitor Lebanon’s borders to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining more rockets with which to bombard Israel. American officials signaled that Ms. Rice was waiting at least a few more days before wading into the conflict, in part to give Israel more time to weaken Hezbollah forces. The strategy carries risk, partly because it remains unclear just how long the rest of the world, particularly America’s Arab allies, will continue to stay silent as the toll on Lebanese civilians rises.
NYT: With Israeli Use of Force, Debate Over Proportion. The asymmetry in the reported death tolls is marked and growing: some 230 Lebanese dead, most of them civilians, to 25 Israeli dead, 13 of them civilians. In Gaza, one Israel soldier has died from his own army’s fire, and 103 Palestinians have been killed, 70 percent of them militants. The cold figures, combined with Israeli air attacks on civilian infrastructure like power plants, electricity transformers, airports, bridges, highways and government buildings, have led to accusations by France and the European Union, echoed by some nongovernmental organizations, that Israel is guilty of “disproportionate use of force” in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and of “collective punishment” of the civilian populations.
Israel has heard these arguments before. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, “Proportionality is not compared to the event, but to the threat, and the threat is bigger and wider than the captured soldiers.”

Zed Chafetz has an op-ed in NYT: Israel Leaves the Scuds Behind. This president doesn’t seem to regard Israel as a nuisance. On the contrary, he sees it as a friend and an ally in the fight against Islamic radicalism. An Israeli victory in Lebanon wounds Hezbollah’s patrons, Syria and Iran, both of which threaten American troops and aspirations in Iraq. It establishes Mr. Olmert as a major figure as he tries to set Israel’s permanent borders in accordance with American policy.
Thomas L. Friedman in NYT:
Profiles of the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah always describe him as the most “brilliant” or “strategic” Arab player. I beg to differ. When the smoke clears, Nasrallah will be remembered as the most foolhardy Arab leader since Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser miscalculated his way into the Six-Day War.
Yes, yes, I know. I am a too-rational Westerner. I don’t understand the Eastern mind and the emotional victory that Nasrallah will reap from all this pain. It isn’t whether you win or lose; it’s whether you kill Jews. Well, maybe — but, ultimately, wars are fought for political ends. An accounting will be rendered, so let’s do some math.
First, Nasrallah has set back the whole fledgling Arab democracy movement. That movement, by the way, was being used by Islamist parties — like Hezbollah and Hamas — to peacefully ascend to power. Hezbollah, for the first time, had two ministers in the Lebanese cabinet. Hamas, through a U.S.-sponsored election, took over the Palestinian Authority. And in both cases, as well as in Iraq, these Islamist parties were allowed to sit in government and maintain their own militias outside.
What both Hamas and Nasrallah have done — by dragging their nations into unnecessary wars with Israel — is to prove that Islamists will not be made more accountable by political power. Just the opposite; not only will they not fix the potholes, they will start wars, whenever they choose, that will lead to even bigger potholes.
Does this mean Hamas and Hezbollah will never get another vote? Of course not. Their followers will always follow. What it does mean is that if the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or Islamists in Jordan or the gulf, had any hopes of taking power through electoral means, they can forget about it. I don’t see their governments ever allowing elections that might bring Islamist parties to power, and I don’t see the U.S. promoting any more elections in the region, for now. The Arab democracy experiment is on hold — because if Islamist parties can’t be trusted to rule, elections can’t be trusted to be held.
All Arab dictators say, “Thank you, Nasrallah.”
On the peace front, let’s see, Israel gets out of Lebanon and Gaza, and what is the response of Hamas and Hezbollah? Build schools, roads and jobs in their recovered territories? Nope. Respect the border with Israel, but demand that Israel continue to withdraw from the West Bank? Nope. The response is to shell Israel from Gaza and abduct Israeli soldiers from Lebanon. Hamas and Nasrallah replaced the formula “land for peace” with “land for war,” said the former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross.
In doing so, they have ensured that no Israeli government is going to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and risk rockets on Tel Aviv. Nasrallah and Hamas have brought “strategic territorial depth” back to Israeli thinking. All West Bank Jewish settlers say, “Thank you, Nasrallah.”
But let’s assume Nasrallah doesn’t care about democracy or a Palestinian state. He has to care about his own standing. His adventures have led to the devastation of his people — what is happening to Lebanon is a terrible tragedy — with relatively little damage to Israel. He launched a war on behalf of Iran that ruined his people, and the best outcome he can expect is a cease-fire that requires Hezbollah to move away from the Israeli border.
Moreover, Iran gave Nasrallah missiles to deter any Western or Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program. By frivolously playing their missile card now, Hezbollah and Iran have exposed and weakened Iran’s deterrent. Really dumb.
Can America capitalize on Nasrallah’s foolishness? To me, the big strategic chess move is to try to split Syria off from Iran, and bring Damascus back into the Sunni Arab fold. That is the game-changer. What would be the Syrian price? I don’t know, but I sure think it would be worth finding out. After all, Syria hosts Hamas’s leadership in Damascus. It is the land bridge between Hezbollah and Iran, without which Hezbollah can’t survive. And it is the safe haven for the Baathist insurgents in Iraq.

Yes, we have a lot to discuss with Syria. And so do the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Jordanians, who are worried that Syria is paving the way for an Iranian-Shiite takeover of Arab politics.
I’d sure be interested to know if Damascus would respond to a U.S.-Saudi overture, like the one that got Libya to give up its nukes, and come over from the dark side. Unlikely, to be sure, but if the Bush team had the smarts to pull it off — also unlikely — it would be the mother of all defeats for Iran and Nasrallah.

Maureen Dawd has her habitual op-ed in NYT, and you should read also this column in W Post.


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