Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah’s Iranian Calling Card

Last weekend we discussed the significance of the drone that penetrated Israeli airspace before shot down in the southern part of the country. Though there was little doubt that the flight was the work of Hezbollah, yesterday the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group claimed credit for the incident. In a televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah bragged about the launching of the drone from Lebanon and the fact that it “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine” while referencing territory that is part of pre-1967 Israel. Nasrallah also said the drone was made in Iran, Hezbollah’s ally and sponsor. While the drone may not have got anywhere near the Dimona nuclear reactor as Nasrallah claimed, it is a reminder that Iran’s auxiliaries have the capability to hit Israeli targets. While Nasrallah spoke as if the drone increases the prestige of his organization but the flight is clearly intended as a warning to Israel, as well as the United States, about the cost of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Yet as much as it is a reminder to Israelis of their own vulnerability and the siege under which they live, it is also a reminder of the costs of inaction about Iran’s nuclear program. If there was any constituency in Israel for a wait and see attitude about Iran as opposed to Netanyahu’s focus on averting the threat, Hezbollah’s provocation cuts it off at the knees. Though an Iranian weapon constitutes a grave danger in of itself, it could also serve to provide a nuclear umbrella to its Lebanese allies as well as the tottering Assad regime in Syria.

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Last weekend we discussed the significance of the drone that penetrated Israeli airspace before shot down in the southern part of the country. Though there was little doubt that the flight was the work of Hezbollah, yesterday the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group claimed credit for the incident. In a televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah bragged about the launching of the drone from Lebanon and the fact that it “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine” while referencing territory that is part of pre-1967 Israel. Nasrallah also said the drone was made in Iran, Hezbollah’s ally and sponsor. While the drone may not have got anywhere near the Dimona nuclear reactor as Nasrallah claimed, it is a reminder that Iran’s auxiliaries have the capability to hit Israeli targets. While Nasrallah spoke as if the drone increases the prestige of his organization but the flight is clearly intended as a warning to Israel, as well as the United States, about the cost of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Yet as much as it is a reminder to Israelis of their own vulnerability and the siege under which they live, it is also a reminder of the costs of inaction about Iran’s nuclear program. If there was any constituency in Israel for a wait and see attitude about Iran as opposed to Netanyahu’s focus on averting the threat, Hezbollah’s provocation cuts it off at the knees. Though an Iranian weapon constitutes a grave danger in of itself, it could also serve to provide a nuclear umbrella to its Lebanese allies as well as the tottering Assad regime in Syria.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions present an existential threat to Israel as well as one to the security and stability of the Middle East and the West. But Iran’s power rests on more than the despotic Tehran government. It is the leading sponsor of international terror via Hezbollah, a group that has in recent months been responsible for a series of deadly attacks in Europe.

Indeed, far from intimidating the Israelis to stand down, it is likely that drone flight strengthens the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as he heads toward new elections that he hopes will give his government a mandate to defend the nation’s security.

Though Nasrallah is playing to his own supporters as well as hoping to get credit from the ayatollahs in Tehran, his little stunt has re-emphasized the need for Israelis to be focused above all on the Iranian threat. While there is a lively debate within Israel about the wisdom of striking against Iran on its own, there is no debate about the nature of the threat or the need to address it. So long as the main issue facing Israelis in the upcoming January election is defense policy, Netanyahu remains the only plausible choice among the country’s political leaders.

Iran’s calling card ought to focus both President Obama and Mitt Romney on the need to have a coherent policy that will force the Iranians to back down. But for Israelis, it is a wake up call that reinforces the imperative need of having a strong and determined leader at the helm of the country.

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Julian Assange and Ecuador’s Gesture Politics

Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a spectacular example of the gesture politics beloved by the far left. It is gesture politics because Assange, an Australian citizen who has spent the last two months camping in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, will have to smuggle himself past a phalanx of armed police officers if he is to make it to Quito in one piece.

While Assange and his supporters are portraying his current status as the consequence of politically motivated persecution, the truth is considerably more sordid. Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after the British government decided to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges. To go by a recent op-ed penned for the Guardian by the dreadful Glenn Greenwald, you’d think that Sweden was a slightly milder version of North Korea, where prisoners are held in “oppressive pre-trial conditions,” and where someone like Assange could quickly find himself in American custody in order to face trial for espionage, given the release by Wikileaks of several thousand confidential American diplomatic and military cables.

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Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a spectacular example of the gesture politics beloved by the far left. It is gesture politics because Assange, an Australian citizen who has spent the last two months camping in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, will have to smuggle himself past a phalanx of armed police officers if he is to make it to Quito in one piece.

While Assange and his supporters are portraying his current status as the consequence of politically motivated persecution, the truth is considerably more sordid. Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after the British government decided to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges. To go by a recent op-ed penned for the Guardian by the dreadful Glenn Greenwald, you’d think that Sweden was a slightly milder version of North Korea, where prisoners are held in “oppressive pre-trial conditions,” and where someone like Assange could quickly find himself in American custody in order to face trial for espionage, given the release by Wikileaks of several thousand confidential American diplomatic and military cables.

It’s worth remembering that before hiding out in the Ecuadorean embassy, Assange acquired celebrity status in Britain, trading on his self-image as a courageous whistle-blower being hunted down by the vengeful Americans. (To amplify that point, pro-Assange demonstrators have taken to brandishing placards, lifted from a cover of Time magazine, that show Assange’s mouth gagged by an American flag.) For over a year, Assange very publicly lived in the enormous (and luxurious) country manor belonging to Vaughn Smith, a wealthy left-wing journalist and socialite, and the founder of The Frontline Club, a journalistic watering hole in central London. In January of this year, RT, a satellite news network controlled and financed by the Russian government, gave Assange his own show with the curious title The World Tomorrow, in which he interviewed the sorts of people known in marketing-speak as “high profile individuals.”

Those individuals included Hezbollah’s chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, whom Assange excitedly described as “one of the most extraordinary figures in the Middle East.” Another guest was ­– coincidence? – the left-wing President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who joked with his host, “Are you having a lot of fun with the interview, Julian? I am glad to hear that. Me too.”

Being a journalist in Correa’s Ecuador is, however, considerably less enjoyable. Since Correa’s election in 2007, which brought Ecuador into the “Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas,” a body controlled by Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez, media freedom in the country has been the subject of a sustained attack. A recent report by Freedom House noted that the closure, on June 6, of the independent station Radio Net was the fifth example of the shuttering of a media outlet within a fortnight. And a January item in the Washington Post about media censorship in Ecuador contained the following observation by a media freedom advocate:

“Ecuador is moving faster than anywhere else to restrict free expression,” said Cesar Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for Media Study and Observation in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. “There is the discourse that leads to aggression, there are the lawsuits, there are laws to muzzle. And you also have a powerful propaganda system.”

The fact that Assange, depicted by much of the Western left as a poster child for the battle against government secrecy and censorship, can cozy up to a leader like Correa is only baffling if you believe that Wikileaks was promoting universal standards on the freedom of expression. The reality is that Wikileaks was, and remains, a project to present the U.S. as the ultimate rogue state, crushing press freedom in the name of imperial power. By contrast, those populist, “anti-imperialist” regimes who do actually censor the press are engaging in “resistance.” What we have here is not so much  a doctrine of moral equivalence between the United States and assorted autocracies, but a doctrine of moral superiority on the part of the latter.

Like the tyrants with whom he holds court, Assange is also a conspiracy theorist. And like all conspiracy theorists, he knows who really pulls the strings. A January 2011 telephone conversation between Assange and Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, a British satirical magazine, went like this:

Assange claimed that Private Eye was ‘part of a conspiracy led by the Guardian which included journalist David Leigh, editor Alan Rusbridger and John Kampfner from Index on Censorship – all of whom “are Jewish”.’

‘I pointed out that Rusbridger is not actually Jewish, but Assange insisted that he was “sort of Jewish” because he was related to David Leigh (they are brothers-in-law),’ wrote Hislop.

‘When I doubted whether his Jewish conspiracy would stand up against the facts, Assange suddenly conceded the point. “Forget the Jewish thing”.’

It is doubtful that Assange has forgotten the “Jewish thing,” particularly as one of his closest associates is Israel Shamir, a sinister formerly Jewish anti-Semite who used Wikileaks data in defense of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus. Should the stand-off at the London embassy end badly – and it may well do, given that Ecuador is clearly breaking British law – rest assured that we’ll be hearing dark mutterings involving the J word from Assange and his acolytes.

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Let Us Not Praise Pro-Terrorist Newspapers

As Alana noted this morning, Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wrote a devastating letter to the New York Times, expressing his irritation with a piece it ran praising the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper as, among other things, dynamic and daring. “Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests,” Feltman writes. “Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Al Akhbar is a totalitarian propaganda sheet and, like all such organs of disinformation, routinely publishes fiction as well as news and analysis. “The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in [the] newspaper provoked morning belly laughs,” Feltman added.

I wish I could say it’s bizarre that a vastly superior and more professional newspaper such as the New York Times would find anything at all nice to say about a crude rag in a semi-democratic country that actually does have decent newspapers, but this is typical of a scandalously large percentage of Western reporters who parachute into or set up shop in Beirut.

Here is Feltman again: “One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with Al Akhbar providing the news.”

The New York Times is usually better than this. Eli Khoury, one of the founders of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of the news website NOW Lebanon, once made a trip to the offices of the New York Times editorial board after they published some obnoxious articles about Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement.

“I said, ‘Listen guys,’” Khoury told me. “‘Lebanon is a country that didn’t need the help of the U.S. Army. You guys didn’t have to bomb our country. We’re talking about a bunch of grassroots democrats who went into the streets and seized their own thing with their own hands. And they expect democrats in the rest of the world to support them.’ Since then the New York Times has not done one single bad story about Lebanon.”

Maybe he needs to go back.

As Alana noted this morning, Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wrote a devastating letter to the New York Times, expressing his irritation with a piece it ran praising the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper as, among other things, dynamic and daring. “Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests,” Feltman writes. “Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Al Akhbar is a totalitarian propaganda sheet and, like all such organs of disinformation, routinely publishes fiction as well as news and analysis. “The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in [the] newspaper provoked morning belly laughs,” Feltman added.

I wish I could say it’s bizarre that a vastly superior and more professional newspaper such as the New York Times would find anything at all nice to say about a crude rag in a semi-democratic country that actually does have decent newspapers, but this is typical of a scandalously large percentage of Western reporters who parachute into or set up shop in Beirut.

Here is Feltman again: “One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with Al Akhbar providing the news.”

The New York Times is usually better than this. Eli Khoury, one of the founders of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of the news website NOW Lebanon, once made a trip to the offices of the New York Times editorial board after they published some obnoxious articles about Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement.

“I said, ‘Listen guys,’” Khoury told me. “‘Lebanon is a country that didn’t need the help of the U.S. Army. You guys didn’t have to bomb our country. We’re talking about a bunch of grassroots democrats who went into the streets and seized their own thing with their own hands. And they expect democrats in the rest of the world to support them.’ Since then the New York Times has not done one single bad story about Lebanon.”

Maybe he needs to go back.

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Morning Commentary

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

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Saudis and Lebanon

Among the many things confirmed by the latest WikiLeaks data dump is Saudi Arabia’s concern about the inroads of Iran in Lebanon. Moreover, a U.S. diplomatic cable from May 2008 confirms that Saudi thinking has been centered on a military response to the Iranian encroachment. These facts reinforce thoughts I voiced earlier this year about the purpose of Saudi Arabia’s $60 billion military shopping list. But the apparent progress of Saudi thinking, from May 2008 to the summer of 2010, may be even more informative.

What the Saudis proposed in 2008 was a combined Arab peacekeeping force, deployed to Lebanon under UN auspices and supported with air cover and logistics by NATO. Having Arab forces on the ground in Lebanon — supplanting Hezbollah and Iran — was clearly the motivating factor. A force of this kind would have been lightly armed and dependent on the firepower of NATO, but it would have been Arab.

The arms sought by Riyadh in the $60 billion deal this year represent vastly more capability for an offensive military campaign than would be appropriate for a peacekeeping force. The Arab nations could have put together a peacekeeping force without buying anything new. Meanwhile, as I discussed in September, the Saudis face no threat for which the strike aircraft and assault helicopters in the new arms deal would fill a defensive role. The particulars of the deal indicate that offensive action is envisioned. And the campaign the hardware is best suited for is armed action against the Levant.

Concern about Iran (and, I suspect, about Turkey) increases the urgency of these preparations for the Saudis. The $60 billion arms deal was announced within months of a February meeting in Damascus — between Bashar Al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah — which was widely touted in the region as a “war council.”Arming up is not the Saudis’ only reaction: they sponsored a rare summit with Syria’s Al-Assad in Beirut in July and have kept a steady stream of senior Saudis going through Lebanon for one conference after another throughout the latter half of 2010. Establishing the Saudis — and, by extension, an Arab coalition — as leaders in resolving Lebanon’s internal instability is a central motivation for Riyadh.

The $60 billion arms deal indicates that the Saudis are not planning to leave the outcome to diplomacy, chance, or the United States. Population and geography mean the Saudis cannot launch an offensive strike without a coalition; it’s not something they foresee doing soon. It’s undoubtedly contingent on other developments. But what Americans should keep in mind is that the joust over Lebanon is a central front, not a sideshow, for the factions of the Middle East. This applies in the military as well as in the political realm. Lebanon, the most vulnerable nation bordering Israel, is key terrain — and it’s in dispute. Given the advanced state of Iran’s proxy campaign there — and the declining decisiveness of U.S. power — it’s also becoming urgent.

Among the many things confirmed by the latest WikiLeaks data dump is Saudi Arabia’s concern about the inroads of Iran in Lebanon. Moreover, a U.S. diplomatic cable from May 2008 confirms that Saudi thinking has been centered on a military response to the Iranian encroachment. These facts reinforce thoughts I voiced earlier this year about the purpose of Saudi Arabia’s $60 billion military shopping list. But the apparent progress of Saudi thinking, from May 2008 to the summer of 2010, may be even more informative.

What the Saudis proposed in 2008 was a combined Arab peacekeeping force, deployed to Lebanon under UN auspices and supported with air cover and logistics by NATO. Having Arab forces on the ground in Lebanon — supplanting Hezbollah and Iran — was clearly the motivating factor. A force of this kind would have been lightly armed and dependent on the firepower of NATO, but it would have been Arab.

The arms sought by Riyadh in the $60 billion deal this year represent vastly more capability for an offensive military campaign than would be appropriate for a peacekeeping force. The Arab nations could have put together a peacekeeping force without buying anything new. Meanwhile, as I discussed in September, the Saudis face no threat for which the strike aircraft and assault helicopters in the new arms deal would fill a defensive role. The particulars of the deal indicate that offensive action is envisioned. And the campaign the hardware is best suited for is armed action against the Levant.

Concern about Iran (and, I suspect, about Turkey) increases the urgency of these preparations for the Saudis. The $60 billion arms deal was announced within months of a February meeting in Damascus — between Bashar Al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah — which was widely touted in the region as a “war council.”Arming up is not the Saudis’ only reaction: they sponsored a rare summit with Syria’s Al-Assad in Beirut in July and have kept a steady stream of senior Saudis going through Lebanon for one conference after another throughout the latter half of 2010. Establishing the Saudis — and, by extension, an Arab coalition — as leaders in resolving Lebanon’s internal instability is a central motivation for Riyadh.

The $60 billion arms deal indicates that the Saudis are not planning to leave the outcome to diplomacy, chance, or the United States. Population and geography mean the Saudis cannot launch an offensive strike without a coalition; it’s not something they foresee doing soon. It’s undoubtedly contingent on other developments. But what Americans should keep in mind is that the joust over Lebanon is a central front, not a sideshow, for the factions of the Middle East. This applies in the military as well as in the political realm. Lebanon, the most vulnerable nation bordering Israel, is key terrain — and it’s in dispute. Given the advanced state of Iran’s proxy campaign there — and the declining decisiveness of U.S. power — it’s also becoming urgent.

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Hezbollah Threatens to Take Over Lebanon

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

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The Race to Baghdad

In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether Americans think Iran has too much influence in Iraq. Sunnis, in both Iraq and the larger region, increasingly think Iran has too much influence there — and that’s what matters to developments on the ground. Iraqi Sunnis have friends in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but they are also a natural recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. A Sunni revolt against Iranian influence will not be carried out in the Iraqi editorial pages.

The pace of events has accelerated in the last two weeks. Iraq has been without a governing coalition since March, but on October 1, radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr — who has lived in Iran since 2007, studying with the country’s most senior clerics — announced his backing of Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister and head of the caretaker government. The U.S. has asked Maliki to distance himself from Sadr as a condition of continued American support. But things aren’t that simple, primarily because President Obama has made it so clear that American support to an Iraqi government doesn’t mean what it meant two years ago. Obama has declared combat “over” in Iraq and is withdrawing troops as he promised. To function independently, however, what Maliki needs is the guarantee of active U.S. force at his back — and that is precisely what Obama is busy removing.

The UK Guardian has a remarkably detailed article from the weekend outlining the collusion of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in the Maliki-Sadr hook-up. (See companion piece here.) I’m routinely somewhat skeptical of Guardian stories, but in addition to its extensive detail, this one is bolstered by echoes in the Arabic press of the energetic shuttle diplomacy by the principal actors. The reaction from the region’s loose Sunni coalition certainly seems to validate the Guardian’s facts; as outlined by the Al-Ahram piece linked at the top, Iraqi Sunnis have kicked into overdrive a campaign for support from the Sunni nations (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey).

It’s against this background that the defection to al-Qaeda of the “Anbar Awakening” Sunnis must be understood. Almost every nation in the Middle East is trying to “fix” the outcome in Iraq — a reality that is largely invisible to Americans, but is one of the two main factors in the Sunni defection. The other is the perception that Obama’s America is inert and irrelevant to the power competition in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran has launched an aggressive, activist phase in its regional policy, a trend amplified by Ahmadinejad’s triumphal visit to Lebanon last week. The U.S. could have averted the visit; that it did not has reinforced our Obama-era image of feckless passivity at the worst possible times.

According to the Guardian, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s condition for supporting the Maliki-Sadr coalition is a guarantee that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq in 2011. In the absence of clear, assertive U.S. policy, we will find ourselves increasingly boxed in by the plans of opponents who want to make our policy for us. In many cases, the opponents will be terrorists.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether Americans think Iran has too much influence in Iraq. Sunnis, in both Iraq and the larger region, increasingly think Iran has too much influence there — and that’s what matters to developments on the ground. Iraqi Sunnis have friends in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but they are also a natural recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. A Sunni revolt against Iranian influence will not be carried out in the Iraqi editorial pages.

The pace of events has accelerated in the last two weeks. Iraq has been without a governing coalition since March, but on October 1, radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr — who has lived in Iran since 2007, studying with the country’s most senior clerics — announced his backing of Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister and head of the caretaker government. The U.S. has asked Maliki to distance himself from Sadr as a condition of continued American support. But things aren’t that simple, primarily because President Obama has made it so clear that American support to an Iraqi government doesn’t mean what it meant two years ago. Obama has declared combat “over” in Iraq and is withdrawing troops as he promised. To function independently, however, what Maliki needs is the guarantee of active U.S. force at his back — and that is precisely what Obama is busy removing.

The UK Guardian has a remarkably detailed article from the weekend outlining the collusion of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in the Maliki-Sadr hook-up. (See companion piece here.) I’m routinely somewhat skeptical of Guardian stories, but in addition to its extensive detail, this one is bolstered by echoes in the Arabic press of the energetic shuttle diplomacy by the principal actors. The reaction from the region’s loose Sunni coalition certainly seems to validate the Guardian’s facts; as outlined by the Al-Ahram piece linked at the top, Iraqi Sunnis have kicked into overdrive a campaign for support from the Sunni nations (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey).

It’s against this background that the defection to al-Qaeda of the “Anbar Awakening” Sunnis must be understood. Almost every nation in the Middle East is trying to “fix” the outcome in Iraq — a reality that is largely invisible to Americans, but is one of the two main factors in the Sunni defection. The other is the perception that Obama’s America is inert and irrelevant to the power competition in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran has launched an aggressive, activist phase in its regional policy, a trend amplified by Ahmadinejad’s triumphal visit to Lebanon last week. The U.S. could have averted the visit; that it did not has reinforced our Obama-era image of feckless passivity at the worst possible times.

According to the Guardian, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s condition for supporting the Maliki-Sadr coalition is a guarantee that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq in 2011. In the absence of clear, assertive U.S. policy, we will find ourselves increasingly boxed in by the plans of opponents who want to make our policy for us. In many cases, the opponents will be terrorists.

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Hezbollah: A Bigger Menace than Ever

The New York Times has a chilling if not surprising report on how strong Hezbollah is getting. It has managed to more than rebuild its capacities since the 2006 war against Israel. As the Times notes: “According to Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, Hezbollah has increased its missile stocks to 40,000, compared with 13,000 during the 2006 war; Israeli defense officials do not dispute the estimate. (In 2006, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 missiles.)”

Meanwhile, across southern Lebanon, new apartment blocks, roads, and bunkers have gone up with Iranian money. Hezbollah’s rearmament shows how predictably toothless the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is. As the Times notes:

Party supporters have constructed dozens of enormous houses along the strategic hills that face the Israeli border, in areas that used to be mostly farmland. The houses, Hezbollah officials say, will complicate a future Israeli advance and could give Hezbollah fighters cover during ground combat.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army now patrol the hilly, wooded border, and under the terms of the United Nations resolution that ended the war, Hezbollah was supposed to demilitarize the area between the Israeli border and the Litani River, a distance of about 18 miles.

But Hezbollah appears to have done just the opposite. Its operatives roam strategic towns, interrogating foreigners and outsiders. New residents have been recruited to the border, and Hezbollah officials say they have recruited scores of new fighters, by their own estimates either doubling or tripling their ranks.

Oh, and if that weren’t bad enough, there is also this: “Hezbollah’s role in the government has paved the way for tighter cooperation with Lebanese intelligence units, and Lebanese officials have reportedly arrested more than 100 people suspected of being Israeli spies in the past two years.”

There is no doubt that an element of Hezbollah bluster is at play here — the group seeks to deter an Israeli strike on its Iranian sponsors. But there is little doubt that Hezbollah is a bigger menace than ever — not only to Israel but also to any hopes of regional peace. That makes it all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah. Admittedly, there is no easy solution to these terrorist groups, but one would think that defeating them would be a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction, which should be the endpoint, rather than the beginning, of negotiations.

The New York Times has a chilling if not surprising report on how strong Hezbollah is getting. It has managed to more than rebuild its capacities since the 2006 war against Israel. As the Times notes: “According to Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, Hezbollah has increased its missile stocks to 40,000, compared with 13,000 during the 2006 war; Israeli defense officials do not dispute the estimate. (In 2006, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 missiles.)”

Meanwhile, across southern Lebanon, new apartment blocks, roads, and bunkers have gone up with Iranian money. Hezbollah’s rearmament shows how predictably toothless the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is. As the Times notes:

Party supporters have constructed dozens of enormous houses along the strategic hills that face the Israeli border, in areas that used to be mostly farmland. The houses, Hezbollah officials say, will complicate a future Israeli advance and could give Hezbollah fighters cover during ground combat.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army now patrol the hilly, wooded border, and under the terms of the United Nations resolution that ended the war, Hezbollah was supposed to demilitarize the area between the Israeli border and the Litani River, a distance of about 18 miles.

But Hezbollah appears to have done just the opposite. Its operatives roam strategic towns, interrogating foreigners and outsiders. New residents have been recruited to the border, and Hezbollah officials say they have recruited scores of new fighters, by their own estimates either doubling or tripling their ranks.

Oh, and if that weren’t bad enough, there is also this: “Hezbollah’s role in the government has paved the way for tighter cooperation with Lebanese intelligence units, and Lebanese officials have reportedly arrested more than 100 people suspected of being Israeli spies in the past two years.”

There is no doubt that an element of Hezbollah bluster is at play here — the group seeks to deter an Israeli strike on its Iranian sponsors. But there is little doubt that Hezbollah is a bigger menace than ever — not only to Israel but also to any hopes of regional peace. That makes it all the more astonishing that the Obama administration is devoting so much energy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the probability of a successful outcome to those talks were high (and it’s not), it would do nothing to end the menace posed by Hamas or Hezbollah. Admittedly, there is no easy solution to these terrorist groups, but one would think that defeating them would be a bigger priority for the administration than beating an allied government over the head to get it to extend a moratorium on new housing construction, which should be the endpoint, rather than the beginning, of negotiations.

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Asymmetry in Lebanon

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

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CENTCOM’s ‘Red Team’ Hearts Hamas and Hezbollah

It appears that the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups have some friends in a rather unlikely niche of the American military. While the Obama administration has maintained the line that both these groups are terrorist and threats to peace, some senior intelligence officers at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) think the United States should be making nice with them.

According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, a leaked memo that was issued on May 7 by a CENTCOM “Red Team” asserts that the United States ought to be advocating for Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces and a Hamas-Fatah merger for the Palestinians. He quotes the report as characterizing the Islamist terror groups as “pragmatic and opportunistic” and plays down the close ties between them and Iran, for which they are widely viewed as local proxies. The memo compared Hezbollah with the post–Good Friday Agreement Irish Republican Army and seems to envision its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, becoming the Gerry Adams of Lebanon and a force for peace. As for Hamas, not only did the report boost that Islamist group, but it also dismissed the much-touted efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in helping to train a new Palestinian security force that would control terrorism.

Red Team reports are supposed to challenge existing policies and attitudes, but according to Perry, this apologia for Hamas and Hezbollah and repudiation of efforts to isolate these terror organizations actually “reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.”

If that is so, then it is a matter of deep concern for those who worry about the future of the Middle East. While the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from Israel, it has nevertheless resisted the temptation to repudiate the basic principles of American policy, which has always insisted that such groups must repudiate terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, and adhere to existing peace agreements before they can seek U.S. recognition, let alone the sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the CENTCOM Red Team believes should be given to them. Moreover, the memo’s repudiation of efforts to aid Palestinian moderates ought to give Israelis pause. Both Israel and the United States have been active in supporting the efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attempts to create an infrastructure that could resist Hamas and become a credible partner for peace. But calling for Hamas to be integrated into the forces that Dayton is training is tantamount to saying that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel is, more or less, on its own as it faces the challenge of Palestinian terror.

There are many problems with the Red Team’s point of view, but the chief objection is that it completely misunderstands the power of extremist religion in determining the policies of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are guided by Islamist ideas that utterly reject the legitimacy of Israel and are steeped in anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred. The notion that they can be house trained in the way that the Red Team envisions is not only ridiculous but also bespeaks a Western mindset that has no comprehension of extremist Islamic or Arabic political culture.

While there is no reason to believe that either the administration or outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus has endorsed this radical departure from American anti-terror policy, the leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process. If many in the U.S. military are willing to rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah in the way this memo does, then Israelis may be forgiven for concluding that perhaps they need to re-evaluate their own faith in American guarantees of the security of the Jewish state.

It appears that the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups have some friends in a rather unlikely niche of the American military. While the Obama administration has maintained the line that both these groups are terrorist and threats to peace, some senior intelligence officers at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) think the United States should be making nice with them.

According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, a leaked memo that was issued on May 7 by a CENTCOM “Red Team” asserts that the United States ought to be advocating for Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces and a Hamas-Fatah merger for the Palestinians. He quotes the report as characterizing the Islamist terror groups as “pragmatic and opportunistic” and plays down the close ties between them and Iran, for which they are widely viewed as local proxies. The memo compared Hezbollah with the post–Good Friday Agreement Irish Republican Army and seems to envision its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, becoming the Gerry Adams of Lebanon and a force for peace. As for Hamas, not only did the report boost that Islamist group, but it also dismissed the much-touted efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in helping to train a new Palestinian security force that would control terrorism.

Red Team reports are supposed to challenge existing policies and attitudes, but according to Perry, this apologia for Hamas and Hezbollah and repudiation of efforts to isolate these terror organizations actually “reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.”

If that is so, then it is a matter of deep concern for those who worry about the future of the Middle East. While the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from Israel, it has nevertheless resisted the temptation to repudiate the basic principles of American policy, which has always insisted that such groups must repudiate terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, and adhere to existing peace agreements before they can seek U.S. recognition, let alone the sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the CENTCOM Red Team believes should be given to them. Moreover, the memo’s repudiation of efforts to aid Palestinian moderates ought to give Israelis pause. Both Israel and the United States have been active in supporting the efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attempts to create an infrastructure that could resist Hamas and become a credible partner for peace. But calling for Hamas to be integrated into the forces that Dayton is training is tantamount to saying that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel is, more or less, on its own as it faces the challenge of Palestinian terror.

There are many problems with the Red Team’s point of view, but the chief objection is that it completely misunderstands the power of extremist religion in determining the policies of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are guided by Islamist ideas that utterly reject the legitimacy of Israel and are steeped in anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred. The notion that they can be house trained in the way that the Red Team envisions is not only ridiculous but also bespeaks a Western mindset that has no comprehension of extremist Islamic or Arabic political culture.

While there is no reason to believe that either the administration or outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus has endorsed this radical departure from American anti-terror policy, the leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process. If many in the U.S. military are willing to rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah in the way this memo does, then Israelis may be forgiven for concluding that perhaps they need to re-evaluate their own faith in American guarantees of the security of the Jewish state.

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The Great Hezbollah Snipe Hunt

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security, has come up with a new way to waste the foreign-policy establishment’s time  — locate the so-called “moderate elements” within Hezbollah and somehow promote them.

“There is [sic] certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what [sic] they’re doing,” he said. “And what we need to do is to [sic] find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements.”

There are no moderates within Hezbollah, at least not any who stand a chance of changing Hezbollah’s behavior. Sure, the terrorist militia has sent a handful of its members to parliament, as Brennan says, and once in a while they sound more reasonable than its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, but these people are employees. They don’t make policy.

If you want to catch a glimpse of Hezbollah’s org chart, just rent a car in Beirut and drive south. You’ll see billboards and posters all over the place in the areas Hezbollah controls. Some show the portraits of “martyrs” killed in battle with Israel. Others show the mug shots of Hezbollah’s leadership, most prominently Nasrallah and his deceased military commander, truck bomber, and airplane hijacker Imad Mugniyeh. Alongside the pictures of Hezbollah’s leaders, you’ll also see Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the two “supreme guides” of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.

It’s obvious, if you know who and what you’re looking at, that Hezbollah is still subservient to Khamenei. His face is almost as ubiquitous as that of Nasrallah and the deceased faqih Khomeini himself. Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state doesn’t even look like it’s in Lebanon. It looks like, and effectively is, an Iranian satellite. Iran’s heads of state appear everywhere down there, while Lebanon’s heads of state are personae non grata.

I’ve met those you might call moderate supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese citizens who believe Hezbollah is there to defend Lebanon from Israel rather than to attack — which is not at all what anyone at the top thinks. Even if second-tier leaders were less belligerent, it wouldn’t matter. The organization takes its order from Tehran. Hezbollah won’t change until its masters change in Iran, and the U.S. is no more able to “build up” any imagined moderates within its ranks than it is able to replace Khamenei’s hated dictatorship with the Green Revolution.

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security, has come up with a new way to waste the foreign-policy establishment’s time  — locate the so-called “moderate elements” within Hezbollah and somehow promote them.

“There is [sic] certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what [sic] they’re doing,” he said. “And what we need to do is to [sic] find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements.”

There are no moderates within Hezbollah, at least not any who stand a chance of changing Hezbollah’s behavior. Sure, the terrorist militia has sent a handful of its members to parliament, as Brennan says, and once in a while they sound more reasonable than its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, but these people are employees. They don’t make policy.

If you want to catch a glimpse of Hezbollah’s org chart, just rent a car in Beirut and drive south. You’ll see billboards and posters all over the place in the areas Hezbollah controls. Some show the portraits of “martyrs” killed in battle with Israel. Others show the mug shots of Hezbollah’s leadership, most prominently Nasrallah and his deceased military commander, truck bomber, and airplane hijacker Imad Mugniyeh. Alongside the pictures of Hezbollah’s leaders, you’ll also see Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the two “supreme guides” of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.

It’s obvious, if you know who and what you’re looking at, that Hezbollah is still subservient to Khamenei. His face is almost as ubiquitous as that of Nasrallah and the deceased faqih Khomeini himself. Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state doesn’t even look like it’s in Lebanon. It looks like, and effectively is, an Iranian satellite. Iran’s heads of state appear everywhere down there, while Lebanon’s heads of state are personae non grata.

I’ve met those you might call moderate supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese citizens who believe Hezbollah is there to defend Lebanon from Israel rather than to attack — which is not at all what anyone at the top thinks. Even if second-tier leaders were less belligerent, it wouldn’t matter. The organization takes its order from Tehran. Hezbollah won’t change until its masters change in Iran, and the U.S. is no more able to “build up” any imagined moderates within its ranks than it is able to replace Khamenei’s hated dictatorship with the Green Revolution.

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Huffington Post Takes Down the Leveretts

I usually don’t tout Huffington Post columns, but a not-to-be missed one by Omid Memarian should be read in full. Bit by bit, Memarian chips away at the facade of intellectual credibility that Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the mullahs’ favorite mouthpieces, have erected. He begins with this:

The list of foreigners who unconditionally support the Islamic Republic of Iran is short but not unexpected: Omar Albashir of Sudan, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Khalid Mashal of Hamas, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela might be at the top. Add to this list an unlikely duo: Flynt Leverett and his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett. Notwithstanding over two decades of collective experience working for organizations and entities like the CIA, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the National Security Council, the Leveretts are today America’s most prominent, and abrasive, defenders of the Iranian regime and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though they cloak their analysis in the guise of strategic thinking and anti-war diplomacy, their writings betray a dangerous lack of understanding of Iran’s internal realities as well as an almost bigoted contempt for the Iranian people.

The particulars of the Leveretts’ misinformation campaign on behalf of the Iranian regime are then laid out in great detail. Well, it’s about time. Others have done an ample job debunking the couple, as do the Leveretts’ own words. But with this, Memarian delivers the knockout blow to the mullahs’ shills.

I usually don’t tout Huffington Post columns, but a not-to-be missed one by Omid Memarian should be read in full. Bit by bit, Memarian chips away at the facade of intellectual credibility that Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the mullahs’ favorite mouthpieces, have erected. He begins with this:

The list of foreigners who unconditionally support the Islamic Republic of Iran is short but not unexpected: Omar Albashir of Sudan, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Khalid Mashal of Hamas, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela might be at the top. Add to this list an unlikely duo: Flynt Leverett and his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett. Notwithstanding over two decades of collective experience working for organizations and entities like the CIA, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the National Security Council, the Leveretts are today America’s most prominent, and abrasive, defenders of the Iranian regime and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though they cloak their analysis in the guise of strategic thinking and anti-war diplomacy, their writings betray a dangerous lack of understanding of Iran’s internal realities as well as an almost bigoted contempt for the Iranian people.

The particulars of the Leveretts’ misinformation campaign on behalf of the Iranian regime are then laid out in great detail. Well, it’s about time. Others have done an ample job debunking the couple, as do the Leveretts’ own words. But with this, Memarian delivers the knockout blow to the mullahs’ shills.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Warren Buffett doesn’t think Goldman Sachs did anything wrong: “t doesn’t make any difference whether it was Paulson on the other side of the deal or whether Goldman was on the other side of the deal or whether Berkshire was on the other side of the deal.”

Obama sure doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help Congressional Democrats: “President Barack Obama’s Washington-bashing could boomerang on his own party in Congress if he’s not careful, House Democratic leaders warned White House senior adviser Daivd Axelrod in a closed-door meeting Thursday. The fear — raised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, campaign chief Chris Van Hollen and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — is that Democrats have more to lose if anti-Washington sentiment is not directed at one party or the other.” Somehow Obama thinks voters won’t notice that he’s part of Washington.

Hezbollah and Syria have gotten the idea that the Obami aren’t going to do anything about the Scud missiles in Lebanon: “Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the Lebanese militia had a ‘legal and humanitarian’ right to amass weapons in order to protect those ‘oppressed and threatened by Israel,’ Israel Radio reported Saturday.”

The Gray Lady criticizes Obama for not doing anything about the Florida oil spill for days: “The company, BP, seems to have been slow to ask for help, and, on Friday, both federal and state officials accused it of not moving aggressively or swiftly enough. Yet the administration should not have waited, and should have intervened much more quickly on its own initiative. A White House as politically attuned as this one should have been conscious of two obvious historical lessons. One was the Exxon Valdez, where a late and lame response by both industry and the federal government all but destroyed one of the country’s richest fishing grounds and ended up costing billions of dollars. The other was President George W. Bush’s hapless response to Hurricane Katrina.” Ouch.

Big Insurance can’t find anything wrong with the Obami’s financial-reform bill. But “don’t expect this fact to get in the way of Obama portraying this bill as a broadside to the special interests. And that reformer-vs-industry narrative, like an old blanket or a bowl of chicken-noodle soup, is too familiar and too comfortable for the mainstream press to shed.”

Matt Continetti doesn’t see anything that will absorb Obama and his fellow Democrats as much as bullying his opponents: “Iran is close to obtaining nuclear weapons. The euro zone is in crisis. The U.S. unemployment rate is near 10 percent. America’s social insurance programs threaten to bankrupt the country. And—most unusual—the Washington Nationals are above .500. But rest easy. None of this is distracting the Obama administration and congressional Democrats from their full-time occupation: demonizing the political opposition.”

Stuart Rothenberg doesn’t think Charlie Crist’s independent run changes much of anything in the senate outlook: “Florida Governor Charlie’ Crist’s switch out of the GOP Senate race and into the Senate contest as an Independent, combined with the entry of wealthy businessman Jeff Greene into the Democrat race, adds some uncertainty into the contest. But it doesn’t, in our view, change the bottom line entirely. Move from Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party to Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party. Marco Rubio (R) remains the favorite, but the three-way contest is more unpredictable.” He thinks “the GOP seems most likely to net 5-7 Senate seats, with a 8-seat gain certainly possible (but still short of the 10-seat gain the GOP would need for control).”

Is anything going the Democrats’ way? Not really, says Charlie Cook: “The most recent, and quite compelling, bad omen surfaced in an April 27 Gallup report. The polling organization found that, based on interviews with more than 5,000 registered voters from April 1-25, Democrats had a 4-point lead in the generic congressional ballot test among those ‘not enthusiastic about voting.’ Among the all-important ‘very enthusiastic’ crowd, aka the folks most likely to vote, Democrats trailed by a whopping 20 points, 57 percent to 37 percent. . . . Even Democratic analysts don’t express much optimism about their party’s chances this fall.”

Warren Buffett doesn’t think Goldman Sachs did anything wrong: “t doesn’t make any difference whether it was Paulson on the other side of the deal or whether Goldman was on the other side of the deal or whether Berkshire was on the other side of the deal.”

Obama sure doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help Congressional Democrats: “President Barack Obama’s Washington-bashing could boomerang on his own party in Congress if he’s not careful, House Democratic leaders warned White House senior adviser Daivd Axelrod in a closed-door meeting Thursday. The fear — raised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, campaign chief Chris Van Hollen and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — is that Democrats have more to lose if anti-Washington sentiment is not directed at one party or the other.” Somehow Obama thinks voters won’t notice that he’s part of Washington.

Hezbollah and Syria have gotten the idea that the Obami aren’t going to do anything about the Scud missiles in Lebanon: “Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the Lebanese militia had a ‘legal and humanitarian’ right to amass weapons in order to protect those ‘oppressed and threatened by Israel,’ Israel Radio reported Saturday.”

The Gray Lady criticizes Obama for not doing anything about the Florida oil spill for days: “The company, BP, seems to have been slow to ask for help, and, on Friday, both federal and state officials accused it of not moving aggressively or swiftly enough. Yet the administration should not have waited, and should have intervened much more quickly on its own initiative. A White House as politically attuned as this one should have been conscious of two obvious historical lessons. One was the Exxon Valdez, where a late and lame response by both industry and the federal government all but destroyed one of the country’s richest fishing grounds and ended up costing billions of dollars. The other was President George W. Bush’s hapless response to Hurricane Katrina.” Ouch.

Big Insurance can’t find anything wrong with the Obami’s financial-reform bill. But “don’t expect this fact to get in the way of Obama portraying this bill as a broadside to the special interests. And that reformer-vs-industry narrative, like an old blanket or a bowl of chicken-noodle soup, is too familiar and too comfortable for the mainstream press to shed.”

Matt Continetti doesn’t see anything that will absorb Obama and his fellow Democrats as much as bullying his opponents: “Iran is close to obtaining nuclear weapons. The euro zone is in crisis. The U.S. unemployment rate is near 10 percent. America’s social insurance programs threaten to bankrupt the country. And—most unusual—the Washington Nationals are above .500. But rest easy. None of this is distracting the Obama administration and congressional Democrats from their full-time occupation: demonizing the political opposition.”

Stuart Rothenberg doesn’t think Charlie Crist’s independent run changes much of anything in the senate outlook: “Florida Governor Charlie’ Crist’s switch out of the GOP Senate race and into the Senate contest as an Independent, combined with the entry of wealthy businessman Jeff Greene into the Democrat race, adds some uncertainty into the contest. But it doesn’t, in our view, change the bottom line entirely. Move from Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party to Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party. Marco Rubio (R) remains the favorite, but the three-way contest is more unpredictable.” He thinks “the GOP seems most likely to net 5-7 Senate seats, with a 8-seat gain certainly possible (but still short of the 10-seat gain the GOP would need for control).”

Is anything going the Democrats’ way? Not really, says Charlie Cook: “The most recent, and quite compelling, bad omen surfaced in an April 27 Gallup report. The polling organization found that, based on interviews with more than 5,000 registered voters from April 1-25, Democrats had a 4-point lead in the generic congressional ballot test among those ‘not enthusiastic about voting.’ Among the all-important ‘very enthusiastic’ crowd, aka the folks most likely to vote, Democrats trailed by a whopping 20 points, 57 percent to 37 percent. . . . Even Democratic analysts don’t express much optimism about their party’s chances this fall.”

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Let Them Meet Steel

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

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The Resistance Bloc Will Not Be Appeased

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem might help President Barack Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.

“The scheme is yet another part of a Judaization campaign,” Hezbollah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times, “that targets the holy city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and a provocation of Muslim feeling.” If Obama expected a little appreciation from Israel’s enemies for making the same point with more diplomatic finesse, he was mistaken. “The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds,” Hezbollah continued, “truly shows American cover to it.”

So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel’s government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is ideological oxygen for partisans of the resistance bloc. They will no sooner let it go than they will stop breathing. Their entire worldview and political program would turn to ashes without it, much as Fidel Castro’s would without socialism. When the United States doesn’t follow the script, they just lie.

If we extend a hand in friendship, they’ll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they’ll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot, then they’ll bite us again.

A couple of years ago Hezbollah stretched a banner across an overpass near Lebanon’s international airport that said, in English, “All our catastrophes come from America.” Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would have an awfully hard time climbing down from that high a tree even if his Iranian masters would let him — and they won’t. They’ve been calling Israel the “Little Satan” and the U.S. the “Great Satan” since Jimmy Carter, of all people, was president.

The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the United States declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. Maybe — maybe — that wouldn’t be true if the U.S. were the little Satan instead of the great Satan, but even then it probably wouldn’t matter that much. Resistance-bloc leaders, like anyone else in the world, may enjoy watching their enemies slugging it out with each other, but that doesn’t mean they’ll warm to one or the other all of a sudden because of it.

That’s how the Iran-Iraq war looked to us in the 1980s. It was a “red on red” fight where two regimes we detested bloodied and weakened each other. Henry Kissinger summed up the sentiment on our side: “It’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

And that’s how the American-led invasion of Iraq looked from the point of view of Iran’s rulers in 2003. They had every reason in the world to hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone else in the world. His army killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an eight-year war he started less than a year after Ayatollah Khomeini became Supreme Leader. (Israel, meanwhile, has never fought a war with Iran and hasn’t killed any Iranians.) Yet the United States earned no points whatsoever for taking out their most dangerous enemy and placing their Shia co-religionists in the saddle in Baghdad.

There are, of course, millions of Arabs and Iranians who detest the Khomeinist-led resistance bloc and feel threatened by it, including about half of Palestinians. Most are less ideologically severe, and some have already made peace with Israel. Perhaps the Obama administration is hoping the U.S. can increase its standing with them by publicly sparring with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even if it works, though, it won’t make any difference. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be divorced from the region-wide Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts. If all the moderates in the whole Arab world were to drop their hostility to the U.S. and Israel and yearn for a peaceful solution, Hamas and Hezbollah, with Syrian and Iranian backing, could still scotch peace talks and peace treaties with kidnappings, suicide bombings, and missile attacks whenever they felt like it.

Resolving this mother of all quagmires would be excruciatingly difficult even if all four pieces of the resistance bloc were taken off the board yesterday. In the meantime, bruising our alliance with Israel to grease the skids on a peace process to nowhere is gratuitous.

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem might help President Barack Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.

“The scheme is yet another part of a Judaization campaign,” Hezbollah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times, “that targets the holy city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and a provocation of Muslim feeling.” If Obama expected a little appreciation from Israel’s enemies for making the same point with more diplomatic finesse, he was mistaken. “The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds,” Hezbollah continued, “truly shows American cover to it.”

So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel’s government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is ideological oxygen for partisans of the resistance bloc. They will no sooner let it go than they will stop breathing. Their entire worldview and political program would turn to ashes without it, much as Fidel Castro’s would without socialism. When the United States doesn’t follow the script, they just lie.

If we extend a hand in friendship, they’ll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they’ll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot, then they’ll bite us again.

A couple of years ago Hezbollah stretched a banner across an overpass near Lebanon’s international airport that said, in English, “All our catastrophes come from America.” Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would have an awfully hard time climbing down from that high a tree even if his Iranian masters would let him — and they won’t. They’ve been calling Israel the “Little Satan” and the U.S. the “Great Satan” since Jimmy Carter, of all people, was president.

The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the United States declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. Maybe — maybe — that wouldn’t be true if the U.S. were the little Satan instead of the great Satan, but even then it probably wouldn’t matter that much. Resistance-bloc leaders, like anyone else in the world, may enjoy watching their enemies slugging it out with each other, but that doesn’t mean they’ll warm to one or the other all of a sudden because of it.

That’s how the Iran-Iraq war looked to us in the 1980s. It was a “red on red” fight where two regimes we detested bloodied and weakened each other. Henry Kissinger summed up the sentiment on our side: “It’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

And that’s how the American-led invasion of Iraq looked from the point of view of Iran’s rulers in 2003. They had every reason in the world to hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone else in the world. His army killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an eight-year war he started less than a year after Ayatollah Khomeini became Supreme Leader. (Israel, meanwhile, has never fought a war with Iran and hasn’t killed any Iranians.) Yet the United States earned no points whatsoever for taking out their most dangerous enemy and placing their Shia co-religionists in the saddle in Baghdad.

There are, of course, millions of Arabs and Iranians who detest the Khomeinist-led resistance bloc and feel threatened by it, including about half of Palestinians. Most are less ideologically severe, and some have already made peace with Israel. Perhaps the Obama administration is hoping the U.S. can increase its standing with them by publicly sparring with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even if it works, though, it won’t make any difference. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be divorced from the region-wide Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts. If all the moderates in the whole Arab world were to drop their hostility to the U.S. and Israel and yearn for a peaceful solution, Hamas and Hezbollah, with Syrian and Iranian backing, could still scotch peace talks and peace treaties with kidnappings, suicide bombings, and missile attacks whenever they felt like it.

Resolving this mother of all quagmires would be excruciatingly difficult even if all four pieces of the resistance bloc were taken off the board yesterday. In the meantime, bruising our alliance with Israel to grease the skids on a peace process to nowhere is gratuitous.

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Evenhandedness Would Be Swell

Isi Leibler, writing in the Jerusalem Post, observes Obama’s not at all evenhanded approach to the Middle East, started long before the most recent conflict over an apartment complex in Jerusalem:

These hostile outbursts must be viewed in the context of the fact that despite strong ongoing support for Israel by the American people, the US-Israel relationship has been on a downward spiral since the election of the new administration. Former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy attributes this to Obama’s determination to rehabilitate Islam’s global tarnished image.

Yet his strategy of “engaging” Islamic rogue states has been disastrous. The effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by appeasing the Iranian tyrants backfired with the ayatollahs literally mocking the US. The response of Syrian President Bashar Assad to US groveling and the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus, was to host a summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah and ridicule the US demand that he curtail his relationship with Iran. President Obama did not consider this “insulting,” prompting the editor of the Lebanese The Daily Star to say that “the Obama administration these days provokes little confidence in its allies and even less fear in its adversaries.”

Condemnation is reserved for the Israelis who have been berated in private and in public for over a year. Not for the other side:

In stark contrast, the US has not publicly reprimanded the PA on a single issue over the past twelve months. It is unconscionable that neither the White House nor the State Department conveyed a word of protest concerning the ongoing incitement and spate of ceremonies sanctifying the memory of the most degenerate suicide killers and mass murderers. Not even when our peace partners President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad personally partook in these ghoulish ceremonies.

And where is this heading? Leibler suspects the worst: “Obama is surely aware that recent statements by his administration will only embolden the Palestinians and Jihadists to be more extreme in their demands, making it inevitable that the talks will almost certainly fail. Some may infer that this is precisely his intention. We will then be blamed for the breakdown and the US, with the backing of the Quartet and others, will then seek to impose a solution upon us.”

And meanwhile the Iranian nuclear threat looms. By the way, it’s mid-March. Where are the sanctions? Why haven’t we resolved the differences between the House and the Senate bill and sent it to the president’s desk? Maybe the White House would prefer to go slow on that one. After all, the “real” crisis is a potential breakdown in proximity talks that have no chance of success. It is a cockeyed set of priorities, which seem oddly in tune with those of Israels’ foes.

In the end we will have no “peace,” our relationship with Israel will be strained but not broken, and the mullahs will move steadily ahead with their nuclear program. And the Palestinians bent on violence will seize the chance to make mischief. This is the result of the most misguided American Middle East policy in decades. It’s change, alright. Let’s hope the damage is reversable.

Isi Leibler, writing in the Jerusalem Post, observes Obama’s not at all evenhanded approach to the Middle East, started long before the most recent conflict over an apartment complex in Jerusalem:

These hostile outbursts must be viewed in the context of the fact that despite strong ongoing support for Israel by the American people, the US-Israel relationship has been on a downward spiral since the election of the new administration. Former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy attributes this to Obama’s determination to rehabilitate Islam’s global tarnished image.

Yet his strategy of “engaging” Islamic rogue states has been disastrous. The effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by appeasing the Iranian tyrants backfired with the ayatollahs literally mocking the US. The response of Syrian President Bashar Assad to US groveling and the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus, was to host a summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah and ridicule the US demand that he curtail his relationship with Iran. President Obama did not consider this “insulting,” prompting the editor of the Lebanese The Daily Star to say that “the Obama administration these days provokes little confidence in its allies and even less fear in its adversaries.”

Condemnation is reserved for the Israelis who have been berated in private and in public for over a year. Not for the other side:

In stark contrast, the US has not publicly reprimanded the PA on a single issue over the past twelve months. It is unconscionable that neither the White House nor the State Department conveyed a word of protest concerning the ongoing incitement and spate of ceremonies sanctifying the memory of the most degenerate suicide killers and mass murderers. Not even when our peace partners President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad personally partook in these ghoulish ceremonies.

And where is this heading? Leibler suspects the worst: “Obama is surely aware that recent statements by his administration will only embolden the Palestinians and Jihadists to be more extreme in their demands, making it inevitable that the talks will almost certainly fail. Some may infer that this is precisely his intention. We will then be blamed for the breakdown and the US, with the backing of the Quartet and others, will then seek to impose a solution upon us.”

And meanwhile the Iranian nuclear threat looms. By the way, it’s mid-March. Where are the sanctions? Why haven’t we resolved the differences between the House and the Senate bill and sent it to the president’s desk? Maybe the White House would prefer to go slow on that one. After all, the “real” crisis is a potential breakdown in proximity talks that have no chance of success. It is a cockeyed set of priorities, which seem oddly in tune with those of Israels’ foes.

In the end we will have no “peace,” our relationship with Israel will be strained but not broken, and the mullahs will move steadily ahead with their nuclear program. And the Palestinians bent on violence will seize the chance to make mischief. This is the result of the most misguided American Middle East policy in decades. It’s change, alright. Let’s hope the damage is reversable.

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More Like This Please

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

But I’m not particularly concerned about my own skin here. Nobody forces me to travel to war zones. I don’t have to visit the Middle East ever again if I don’t want to. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been voluntary, and I can leave whenever I’ve had enough.

A lot of people I care about live in Lebanon, and some of them can’t leave. They never volunteered to be used as human shields by Hezbollah, and in fact had their neighborhood — my old neighborhood — shot up and blown up by Hezbollah gunmen recently. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t consult them or their elected officials on his foreign policy and would sooner shoot them than be relieved of his ability to declare war unilaterally or on the orders of Tehran.

It’s unlikely that Israel can avert the next war by assassinating its enemy’s leadership, but it’s always better to take out a high-level target in person whenever possible than with a blockbuster bomb from a distance. I can’t help but wonder if those griping about the recent hit in Dubai — assuming the Mossad actually did it — care less about the lives of real human beings than the latest excuse to bash Israel. If the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue — and it will continue — civilians on both sides should prefer combatants be taken off the board quietly while everyone else goes about their daily business in peace.

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

But I’m not particularly concerned about my own skin here. Nobody forces me to travel to war zones. I don’t have to visit the Middle East ever again if I don’t want to. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been voluntary, and I can leave whenever I’ve had enough.

A lot of people I care about live in Lebanon, and some of them can’t leave. They never volunteered to be used as human shields by Hezbollah, and in fact had their neighborhood — my old neighborhood — shot up and blown up by Hezbollah gunmen recently. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t consult them or their elected officials on his foreign policy and would sooner shoot them than be relieved of his ability to declare war unilaterally or on the orders of Tehran.

It’s unlikely that Israel can avert the next war by assassinating its enemy’s leadership, but it’s always better to take out a high-level target in person whenever possible than with a blockbuster bomb from a distance. I can’t help but wonder if those griping about the recent hit in Dubai — assuming the Mossad actually did it — care less about the lives of real human beings than the latest excuse to bash Israel. If the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue — and it will continue — civilians on both sides should prefer combatants be taken off the board quietly while everyone else goes about their daily business in peace.

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New Pew Poll on Muslim Opinion

The good news is that Muslims in the Middle East tend not to like the Islamists in their own countries. The bad news is that they tend to like the Islamists in other countries.

Hamas has a 37 percent approval rating in the Gaza Strip, but Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, enjoys 65 percent and 71 percent approval in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.

Question for the peace processors: Is peace likely when two-thirds of Palestinians think that Hassan Nasrallah is a great guy?

Other interesting tidbits: Nigeria appears to have the highest rate of cognitive dissonance among the countries surveyed, with 81 percent approving of President Obama while 54 percent approve of Osama bin Laden. Where does bin Laden earn his second-highest approval rating, at 51 percent? From the Palestinians. I know that the politically correct, “know hope” thing to say is that the Palestinians overwhelmingly want peace; but as we see again from Pew, the public-opinion data simply do not shown this to be true.

A summary of the survey is here.

The good news is that Muslims in the Middle East tend not to like the Islamists in their own countries. The bad news is that they tend to like the Islamists in other countries.

Hamas has a 37 percent approval rating in the Gaza Strip, but Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, enjoys 65 percent and 71 percent approval in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.

Question for the peace processors: Is peace likely when two-thirds of Palestinians think that Hassan Nasrallah is a great guy?

Other interesting tidbits: Nigeria appears to have the highest rate of cognitive dissonance among the countries surveyed, with 81 percent approving of President Obama while 54 percent approve of Osama bin Laden. Where does bin Laden earn his second-highest approval rating, at 51 percent? From the Palestinians. I know that the politically correct, “know hope” thing to say is that the Palestinians overwhelmingly want peace; but as we see again from Pew, the public-opinion data simply do not shown this to be true.

A summary of the survey is here.

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Al-Qaeda Attempts to Woo Useful Idiots

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky. Read More

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky.

Communists used to pull stunts like this all the time to get support in the West from what Vladimir Lenin called “useful idiots.” Even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez manage to attract Western fans like Oliver Stone, Medea Benjamin, and writers at the Nation.

I’m slightly surprised it has taken al-Qaeda so long to figure this out. Hamas and Hezbollah are way ahead. They have far more sophisticated public relations departments. A few weeks ago, Hezbollah, Hamas, and leaders from what’s left of the Iraqi “resistance” hosted a terrorist conference in Beirut, which some of the usual subjects from the fringe Left attended — former Democratic party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and British member of Parliament George Galloway.

Less prominent American and European leftists also attended, including a Jewish blogger from Sweden who said his first trip to Lebanon was an “overwhelming experience” and described his slide into the political abyss in two sentences. “As a Jew I felt guilt about the treatment of the Palestinians because it is carried out in the name of all Jews,” he said to a Syrian journalist who asked what he was doing there. “I converted guilt into responsibility by taking up the political cause for the dissolution of the Jewish state.”

In a way, it’s rather astonishing that terrorists can scrape up support from even marginal people who imagine themselves upholders of the liberal tradition, but look at the propaganda. This crowd isn’t just championing the environment and quoting Chomsky. A statement at the Arab International Forum for the Support of the Resistance said “the right of people to resist via all forms, particularly armed struggle, stems from a fundamental principle of self-defense and the right to liberty, dignity, sovereignty and equality among the peoples of the world, and emphasized that resistance is in fact a necessary condition for the establishment of a just international order, to prevent aggression and occupation, and to end colonialism and racism.”

Sounds great. Liberty, dignity, sovereignty, and equality? Post-racism? A just international order? Who could argue with any of that?

The problem, of course, is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi “resistance” aren’t fighting for liberty, any more than Communist guerrillas fought for liberty. Hamas fires rockets at schools and throws its political opponents off skyscrapers. Hezbollah fires even bigger rockets at schools, torches Lebanese television stations, shoots political opponents dead in the streets, and self-identifies as the “vanguard” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s murdering, raping, head-cracking government in Iran. Iraqi “resistance” fighters not only kill American soldiers with improvised explosive devices, they blow up mosques, massacre civilians with car bombs, decapitate children with kitchen knives, and assassinate officials and employees of the elected representative government.

None of the useful Western idiots attending the recent terrorist conference belong to the mainstream Left, nor does the American journalist who swooned over Hezbollah’s supposed global-warming “awareness.” There isn’t a chance that the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or even Jimmy Carter will ever fall for this kind of nonsense or throw their support behind Hamas, Hezbollah, or active leaders of the Iraqi “resistance.” Still, having a gallery of rogues and naifs as your cheering section in the West beats having no one.

It’s too late for Osama bin Laden to polish his image, but I can’t really blame him for thinking he could.

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Threatening Israel Isn’t Enough Anymore

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did. Read More

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did.

(Intriguingly, a clear majority of Saudis interviewed in the same survey think their own terrorism and religious extremism is more troubling than either Iran or Israel. There may be hope, at least in the long run, for that region yet.)

Iran’s rulers constantly threaten Israel with violence and even destruction because they know the Arabs are against them. They need to change the subject to something they all can agree on. Ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in 1979 and voided Iran’s treaty with Israel, regime leaders have believed they’ll meet less resistance while amassing power for themselves in the region by saying, Hey, we’re not after you, we’re after the Jews.

It isn’t enough anymore. Even arming and bankrolling terrorist organizations that fight Israel isn’t enough anymore. Most Arabs simply do not believe Ahmadinejad and Khamenei when they not-so-cryptically suggest that their nuclear weapons will be pointed only at Israel. By a factor of 3-to-1, Saudis believe Iran would use nuclear weapons against either them or another Arab state in the Persian Gulf before using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Most Arabs hate or at the very least have serious problems with Israel, and I expect that will be true for the rest of my life, even if the Arab-Israeli conflict comes to an end. Yet the Middle East is forever interesting and surprising, and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” even applies to an extent when “the enemy of my enemy” is the “Zionist Entity.”

This was made abundantly clear during the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, when Sunni Arab regimes tacitly took Jerusalem’s side by blaming Hezbollah for starting it and saying nothing, at least initially, about the Israeli response. The war was fought in an Arab country, but it was a proxy war between two non-Arab powers. Lebanon merely provided the battle space.

The Sunni Arab “street,” so to speak, didn’t take Israel’s side. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah managed to turn himself into a heroic big shot for a while by taking the fight to the enemy, but the most recent victims of Hezbollah’s violence were Sunnis in Beirut in 2008, and no one in the Middle East has forgotten it.

With only a few exceptions, the region has been firmly controlled by Sunni Arab regimes since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, yet none of these governments are strong enough to project power abroad. As author Lee Smith notes, they can’t even defend themselves. A number of analysts have pointed out in the last couple of years that the political agenda in the Arab Middle East is now set by non-Arabs in Jerusalem, Tehran, Washington, and to a lesser extent, Ankara. Syria’s Bashar Assad helps set the regional agenda as the logistics hub in the Iranian-Hezbollah axis, but he’s a non-Muslim Alawite, not a Sunni, and he’s doing it as a mere sidekick of the Persians. If all that weren’t enough, the Sunnis now depend on Israelis to defend them, and they’re not even sure the Israelis will do it.

We’ll know Iran’s power play is actually working if and when Sunni Arab governments issue not just boilerplate denunciations of the “Zionist Entity” but actually join the Iran-led resistance and fight Israel like they used to. In the meantime, they’re falling in behind their enemy, although they dare not admit it to anyone.

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