Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hassan Nasrallah

Assad Returns as the Strong Horse

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you’d think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That’s how it’s being reported, but it’s nonsense. Hariri went to Damascus with Hezbollah’s bayonet in his back.

Assad’s regime assassinated Saad Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005 for just gingerly opposing Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically “positive” statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri’s house earlier this year and had a long and frank discussion about politics with him and some colleagues. I can’t quote him because the meeting was off the record, but trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hezbollah, and it’s not just because someone in that crowd killed his father. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to do a number of things lately — to give it veto power in his government’s cabinet and to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis. Read More

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you’d think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That’s how it’s being reported, but it’s nonsense. Hariri went to Damascus with Hezbollah’s bayonet in his back.

Assad’s regime assassinated Saad Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005 for just gingerly opposing Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically “positive” statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri’s house earlier this year and had a long and frank discussion about politics with him and some colleagues. I can’t quote him because the meeting was off the record, but trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hezbollah, and it’s not just because someone in that crowd killed his father. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to do a number of things lately — to give it veto power in his government’s cabinet and to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis.

Hariri and his allies in parliament resisted an extraordinary amount of pressure on these points for months before caving in, but cave in they did. They didn’t have much choice. The national army isn’t strong enough to disarm Hezbollah, and unlike Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei, Hariri doesn’t have his own private army. Hezbollah militiamen surrounded his house last year and firebombed his TV station when the government shut down its illegal surveillance system at the airport. At the end of the day, Hariri has to do what Hezbollah and its friends say unless someone with a bigger stick covers his back when push comes to shove.

No one has Hariri’s or Lebanon’s back, not anymore. He and his allies in the “March 14″ coalition have sensed this for some time, which is why Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has grudgingly softened his opposition to Assad and Hezbollah lately. When Hariri went to Damascus, everyone in the country, aside from useless newswire reporters, understood it meant Syria has re-emerged as the strong horse in Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt is another member of what David Schenker calls the Murdered Fathers Club. Assad’s ruthless late father, Hafez Assad, put Jumblatt through a similarly gruesome experience back in the 70s during the civil war. First Assad murdered Walid’s father, Kamal, then summoned the surviving Jumblatt to Damascus and forced him to shake hands and pledge his allegiance. Who can even imagine what that must have felt like? Hariri knows now, and Jumblatt still tells everyone he meets all about it.

Hariri generally doesn’t like having long conversations with journalists on the record because he doesn’t want to calculate how everything he says will be simultaneously interpreted in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Israel, the United States, France, and Saudi Arabia. I can’t say I blame him. He lives under virtual house arrest as it is, with barely more freedom of movement than Hassan Nasrallah. Here is something he said, though, back when it was safer for him to do so: “Action must be taken against Syria, like isolation, to make the Syrians understand that killing members of [Lebanon's] parliament will have consequences.”

The U.S. and France did effectively isolate Assad with Saudi assistance when George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac were in charge, but presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy think they can save the Middle East by “engaging” its most toxic leaders. Syria, therefore, is no longer isolated. Lebanon’s little anti-Syrian government doesn’t stand a chance under these circumstances, especially not when Hezbollah is the dominant military power in the country.

“It’s a dangerous game these people are playing,” Lebanese activist and political analyst Eli Khoury said last time I spoke with him in Beirut, “but I think it’s only a matter of time until the newcomers burn their fingers with the same realities that we’ve seen over and over again. I’ve seen every strategy: Kissinger’s step-by-step approach, full engagement — which means sleeping with the enemy, basically — and the solid stand as with the Bush Administration. I’ve seen them all. The only one that works so far in my opinion, aside from some real stupid and dumb mistakes, is the severing of relationships. It made the Syrians behave.”

It did make the Syrians behave a bit for a while, but now the U.S., France, and Saudi Arabia are bringing Assad in from the cold and giving him cocoa. His influence, naturally, is rising again, in Lebanon and everywhere else. That’s good news for Hezbollah, of course, which means it’s also good news for Iran. It’s bad news for the Lebanese, the Americans, the French, the Saudis, and the Israelis. None of this was inevitable, but — in Lebanon, at least — it was predictable.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Third Lebanon War Could Be Much Worse than the Second

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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A Prisoner Deal with Hezbollah?

The Israeli press is aflutter with reports that a deal has been struck with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in which the terror group would return the two kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser whose abduction in 2006 precipitated that summer’s war, in exchange for Israel’s releasing an unspecified number of terrorists. This batch would include Samir Kuntar, whose exploits include the murder of an Israeli family in the coastal town of Nahariya in 1979.

Though it’s not at all clear that this deal will go through–there have been such rumors in the past–there are reasons to be exceptionally cautious in this case. Both Ehud Olmert and Hassan Nasrallah need something, anything, to show their own people: Olmert faces the most serious criminal investigation any Israeli prime minister has ever faced, while Nasrallah has just violated years of promises to the Lebanese that his organization would never turn its weapons on fellow citizens.

Israel has always been prepared to pay a high price to return its captive soldiers. This is as it should be: A country that values life so strongly, that sends its children to defend it, should imbue its soldiers with the belief that if they are taken prisoner, their country will do everything in its power to bring them back alive. At this stage, however, it is not even clear whether they are alive. What is clear, however, is that Olmert’s situation is so desperate that he is likely to do virtually anything for a headline that will save him–including giving away the store to Hezbollah, to Syria, or to anyone else. A lousy bargaining position, and one which Israel’s enemies are likely to milk for all it’s worth.


The Israeli press is aflutter with reports that a deal has been struck with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in which the terror group would return the two kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser whose abduction in 2006 precipitated that summer’s war, in exchange for Israel’s releasing an unspecified number of terrorists. This batch would include Samir Kuntar, whose exploits include the murder of an Israeli family in the coastal town of Nahariya in 1979.

Though it’s not at all clear that this deal will go through–there have been such rumors in the past–there are reasons to be exceptionally cautious in this case. Both Ehud Olmert and Hassan Nasrallah need something, anything, to show their own people: Olmert faces the most serious criminal investigation any Israeli prime minister has ever faced, while Nasrallah has just violated years of promises to the Lebanese that his organization would never turn its weapons on fellow citizens.

Israel has always been prepared to pay a high price to return its captive soldiers. This is as it should be: A country that values life so strongly, that sends its children to defend it, should imbue its soldiers with the belief that if they are taken prisoner, their country will do everything in its power to bring them back alive. At this stage, however, it is not even clear whether they are alive. What is clear, however, is that Olmert’s situation is so desperate that he is likely to do virtually anything for a headline that will save him–including giving away the store to Hezbollah, to Syria, or to anyone else. A lousy bargaining position, and one which Israel’s enemies are likely to milk for all it’s worth.


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Hezbollah’s Victory

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14′s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14′s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

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Lebanon’s Third Civil War

The third civil war has begun in Lebanon.

The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.

The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.

The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.

My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state. Masked gunmen take up positions in a neighborhood of five star hotels, restaurants, and cafes (including a Starbucks) where students like to hang out while reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They burned down Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s Future Movement headquarters building. They stormed the offices of TV and radio stations and threatened to dynamite the buildings if the reporters refused to stop broadcasting. They seized the property of Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and they control all the exits. Member of Parliament Ammar Houry’s house is now occupied. Al Arabiya says they attacked the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the current prime minister’s office.

Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most, of West Beirut. The only weapons its gunmen haven’t deployed are its Katyusha rockets, which are useless in urban warfare, and car bombs, which aren’t.

“Hezbollah is not mounting a coup,” Charles Malik writes from Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal. “They do not want to control ALL of Lebanon. They have no interest in controlling state institutions.”

This is mostly right. As long as Hezbollah gets what it wants, taking over all of Lebanon is unnecessary, as well as most likely impossible. But this is still a coup d’etat of a sort. What happened is, literally, a blow against the state. Until this week, Hezbollah existed both inside and beside the state. Hezbollah now exists above the state, the parliament, the police, and the army. No member of Hezbollah will be arrested or prosecuted as they would in a normal and properly sovereign country.

The army is too weak and divided along sectarian lines to protect Lebanon from internal or external threats. It was sabotaged for more than a decade during Syria’s military occupation and was staffed at the highest levels with Damascus loyalists who have yet to be purged. It is a make-believe army at best, and a part-time tool of the Syrian state at its worst.

The erstwhile prevailing mentality of fragile coexistence and anti-war has all but evaporated. The restrained rhetoric Lebanese people are accustomed to hearing from their leaders is gone. “We are in war and they wouldn’t be able to predict our reaction,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said. “Hezbollah has gained control over Beirut,” said Member of Parliament Ahmad Fatfat, “and has caused a Sunni-Shia conflict that will be extended for years.” “If no compromise is reached, we will be facing a long internal war,” said Suleiman Franjieh, Jr., a former member of parliament and leader of the small Marada militia in North Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah and the Syrians.

Lebanon is a country based on consensus between its more or less demographically balanced Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, and its smaller population of Druze. No sect is allowed by law or social contract to rule over the others. The system, when it works, provides checks and balances. Hezbollah has overthrown all of it. And when the system is overthrown, as it has been in the past, Lebanese have demonstrated that they can and will fight as viciously as Iraqi militias in Baghdad. Lebanon has no shortage of people from every sect and most political movements who will fight dirty urban warfare with little regard for unarmed civilian noncombatants.

Though Hezbollah still occupies West Beirut, the city is reportedly calm at the moment – but don’t expect that to last long. Hezbollah is a Shia army in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran, while West Beirut is mostly made up of hostile Sunnis aligned with Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. Lebanese blogger Mustafa at Beirut Spring put it plainly: “Expect the fight for Beirut to begin in earnest later with the distinct trademark of an occupied population: Hit and run.”

Even if Hezbollah does withdraw and real calm prevails in the near term, Lebanon has crossed a threshold from which there likely will be no recovery. Quiet may resume, but it will be the quiet of cold war rather than peace.

Hezbollah has always said its weapons were pointed only at Israel, though many knew better. Hezbollah even brags (although it’s not true) that they did not turn their weapons against Lebanese during the last civil war. Both of these lies have now been exposed before the whole world.

There may be lulls in the violence, but there will be no real peace in Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed.

The third civil war has begun in Lebanon.

The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.

The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.

The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.

My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state. Masked gunmen take up positions in a neighborhood of five star hotels, restaurants, and cafes (including a Starbucks) where students like to hang out while reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They burned down Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s Future Movement headquarters building. They stormed the offices of TV and radio stations and threatened to dynamite the buildings if the reporters refused to stop broadcasting. They seized the property of Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and they control all the exits. Member of Parliament Ammar Houry’s house is now occupied. Al Arabiya says they attacked the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the current prime minister’s office.

Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most, of West Beirut. The only weapons its gunmen haven’t deployed are its Katyusha rockets, which are useless in urban warfare, and car bombs, which aren’t.

“Hezbollah is not mounting a coup,” Charles Malik writes from Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal. “They do not want to control ALL of Lebanon. They have no interest in controlling state institutions.”

This is mostly right. As long as Hezbollah gets what it wants, taking over all of Lebanon is unnecessary, as well as most likely impossible. But this is still a coup d’etat of a sort. What happened is, literally, a blow against the state. Until this week, Hezbollah existed both inside and beside the state. Hezbollah now exists above the state, the parliament, the police, and the army. No member of Hezbollah will be arrested or prosecuted as they would in a normal and properly sovereign country.

The army is too weak and divided along sectarian lines to protect Lebanon from internal or external threats. It was sabotaged for more than a decade during Syria’s military occupation and was staffed at the highest levels with Damascus loyalists who have yet to be purged. It is a make-believe army at best, and a part-time tool of the Syrian state at its worst.

The erstwhile prevailing mentality of fragile coexistence and anti-war has all but evaporated. The restrained rhetoric Lebanese people are accustomed to hearing from their leaders is gone. “We are in war and they wouldn’t be able to predict our reaction,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said. “Hezbollah has gained control over Beirut,” said Member of Parliament Ahmad Fatfat, “and has caused a Sunni-Shia conflict that will be extended for years.” “If no compromise is reached, we will be facing a long internal war,” said Suleiman Franjieh, Jr., a former member of parliament and leader of the small Marada militia in North Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah and the Syrians.

Lebanon is a country based on consensus between its more or less demographically balanced Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, and its smaller population of Druze. No sect is allowed by law or social contract to rule over the others. The system, when it works, provides checks and balances. Hezbollah has overthrown all of it. And when the system is overthrown, as it has been in the past, Lebanese have demonstrated that they can and will fight as viciously as Iraqi militias in Baghdad. Lebanon has no shortage of people from every sect and most political movements who will fight dirty urban warfare with little regard for unarmed civilian noncombatants.

Though Hezbollah still occupies West Beirut, the city is reportedly calm at the moment – but don’t expect that to last long. Hezbollah is a Shia army in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran, while West Beirut is mostly made up of hostile Sunnis aligned with Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. Lebanese blogger Mustafa at Beirut Spring put it plainly: “Expect the fight for Beirut to begin in earnest later with the distinct trademark of an occupied population: Hit and run.”

Even if Hezbollah does withdraw and real calm prevails in the near term, Lebanon has crossed a threshold from which there likely will be no recovery. Quiet may resume, but it will be the quiet of cold war rather than peace.

Hezbollah has always said its weapons were pointed only at Israel, though many knew better. Hezbollah even brags (although it’s not true) that they did not turn their weapons against Lebanese during the last civil war. Both of these lies have now been exposed before the whole world.

There may be lulls in the violence, but there will be no real peace in Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed.

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Things Get Worse in Lebanon

Things continue to heat up in Lebanon. This week Hezbollah gunmen seized control of large parts of Beirut, and today shut down the “Future News” television station , run by Saad Hariri, leader of the government-supporting majority party in parliament. Clashes have erupted between the Shi’ite terror group and militia forces loyal to the government, with Israel radio reporting at least 10 dead. As Noah Pollak reported below, the current battle began with the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private telephone network, which it set up with Iran; and to fire the head of security at Beirut’s airport, who is loyal to Hezbollah. The group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, declared the government’s steps to be

a declaration of war and the launching of war by the government against the resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel.

Let’s hope he’s right. This high-stakes game may be Lebanon’s only hope for regaining its sovereignty, ending tension with Israel once and for all, rolling back Iran’s advances in the region, and building some form of coherent democratic life in the country. For decades, the country has acted as a staging ground for first Palestinian then Iranian-backed Shiite terror, with the south being transformed into a terror-state within a state. After the 2006 Lebanon war, the UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that . . . there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” For Hezbollah, however, to disarm is to commit ideological suicide, so the only long-term solution is that they be disarmed by force.

Of course, if the government loses such a war, Lebanon as a whole turns into an Iranian satellite. This is not something the West can sit back and watch. With the U.S. distracted by an election, eyes will be turning to France, the former colonial power which still has deep ties in Lebanon. Let’s see what Sarkozy can come up with.

Things continue to heat up in Lebanon. This week Hezbollah gunmen seized control of large parts of Beirut, and today shut down the “Future News” television station , run by Saad Hariri, leader of the government-supporting majority party in parliament. Clashes have erupted between the Shi’ite terror group and militia forces loyal to the government, with Israel radio reporting at least 10 dead. As Noah Pollak reported below, the current battle began with the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private telephone network, which it set up with Iran; and to fire the head of security at Beirut’s airport, who is loyal to Hezbollah. The group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, declared the government’s steps to be

a declaration of war and the launching of war by the government against the resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel.

Let’s hope he’s right. This high-stakes game may be Lebanon’s only hope for regaining its sovereignty, ending tension with Israel once and for all, rolling back Iran’s advances in the region, and building some form of coherent democratic life in the country. For decades, the country has acted as a staging ground for first Palestinian then Iranian-backed Shiite terror, with the south being transformed into a terror-state within a state. After the 2006 Lebanon war, the UN Security Council resolution 1701 called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that . . . there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” For Hezbollah, however, to disarm is to commit ideological suicide, so the only long-term solution is that they be disarmed by force.

Of course, if the government loses such a war, Lebanon as a whole turns into an Iranian satellite. This is not something the West can sit back and watch. With the U.S. distracted by an election, eyes will be turning to France, the former colonial power which still has deep ties in Lebanon. Let’s see what Sarkozy can come up with.

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Nasrallah Speaks

Hezbollah’s thug-in-chief, Hassan Nasrallah, addressed Lebanon today. What he said is not promising. You can read the entire transcript here, but it’s not necessary. The following snippet tells you everything you need to know:

I said . . . that any hand that reaches for the resistance [i.e., Hezbollah] and its arms will be cut off. Israel tried that in the July War, and we cut its hand off. We do not advise you to try us. Whoever is going to target us will be targeted by us. Whoever is going to shoot at us will be shot by us.

Nasrallah has one rhetorical tactic that he deploys every time Hezbollah experiences internal pressure in Lebanon: he accuses his opponents of working for the CIA, the Mossad, the Jews, or the Americans. Thus he said today that “there is an American plan that we are fighting against. This is the nature of the crisis.” And: “This struggle is between an honorable resistance, which is endorsed by Arabs and Muslims, and the United States and its allies.”

Well, it’s tough times for Nasrallah — the Sunni Arabs do not, alas, endorse what he’s doing, and in fact would like to see Hezbollah, and by extension Iran, dealt a serious blow. Nasrallah isn’t fooling anyone. The Sunni mufti of Lebanon harshly condemned Nasrallah last night, calling Hezbollah an “armed gang of outlaws.” The Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers have done so as well, albeit in more diplomatic terms. The Israel-Hezbollah war two years ago exposed to a limited degree Sunni outrage at Hezbollah and Iran. This time, without the common Israeli enemy involved, such anger is going to be expressed much more forcefully.

Hezbollah’s thug-in-chief, Hassan Nasrallah, addressed Lebanon today. What he said is not promising. You can read the entire transcript here, but it’s not necessary. The following snippet tells you everything you need to know:

I said . . . that any hand that reaches for the resistance [i.e., Hezbollah] and its arms will be cut off. Israel tried that in the July War, and we cut its hand off. We do not advise you to try us. Whoever is going to target us will be targeted by us. Whoever is going to shoot at us will be shot by us.

Nasrallah has one rhetorical tactic that he deploys every time Hezbollah experiences internal pressure in Lebanon: he accuses his opponents of working for the CIA, the Mossad, the Jews, or the Americans. Thus he said today that “there is an American plan that we are fighting against. This is the nature of the crisis.” And: “This struggle is between an honorable resistance, which is endorsed by Arabs and Muslims, and the United States and its allies.”

Well, it’s tough times for Nasrallah — the Sunni Arabs do not, alas, endorse what he’s doing, and in fact would like to see Hezbollah, and by extension Iran, dealt a serious blow. Nasrallah isn’t fooling anyone. The Sunni mufti of Lebanon harshly condemned Nasrallah last night, calling Hezbollah an “armed gang of outlaws.” The Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers have done so as well, albeit in more diplomatic terms. The Israel-Hezbollah war two years ago exposed to a limited degree Sunni outrage at Hezbollah and Iran. This time, without the common Israeli enemy involved, such anger is going to be expressed much more forcefully.

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Carter’s Awkward Moments

Jimmy Carter’s upcoming handshake with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus promises to be an incredibly awkward moment. In fact, it will be so awkward that–almost forty-eight hours after the story broke–the Carter Center has yet to confirm the visit (though Hamas has done so giddily). Amidst this dithering, the U.S. foreign policy community has overwhelmingly lambasted the proposed meet-and-greet, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Ibrahim Hooper seems to be Carter’s lone supporter in Washington.It’s gotten so bad that even Kofi Annan–who infamously greeted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during his tenure as UN Secretary General–is distancing himself from Carter, canceling his plans to accompany the former U.S. president to the Middle East.

Rest assured, this awkwardness is here to stay, and will not subside once Carter boards his plane back from Damascus. Rather, it will follow him all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver–where the keynote address he will deliver as a former Democratic president will be a chillingly awkward moment for the ultimate presidential nominee. Indeed, without Carter having even addressed the Hamas meeting publicly, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have criticized Carter’s plans through their press offices. For now, Carter’s lack of attachment to either campaign makes this form of distancing acceptable. Yet when Carter addresses a national audience for a full half-hour or so in late August at the convention, the ultimate nominee will have some serious explaining to do–particularly because the nominee’s campaign is largely responsible for drafting speakers, and thus technically responsible for Carter’s time in the limelight.

Naturally, Carter’s visit with Hamas will be most problematic if Obama wins the nomination. As an article in the LA Times noted yesterday, Obama continues to face doubters within the Jewish community, who remain concerned by his longtime relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and question the sincerity of his pro-Israel pronouncements. It is for this reason that Carter’s decision to legitimize Hamas now is most confounding: how can Carter, who has hinted at his support for Obama, put him in such an awkward position?

Jimmy Carter’s upcoming handshake with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus promises to be an incredibly awkward moment. In fact, it will be so awkward that–almost forty-eight hours after the story broke–the Carter Center has yet to confirm the visit (though Hamas has done so giddily). Amidst this dithering, the U.S. foreign policy community has overwhelmingly lambasted the proposed meet-and-greet, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Ibrahim Hooper seems to be Carter’s lone supporter in Washington.It’s gotten so bad that even Kofi Annan–who infamously greeted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during his tenure as UN Secretary General–is distancing himself from Carter, canceling his plans to accompany the former U.S. president to the Middle East.

Rest assured, this awkwardness is here to stay, and will not subside once Carter boards his plane back from Damascus. Rather, it will follow him all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver–where the keynote address he will deliver as a former Democratic president will be a chillingly awkward moment for the ultimate presidential nominee. Indeed, without Carter having even addressed the Hamas meeting publicly, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have criticized Carter’s plans through their press offices. For now, Carter’s lack of attachment to either campaign makes this form of distancing acceptable. Yet when Carter addresses a national audience for a full half-hour or so in late August at the convention, the ultimate nominee will have some serious explaining to do–particularly because the nominee’s campaign is largely responsible for drafting speakers, and thus technically responsible for Carter’s time in the limelight.

Naturally, Carter’s visit with Hamas will be most problematic if Obama wins the nomination. As an article in the LA Times noted yesterday, Obama continues to face doubters within the Jewish community, who remain concerned by his longtime relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and question the sincerity of his pro-Israel pronouncements. It is for this reason that Carter’s decision to legitimize Hamas now is most confounding: how can Carter, who has hinted at his support for Obama, put him in such an awkward position?

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Nasrallah “Wipes” Juan Cole

In a fiery speech marking forty days since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared that “The Zionist entity can be wiped out of existence!” Of course, by evoking the image of “wiping,” Nasrallah is adopting the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at the 2005 “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran.

Or did he? Just as Ahmadinejad’s “wipe” statement was drawing widespread international condemnation, Juan Cole insisted that Ahmadinejad had been mistranslated. According to Cole, Ahmadinejad’s quotation had come from a Khomeini speech, which stated that, “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” Cole viewed this distinction as significant, writing that the media’s translation gave the false “impression that [Ahmadinejad] wants to play Hitler to Israel’s Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.” Cole repeated his revisionist claim in a recent Washington Post article, saying that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the “Nazi-style extermination of a people,” but rather expressing his wish that the Israeli government would disappear.

Nasrallah’s speech demonstrates the complete irrelevance of Cole’s argument. Indeed, the Arabic phrase that Nasrallah employs is unambiguous in supporting the utter destruction of Israel, both as a state and a people. Nasrallah begins this section of his speech by declaring that the 2006 Lebanon war exposed Israelis’ weakness: whereas the Lebanese and Palestinians have endured 60 years of displacement, “the Israelis could not endure displacement or living in shelters for 33 days.” Israel’s “loss,” Nasrallah continues, has created “the possibility of a new answer” to the question “can Israel be wiped from existence?” Na’am, wa’alf na’am yumkin an tazul Isra’il min al-wujud (“Yes, and one thousand yeses, it is possible to wipe Israel from existence!”) says Nasrallah.

If Cole objects to my translation of “tazul . . min al-wujud” as “wipe . . . from existence”–”tazul” generally means “cease”–he will first have to correct Hezbollah’s al-Manar English website. The satellite news channel similarly embraced the terminology of “wiping” in its own translation of Nasrallah’s speech.

When Cole first disputed the translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech back in 2005, he accused “powerful political forces in Washington” of cooking up the “wipe” quotation as a pretext for war on Iran. Nasrallah’s speech should force him to rethink this conspiracy theory. After all, whether or not Ahmadinejad’s speech can be translated as having called for “wiping” Israel off the map, Hezbollah–which has already called for an “open war” on Israel and serves as Iran’s Lebanese appendage–has taken liberties to interpret it as such.

In a fiery speech marking forty days since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared that “The Zionist entity can be wiped out of existence!” Of course, by evoking the image of “wiping,” Nasrallah is adopting the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at the 2005 “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran.

Or did he? Just as Ahmadinejad’s “wipe” statement was drawing widespread international condemnation, Juan Cole insisted that Ahmadinejad had been mistranslated. According to Cole, Ahmadinejad’s quotation had come from a Khomeini speech, which stated that, “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” Cole viewed this distinction as significant, writing that the media’s translation gave the false “impression that [Ahmadinejad] wants to play Hitler to Israel’s Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.” Cole repeated his revisionist claim in a recent Washington Post article, saying that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the “Nazi-style extermination of a people,” but rather expressing his wish that the Israeli government would disappear.

Nasrallah’s speech demonstrates the complete irrelevance of Cole’s argument. Indeed, the Arabic phrase that Nasrallah employs is unambiguous in supporting the utter destruction of Israel, both as a state and a people. Nasrallah begins this section of his speech by declaring that the 2006 Lebanon war exposed Israelis’ weakness: whereas the Lebanese and Palestinians have endured 60 years of displacement, “the Israelis could not endure displacement or living in shelters for 33 days.” Israel’s “loss,” Nasrallah continues, has created “the possibility of a new answer” to the question “can Israel be wiped from existence?” Na’am, wa’alf na’am yumkin an tazul Isra’il min al-wujud (“Yes, and one thousand yeses, it is possible to wipe Israel from existence!”) says Nasrallah.

If Cole objects to my translation of “tazul . . min al-wujud” as “wipe . . . from existence”–”tazul” generally means “cease”–he will first have to correct Hezbollah’s al-Manar English website. The satellite news channel similarly embraced the terminology of “wiping” in its own translation of Nasrallah’s speech.

When Cole first disputed the translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech back in 2005, he accused “powerful political forces in Washington” of cooking up the “wipe” quotation as a pretext for war on Iran. Nasrallah’s speech should force him to rethink this conspiracy theory. After all, whether or not Ahmadinejad’s speech can be translated as having called for “wiping” Israel off the map, Hezbollah–which has already called for an “open war” on Israel and serves as Iran’s Lebanese appendage–has taken liberties to interpret it as such.

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Olmert’s Contradictory Strategy

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

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Rice’s Misplaced Priorities

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

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The Moderate Supermajority

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

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Al-Manar Correspondent Arrested

In a series of counterterrorism raids undertaken earlier this week, Moroccan authorities arrested 32 individuals suspected of planning attacks against domestic targets. Among those arrested was Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite television station.

In light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat of an “open war” on Israel in response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh last week, Sriti’s arrest appears significant. Nasrallah’s eulogy at Mughniyeh’s funeral has been interpreted as foreshadowing attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests abroad—Hezbollah doesn’t distinguish between the two—and the Jewish community of Morocco has been the previous target of Islamist terrorists. On May 16, 2003, a Jewish cemetery, Jewish community center, and Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, among other Casablanca targets, were hit in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Indeed, it is possible that Hezbollah has already begun planning its response to the Mughniyeh assassination, deploying its “media wing” in the immediate service of terror against one of the Muslim world’s most freely accessible—and therefore vulnerable—Jewish communities.

More concretely, however, the apparent involvement of an al-Manar correspondent in a Moroccan terrorist ring should serve as a stark reminder of the international dimension of Hezbollah’s operations. Far from “Lebanonizing”—i.e., increasingly participating in domestic Lebanese politics and thereby moderating, as many “experts” have claimed—Hezbollah has continually developed its relationship with Islamist organizations worldwide for the enhancement of its terrorist capabilities. In this vein, the Moroccan Islamist Badil al-Hadari party has been implicated in planning the attacks, while the Moroccan government has arrested Abdelkader Belliraj—a Moroccan national who lived in Belgium—as the network’s leader. In short, Hezbollah has found good company with militant Islamists well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

Finally, Sriti’s arrest should reinforce the extent to which al-Manar plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s terrorist activities—not only in the satellite transmission of radical Islamist ideology, but in the operational aspects of planning attacks. For this reason, policymakers should closely monitor Morocco’s investigation of Sriti, as this might provide key details regarding al-Manar’s non-media activities.

UPDATE: The AP is now confirming that the arrested Moroccan terrorist ring was targeting local Jews, though bizarrely omits the fact that an al-Manar correspondent was among those arrested.

In a series of counterterrorism raids undertaken earlier this week, Moroccan authorities arrested 32 individuals suspected of planning attacks against domestic targets. Among those arrested was Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite television station.

In light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat of an “open war” on Israel in response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh last week, Sriti’s arrest appears significant. Nasrallah’s eulogy at Mughniyeh’s funeral has been interpreted as foreshadowing attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests abroad—Hezbollah doesn’t distinguish between the two—and the Jewish community of Morocco has been the previous target of Islamist terrorists. On May 16, 2003, a Jewish cemetery, Jewish community center, and Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, among other Casablanca targets, were hit in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Indeed, it is possible that Hezbollah has already begun planning its response to the Mughniyeh assassination, deploying its “media wing” in the immediate service of terror against one of the Muslim world’s most freely accessible—and therefore vulnerable—Jewish communities.

More concretely, however, the apparent involvement of an al-Manar correspondent in a Moroccan terrorist ring should serve as a stark reminder of the international dimension of Hezbollah’s operations. Far from “Lebanonizing”—i.e., increasingly participating in domestic Lebanese politics and thereby moderating, as many “experts” have claimed—Hezbollah has continually developed its relationship with Islamist organizations worldwide for the enhancement of its terrorist capabilities. In this vein, the Moroccan Islamist Badil al-Hadari party has been implicated in planning the attacks, while the Moroccan government has arrested Abdelkader Belliraj—a Moroccan national who lived in Belgium—as the network’s leader. In short, Hezbollah has found good company with militant Islamists well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

Finally, Sriti’s arrest should reinforce the extent to which al-Manar plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s terrorist activities—not only in the satellite transmission of radical Islamist ideology, but in the operational aspects of planning attacks. For this reason, policymakers should closely monitor Morocco’s investigation of Sriti, as this might provide key details regarding al-Manar’s non-media activities.

UPDATE: The AP is now confirming that the arrested Moroccan terrorist ring was targeting local Jews, though bizarrely omits the fact that an al-Manar correspondent was among those arrested.

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Where’s the Outrage?

The Jerusalem Post reports that in “yet another verbal attack against Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Jewish state a ‘filthy bacteria’ whose sole purpose was to oppress the other nations of the region.”

“‘The world powers established this filthy bacteria, the Zionist regime, which is lashing out at the nations in the region like a wild beast,’ the Iranian president told supporters at a rally in southern Iran.”

The same article in the Jerusalem Post takes note of threats by an Iranian official and by the head of Hizballah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, to destroy the state of Israel. Israel has complained to the United Nations, which is likely to do what it always does in the face of such outrages: absolutely nothing.

The silence in the face of such threats of aggression tells us a great deal about the present condition of the world community. The implications for whether Israel will be compelled to act alone in dealing with the looming Iranian menace, or whether it will find support in other quarters, are all too clear.

The Jerusalem Post reports that in “yet another verbal attack against Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Jewish state a ‘filthy bacteria’ whose sole purpose was to oppress the other nations of the region.”

“‘The world powers established this filthy bacteria, the Zionist regime, which is lashing out at the nations in the region like a wild beast,’ the Iranian president told supporters at a rally in southern Iran.”

The same article in the Jerusalem Post takes note of threats by an Iranian official and by the head of Hizballah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, to destroy the state of Israel. Israel has complained to the United Nations, which is likely to do what it always does in the face of such outrages: absolutely nothing.

The silence in the face of such threats of aggression tells us a great deal about the present condition of the world community. The implications for whether Israel will be compelled to act alone in dealing with the looming Iranian menace, or whether it will find support in other quarters, are all too clear.

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Obama Imitates Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

The Israel Defense Forces did nothing of the sort in Lebanon. Most Lebanese Shias are so hostile to Israel that such a strategy might not work even if David Petraeus himself were in charge of it. Even then it would take years to produce the desired results, just as it has taken several years in Iraq. Israelis have no wish to spend years fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. International pressure would force them out if they did.

A Petraeus-like strategy wasn’t an option for Olmert. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t compare the effectiveness of the Olmert and Petraeus strategies.

The Israel Defense Forces fought a month-long asymmetrical war in Lebanon mostly with air strikes. Israel didn’t aim at civilians, but it goes without saying that Israel likewise didn’t protect civilians from violence as the Americans protect Iraqis from violence. That can’t be done from the air. Israel did nothing at all to inspire the people of South Lebanon to come around to their side. Israelis, from the point of view of South Lebanese, are faceless enemies that devastated their towns from the heavens.

Many Hezbollah fighters were killed in the targeted strikes. Bunkers and weapons caches were destroyed. Safe houses proved to be anything but. Civilians as well as combatants were heavily punished.

At the end of the day, though, none of it mattered. Hezbollah remains standing. Their weapons stocks have been replenished by Iran through Syria. Civilian supporters of Nasrallah’s militia are more ferociously anti-Israel than ever. United Nations troops who deployed to the area will inadvertently function as “human shields” for Hezbollah if war breaks out again.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Al Qaeda has been vanquished almost everywhere. Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Shia Mahdi Army militia declared a unilateral ceasefire. Many previously anti-American enemies have flipped to our side. Overall violence has been reduced by almost 90 percent. 75 percent of Baghdad is now secure.

Responsible political leaders and military commanders would be well-advised to analyze both approaches to assymetrical warfare and counterinsurgency, and to hew as closely as possible to the Petraeus model. Olmert’s is broken.

Senator Barack Obama, though, prefers the Olmert model whether he thinks of it that way or not. (Actually, I’m sure he doesn’t think of it as Olmert’s model, though basically that’s what it is.)

“Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq,” says a statement on the senator’s Web site. “He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.” [Emphasis added.]

Targeted strikes do kill some terrorists (and often, tragically, civilians, as well). But they have little or no effect overall in counterinsurgent urban warfare. Perhaps the senator or his advisors should read the new counterinsurgency manual – the one that has proven effective – and compare its strategy to targeted strikes which have proven to fail.

Here is just one critical excerpt:

Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be

1-149. Ultimate success in COIN [Counter-insurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained… . These practices ensure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

From “Counterinsurgency/FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5”

This strategy was not available to Olmert and the Israel Defense Forces. It will be available to Obama and the United States military should he choose to excercise it.

Obama is competing in a Democratic primary race. Perhaps if he is elected commander in chief and no longer needs to appease the left-wing of his party he will reverse himself and keep Petraeus right where he is. Reality has a way of imposing itself on presidents.

He would be wise to carefully consider what works and what doesn’t, not only for the sakes of the United States and Iraq, but also for purely calculating and self-interested reasons. Obama is a likeable guy. He could, in theory, be a popular president. Olmert, though, was also popular once. He probably never will be again.

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Hezbollah and Mughniyeh

Hezbollah’s very public display of affection for assassinated terrorist Imad Mughniyeh represents a stunning about-face. As Martin Kramer notes on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Hezbollah has broken from previous denials regarding its connections to Mughniyeh, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizing him and a Hezbollah flag draping his coffin—clear symbols that Mughniyeh ranked highly in the Hezbollah chain. Indeed, its ties to Mughniyeh were so profound that Hezbollah appears prepared to fight Israel in response to his killing, hinting that it will attack Israeli interests abroad.

But Hezbollah isn’t the only Levantine player willing to engage Israel over Mughniyeh’s death. Yesterday, at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “Whoever assassinated Imad Mughniyeh has assassinated any peace efforts”—a statement clearly aimed at Israel. Critically, al-Moallem seemingly echoed Mottaki, who had proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s funeral earlier in the day, “The freedom-seeking nations … have millions of such fighters, who are ready to join the fight against the terrorists who perpetrate such the unmanly crimes.” Following the funeral, Mottaki had arrived in Damascus for “brotherly talks,” meeting with al-Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to discuss the developing situation in Lebanon.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be important to monitor whether Hezbollah-Syrian cooperation is strengthened as a result of their unified defiance in the wake of Mughniyeh’s assassination. Of course, sustained Iranian involvement makes this quite likely.

Still, domestic Lebanese politics could intervene and force Hezbollah to downplay its Damascus contacts. At a massive rally held to commemorate the third anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination yesterday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri castigated the Syrian regime as an “Israeli product.” Yet even as he lashed out against Syria—the regime that murdered his father—Hariri showed rare respect for Hezbollah, ending his rally at 2 PM so as to not interfere with Mughniyeh’s 2:30 funeral. Hariri further appealed to Hezbollah to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing presidential crisis—a sharp break from his comments last week, when he accused the Hezbollah-led opposition of “destroying Lebanon.”

The big question is thus whether Hezbollah might see itself as having enough popular Lebanese support in the aftermath of Mughniyeh’s assassination to avoid relying on Damascus, a regime that is still reviled by a substantial portion of the population. Or, alternatively, Hezbollah could quickly return to Levantine politics as usual, taking its cues from Iran with Syria’s active consent.

Hezbollah’s very public display of affection for assassinated terrorist Imad Mughniyeh represents a stunning about-face. As Martin Kramer notes on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Hezbollah has broken from previous denials regarding its connections to Mughniyeh, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizing him and a Hezbollah flag draping his coffin—clear symbols that Mughniyeh ranked highly in the Hezbollah chain. Indeed, its ties to Mughniyeh were so profound that Hezbollah appears prepared to fight Israel in response to his killing, hinting that it will attack Israeli interests abroad.

But Hezbollah isn’t the only Levantine player willing to engage Israel over Mughniyeh’s death. Yesterday, at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “Whoever assassinated Imad Mughniyeh has assassinated any peace efforts”—a statement clearly aimed at Israel. Critically, al-Moallem seemingly echoed Mottaki, who had proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s funeral earlier in the day, “The freedom-seeking nations … have millions of such fighters, who are ready to join the fight against the terrorists who perpetrate such the unmanly crimes.” Following the funeral, Mottaki had arrived in Damascus for “brotherly talks,” meeting with al-Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to discuss the developing situation in Lebanon.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be important to monitor whether Hezbollah-Syrian cooperation is strengthened as a result of their unified defiance in the wake of Mughniyeh’s assassination. Of course, sustained Iranian involvement makes this quite likely.

Still, domestic Lebanese politics could intervene and force Hezbollah to downplay its Damascus contacts. At a massive rally held to commemorate the third anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination yesterday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri castigated the Syrian regime as an “Israeli product.” Yet even as he lashed out against Syria—the regime that murdered his father—Hariri showed rare respect for Hezbollah, ending his rally at 2 PM so as to not interfere with Mughniyeh’s 2:30 funeral. Hariri further appealed to Hezbollah to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing presidential crisis—a sharp break from his comments last week, when he accused the Hezbollah-led opposition of “destroying Lebanon.”

The big question is thus whether Hezbollah might see itself as having enough popular Lebanese support in the aftermath of Mughniyeh’s assassination to avoid relying on Damascus, a regime that is still reviled by a substantial portion of the population. Or, alternatively, Hezbollah could quickly return to Levantine politics as usual, taking its cues from Iran with Syria’s active consent.

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More on Mugniyeh

Just to follow up on Max Boot’s post about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a major Hizballah figure. The Israeli news channels are talking about it as though it is clearly an Israeli operation, even though they are giving the formal nudge-nudge-wink-wink that it might not have been. Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Channel 2′s veteran analyst, calls the takeout “more important than taking out Hassan Nasrallah, on a par with Bin Laden.”

This might not be so off base. According to Ya’ari, Mughniyeh, as number 2 in the most sophisticated terror group on earth, is the one who personally invented the suicide bombing, used first in Lebanon before being adopted by the Palestinians; he turned Hizballah into a serious army; he was in charge of the organization’s ties with Iran and Syria; in charge of all its military operations; and masterminded almost every major attack on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in the last 25 years. He also was behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers which triggered the 2006 Lebanon war. Today Gideon Ezra, a government minister and former senior intelligence figure, called Mughniyeh the “Lebanese Carlos.”

This is what Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism, had to say (via the JPost):

It’s hard to imagine a figure more dangerous, more sophisticated or more experienced than arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Until his assassination on Wednesday, Mughniyeh served as the mastermind behind Hizbullah’s operations, an elusive figure linked to almost every attack executed by the organization since its inception in the early 1980s. In fact, it is impossible to name even one large-scale attack executed by Hizbullah that Mughniyeh was not involved in – from airplane hijackings to embassy bombings to kidnappings and more.

The senior Hizbullah leader was responsible for suicide attacks on the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which lead to the strategic withdrawal of American and foreign forces out of Lebanon. He was also wanted in connection to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, attempted attacks in Asia and the Arab world and the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

Mughniyeh’s importance lies not only in his ability to execute extraordinary attacks against targets around the world – or even in his control of Hizbullah’s operational branch in Lebanon – but more significantly in the close connections he established between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. Mughniyeh positioned himself as the operational link between these actors. It is in this framework that Mughniyeh also served as al-Qaida’s contact within Hizbullah throughout the 1990s…. Unlike bin Laden, however, Mughniyeh’s influence was not derived from the image he created of himself, but by his actual deeds and capabilities as an initiator, planner, supervisor and executor of attacks on an international scale. In effect, these attacks tremendously strengthened Hizbullah’s capabilities in a variety of spheres, creating the deterrence that the organization was seeking to achieve vis-à-vis foreign states and Israel.

Today, Hizbullah is a mini-state so strong that the Lebanese army is unable to do anything about it; it is a terror cancer giving Iran and Syria a major base on Israel’s northern border and in the heart of an otherwise potentially reasonable Lebanon. This has all happened in the last twenty years, and the man who did it is now dead.

Just to follow up on Max Boot’s post about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a major Hizballah figure. The Israeli news channels are talking about it as though it is clearly an Israeli operation, even though they are giving the formal nudge-nudge-wink-wink that it might not have been. Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Channel 2′s veteran analyst, calls the takeout “more important than taking out Hassan Nasrallah, on a par with Bin Laden.”

This might not be so off base. According to Ya’ari, Mughniyeh, as number 2 in the most sophisticated terror group on earth, is the one who personally invented the suicide bombing, used first in Lebanon before being adopted by the Palestinians; he turned Hizballah into a serious army; he was in charge of the organization’s ties with Iran and Syria; in charge of all its military operations; and masterminded almost every major attack on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in the last 25 years. He also was behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers which triggered the 2006 Lebanon war. Today Gideon Ezra, a government minister and former senior intelligence figure, called Mughniyeh the “Lebanese Carlos.”

This is what Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism, had to say (via the JPost):

It’s hard to imagine a figure more dangerous, more sophisticated or more experienced than arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Until his assassination on Wednesday, Mughniyeh served as the mastermind behind Hizbullah’s operations, an elusive figure linked to almost every attack executed by the organization since its inception in the early 1980s. In fact, it is impossible to name even one large-scale attack executed by Hizbullah that Mughniyeh was not involved in – from airplane hijackings to embassy bombings to kidnappings and more.

The senior Hizbullah leader was responsible for suicide attacks on the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which lead to the strategic withdrawal of American and foreign forces out of Lebanon. He was also wanted in connection to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, attempted attacks in Asia and the Arab world and the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

Mughniyeh’s importance lies not only in his ability to execute extraordinary attacks against targets around the world – or even in his control of Hizbullah’s operational branch in Lebanon – but more significantly in the close connections he established between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. Mughniyeh positioned himself as the operational link between these actors. It is in this framework that Mughniyeh also served as al-Qaida’s contact within Hizbullah throughout the 1990s…. Unlike bin Laden, however, Mughniyeh’s influence was not derived from the image he created of himself, but by his actual deeds and capabilities as an initiator, planner, supervisor and executor of attacks on an international scale. In effect, these attacks tremendously strengthened Hizbullah’s capabilities in a variety of spheres, creating the deterrence that the organization was seeking to achieve vis-à-vis foreign states and Israel.

Today, Hizbullah is a mini-state so strong that the Lebanese army is unable to do anything about it; it is a terror cancer giving Iran and Syria a major base on Israel’s northern border and in the heart of an otherwise potentially reasonable Lebanon. This has all happened in the last twenty years, and the man who did it is now dead.

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The Norman Finkelstein Roadshow

Norman Finkelstein, freshly liberated from the humdrum of academic life by way of being denied tenure at De Paul University, has taken his hate-Israel routine on the road. He has gone to Lebanon to give lectures and to “hold two workshops in Palestinian refugee camps.”

At a press conference on Friday — Finkelstein must surely savor having the kind of attention lavished on him in Lebanon that few can be bothered to provide in America — he channeled Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, in describing the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war:

However, it is also true to say that the Lebanese resistance inflicted a historic and well-deserved military defeat on the invading foreign army and its chief supporter.

He continued:

It should also be mentioned that after the war the US-based organization Human Rights Watch whitewashed Israeli war crimes and made false accusations against Hizballah. This cowardly and mercenary act deserves contempt.

Ah yes, Human Rights Watch, that steely defender of the Jewish state.

It’s probably impossible to put Finkelstein’s swindles and perversions (to borrow an Orwell phrase) into a ratings system, and I am by no means a person who wastes much time following the man’s deluded utterances. But here he has clearly sunk to a new low: He openly sympathizes with Hizballah, a group which seeks the genocide of the Jewish people; he openly wishes for Israel’s military defeat at the hands of an enemy whose primary ambition is the state’s annihilation; and he does all of this while hiding behind the fig leaf of his own Jewishness so as to deflect the charge that he is an anti-Semite.

It is normal to say that Finkelstein’s are the views of a self-hating Jew. But by all appearances, the man does not hate himself, and in fact views his role as that of a hero — a brave truth-teller fighting against the imperial forces of Zionism and Americanism. Finkelstein is a hustler and a coward because he trades off his Jewishness to lend credibility to starkly anti-Jewish rhetoric. It’s time we stopped calling Finkelstein a self-hating Jew and started calling him what he actually is: an anti-Semite.

UPDATE: Tony Badran emailed me a link to a Haaretz article with fresh details. Touring southern Lebanon and meeting with Hezbollah’s regional commander, Finkelstein said: “I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope.” No word yet on whether Finkelstein is going to pose for photos manning a Katyusha rocket launcher…

Norman Finkelstein, freshly liberated from the humdrum of academic life by way of being denied tenure at De Paul University, has taken his hate-Israel routine on the road. He has gone to Lebanon to give lectures and to “hold two workshops in Palestinian refugee camps.”

At a press conference on Friday — Finkelstein must surely savor having the kind of attention lavished on him in Lebanon that few can be bothered to provide in America — he channeled Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, in describing the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war:

However, it is also true to say that the Lebanese resistance inflicted a historic and well-deserved military defeat on the invading foreign army and its chief supporter.

He continued:

It should also be mentioned that after the war the US-based organization Human Rights Watch whitewashed Israeli war crimes and made false accusations against Hizballah. This cowardly and mercenary act deserves contempt.

Ah yes, Human Rights Watch, that steely defender of the Jewish state.

It’s probably impossible to put Finkelstein’s swindles and perversions (to borrow an Orwell phrase) into a ratings system, and I am by no means a person who wastes much time following the man’s deluded utterances. But here he has clearly sunk to a new low: He openly sympathizes with Hizballah, a group which seeks the genocide of the Jewish people; he openly wishes for Israel’s military defeat at the hands of an enemy whose primary ambition is the state’s annihilation; and he does all of this while hiding behind the fig leaf of his own Jewishness so as to deflect the charge that he is an anti-Semite.

It is normal to say that Finkelstein’s are the views of a self-hating Jew. But by all appearances, the man does not hate himself, and in fact views his role as that of a hero — a brave truth-teller fighting against the imperial forces of Zionism and Americanism. Finkelstein is a hustler and a coward because he trades off his Jewishness to lend credibility to starkly anti-Jewish rhetoric. It’s time we stopped calling Finkelstein a self-hating Jew and started calling him what he actually is: an anti-Semite.

UPDATE: Tony Badran emailed me a link to a Haaretz article with fresh details. Touring southern Lebanon and meeting with Hezbollah’s regional commander, Finkelstein said: “I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope.” No word yet on whether Finkelstein is going to pose for photos manning a Katyusha rocket launcher…

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Jihad Comes to Facebook

An intrepid operative over at The Jawa Report has posted a revelatory survey of jihadists and jihad sympathizers who’ve established “groups” on the social networking site Facebook.com.

Groups like 14 Shabat, Muslim Brotherhood, and even some al Qaeda wannabes are featured. . .

Other groups are more general, such as “Resistance Movement Supporters,” where group members are greeted with pictures [sic] Hamas leaders.

A group of Islamist hackers calling themselves “Islamic Force” has only a few members, but many other less specialized groups have memberships numbering in the hundreds.

Group pages offer a selection of boilerplate anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda, complete with videos depicting alleged “atrocities” enacted upon Lebanese, Palestinians, and so on.

The preponderance of Western supporters is arresting. At one pro-Hizballah group page, a commentator left this heart-warming observation (both tellingly un-capitalized and capitalized):

im christian english but all I can say is, my heart my soul and my love are behind you. fight for your freedom because no one else will. I pray God and Allah will destroy your enemies.

Read More

An intrepid operative over at The Jawa Report has posted a revelatory survey of jihadists and jihad sympathizers who’ve established “groups” on the social networking site Facebook.com.

Groups like 14 Shabat, Muslim Brotherhood, and even some al Qaeda wannabes are featured. . .

Other groups are more general, such as “Resistance Movement Supporters,” where group members are greeted with pictures [sic] Hamas leaders.

A group of Islamist hackers calling themselves “Islamic Force” has only a few members, but many other less specialized groups have memberships numbering in the hundreds.

Group pages offer a selection of boilerplate anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda, complete with videos depicting alleged “atrocities” enacted upon Lebanese, Palestinians, and so on.

The preponderance of Western supporters is arresting. At one pro-Hizballah group page, a commentator left this heart-warming observation (both tellingly un-capitalized and capitalized):

im christian english but all I can say is, my heart my soul and my love are behind you. fight for your freedom because no one else will. I pray God and Allah will destroy your enemies.

The administrator of the group “Support Our Troops!” hails from the University of Arizona; its 128 members come from Texas, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York. The troops in this case, however, are not American—they are the terrorists and insurgents of Iraq and Afghanistan.

There’s an additional noteworthy point about these Facebook pages: no faces. The groups’ organizers tend to hide behind Palestinian flags or portraits of terrorists like Hassan Nasrallah. There’s something particularly noxious about the marriage of extremism and the Internet. The absence of regulation, the medium’s ubiquity, and the impressionable nature of the Internet’s demography make for a perfect storm. On the bright side, such flagrant PR and recruitment methods make these groups easy to track.

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ANNAPOLIS: There Has to Be Something to It, Right?

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

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