Month: July 2006

Sorry World

YNET News’s Guy Benyovits, on the world’s reaction to what happened at Qana:

The British tie-wearing commentator set at the studio, wearing an expression of well made-up revulsion, while displaying the screaming newspaper headlines. All of Europe is united today, so it seems, in the opinion that all of us – all Israelis – are guilty over what is characterized as “the second Qana massacre.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz have apologized. So did the defense minister, and this even before an investigation was carried out, before the whole truth came to light. Because that’s the way we are.

It is not my place to stand by their side at this time, but with your permission I would like to add a few apologies of my own, the day after the bombing.

Sorry, world. Sorry for again being bad, and barbaric, and pulverizing. Sorry for again realizing your wild anti-Semitic fantasy, to view us as a real thorn in the flesh of the Middle East, not to mention the entire world.

And all this so that next time there’s a bloody terror attack in Spain, Britain, or anywhere else, you can self-righteously sigh and “understand” the motives, because after all the Israelis are at fault for everything.

“It’s not us,” you’ll utter with glee, “it’s them.” They were the ones who actually also sent the Americans to Iraq, no? They have some group there of the Elders of Zion, which rules the world. We read it somewhere.

Read the whole thing.

Breaking Russia

RFE/RL has an interview with Inna Khodorkovskaya, wife of the imprisoned Russian businessman:

Khodorkovsky is now incarcerated in a prison camp deep in Siberia. Inna is permitted to visit once every three months. But getting there is a major effort in itself: a nine-hour flight, followed by a 15-hour train journey, followed by a 40-minute car ride.

She is allowed to stay with her husband for three days in a prison hostel that some Russian papers suggest borders on the luxurious. In fact, she insists, they share a simple room furnished with a bed, a chair and a cupboard.

Khodorkovskaya finds her husband much changed — a consequence, she says, of the psychological, and sometimes physical pressure he is subjected to.

“They raise the pressure, then they reduce it and then they raise it again. So there’s no straight upward line, they’re just trying to drain him.””They’re trying to break him, nothing more, nothing less,” she says of the prison authorities. “These are methods that have probably long been worked on and refined. I would say that it works on the principle of amplitude. They raise the pressure, then they reduce it and then they raise it again. So there’s no straight upward line, they’re just trying to drain him.”

His biggest difficulty, she says, is the isolation and the mental vacuum caused by his inactivity. But he is finding other ways to fill the gap.

“He reads a lot of religious literature. He’s not a religious fanatic, he’s not completely mad about religion,” she says. “His interest is analytical. He doesn’t push faith away, but he has begun to experience it in a new way. If before he approached the subject from a sort of historical point of view, now he feels closer to it.”

Khodorkovskaya says she has no doubt that her husband is a political prisoner, sentenced to satisfy the ambitions of the men who now rule the Kremlin.

Pictures That Damn

The Australian newspaper Herald Sun has published photographs taken by a journalist and smuggled out of Lebanon by an Australian citizen, which show Hezbollah waging war in the middle of a residential suburban area of Beirut.

The Melbourne man who smuggled the shots out of Beirut and did not wish to be named said he was less than 400m from the block when it was obliterated.

“Hezbollah came in to launch their rockets, then within minutes the area was blasted by Israeli jets,” he said.

“Until the Hezbollah fighters arrived, it had not been touched by the Israelis. Then it was totally devastated.

“It was carnage. Two innocent people died in that incident, but it was so lucky it was not more.”

Disproportionality

The only thing that is disproportionate – and grotesquely, obscenely so – is the way in which so many in Britain and the west are determined to prevent Israel from defending itself against this terrible threat. And in doing so they fail to see that how gravely it threatens themselves, too. If Israel loses this fight against Iran’s proxy, those western imbeciles will have handed Iran and Islamist fascism a stunning victory against the entire free world. Every poisonous distortion in the British media brings that dreadful outcome one step nearer.

Melanie Phillips, on the media campaign against Israel.

Softly, Softly

The Kremlin has kept a rather low profile during the last few weeks of tension in the Middle East. In EDM, Pavel K. Baev examines Moscow’s position, and sees it as an extension of Russia’s traditional Middle East policy, which is now once again, as during the Cold War, evolving into a game of posing as “mediator”, while in reality aiming to sidestep and weaken the power of the United States. This time, however, Baev believes, Moscow plans to play big, taking advantage of U.S. weakness in Iraq, and striking out with an independent Middle East policy of its own:

Three weeks after the eruption of hostilities in Lebanon, Russia has remained uncharacteristically cautious and reserved. President Vladimir Putin took a very active stance in the debates on the conflict at the July 15-17 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg and claimed credit for “softening” the joint statement in such a way that Syria was not mentioned, which prompted a few acrimonious “off-the-record” comments by U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair (Vremya novostei, July 18). A central point in Putin’s message was that the G-8 should not try to allocate blame or advance an initiative, because management of this conflict properly belongs with the UN Security Council. In the Security Council, however, Russia assumed a rather low profile giving ample chance for the United States to fall into the usual trap of having to veto a resolution condemning Israeli actions and then leaving it to France to outrun Washington in proposing a draft resolution on the plan for resolving the crisis (Lenta.ru, July 30).

The coverage of the ongoing combat operations in the Russian media has remained remarkably balanced, so that interviews with outspoken Israeli Ambassador to Russia Arkady Milman appear as often as rather graphic reporting from Beirut (Izvestiya, Moskovskie novosti, July 28). Demonstrations in Moscow were of such miniscule scale that only the Iranian press agency noticed them (IRNA, July 21). The official line has been formulated in particularly diplomatic words, and, when holding a meeting with Saud Al-Faisal, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Putin chose to emphasize, “The state of Israel has the right to and should live in security.” These words were interpreted in Israel, perhaps optimistically, as “a strong message of friendship” (Jerusalem Post, July 27). What was certainly more significant in this context was the publication by the FSB of Russia’s list of 17 terrorist organizations; the omission of Hamas and Hezbollah was explained by the lack of any threats to Russia’s security on their part (Rossiiskaya gazeta, July 28).

Such a position invites accusations of applying “double standards” and being egoistically selective in the global war against terrorism (see EDM, July 20). Moscow shrugs off such “insinuations” without even bothering to refer to selfish motives in the contributions of other partners in the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition. There is more to this self-confidence than just the gradually accumulated knowledge that politics is not only the art of possible, but also the science of applying the right standards to different conflicts. It is based on the newly arrived certainty that Russia’s own long and painful war with terror has been finally brought to a decisive victory with the death of Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev (Expert, July 17). There is still the unresolved business with the extradition of Akhmed Zakaev from the U.K., but it is more about tidying up the last loose ends of the irritating problem (Gazeta.ru, July 26).

Moscow’s self-confidence is also supported by the assessment of the conflict dynamics in the Middle East that suggest a very probable strengthening of its quietly advanced position in a matter of a few weeks. This position is by no means moral but entirely pragmatic: No international framework for Lebanon could be negotiated without involving Syria; no agreement with the government of Lebanon could be implemented if Hezbollah is not a part of it; no stable arrangement for Gaza could be hammered out against the resistance of Hamas. The Kremlin calculates that it would take a few weeks for Israel to recognize that the spectacular devastation of Southern Lebanon could not significantly weaken the military capabilities and political influence of Hezbollah, much the same way as the full-blown invasion in 1982 did not bring about the destruction of the PLO. Meanwhile, the outrage in the Arab states and the indignation in Europe about the scale of the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe would predictably reach such levels that a ceasefire becomes imperative whatever reservations Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might state. That is why Moscow was not in the least upset by the failure of the Rome conference last week, where Syria was not represented, expecting that the forum would be reconvened when Washington is forced to swallow its objections against sitting at one table with a representative from Damascus

These assessments go significantly further than just reserving for itself a role of mediator who is on speaking terms with all parties to the conflict and can “sell” them the plan developed by “great powers.” Back in July 2000, Putin arrived at the G-8 summit in Okinawa full of enthusiasm after visiting Pyongyang and announced that he had secured a nuclear deal with North Korea, which in a few days fell apart as a “misunderstanding.” After the unquestionable triumph at this year’ G-8 summit, Putin does not want to be a messenger of any kind; the ambition now is for playing a major and independent role in the Middle East. As Dmitri Trenin pointed out, this claim is underpinned by the conclusion that the flawed U.S. intervention in Iraq has already failed and the inevitable retreat would deeply undermine Western influence across the region (Polit.ru, July 27). The present-day military overstretch reduces NATO’s ability to deploy a meaningful peacekeeping force in Lebanon, while Russia, facing only limited residual tasks in Chechnya, could usefully contribute a couple of battalions and not worry much about putting the troops in harm’s way.

It is quite clear that these ambitions are not limited to advancing narrowly defined “national interests”; for that matter, the value of arms that Russia sells to Syria is pitifully low compared with exports to China or even the new deals signed with Venezuela. Fundamentally, Russia’s interests in the Middle East are focused on keeping oil prices as high as possible, and the deepening disaster in Iraq is taking care of that. Putin now wants to experience the thrill of a big political game where he does not even need to play against the United States, but could take advantage of its every misstep.

Ceasefire

There will not be a full ceasefire until the proposed UN stabilization force is in place. Of the 48-hour suspension of air activity, Stratfor notes that

This does not halt ground operations. The end of air attacks is subject to Israel’s interpretation of Hezbollah’s actions. It is not clear at this moment that this is as significant as it might appear. It depends partly on Hezbollah’s actions and partly on Israel’s intentions. Forces that we think are moving forward are exempt from this cease-fire, and may or may not have to move without air support.

Qana – II

The latest Stratfor special report on the Lebanon conflict considers that a major shift appears to be taking part in the war. It points to an engagement in wider and more intense ground operations, and the report speculates that Israeli forces may soon go beyond southern Lebanon. In particular, the report focuses on Qana:

There are reports of new areas involved in fighting and new Israeli units being engaged. For example, Israeli forces are now fighting in the area of Qana. This is a few miles southeast of Tyre and deep into southern Lebanon. We have heard that the Qana action consists of engineers, armor and infantry, indicating a more traditional combined arms effort. The engineers would be clearing mines, bulldozing fortifications and clearing roads damaged by Israeli airstrikes. Infantry would be clearing the area of anti-tank teams and opening the way for broader armored thrusts to destroy rear infrastructure and isolate forward Hezbollah positions. There are additional reports of engagements near and to the west of the Israeli panhandle in the Dan-Dafna-Metulla region, along with heavy artillery fire in this region. This would be the jump-off point for an attack both westward along the Litani and northward into the Bekaa Valley. There were extensive reports of a major armored buildup in this area over the past 48 hours. This would also explain the decision to disengage temporarily at Bent Jbail in preparation for the new phase of operations.

The information available to Stratfor says that the attacking force at Qana is from the IDF’s Nahal Division, which is apparently involved in a westward movement which would take it through the village of Taibe – a critical location, and one that would be needed for any move north into the Bekaa Valley.