July 16, 2006


Harper set to back Bush in G-8 Mideast debate (LES WHITTINGTON, 7/16/06, Toronto Star)

Bush is pressing for G-8 leaders to adopt a joint declaration laying the blame for the crisis directly on Hezbollah, as well as the militant Islamic group's allies in Iran and Syria and the Palestinian group Hamas.

But most other leaders here differ with Bush. While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, they argue that the Jewish state's military onslaught in Lebanon in the past few days was an overreaction that is feeding the spiral of violence.

French President Jacques Chirac has sharply criticized Israel for what he said was an unbalanced response to the cross-border raid into Israel on Wednesday by Lebanese-based Hezbollah fighters who captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others.

Italian Premier Romano Prodi described Israel's military actions in the past few days as "disproportionate." Prodi called for all sides in the conflict to forsake violence.

Harper appears to be the only G-8 leader besides Bush who has singled out Islamic militants for blame in the latest outbreak of Middle East fighting.

Koizumi and Blair may be worried about domestic opinion, but won't likely oppose us openly. The others aren't allies.

Inside the Mind of Hezbollah (Robin Wright, July 16, 2006, Washington Post)

Nasrallah is a man of God, gun and government, a cross between Ayatollah Khomeini and Che Guevera, an Islamic populist as well as a charismatic guerrilla tactician. The black head wrap -- signifying his descent from the prophet Muhammad -- is now his trademark, and he is Lebanon's best known politician. Lines from his speeches are popular ring tones on cellphones. His face is a common computer screensaver. Wall posters, key rings and even phone cards bear his image. Taxis play his speeches instead of music.

At 46, Nasrallah is also the most controversial leader in the Arab world, at the center of the most vicious new confrontation between Israel and its neighbors in a quarter-century. Yet he is not the prototypical militant. His career has straddled the complex line between Islamic extremist and secular politician. "He is the shrewdest leader in the Arab world," Israeli Ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon told me on Friday, "and the most dangerous."

Until this eruption of violence along the Lebanese border -- the most dramatic cross-border acts of war by Israel since its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 -- Nasrallah had largely succeeded in being both. A fiery populist, he extolled the virtues of democracy to me in one breath, then argued that only suicide bombers can secure that democracy. "As long as there are fighters who are ready for martyrdom, this country will remain safe," he bragged in a speech earlier this year. But now the man who helped create Hezbollah may finally have to make a choice.

When we met in his office, before this new battle with Israel, Nasrallah claimed to see peaceful political activism as Hezbollah's future.

"We have ministers, we have members of parliament, we have municipal council members, leaders of unions and syndicates," he boasted as we sat on faux French brocade furniture at his now-bombed headquarters. "If we are maintaining our arms until now, this is due to the fact that the need for it is still there, due to the permanent or constant Israeli threats against Lebanon. Whether we keep on with the resistance or stop the resistance, we are effectively now a full-fledged political party." [...]

Hezbollah has become an enterprise in the dahiya, often outperforming the state. It runs a major hospital as well as schools, discount pharmacies, groceries and an orphanage. It runs a garbage service and a reconstruction program for homes damaged during Israel's invasion. It supports families of the young men it sent off to their deaths. Altogether, it benefits an estimated 250,000 Lebanese and is the country's second-largest employer.

In the dahiya, Nasrallah is an icon, famed for his oratory and revered as a champion of Lebanon's long-dispossessed Shiite minority. [...]

[H]ezbollah's shifts under Nasrallah should not be mistaken for moderation. As with other Islamist groups in the Middle East, change was about survival of both cause and constituents. The end of Lebanon's 15-year civil war in 1990 had altered the environment. From then on, Hezbollah needed to participate in the political system -- or face loss of the weapons that gave it power.

Today, Hezbollah holds 14 seats in parliament, one of the larger blocs, and in 2005 joined the government for the first time. This year, Nasrallah even made an unlikely alliance with a right-wing Christian who was once a Lebanese army general -- while still accepting what U.S. intelligence has pegged at about $100 million annually from Iran in goods, cash and arms, including an estimated 13,000 rockets and missiles.

For six years, Hezbollah also demonstrated some military restraint. When Israel ended its 18-year occupation of Lebanon in 2000, Nasrallah declared, "We have liberated the south. Next we'll liberate Jerusalem." Yet until last week, Hezbollah's increasingly infrequent offensives were largely limited to the disputed border town at Shebaa Farms.

But the transition is far from complete; Nasrallah still wants it both ways.

Hezbollah at a critical juncture: Conflict puts volatile movement's future up in the air. By Andrew Mills, Jul. 16, 2006. Toronto Star)
Most of the Christian and Sunni Muslim minority communities, which command a disproportionate control of Lebanon's political scene and its wealth, have never been fans of Hezbollah, which is funded by and tied to both Iran and Syria.

Recently, those communities had lined up behind the government's attempts to convince Hezbollah to set aside its weapons and hand over control of the Israeli border to the Lebanese army, which would bring the country into compliance with a crucial UN resolution most Western governments have been urging Beirut to address.

The government's efforts to disarm Hezbollah have not been going well. The central authority of the fractious coalition government has been too weak to strong-arm the group into giving up its weapons. And Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has insisted that Hezbollah must maintain its weapons to protect Lebanon from Israeli aggression.

This has unfolded at a time when Hezbollah's political clout is stronger than it has ever been. The group has its first member of the cabinet, making it a member of the governing coalition. What's more, most Shiite Muslims, who have long been Lebanon's most impoverished and marginalized sect, have started to look to Hezbollah as their first real representative that comes to the political table with significant clout.

"For the first time, they have been forming the Shiite identity and they are not willing to lose it," said Naoum.

"So if you want to disarm Hezbollah, you have to fight the Shiite community. In Lebanon, that means civil war."

Some experts believe Nasrallah's unilateral declaration of all-out war on Israel Friday evening has dragged the entire country unwillingly into conflict with its powerful neighbour. The fear is that the backlash against Hezbollah will only deepen the already-deep sectarian divide. [...]

But since the Israeli attacks have begun to target the infrastructure used by all Lebanese — and not exclusively Hezbollah — Timur Goksel, a former senior UN official and now a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, has noticed growing support for the militants.

"I think if the Israelis continue hitting non-military targets like they're hitting now ... there is a reason to line up behind Hezbollah," he said. "If the Israelis continue like this, they might be actually encouraging the people to unite behind Hezbollah."

Israel hasn't adjusted to the fact that the Shi'ites will be the dominant political force in Lebanon, which makes such attacks counterproductive. They should instead use this as a pretext for regime change in Syria, which sponsors terrorism in order to deflect attention from its own failings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 16, 2006 7:22 AM

"French President Jacques Chirac has sharply criticized Israel for what he said was an unbalanced response to the cross-border raid into Israel" Israel should have learned from Vichy France to virtually invite the Nazis in without much of a fight. Fighting is futile, Israel should premptively surrender.

Posted by: ic at July 16, 2006 5:06 PM

Nasrallah wants Jerusalem? Tell him to go to Worldnetdaily and see what the Moslem Joseph Farah has to say. He probably won't like it, because Jerusalem is not "holy" to the Moslems.

Posted by: Boruch at July 18, 2006 10:46 PM

You can argue it's not as holy, not that it isn't holy:


Posted by: oj at July 18, 2006 10:59 PM