August 3, 2006


Blair: You've misunderstood me over the Middle East (Patrick Wintour and Ewen MacAskill, August 3, 2006, The Guardian)

Tony Blair will face down his critics today over his controversial handling of the Middle East crisis by insisting that he has been working throughout for a ceasefire in Lebanon and that his position has been misunderstood. He will argue at a Downing Street press conference that he wanted a ceasefire, but only if it was coupled with a clear understanding that the Hizbullah militia would be disarmed. [...]

But Mr Blair has being criticised publicly and privately by ministers and senior backbenchers, and has antagonised most members of the EU as well as the United Nations secretariat.

It emerged yesterday that he ignored not only the advice of the Foreign Office but foreign affairs specialists in Downing Street, who argued that the Israeli offensive was counter-productive and favoured a call for an immediate ceasefire. [...]

Mr Blair suffered a blow from an unexpected source yesterday when the UN deputy secretary general, Mark Malloch Brown, urged him to take a back seat, calling his involvement in the negotiations on ending the crisis counter-productive. "It's important to know not just when to lead but when to follow," he said.

The US state department went to Mr Blair's rescue. Sean McCormack, the state department spokesman, said: "We are seeing a troubling pattern of a high official of the UN who seems to be making it his business to criticise member states and, frankly, with misplaced and misguided criticisms."

That Israel's policy is counterproductive is something an ally tells them privately. You don't just demand that they stop. Of course, the problem for Mr. Blair is that the Left and the UN are hostile to Israel generally and don't share his view of Israel as an ally.

Quietly Smiling (NIBRAS KAZIMI, August 3, 2006, NY Sun)

Who knew the Syrians were this clever?

But then again, wits are sharpened when survival instincts kick in. Most people, including Israel's strategists, are busy wondering how Hezbollah's actions three weeks ago complement Iran's grand designs. All along, though, the timing and the scope of the melee were being decided in Damascus. [...]

The jihadists' war on the Shias is the gravest threat facing the Syrian regime, and the general resorted to what amounts to a sure bet in deflecting the challenge: Israel is the touchstone issue by which the Alawites can demonstrate to the Sunnis of Syria and the Middle East that they are on the right side of the big issues that matter. Hating Israel is tantamount to supporting motherhood; the emotional buttons are there to be pressed and one cannot lose by starting a little and containable war with the Israelis. The Alawites sense that the only way they can make sense of their otherness is to don the true and tried mantle of Arab nationalism with its Islamic fundamentalist trimmings, and only then they can slip unnoticed into the howling, clench-fisted masses of the Arab street.

Among Militia's Patient Loyalists, Confidence and Belief in Victory (Anthony Shadid, 8/03/06, Washington Post)
Three weeks into its war with Israel, Hezbollah has retained its presence in southern Lebanon, often the sole authority in devastated towns along the Israeli border. The militia is elusive, with few logistics, little hierarchy and less visibility. Even residents often say they don't know how the militiamen operate or are organized. Communication is by walkie-talkie, always in code, and sometimes messages are delivered by motorcycle. Weapons seem to be already in place across a terrain that fighters say they know intimately.

"On the ground, face to face, we're better fighters than the Israelis," said Hajj Abu Mohammed, a bearded, 44-year-old militiaman in the small village of Srifa, whose walkie-talkie crackled and cellphone rang with a Hezbollah anthem.

Israel has claimed to have destroyed Hezbollah's infrastructure in a 22-day campaign that has driven hundreds of thousands of civilians from their homes and wrecked village after village along valleys sometimes charred by fires.

Hezbollah admits to having suffered losses, but in the fighting so far, it has demonstrated its detailed planning since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation. Fighters appear to exercise a great deal of autonomy, a flexibility evident along the region's back roads: ammunition loaded in cars, trucks in camouflage, rocket launchers tucked in banana plantations.

Analysts say the militia could probably hold out a month without serious resupply. Fighters and supporters suggest that time is their advantage in a war that most suspect won't have a conclusive end. In conversations in southern Lebanon, the militia's supporters seem most adamant in trying to deprive either Israel or the United States of political gains from the military campaign.

"We'll never submit to oppression, whatever the force applied, whatever the time it takes," one of the group gathered in Jwayya said Tuesday. "You won't find any difference between 21 days and 121 days. The difference is solely a matter of time."

The Long-Term Battle: Defining ‘Victory’ Before the World (STEVEN ERLANGER, 8/03/06, NY Times)
For Hezbollah, victory means simply avoiding defeat. It will be perceived by many Muslims to have won by keeping the capacity to fire even short-range rockets into Israel.

Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli negotiator and director of the Reut Institute, a research group, calls it the “90-10 paradox.” Israel can eliminate 90 percent of Hezbollah’s fighting capacity, but Hezbollah can still declare victory and claim that it fought the mighty Israeli Army to a draw.

“At the end of the war, they’ll have a narrative, and so will we,” he said. “It’s all about perception.”

Hezbollah will argue that it withstood three to five weeks of fighting with the region’s most powerful army, supported and equipped by the world’s most powerful army, that of the United States. In that sense, a long war is better for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, will be hailed by many in the Arab and Muslim worlds as heroes and new Saladins, whose religious faith was transmuted into astounding bravery rarely shown by the huge Arab armies of the secular Arab states that fought Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars.

Shlomo Avineri, a former Foreign Ministry official and professor of political science at Hebrew University, said Israel could never prevail in an Arab narrative. “If Israel had won in the first week, Hezbollah would say that it was a victory of the United States, which provided Israel the time, weapons and money.”

Israel’s problem is much more complicated, Mr. Avineri said, because “everything is likely to end in grays.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 3, 2006 8:11 AM

Yes, and the Left and the UN are getting lots of help

Posted by: Peter B at August 3, 2006 8:26 AM

Now that Mel Gibson's movie career seems to be history, maybe he should lobby to be Kofi's replacement. Right attitudes and from the right part of the world.

Posted by: Rick T. at August 3, 2006 8:34 AM

they couldn't stop the Passion could they?

Posted by: oj at August 3, 2006 8:59 AM

That was then. This is now.

Posted by: Rick T. at August 3, 2006 9:42 AM

Rick: Gibson can afford to make and produce his own movies...

Posted by: Bartman at August 3, 2006 9:51 AM

Everything can end in grays, but it HAS to include Nasrallah ending up in the ground...

Posted by: b at August 3, 2006 12:24 PM

If "ending in greys" means all the terrorists are wrapped in bacon and fried in a big bonfire until they are grey ashes, then I concur.

Posted by: erp at August 3, 2006 3:13 PM

Don't forget that in Egypt every year they celebrate the '73 war as a victory. It doesn't matter that their 3rd army was surrounded and that Sharon was a few miles from Cairo. The "world" will snatch yet another Israeli defeat from the jaws of victory. And the Arabs will again be saved to continue their genocidal war against the Jews.

Posted by: morry at August 3, 2006 4:17 PM

1973 was a victory (of sorts) - the Arab armies actually fought. In a sad way, it's all they can celebrate.

Posted by: ratbert at August 3, 2006 7:24 PM

Mel Gibson may be able to finance his own movies, but he still has to get distribution, and that's where he's over the barrel.

While there are a few ways around conventional distribution, the only way to get multicentimillion dollar grosses is through a national theatrical release coupled with national DVD sales and rentals, and hopefully with a cable and satellite deal as well.

One can make a good living by producing and promoting low-budget films directly to consumers, but for Gibson that'd be a major step down.

Posted by: Abner Hathaway at August 4, 2006 2:13 AM

The incident will have no effect on his career.

Posted by: oj at August 4, 2006 8:31 AM