Monday, August 28, 2006

Impressions from Syria

There is a fascinating article in Ha'aretz by Danny Rubinstein, based primarily on reports from Martin Schellenberg, a young German historian who visited Syria during the war. Our own man in Damascus, whom I ran into today here in Berkeley, is back safe and sound and we are waiting to hear whether his impressions match these (among others):
In the days that followed, [Schellenberg] also did not see anyone paying any special attention to the war. While he did see new Hezbollah flags and numerous pictures of Nasrallah, he did not encounter organized or popular rallies in support of the movement, or any signs that the Syrian people were preparing for war. In one or two places he saw signs reading, "We identify with our people holding fast in Lebanon," and two or three times, following dramatic events such as the first missile strikes in Haifa, he saw young people driving, honking their horns and leaning halfway out the car windows, waving Hezbollah flags.

Nasrallah's Mea Culpa

"Sorry guys, I screwed up."

As you have probably all heard by now, Nasrallah recently apologized for being an idiot and having his organization kidnap two IDF reservists in a cross-border raid. This is Nasrallah sounding contrite instead of smug and self-righteous:
I want to be clear in my response, and I hope that people are listening to me now. We did not think even one per cent that the capture of the two Israelis would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude, and if someone asked me why we didn't consider this one per cent, I would say that since 1982 and our relationships with the Israelis and the experience of our resistance with Israel, the operation wouldn't lead to such a result (ABC).
Who knows what kind of game the Hizbullah head is playing here. It looks like he has realized that it is important to at least pay lip service to the idea that he has some kind of responsibility for all of Lebanon's citizens. Furthermore, he seems to be acknowledging some culpability in what transpired. Of course, he pleads ignorance, but like it or not, Nasrallah has admitted that if it hadn't been for Hizbullah's wonderful kidnapping mission, all those Lebanese houses would still be standing today.

Given this admission by Nasrallah, it seems that a "disproportionate" response really was needed to deter Hizbullah.

Dumb UNIFIL, Clever Gorillas


There was an interesting report on Israel's Channel 2 Television News last night. In the report, an embedded Israeli journalist accompanied an IDF reconnaissance unit across the border into Lebanon. The troops did not encounter any resistance or Hizbullah fighters. Their mission was to destroy an elaborate Hizbullah tunnel that had been located earlier. Before mining the tunnel and blowing it up, the troops gave the reporter a tour. The footage I saw showed a very sophisticated tunnel with a ventilation system, concrete-lined walls, provisions, explosives and ammunition. The commander of the unit remarked, with more than a hint of sarcasm, that is was "amazing what can be achieved in six years" (the time that has passed since the Israeli withdrawal). The reporter followed the soldiers, who were under pressure to finish their mission soon because of the fear of mines or an attack by Hizbullah, through the tunnel and to another exit. As they emerged from the other exit, the cameraman panned the surrounding area. Looming no more than 100 metres behind the tunnel exit was a tall, white UNIFIL observation post.

Can one blame Israelis for being suspicious of UNIFIL and for not trusting the European troops that are now being deployed in Lebanon? This was the same force that stood idly by and looked on as Hizbullah prepared to kidnap IDF soldiers in 2000 and then ambushed them. As of now, there is no reason to believe that the Franco-Italian led force will be any more effective. They don't even have clearly defined goals and it is clear that the French and Italian leaders lack the political will to involve their forces in more dangerous missions that might bring them into confrontation with Hizbullah.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lebanese Gorillas Found Underground

"Hizbullah Gorilla" or Innocent Civilian?

The English-language edition of Ha'aretz reports that the IDF has uncovered a network of tunnels and arms depots used by Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. According to Ha'aretz, military intelligence revealed that
The tunnels had housed Hezbollah Gorillas [sic] and had been used to launch attacks against IDF forces.

Friday, August 25, 2006

What Israel Doesn't Need

Aron U. Raskas, claiming to speak for American Jewry, has prepared a disastrous recipe for Israel. It all sounds rather innocuous:
The Israeli people must establish leadership with the fortitude and will to stand up for their principles and to lead those who look to them for guidance. They must preserve Israel's strengths and unabashedly pursue its historic rights.
But the "principles" that Raskas wants Israel to defend include retaining control over the West Bank...forever! Not a word about what this actually entails for most of the people living there. But I guess those of us who advocate a withdrawal from the West Bank, similar to the one carried out from Gaza, do not really count. At least Raskas claims that
Since June 1967, there has been rigorous debate about the wisdom of retaining the territories that came into Israel's hands in the Six-Day War. Yet, almost no individual with a whit of appreciation for Jewish history would deny the essential right of the Jewish people to return and repopulate these territories that already millennia ago served as the cradle of the Jewish people.
To argue that his lunatic vision represents the aspirations of American Jews is an unbelievable lie. It is also incredibly out of touch with the reality on the ground in Israel and the West Bank.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Contra Appeasement

Barry Rubin has an interesting piece on "the new era" in the Middle East, which he sees, perhaps in line with Marx's famous dictum, as Nasserism in a new guise. The popular support generated throughout the Arab world by such figures as Osama bin Laden and now Hassan Nasrallah certainly invites such a comparison. Rubin's main claim is that
After the war in Lebanon, the Middle East entered a new era, which was already on the way for a half-dozen years and in which radical Islamism sets the ideological and political agenda. It marks the end of hope for peace or democracy.
This trend, Rubin argues, goes back to the Palestinian leadership's rejection of the Barak offer (whether you think it was generous or not). A consensus has emerged that Israel and the West are weak, and that now a
violent struggle in pursuit of total victory rather than pragmatism, democracy, compromise, and economic construction
can cure all the problems afflicting the Arabs and the Muslim world more generally.

For Rubin, appeasing this new "resistance axis," is the biggest mistake that that West could make (and is making):
If only Iran, Syria, or Hizballah is offered concessions, [those who favor appeasement] argue, the threat will go away. This view actually feeds the problem. The radicals have far-reaching goals (including genocide in Israel) and powerful ideologies that make them not so eager to make any deal.
It is often argued that Israeli actions weaken moderate forces. Thus, the bombing of Beirut rallied the entire Lebanese population to fight Israel and to support Hizbullah. Likewise, many argue that Israel's actions in the territories incite Arabs in Egypt and Jordan against the West and democracy. But few of these critics consider the effects of appeasement on local pro-democracy forces who see the incitement against Israel for what it is. Appeasement bolsters the most intransigent and fundamentalis forces, because
they [the extremists] think they are winning. Western efforts to achieve understandings are consistently viewed as weakness inviting escalation. This is clear in any reading of the radical leaders' speeches. Why should Arab governments, reformers, or Lebanese factions oppose the extremists if they believe--correctly in general--that the West will not help them?
Apologies for not writing earlier. Temporary time pressures conspired against us, and someone on Kishkushim got married this week (it wasn't me).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

al-Manar vs. Israel's Channel 2

One of the more popular characters on Israel's satirical show "Eretz Nehederet"

I spent part of last week in the Arab village of Kofer Musmus, located near Umm al-Fahm, the second largest Arab town in Israel. During my stay there, I had the chance to get a good look at the Hizbullah TV news station, al-Manar, courtesty of my host's satellite dish. The broadcasts were quite professional, something that has already been noted by a number of Israeli and other commentators. Some of the station’s broadcasts certainly have the veneer of credible journalism. There is plenty of commentary and analysis, uninterrupted by commercials or the visual diversions that we’ve come to associate with television. I don’t know if what I saw was representative of their regular programming, but al-Manar’s editors don’t seem overly concerned about scaring off viewers with short attention spans. I was also impressed by their translations of broadcasts from Israeli television which always include Arabic subtitles. However, one only needs to watch the station’s broadcasts for several hours to realize that it’s an incredibly crude propaganda outlet hiding behind the veneer of a respectable news station. In one “news” clip of Olmert addressing the Israeli public, the Prime Minister suddenly morphed into Hitler, complete with a swastika armband and a moustache. This was not some satirical show but a serious news show with some creative AV editors. Instead of commercials, al-Manar runs stirring clips of Hizbullah fighters chanting war songs and engaged in combat with corny battle music playing in the background and captions celebrating the “victory” over Israel. Watching al-Manar pretty much affirmed to me what I’ve been telling critics of the war all along. People in the Arab world are attracted to Hizbullah, because they view it as a winner and because they are attracted by its displays of “heroism”. I think it’s quite similar to the support that Gamal ‘abd al-Nasir attracted in his days.

Visiting Carmia in Haifa, I got the chance to watch Israeli television over the weekend. I don’t have a TV at home for various reasons, so I used this chance to get my dose of news. Anyone who accuses Israeli television of being a propaganda outlet (and there were many who did so during the war) doesn’t know what they are talking about. One trend that I saw on all the major channels (Channel 1, Channel 2 and Channel 10) was the use of live footage shot by soldiers on reserve duty. A lot of this footage was quite genuine – there was one short “film” shot by a reservist about his experience in the war: boredom, contradictory orders, and a lot of wisecracks. Another news segment focussed on the home front and about different people who went out to feed or retrieve abandoned pets or who baked pizzas for returning soldiers. Meanwhile, just as they did at the beginning of the war, different Israeli satirical programs were busy lampooning Israel’s leaders. In one show, two child-like grown-up’s held up stickers (one in blue, one in yellow) declaring “We won” and “No, we did”. I did not get to see Eretz Nehederet, Israel’s leading Friday-night satirical show, but I recall that they had a field day lampooning everyone, from over-patriotic reporters and Israelis trying to get on TV by posing as bombing victims to Nasrallah, the IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and IDF spokesperson Miri Regev. In one awesome segment, the stand-in character “Margol”, who is played by a male actor, but who represents the well-known Israeli (Yemenite) singer Margalit Tzan‘ani, is presented as the IDF’s new secret weapon for winning the war against Hizbullah.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Repairing the Damage

There haven't been any more sirens or missiles since Monday morning.

The focus in the north is now on repairing the damage. One of the apartments we looked at today on our apartment hunt was located within a block between two buildings (one of which can be seen below) that had been hit by a missile.

The force of the missiles, which fell both north and south of the apartment, had broken all of its windows. But the landlord was already busy making repairs (he will receive compensation for the damage and must submit receipts). We're not taking the apartment.

But the damage obviously isn't limited to private property. The post office below also suffered a direct hit. The yellow signs warn, roughly, "Danger - Collapse - Entry Prohibited," and a makeshift fence has been erected to make sure the instructions are followed.

The same can be seen at this site, a building that used to house an Arabic-language newspaper. Three people were killed in that day's attack.

Thank G-d that the nearest missile to my apartment landed a good 200 metres away and not any closer.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Anti-Israel Sentiment in Turkey

This photograph taken by an Israeli visitor in Alanya, Turkey has been circulating in Europe, the US, and Israel. Anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment has been building up in Turkey especially in the past decade. Although the country is now regarded as one of Israel's staunchest allies, and ties continue to exist in the military sector, it seems to me that many American and Jewish observers are in profound denial. Antisemitism and fierce criticism of Israel have been gaining ground among ordinary Turks. Even if Turkey is not going fundamentalist, many Turks are increasingly emphasizing the Muslim component of their identity. Although they might oppose the veil, they see themselves as part of the Muslim world. The Iraq war was one of the earlier warning signs of this. Turkey was the site of huge protests against the American invasion, and the government too refused to allow the US to mount part of the invasion from the country. What happens in Turkey might also determine what transpires in a country that many are pitching as a strategic ally (for Israel and the US) in the Caucasus - Azerbaijan, which has been supported by Turkey, especially in the former's conflict with Armenia. Azerbaijan is currently run by a corrupt despot who has cultivated ties with Israel, and the US, while carefully hedging his bets and keeping the other options open (including Iran). He, too, of course, is not immune to public opinion. So far, he has resorted mostly to inflammatory rhetoric about the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute combined with widespread anti-Armenian myths and stereotypes to appeal to popular sentiment. But it's a small step from Armenians to Jews. See coverage of anti-Israel protests in Azerbaijan.

Thanks to Carmia for passing on the photograph.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Joe the Jew

Joe is not playing. While the victorious Ned Lamont skirted off to Maine on the heels of his upset of incumbent Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic Senate primary, Lieberman has shown the nation -- and prominent Democrats who've turned their back on him -- that he's not going away. First we heard Lieberman's bold claim in the days following his defeat: the implementation of his opponent's position on Iraq would "be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England...It will strengthen them, and they will strike again."

Now comes yet more proof that the man who was seen cheek-to-cheek with the President after the last State of the Union is just as hardnosed as his hawkish friendships with men like Donald Rumsfeld would suggest. Here's the new Jewish angle to Joe's take-no-prisoners approach to holding his seat. Talkingpointsmemo posted this ad from the Republican Jewish Coalition, which has appeared in Jewish weeklies from St. Louis and D.C.:

It sounds as if Ned Lamont has actually been saying the "right" things about Israel, so you might wonder how much traction the Lieberman campaign can get from this. But since polls consistently show that Republicans are more staunchly supportive of Israel than Democrats, Lieberman and his supporters, who only need to pick off a certain portion of the Republican electorate for the "Independent Democrat" to win, are perhaps not unwisely pandering.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

John featured on BBC Arabic Radio

You can download a short clip of John being interviewed on BBC Arabic (in Arabic) here. For some reason, the streaming audio plays really fast, but it's fine if you download it. The segment on Lebanese and Israeli blogs, which was aired on August 13 after an interview with MK Azmi Bishara, even features short bits of Israeli music - listen at 1'06". John can be heard between 2'21" and 2'44". Enjoy.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Writing About the War

A soldier gives an abandoned dog water from his
bottle (one of several amazing photographs taken by Lisa)

Lisa Goldman of On the Face has put up the best-written piece about the war ("Welcome to the shooting gallery") that I have seen until now. It is an account of her stay in the North over the last week before the cease fire and includes a number of stunning photographs.

Israel Should Be Wiped Off My Blog

He didn't lunch with Rep. Pete Stark at Thai Satay in San Leandro, CA, this weekend, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has launched his own blog, and it's translated into English, French, and Arabic. Make sure you click on the appropriate language icon in the top right corner of the page. However, at the time of this post, the French version wasn't up. For those of you who know Jennie, she'll be bidding for the contract.

I promise a more thorough review of Ahmadinejad's site, but for now, suffice it to say that this blog ain't bad. The top man in Iran has an RSS feed and a poll ("Do you think that the US and Israeli intention and goal by attacking Lebanon is pulling the trigger for another word war [sic]?").

Ahmadinejad invites his readers to post comments -- and this, from a country that is known to take the gloves off when it deals with bloggers. Though I've boldly and uniquely set forth my birth name on Kishkushim, I'm giving some serious thought as to what my nickname is going to be on homeboy's site.

Seymour Hersh Strikes Again

Seymour Hersh, Probably Chatting with Unnamed Sources

In his latest piece in the New Yorker, "Watching Lebanon: Washington’s interests in Israel’s war," Seymour Hersh does his best to lull us into believing that he is merely a responsible investigative journalist. The article includes plenty of quotations from White House and Israeli sources, but the author’s thesis is clear: the US and Israel colluded to attack Hizbullah/Lebanon in order to conduct a test run of an upcoming strike against Iran.

Hersh’s thesis is buried in paragraph five behind an opaque screen of pseudo-authority:

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”

An unnamed “Middle East expert”? Who might this mysterious person be besides another incarnation of Hersh himself? And what does it mean to have knowledge of current American and Israeli “thinking”? Is that kind of like a sixth sense that gives you the ability to intuit people's real motives? It all sounds more like something one would read on DebkaFile (no offense intended to them) than in the New Yorker.

Although the expert’s judgment is preceded by a number of opinions disputing his claims of a premeditated attack hatched out by Big and Little Satan, it is clear that Hersh is betting on this horse. Thankfully, he does not go so far as to endorse the claims by various other conspiracy theorists that Israel started the war to annex Lebanese territory.

A bit later in Hersh’s article we read the following paragraphs in quick succession:

Uzi Arad, who served for more than two decades in the Mossad, told me that to the best of his knowledge the contacts between the Israeli and U.S. governments were routine, and that, "in all my meetings and conversations with government officials, never once did I hear anyone refer to prior coördination with the United States." He was troubled by one issue - the speed with which the Olmert government went to war. "For the life of me, I've never seen a decision to go to war taken so speedily," he said. "We usually go through long analyses."

Arad, like all of the Israeli intelligence and military sources whom Hersh cites by name, give the lie to his claims. But Hersh presents his sources either as unwitting fools or clever co-conspirators. Here, the author picks out a critique of the political leadership by Arad, that the decision to go to war was made too quickly, in order to insinuate something far more sinister than a mere reading of the facts would suggest. The great speed with which Israel launched its retaliatory operation, Hersh implies, can be explained by its previously orchestrated plot to attack Hizbullah and Lebanon.

In the next paragraph, Hersh reinforces his dubious claims that America and Israel designed the war a long time ago as an experiment that would model an attack on Iran:

The key military planner was Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the I.D.F. chief of staff, who, during a career in the Israeli Air Force, worked on contingency planning for an air war with Iran. Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem, and Peretz, a former labor leader, could not match his experience and expertise.

He is, of course, really pushing it. According to Hersh, Halutz, the Iran specialist, ran the war, turning the civilians Olmert and Peretz into his tools. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, there were plans to attack – the types of plans that all militaries prepare, especially ones faced with Hizbullah on the other side of their fence. But this was not a war run by the military! Olmert and Peretz went to war so quickly not because of an existing “plot” but 1) precisely because they are the quintessential civilians who had both been criticized for their weakness in military matters, and 2) because Israel is a democracy and most of the country’s citizens strongly supported some decisive action against Hizbullah, given that the latter’s attack had come after a withdrawal, the Shalit kidnapping, and a number of other smaller cross-border raids.

Of course, the Iranians never appear in Hersh’s story except as people reacting to nefarious American plans; same goes for Hizbullah vis-à-vis Israel. Nothing about theology and very little about politics.

BBC News rushed to turn Hersh’s story into an article in its own right. The piece ran under the title “US 'knew of Israel bombing plan,'” and its first paragraph reads

Israel and the United States were in close contact about Israel's war on Hezbollah long before it began, a US investigative journalist has claimed.

Are they blogging or reporting?

Props to Big Pharaoh who, as usual, hits the right tone with his spoof of Hersh.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Rep. Pete Stark Up Close

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and his press secretary Yoni Cohen

The other day, N and I had the pleasure of meeting a remarkable individual – Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.). Although I don’t see eye to eye with him on many foreign policy issues, I left our meeting with him, which took place in San Leandro, California with a great deal of respect and appreciation for an endangered species of politician. As N remarked several times on our way back to Berkeley, “they just don’t make them like that anymore.” Our meeting took place at a blogger lunch with Stark organized by his press secretary Yoni Cohen.
Stark previously appeared on Kishkushim in one of N’s entries. Back in July, he opposed a House bill, resolution 921, that he called a “puff piece for Israel,” during our lunch. That resolution, N wrote, was a “slightly more robust” edition of Senate resolution 534, “Condemning Hezbollah and Hamas and their state sponsors and supporting Israel's exercise of its right to self-defense.” At the meeting, N asked the Congressman why he had voted no on this resolution. Stark gave us a very candid though hardly original answer. The representative argued that if America is to have any chance to be an honest broker in the Middle East, “we will blow it if we do puff pieces for Israel.” He described the resolution as “pretty tilted.” I am not sure I agree. The resolution may have been tilted, but in the right direction.
Nevertheless, before people rush to condemn Stark as an Israel-hater, it is worth delving into his specific objections and into the larger legislative context of this resolution. First of all, it should be clear to anyone who talks to Stark for more than 5 minutes that he is not and never has been an enemy of Israel. Stark explained that he was uncomfortable with two particular clauses in the bill. He characterized one of these as “giving Israel huge praise for protecting innocent civilians, something [he] couldn’t buy.” The clause in question appears to be #4:
recognizes Israel's longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and welcomes Israel's continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties
I think this is a little less laudatory than Stark made it out to be. It talks about commitment to minimizing casualties and “continued efforts.”
Stark also thought that the resolution “encourages Israel to take any action it deems appropriate.” Given his own opposition to the Iraq War , he was being consistent when he opposed this language, which Stark believes is neither helpful for the US nor for Israel. Again, however, I think the wording was a little less permissive than Stark suggested. Clause 8
supports Israel's right to take appropriate action to defend itself, including to conduct operations both in Israel and in the territory of nations which pose a threat to it, which is in accordance with international law, including Article 51 of the United Nations Charter;
There’s a difference between “appropriate action” and “any action Israel deems appropriate.”
Again, before people rush to judgment, however, I’d like to draw attention to something I’d call the “legislative context” of the resolution. Stark remarked near the end of his response to N’s query that he “got tired of people ramming this down our throats.” By “this,” he did not mean praise for Israel, but (and I thank N for this insight), the never-ending warnings that we all have to be on side and in line. I think his no vote was not about Israel, but about the antics of the Republican party in Congress at the moment.
We also had a chance to question Stark on AIPAC and the Mearsheimer and Walt controversy. He began by praising the organization, which he ranked as one of the most effective lobby groups after the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). He did not say anything else about AIPAC. Then he referred to, of all people, Noam Chomsky as someone who had debunked the Mearsheimer and Walt study.
I was most impressed by his long fight for Americans’ rights to education and health care (see an article by Stark on the latter). Unlike many other Americans with whom I have talked, who reflexively dismiss the Canadian system (he called this a result of propaganda here), Stark had actually toured Canadian hospitals and had a great deal of praise for Canuck health care. Nevertheless, he emphasized that “socialism will not sneak across the border” and that such a system would not work in the US. Somehow, he also slipped in a reference to the film version of Mordecai Richler’s Joshua Then and Now, “a must-see for anyone who is Canadian and Jewish” (I guess good politicians really do have radars for their audiences).
Stark is obviously blessed with a great deal of stamina both in the House and in the home. The 74-year-old Congressman has been representing his district for 34 years and has no plans to retire. “I am not very good at shuffle board or any of the other things retired people do.” He is also keeping busy raising five-year-old twins and an 11-year-old together with his second wife, while enjoying the נחת (nakhes) of eight grandchildren.


I am half awake, half asleep. I was talking to an old friend last night on the phone, and with the time difference between us, I was up until 4:00 AM. I went to sleep only to be jerked awake at 7:09 AM by the air raid warning siren. I heard at least one missile. It sounded like it hit the Krayot, Haifa's surburbs.
That was confusing because the last news I had heard claimed there would be a cease-fire at 7:00 AM. So much for that. Then again, why am I confused? Yesterday, while talking about a cease-fire, 250 rockets hit Northern Israel. And on Haaretz, I just read that the cease-fire has been pushed back to 8 AM. Why not. Another, extra hour to squeeze in some more alarms.
Back to bed.

Fifteenth Siren

7:44 PM and a siren. It's starting to get dark. Usually there aren't any missiles around this time, but now I'm hearing the booms. Maybe today will be different. Or maybe they'll stop shelling Haifa by 8 PM.

Fourteenth Siren

Another siren follows a few minutes later.

There was a bus parked in front of my apartment. When the previous sirens went off, the bus stopped and the few passengers and the driver went down to the public bomb shelter here. After almost waiting out the mandatory 15 minutes, they're getting back on the bus.

My roommate is okay.

Thirteenth Siren

I have no words.

Twelfth Siren

6:39 PM and the twelfth siren. This is definitely the record. The most sirens I recall in one day is nine. We have absorbed dozens of missile hits today in Haifa today (and over 200 in the region). I haven't been outside the whole day. I planned to go grocery shopping because there's hardly any food in the fridge, but this day has just been too dangerous. The missiles are also more dangerous - they are the 100 km range kind (Barchai?) with more explosive material. I spoke to my boyfriend earlier and two of them dropped by their work place today.

Tenth and Eleventh Siren

6:18 PM and another siren.

It turns out my computer clock was an hour behind, so all my posts are off.

6:28 PM and another siren.

I don't know what's worse, the sound of the siren or of the missiles hitting.

Okay, I've just heard a REALLY loud explosion. After that some car alarms went off. I'm sure it's in my neighbourhood. But I'm not going out to check...

6:33 PM: the ambulances are arriving. I tried to call my roommate who might be on his way home right now, but he doesn't answer. I'm going to keep trying. Our landline was working. Now I'm trying to call him from my cellphone, but the network crashed.

Ninth Siren

4:48 PM and the ninth siren sounds in Haifa.
Is Hezbollah trying to hit us with all they've got before the cease-fire?

No End to Sirens in Haifa

4:30 PM and another siren with a bunch of missiles falling on Haifa.

My evening lesson has just been cancelled. Another work day lost.

I just got off the phone with my friend. He's in the army and has been stationed in the north. He really didn't sound well - he just lost two of his friends and two other guys from the unit. He also doesn't feel very optimistic about this cease-fire for several reasons: Israel will not get the kidnapped soldiers back (Ehud Goldwasser, 31, Eldad Regev, 26, and Gilad Shalit, 19, who has been kidnapped by the Hamas), which triggered this whole crisis; Haifa and other northern cities in Israel are still being hit by missiles; and support of Hezbollah has risen all over the world. Some family friends of ours are also desperately waiting for the return of the kidnapped soldiers. They are close friends of Ehud Goldwasser and his family.

Seventh Siren

At 4:07 PM, another air raid warning siren accompanied by the usual booms. I was on the balcony, in the middle of hanging up my laundry to dry. I dropped everything and went to sit in the hallway. Inch came to join me.

3:27 PM Update

Another air raid warning siren sounds at 3:27 PM. I heard a lot of missiles falling around me.

Update: Channel 2 says 12 missiles have just landed on Haifa.

Five Consecutive Sirens Heard in Haifa

It's 10:50 AM. The air raid warning siren sounds in Haifa. Inch and I are in the hallway; she's rubbing her face against my laptop.
10:56 AM: another siren.
11:00 AM: ambulances
11:01 AM: another siren
11:04 AM: another siren
11:12 AM: another siren

I'm back in Haifa after spending Friday and Saturday in southern Israel. The highway leading out of Haifa towards the south was hit by a missile on Friday morning. We passed by the spot on our way out of the city, going to Ashdod. The place my roommate works at was also hit that morning. So was the next neighbourhood over.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Nasrallah Delivers

On Wednesday evening, Nasrallah urged Haifa's Arab residents to leave the city, so he could "step up attacks". On Thursday, things were already a bit tense (we started the day with an air raid warning at 9:10 AM) but the day, in Haifa at least, passed smoothly. But that makes sense. I guess Nasrallah is kind enough to allow people a day to pack up and leave the city.

So, today morning, 10:07 AM, we had a siren with lots of missiles landing. Based on the sound and past experience, I estimate that one of them landed about 300 metres from our apartment (the news still haven't reported it).

Oh, there's another alarm now at 10:22 and more missiles dropping on Haifa.
My roommate Avinoam, my boyfriend, and I are sitting in our hallway.
We planned to visit my boyfriend's family in Ashdod today (the weekend has started in Israel) but I don't know if it's safe to go outside today.

10:30: Another siren. More missiles.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Arab Moderates

The New York Times has a feature on the supposedly devastating effects of the Lebanon war on Arab moderates:
Moderate reformers across the Arab world say American support for Israel’s battle with Hezbollah has put them on the defensive, tarring them by association and boosting Islamist parties.
As they have many times before, these moderates are urging the US to stop supporting Israel because it undermines American standing in the region:
“Those calling for democratic reform in Egypt have discovered that once Israeli interests are in conflict with political reform in the Middle East, then the United States will immediately favor Israel’s interests,” said Ibrahim Issa, the editor of the weekly Al Dustour, who faces a jail sentence on charges of insulting President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
The problem is that very few of these reformers have ever had the courage to challenge the dogmatic policies of their governments with regard to Israel. Only a handful of them were at all positively inclined toward Israel in the first place. And few of them have spoken out against the rampant antisemitism in their societies. With a few notable exceptions, these reformers too accepted Israel as a sort of litmus test. You can criticize everything else, but you have to pledge allegiance to the cause of fighting Israel (though by different means).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Haifa Sights

This evening, I was walking home from work and passed by a car waiting for the traffic light to change. I noticed all of its back window was blown out. The first association that crossed my mind of course, was that a katyusha had landed in promixity to this car. My thought was confirmed when I saw the little holes in the car, caused by the katyusha's metal ball bearings (see Monday's post). My friend who saw the pictures likened the sight to "Swiss cheese." There are actually people riding around the city in these mangled cars.
Something else I noticed on the way home was that the coffee shops have started to fill up again - not like before the war, but better than in weeks.
I also thought I saw my friend walking across the street. I was about to call out his name when I realized that it couldn't be him - he has been called up to reserve duty. So have four of my other friends.

Three Sirens Sound in Haifa

Inch Trying to Get Some Sleep Between Sirens

It's not even noon yet, and Haifa has already had a siren at 10:37 (that's the one that woke me up - but in my defense, I went to sleep very late) and at 11:25 AM. My apartment was completely quiet - no television, no radio on. I was able to hear far-off booms after the first siren. Maybe I should say, "feel." The booms aren't just sounds - they make your building shake/vibrate, albeit only slightly if they hit far away.
Yesterday, they have started evacuating some the remaining residents of the border town, Kiryat Shmona. This is obviously not going to happen in Haifa - we don't have it nearly as bad here. Our instructions in Haifa are not to go out unnecessarily and to always be in promixity to a protected space (bomb shelter or "mamad," a safe room) in case the sirens come on. Many of the people of Kiryat Shmona, however, have been spending almost one month sitting in bomb shelters, relying on food to be delivered to them. Also, Kiryat Shmona gets shelled at all hours, while we in Haifa get shelled (usually) only during daylight, and less frequently. I have had this explained to me: since Kiryat Shmona is closer, it can be shelled using portable rocket launchers and Hizbollah can quickly scurry back to safety. Haifa though, being further north, requires heavier rockets and launchers, loaded onto trucks, which can clearly be tracked in the night sky (with the flames that shoot out) and eliminated almost immediately by the Israeli Air Force.
I had to interrupt my posting at 11:45 and change the headlines to "Three" instead of "Two Sirens Sound in Haifa." I didn't take my laptop with me to the hallway as I often do because I have it set up in my room and the cable doesn't reach that far.

Update: There was another, final siren of the day at 13:10 PM.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Lion King

I can't believe what I'm hearing. No, this is not a post about another turn that this war is taking. I just heard a soldier call into Galgalatz (Israel Army Radio with pop music) and request the Elton John's Lion King theme song "Can you feel the love tonight?" for his comrades fighting in the north. And this is a soldier from one of the more "macho" brigades (Golani).

First Siren of the Day Sounds in Haifa

We just had the first siren of the day. I am home alone - Avinoam went to work (they moved the workers into the basement bomb shelter) and our other roommate returned to central Israel, where she has been for most of the war. I sat in the hallway but didn't hear any missiles landing. I was supposed to leave the house soon; hopefully there won't be any alarms while I'm outside.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Road Ahead

How much longer will Haifa's streets remain empty?

Whether or not a cease fire is announced next week (my money is on the latter possibility), the war between Israel and a coalition currently made up of Hizbullah, Iran, Syria, and elements of the Lebanese state, is far from over. Even if there is a cessation of hostilities, Hizbullah has unleashed a monster that will rear its head again and again.

At the moment, Israel is pursuing two different battles: the fight against Hizbullah ground forces in southern Lebanon, and the actions against the rocket launching cells. On the first of these fronts, Israel is winning. That is to say, the army is destroying Hizbullah fortifications, killing many of the organization’s fighters in close combat, and taking a number of them prisoner. Hizbullah has been pushed back from the immediate border area for now, but the fight is going slowly, and the IDF has suffered a relatively high number of casualties. (To get a sense of Hizbullah operational tactics, read the excellent article by Steven Erlanger and Richard Oppel, Jr. in the NYT). But although it is important for Israel to continue inflicting losses on Hizbullah in southern Lebanon, the real strategic and existential threat is posed by the katyushot. Given that missiles continue raining down on Israeli towns and cities, one has to wonder whether any progress has been made in the second of these battles.

The IDF, to its credit, has been able to wipe out a number of rocket-launchers and crews, especially those firing the long-range missiles that have hit Afula and Hadera. But so far this has not really deterred the attacks. According to DebkaFile, Hizbullah

no longer bothers to conceal the launch sites of its heavy missiles. Their crews are under orders to execute “suicide launchings,” accepting that the moment they let their rockets fly they will be exposed to reprisal.

Hizbullah still has many rockets left, and given the status quo the Iranians and Syrians will continue to supply these to enable the terrorist organization to strike Israeli civilians. Likewise they will continue passing on advanced weapons (made by them or bought from Russia) to Hizbullah militants engaging the IDF.

There is no easy solution to the problem of the rockets. Sometimes we forget that Israel has been unsuccessfully battling rocket attacks on its civilian population for several years now. In effect, the current missile strikes against Israel’s North are Qassam launches from Gaza writ large. In Europe and the US, these Qassams are often imagined as harmless. It is true that they have not killed as many people as Hizbullah’s rockets. This can be explained in part by the far better intelligence Israel has about activity in Gaza – intelligence that has enabled it to take out Qassam-crews on their way to attacks. It might also be thanks to the passive (rather than active) role of Egypt in the smuggling of armaments by the Palestinians. But even these factors have not eliminated the Qassam firing.

Those who recommend Israeli concessions, such as an immediate withdrawal from the West Bank, should remember that the Qassams began in earnest after Israel evacuated from Gaza. Whoever believes that, after a withdrawal from the West Bank, the Palestinians will not rush to duplicate what they have accomplished in Gaza, and what Hizbullah has done to the North, is living in a movie.

Elsewhere on this blog, Ariel has cited Gideon Levy, suggesting that this whole conflict could have been avoided if only Israel had returned the Golan Heights. I am not terribly convinced, but even if Levy were right, I am terrified by what might happen when Assad Jr. finally falls and the Islamists start running Damascus. How long until terrorist groups start firing heavy surface-to-surface missiles from the Golan?

The genie is out of the bottle, and so far Israel does not have a winning recipe to put it back in. Indeed, it has not even achieved one of the most important prerequisites for such a solution: convincing the rest of the world about the nature and extent of the threat. For too many armchair analysts, narrowly focused on the “disproportionality” of Israel’s actions and the “small” number of victims on Israel’s side, Hizbullah’s missiles and the Palestinian Qassams still appear astoundingly abstract. They do not yet realize that Hizbullah’s katyushot and the era they have ushered in represent a threat to Israel’s existence, as Meirav Arlosoroff writes in Ha’aretz.

For those who need a more concrete illustration of this threat, I recommend Carmia’s excellent documentation, “The Aftermath of One Katyusha” on this blog. Just imagine that a missile like that loaded with thousands of ball bearings, somewhere down the line during a lull in fighting, during a period of calm, strikes Haifa's Moriah or Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street without warning.

This war will not be over until Israel has used all the diplomatic and military means at its disposal to banish that nightmare scenario from the realm of the possible.

Lebanese Expats Accuse Hizbullah of Complicity in Qana Tragedy

A number of people have drawn my attention to an article published on a French language website called Libanoscopie. All of the articles published on the site are in French and seem to be written mostly by Lebanese expatriates. An article published on July 30 about the Qana tragedy has raised eyebrows by quoting an unnamed "well-informed source" who claimed that Hizbullah had deployed rocket launchers on the building hit by the Israeli Air Force. The source claimed that Hizbullah concocted a Machiavellian plan to undermine Lebanese Prime Minister Fou'ad al-Siniora's 7-point plan for restoring stability to Lebanon through deployment of the Lebanese Army in the south. The Lebanese source accused HA of moving disabled children to the building in order to create a humanitarian crisis that would strengthen its hands at the Lebanese negotiating table. Here is an excerpt from the the French original:
« Le Hezbollah, coincé par les 7 points proposés par le premier ministre Fouad Siniora [...] a voulu faire échouer ces négociations. Il a mis en pace un plan machiavélique [...] Sachant très bien qu’Israël n’aura pas d’état d’âme pour bombarder des cibles civiles, des militants du Hezbollah ont installé une base de lancement de roquettes sur le toit d’un immeuble à Cana et y ont entassé des enfants infirmes... »
I should emphasize here that I am in no way endorsing this theory. For all I know, it is as credible as some of the 9/11 conspiracy theories. I have no doubt that HA is capable of mounting this kind of a deception if they felt themselves to be in a desperate situation. However, it seems unlikely that HA would take this kind of risk at this stage. I guess the most important indicator that this is probably a concocted story is that the Israeli government would have adopted it if it were at all credible. As a result, I see fit to label this another attempt to feed the rumour mill.

Thanks to our good friend Elie from Toronto for raising some of these issues.

Third and Hopefully Last Siren of the Day

More Damage from One of Yesterday's Missiles

On our way to a friend's house, I told her about the eyes. When I was in Tel Aviv, I could tell apart the locals from displaced Northerners because their faces had on such different expressions. The Northerners have sad eyes. People in Haifa don't smile as much as they did before. There is tension, depression, anxiety, and fear in our faces.
Shortly after we arrived at my friend's house, the air raid warning sounded once again, around 8:00 PM. This is the first time I actually ran to a bomb shelter during an alarm. Usually I stay in my apartment. I don't think I could make it to the local, public bomb shelter on time so I don't bother. It's safer to stay at home than to go out running into the street after a siren has sounded. But my friend's apartment building actually has a bomb shelter on the bottom floor. Her dog already knows the drill - upon hearing the siren, he went to stand beside the door so that she could take him downstairs. In the shelter, we met some of her neighbours: a young couple with three little girls. They're all used to meeting up in the shelter. We think we heard a boom or two.
Since there usually aren't any more missiles after sunset, I'm hoping that this was the last alarm of the day.

Bernard-Henry Levy speaks out

Bernard-Henry Levy

French intellectual Bernard-Henry Levy recently travelled through Israel. A translation of an essay he wrote appeared in the New York Times today. Levy makes the point that those who rush to condemn Israel for waging its war against Hizbullah tend to overlook. This war is about the future strategic threat (I dare call it an existential threat) posed to Israel by Hizbullah. It is not inconceivable that Hizbullah will one day be armed with precision rockets and chemical weapons supplied by Iran. Syria and Iran already possess those kinds of weapons, but their leaders are still deterred from using them by the prospect of massive Israeli retaliation. They are, after all, responsible for entire countries. My fear is that Hizbullah, goaded on by its patrons and its ideology, will not operate according to the same calculus that has so far prevented Syria or Iran from launching direct attacks against Israel. Here is an excerpt of the Levy article:
the problem, the real one, is that these incoming rockets make us see what will happen on the day — not necessarily far off — when the rockets are ones with new capabilities: first, they will become more accurate and be able to threaten, for example, the petrochemical facilities you see there, on the harbor, down below; second, they may come equipped with chemical weapons that can create a desolation compared with which Chernobyl and Sept. 11 together will seem like a mild prelude. For that, in fact, is the situation. As seen from Haifa, this is what is at stake in the operation in southern Lebanon. Israel did not go to war because its borders had been violated. It did not send its planes over southern Lebanon for the pleasure of punishing a country that permitted Hezbollah to construct its state-within-a-state. It reacted with such vigor because the Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to be wiped off the map and his drive for a nuclear weapon came simultaneously with the provocations of Hamas and Hezbollah.

More Numbers, More Mendacity

Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora

Until now, I have been hesitant about casting doubt on reported death tolls of Lebanese civilians. As I mentioned in a previous post on the Qana numbers, there is something very unpleasant about such debates. Earlier today, Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora announced that 40 civilians had been killed in IAF bombing of Houla. His tear-filled opening address at a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers received a great deal of coverage. It turns out that only one person died in the bombing, as Siniora, to his credit, admitted a few hours later upon receiving further information. But, as the New York Times reports, Siniora felt compelled, in the same breath, to accuse Israel of deliberately targeting civilians:
Speaking to Arab diplomats who had gathered here in a show of support, Mr. Siniora said that the earlier reports he had cited about the attack in Houla, of 40 deaths, were incorrect. "It turns out there was one person killed," he said. "Thank God they have been saved. But those who shoot to kill innocent people proved they have the intention to kill."
After these episodes, I find it hard to give the benefit of the doubt to those reporting Lebanese civilian casualties.

Another Siren Follows the First

It's only six minutes later and the air raid warning sirens just went off again. Boom. I thought I had stopped counting the missiles falling and exploding but I am alone at home and that is keeping my mind busy. My heart is beating fast.
Update: My boyfriend just called, the sirens sounded in the Jezreel Valley as well. He gets into the bathroom every time he hears them - he thinks that's the safest room in the apartment.

First Siren at 5:50 PM in Haifa

I grabbed the laptop from the living room couch, ran into the hallway. After I saw the carnage in my neighbourhood, I'm a bit more worried than I am usually. I'm waiting for the katyushas to fall... I think I just heard one - two - booms. Not close ones. Waiting it out here in the hallway... my roommate put a big pillow here that we can sit on.

The Aftermath of One Katyusha

I just came back from going out to buy some bread and other groceries. On the way, I stopped by the site of one of the katyusha landings in my neighbourhood. The sight made me realize how important a safe room or a bomb shelter is.

The katyusha landed some metres away from this home and all of its windows were blown out. Luckily, the katyusha landed in a garden and most of the force was absorbed by a large tree (which is no longer standing).

This is part of the bottom floor of the building.

But the scariest sight might actually be that of the cars parked along the street.

This little girl is crouching along one of the many cars which had its windows blown out.

She showed me what she was doing -

collecting the little metal balls from the katyusha's head, which scatter in all directions when it explodes. There are 40,000 of these metal balls per katyusha. The hood of this car has absorbed dozens...

Which is what makes the katyushas so deadly. These balls are designed to act like bullets and to maximize the destruction - especially of human lives. And this was just one of the many katyushas which landed in Haifa yesterday (killing three people).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Carmia is ok - she went to the bomb shelter

כרמיה ירדה למקלט הכל בסדר דיברתי איתה ב21:00

Very Close Explosions

We just had ANOTHER siren and there were VERY loud explosions, so it was close to my house. My roommate and I had gone into the hallway when the siren sounded. She started crying when the explosions hit and didn't stop - again, I didn't bother counting, but it was a bunch. I hugged her and I guess this made me stay calm. She decided to go back to the centre of Israel tomorrow (she just came back today).
Okay, her boyfriend just called - he saw the katyusha fall - it's a couple of blocks away from our apartment. We're hearing a lot of ambulances.
We're going down to the bomb shelter now.

Nothing has Changed in Haifa

We're at home and after another siren. This time it's not Avinoam and me (he's at work) but my other roommate. She has come back from the centre of Israel, where her parents live. She took refuge there for a few weeks until she says she got sick and tired of being away from home (the apartment she rents with us here in Haifa).
The siren came on a few minutes ago - I was sweeping and my roommate cooking - when we dropped everything to sit in our hallway. We heard a lot of katyushas landing in Haifa - some closer, and some further from our apartment. I stopped counting, but on the news which we're watching now, they reported that more than 10 katyushas fell in the Haifa area.
I think that was the fourth siren in Haifa today.
People keep saying that "hard times are ahead". I'm not really sure why. But I guess one of the reasons is that a katyusha has already reached the town of Hadera, which is an escalation since it's even further south of Haifa.

Reuters admits altering Beirut photo

The folks at Little Green Footballs appear to have uncovered a major photo scam by a Reuters stringer working out of Lebanon. The photographer in question, 'Adnan Hajj, apparently doctored a photo using Adobe Photoshop rubber stamp clone effects to add more clouds of smoke to a picture of Beirut. The same photographer also took many of the photos from Qana. There is no evidence that any of those photos were doctored in any way, but many bloggers have drawn attention to a man who appears prominently in many pictures with the corpse of a dead child raised above his head. It has been shown that those pictures were taken at time intervals of several hours. The full story, including the role of LGF and other bloggers in uncovering this fraud, can be read on Ynet News.

Qana Death Toll Reduced by 26

Human Rights Watch has revised its figures for the death toll in the bombing of Qana. After initially reporting a figure of 54, the organization now estimates that 28 people died. Of course this is no less tragic. Arguing about numbers of victims is always unpleasant but it is important.

Draft UN Security Council Resolution

If this draft resolution is accepted, it will be a major victory for the UN, international law, and the Lebanese people.

Here are a few excerpts from the preamble and the operative clauses:
PP2. Expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hezbollah's attack on Israel on 12 July 2006, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons,

PP3. Emphasizing the need for an end of violence, but at the same time emphasizing the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers,

PP4: Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue of prisoners and encouraging the efforts aimed at settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel,

OP1. Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations;

OP2. Reiterates its strong support for full respect for the Blue Line;

OP3. Also reiterates its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders, as contemplated by the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement of 23 March 1949;
For Israel, too, this is an occasion to rejoice, provided that the resolution is actually implemented. With this resolution, the Security Council acknowledges that Hizbullah is to blame for the hostilities and the escalation. It also demands the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
OP6. Calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements:

- strict respect by all parties for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Israel and Lebanon;

- full respect for the Blue Line by both parties;

- delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including in the Shebaa farms area;

- security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed and security forces and of UN mandated international forces deployed in this area;

- full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006) that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state;

- deployment of an international force in Lebanon, consistent with paragraph 10 below;

- establishment of an international embargo on the sale or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by its government;

- elimination of foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government;

- provision to the United Nations of remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israel's possession;

For the Lebanese, this is an affirmation of the country's sovereignty and international recognition of its state's right to disarm foreign-backed militias such as Hizbullah. Furthermore, the resolution urges Israel to work on a settlement regarding Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails - once the soldiers are released - and also seems to promise some negotiations about the Sheeba Farms.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Distorted Coverage of the War

This cartoon likening Olmert to the infamous SS killer Amon Goeth
appeared in a Norwegian daily. See the Jerusalem Post for coverage.

Watching the BBC coverage of the war in Lebanon over the past two weeks, I was often flabbergasted by the one-sided coverage. Time and again, I would heard commentators remarking that "Israel continues bombing Lebanon," without any explanation about why this might be the case or references to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis were staying in bunkers. Yesterday, I saw a short sequence on the channel showing a man in a hospital bed, supposedly wounded by Israeli bombs. After showing him for a few seconds the camera panned to "his daughter" who magically walked in the door (as if taking the TV crew by surprise). The woman started shouting "father, father" in a manner so reminiscent of a bad soap opera that it should have been discernible to any viewer that we were witnessing a piece of theater.

Tom Gross of the National Post has written a detailed piece, "The media war against Israel," uncovering Hizbullah's successful manipulation of the international press and TV networks. He also documents some of the distasteful cartoons that have appeared again this time around in the world press. As usual, comparisons of Israel to the Nazis abound (see the cartoon above). Here are some excerpts from Gross's feature:
While the slanted comments and interviews are bad enough, the degree of pictorial distortion is even worse. From the way many TV stations worldwide are portraying it, you would think Beirut has begun to resemble Dresden and Hamburg in the aftermath of Second World War air raids. International television channels have used the same footage of Beirut over and over, showing the destruction of a few individual buildings in a manner which suggests half the city has been razed.

A careful look at aerial satellite photos of the areas targeted by Israel in Beirut shows that certain specific buildings housing Hezbollah command centres in the city's southern suburbs have been singled out. Most of the rest of Beirut, apart from strategic sites such as airport runways used to ferry Hezbollah weapons in and out of Lebanon, has been left pretty much untouched.


Another journalist let the cat out of the bag last week. Writing on his blog while reporting from southern Lebanon, Time magazine contributor Christopher Allbritton casually mentioned in the middle of a posting: "To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I'm loath to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist's passport, and they've already hassled a number of us and threatened one."
See also Tom Gross's website.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Iran the Stabilizer

Douste-Blazy and Rice on an earlier occasion

How embarrassing. Two days after the French FM Philippe Douste-Blazy praised Iran for playing "an important stabilizing role in the region" (not a joke!), Ahmadinejad tells the world what this means. At the Organization of Islamic Countries Conference the Iranian President said that the solution to the Middle East crisis is to destroy Israel.

Sounds of War

We've been hearing booms but of a different sort for most of the evening. They are not the usual katyusha-explosion sounds. Now that we're back in the apartment, I can actually feel it trembling once in a while. The windows, which are old, rattle in the frames. But this is another sound that we have to get used to - this war for me has been felt primarily through sounds. As I write, the rumbling/trembling sounds continue and the apartment shakes intermittently.

Walt & Mearsheimer Make a Comeback

This morning I listened to an interview with professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the controversial political science paper "The Israel Lobby." Brian Lehrer had them on public radio. Many Kishkushim readers will remember the active discussion we had in these pages over Walt and Mearsheimer's arguments, which, put briefly, amount to the following two propositions: 1) that the United States acts against its national interest when it sides unequivocally with Israeli policy; and 2) that it is the pro-Israel lobby (mainly AIPAC) that exercises a disproportionate amount of influence over decision-makers in the U.S. to achieve that uncritical solidarity. The theory that undergirds their arguments is what they call "realism," which is just a clever name for the basic tenets of realpolitik: states should act in the international arena only after a realistic appraisal of national interest, making sure not to allow ideology or idealism to fool politicians. Realism also holds that states normally do act out of national interest, but that occasionally, domestic opinion and special interests pressure them into acting against it.

That paper caused a stir, and for good reason, because it bore more than superficial resemblance to antisemitic theories that conceive of Jews as the "string pullers" of government. (To be fair, W&M's Jewish string-pullers are public, not secretive, but still.) But after much ado, critics were able to point out the numerous errors in factual documentation and analysis of which W&M were guilty, to the extent that "The Israel Lobby" lost all pretention to being a respectable piece of scholarly literature.

However, the relevance of their question is in the process of being resurrected by subsequent political events, namely, the unequivocal and uncritical support that the United States - and only the United States - has lent to Israel's counter-aggression. Condy and W.'s lone championing of the cause has made us examine, once again, why the U.S. has chosen to become what many perceive to be the rubber stamp for Israeli decisions. I'd like to direct our readers to two interesting articles, one that sheds light and another that makes an argument.

The first, revealing, piece, in the New York Times today, shows that Bush Senior took a much more even-handed stance in Middle Eastern affairs than his son has, and that our own Bush Junior consciously reacted against that neutrality when he took office in March 2001. (Nor has the structural similarity between W.'s pledge to support Israel and his pledge to finish the job that his father refused during the Gulf War been lost on commentators.) The article suggests that, far from it being the influence of the "Israel lobby," it is the personal attachment that W. and his 70 million evangelical zionists friends in the U.S. that initially signalled the shift from neutrality to unequivocal support. Obviously, 9/11 solidified the relationship, as Israel was seen as an ally against the war on terrorism.

The second article, in Ha'aretz, written by the left-wing journalist Tom Segev (and one of my role models), regards the role of Europe in all this business. Despite tinges of sexism in the first line of the piece - calling Miri Regev and Condy "annoying starlets"?! - he makes an argument I have been pointing toward (though not expressing as well!) in previous posts.

[As a side note, Mearsheimer came off as a real loony bin in this interview. Asked by Lehrer if the Israel lobby was more decisive than the oil lobby in influencing the U.S. to invade Iraq, he basically said yes - at least, he weaseled his way out of the question by denying the significance of the oil lobby.]

Two Sirens in Haifa, 5 Killed further North

After I finished teaching today, I was given a lift to the Central Bus Station in Haifa by the father of one of my students. He also happens to work for Egged, which is the Israeli bus company. He told me that there were a few bus drivers already who have been injured by shrapnel and glass shards from katyushas while they were driving. That's one reason that the frequency of the bus service has been slown down. The other reason is because he says that less people were using the buses lately. My bus however, was packed. Every single seat was taken and some people were standing. About half of the people had large bags on them - they were obviously coming back to Haifa after spending time further south. Right before we got on the bus, there were two air raid warning sirens: the first at about 3:57 PM and the second around 4:05 PM. At the time, I was standing at the bus stop outside at the Central Bus Station and heard one "boom". There were a lot of other people around me. Only a few people headed inside the station to sit in the shelter (including two parents with their young child). The rest of us stayed outside and some people expressed frustration and complaints. "Again?!"

Oh, there's another siren now: it's 5:02 PM. I got off the couch (we were watching the news report about the Israelis from Acre and Ma'alot-Tarshicha who were killed by the katyusha attacks today) and headed to the hallway.
I didn't hear any booms, so I guess it's a false alarm this time.

Update: Now they're saying on TV that it's six killed in the North.

Another update: It's 8 civilians killed - the number keeps rising.

What Radicalizes the Muslim World

From the Organization of the Islamic Conference attended by 56 Muslim nations, quoted in Ha'aretz:
"This war must stop, or it will radicalize the Muslim world, even those of us who are moderate today," said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who leads the world's most populous Muslim country.
I am curious. Why don't the deaths in Darfur, where a genocide is being perpetrated by Muslims against other Muslims, radicalize the Islamic world? What about the 100 deaths per diem in Iraq, courtesy of other believers?

Strangely enough, it is not only Muslims who become "radicalized" when Israeli military operations lead to Muslim deaths. Has Kofi Annan, for example, devoted even a quarter of the amount of time he spends condemning Israel to the crisis in Darfur? How much time has he spent in efforts to stop the thousands of deaths every month caused by various wars in Africa?

Critics of the War - The Debate So Far

Ze’ev Sternhell’s piece in Ha’aretz, “The most unsuccessful war,” has been recommended to me by several people who oppose Israel’s now 23-day-old war against Hizbullah. Having read this article, I am not sure what the fuss is all about. I found it a rather confused compendium of attacks on Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, exhortations to consider the plight of Israeli and Lebanese civilians, and critiques of the efficacy of IDF actions so far. Sternhell's op-ed contains neither a sustained argument against the current ground and air operations striking Hizbullah, nor a proposal for an alternative solution that would stop Israeli (and Lebanese) civilians from being at Nasrallah’s mercy. Below, I attempt to answer some of the critiques of Israel and the war that have been advanced on this blog’s margins (i.e., in various comments) as well as in that great world which lies beyond Kishkushim.

One of the discussions we have been having here revolves around the civilian casualties of this war, by which all of us are deeply saddened. For example, in response to a comment by Noah S. and an earlier post by yours truly, Asaf wrote that:

You're assuming again that Israel is innocently "targeting combatants", whereas Israel in fact has chosen to conduct its war in such a way that enormous civilian casualties were inevitable. Israel has not only been killing hundreds of civilians but also destroying the entire fabric of life for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of others.”

I still cannot accept Asaf’s position. There is no war that does not destroy the fabric of civilian life. Yes, the air force bombings have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians. But given the circumstances, it is clear that Israel is doing what it can to prevent harm to non-combatants. Israel has not flattened Beirut. The neighborhoods in which Hizbullah is based have been destroyed, but Beirut has not become Fallujah or Grozny. This is despite the fact that thousands of rockets fired from Lebanese territory have hit Israel, a record of 220 yesterday. Almost all of these were aimed at civilian targets. As I’ve said before, the entire north is currently uninhabitable. We are talking about at least 300,000 internally displaced people. Yes, it’s true, thank God, that nowhere near the number of Israeli as Lebanese civilians have died. But this is the case only because Israelis in the north have either abandoned their towns and places of work or hunkered down in bunkers and protected spaces.

I also strongly disagree with arguments to the effect that Israel should have chosen a less forceful response. For example, Asaf’s analysis (see comment posted at 9:10 AM), is too narrowly focused on the spark – the kidnapping of the two soldiers in Hizbullah’s cross-border raid. It completely ignores the military history of previous engagements with Hizbullah since the withdrawal. This was, after all, not the first such incident. The small-scale, focused operations against Hizbullah positions have proved utterly ineffective in deterring further attacks. The usual argument is that if Israel were to do something on the diplomatic front, maybe those attacks could be staved off. But Israel already withdrew from Lebanon! Hizbullah has no legitimate claims against Israel. Maybe critics believe that the IDF should have just waited and continued to absorb small losses and provocations. But what was the point of withdrawing then? What is the point of an international border?

The solutions proposed by Asaf and others are problematic for another reason. It is hard to deny that negotiations with the kidnappers encourage more kidnappings. I think anyone who pooh-poohs this is being dishonest. Given the recent kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in the south by the Palestinians, Israel was justified in reacting harshly this time in the hopes of deterring another such attempt. Until now, neither Hizbullah nor its patrons, Iran, Syria, and some in the Lebanese government, realized that Israel would react with real force.

An additional factor dictating the response was of a more tactical nature. Israel did not respond forcefully to the Shalit kidnapping at Keren Shalom near the border with Gaza. It took far too long for its forces to pursue the kidnappers. Thus, army and state officials believed that one of the lessons from the Shalit kidnapping was the importance of forceful and immediate action that would cut off the kidnappers’ means of conveying the hostage. Obviously, the IDF had not really learned very much from the Shalit kidnapping, and the pursuit turned out to be a failure. But tactical imperatives (i.e., as they were perceived by the military) might also have focused attention on the immediate problem of rescuing the soldier, rather than the wonderful comprehensive and non-violent political solutions endorsed by opponents of the war. It is very easy to be critical of the army’s initial actions in hindsight. But these missteps constitute an operational not a moral failure.

There is another flaw in the charge that Israel did not even consider a political solution. Namely, the fact that Israel has been pressing for a political solution for the past six years. What else would you call the continuous lobbying efforts to enforce UN Security Council resolution 1559 to disarm Hizbullah? I would also include the ejection of Syria from Lebanon, in which America played a key part, as part of this. What exactly have these political solutions been able to accomplish? What grounds did Israel have to assume that they would work this time?

So far I have talked only about the spark. Even if we concede that Israel’s initial response to the kidnapping was unjustified (which I am not about to do), even if we blame Israel for starting the war (again, an untenable proposition given Hizbullah’s attack), the picture changes the moment that Hizbullah started firing its missiles. At that point, the Israeli response does not have to be limited by the origins of the crisis. It also does not have to be limited by the damage that Hizbullah has already inflicted; it must only be concerned with the THREAT that these missiles pose. For the resident of the north, the threat is existential. What do I mean by this? If s/he does not put his life on hold – either by moving south or by staying in a bunker – the Israeli civilian living in the north lives in constant mortal danger.

You might argue that the Lebanese civilian too lives in constant mortal danger. At the moment this is true. But, if Hizbullah stopped firing missiles, if Hizbullah were disarmed, all the inhabitants of Lebanon would be living in peace. The same kind of guarantee cannot be provided for the safety of Israeli civilians. If the IDF were to stop military operations, Hizbullah could not be trusted to cease its fire. There is no better evidence for this than the fact that the organization launched a cross-border raid into Israel without provocation and, again, despite a complete Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon that took place six years ago. For those who need further confirmation, statements by Hizbullah leaders as well as the organization’s backers in Iran should be plenty.

All this is not to say that I reject the utopian calls by people like my friend Asaf to put an end to violence and to seek political solutions instead. I think the Western Europeans peoples and states deserve praise for one thing: they have managed to stop killing each other, although it took them several World Wars and the intervention of the US to achieve this. (Unfortunately, they have now withdrawn into their bubble, emerging only to deliver a few sermons to the benighted peoples of the Middle East.) I, too, hope that this will be possible here one day. There is no reason why Israel and Lebanon should not live alongside each other like France and Germany. But let’s not forget what made the latter scenario possible. I am not drawing any parallels here – merely using the historical record to show that there are few instances in the annals of humanity where peace and harmony resulted from one side unilaterally (and willingly) turning the other cheek.