Sunday, August 27, 2006

August 27, 2006 Hard Water and Hot Fire

August 27, 2006

The two kidnapped Fox reporters were freed today, but the three Israeli soldiers whose capture started the Second Lebanon War are still in captivity. Analysts speculate that a prisoner exchange is in the works between Israel and Hezbollah, and will take place in a couple of weeks, although Hamas still claims they don’t know where in Gaza Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is being held. Hamas has resumed rocket attacks on Ashkelon and the Negev. Israel is still carrying out raids into Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket attacks.

The soldiers protest in front of Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office continues, although at this point analysts don’t expect it to result in the immediate resignation of the Olmert government. Pundits speculate that new elections, if they happen, won’t take place for at least six-months. These pundits are still pondering who was to blame for the ill-fated war. Some reports say it was the army’s top leadership, over-estimating the Air Force’s abilities. Lack of supplies are blamed on the logistics department, responsible for distributing food and supplies; others say that the problems were with the commanders in the field, responsible for maintaining storehouses to supply their troops.

Today’s daily newspaper Yideot Achranot had a front-page story by Ron Ben Ishai, their top military reporter, once a correspondent for Time Magazine. Ben Ishai was reporting from Beirut. The front page had his picture standing in the ruins of Dahariya, the Hezbollah neighborhood. “It’s in ruins,” reported Ben Ishai. But he said that pictures of Nasrallah were everywhere. And posters of Nasrallah and Lebanese speaker of the Parliament Nabil Beeri. Huge posters of Hezbollah fighters firing Katyushas were on billboards to and from the airport. Surprisingly, he said that outside of the Hezbollah neighborhood, Beirut was relatively untouched. People filled the streets. Cafes were open. Business was going on. Traffic jams during rush hour. And more posters of Nasrallah.

He said public ally everyone supported Nasrallah, but privately they were critical, but only behind closed doors. It was an amazing report, simply because he’s a well-known Israeli journalist. He wrote he flew in from Jordan, one assumes with a non-Israeli passport, and press pass from a foreign newspaper, maybe Time magazine. Still it was a portrait of courage.

The UNIFIL forces in Lebanon have made it clear that they wouldn’t attempt to disarm Hezbollah. So far Israeli forces are still in Lebanon, and expect to be there until relieved by UNIFIL. The French, who led the call for a cease-fire and promised it would be active in a ‘robust’ UNIFIL force, has so far sent only 200 soldiers. Last week France’s Jacques Chirac said he saw no reason for more troops. Under pressure he agreed to send another 1,600 soldiers. At best the UNIFIL force will now number about 7,000 soldiers at its maximum. UN Sec. General Kofi Anan has said he is having trouble getting other countries to commit troops. Except, Malaysia and Indonesia, both Moslem countries who have been extremely vocal in their anti-Israeli stance. Israel opposes any country’s UNIFIL participation if that country doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Last week a couple from Tel Aviv went up to the Golan to visit relatives. A farmer took them to the border with Lebanon, and from a hilltop, looking through binoculars, the visitors reported watching Hezbollah fighters unloading truck after truck, stacking weapons, moving them into bunkers. What does this mean? Simply, that as usual, UNIFIL isn’t about to do anything dangerous, like stopping Hezbollah rearming. And probably, not stop them from firing once they get a mind to start doing that again.

The European Union doesn’t categorize Hezbollah as a ‘terrorist’ organization. Hezbollah, they point out, has 32 members in the Lebanese parliament, and two cabinet ministers in the government. Another complication is that Russia and China are resisting any sanctions against Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran. Both Russia and China have extensive economic interests in Iran. Russia sells weapons to the Iranians for much needed cash, (weapons which found their way through Syria to Lebanon and were used by Hezbollah against the Israelis) and China is thirsty for Iranian oil. The emergence of China as a supplier of goods to the West, and as a possible democracy, has in effect placed the West in even more danger by China’s refusal to support Iranian sanctions.

These factors make it difficult to contain Hezbollah’s ambitions to Islamicize Lebanon, and keep the terrorist group from receiving more weapons from Syria and Iran.
Syria has come out firmly against a UNIFIL presence on her border with Lebanon. Israel wants this presence in place to keep Hezbollah from being resupplied with the weapons Israel’s Air Force recently destroyed. Last week Iranian and Syrian officials met yet again to bolster their friendship.

Some in Israel are talking about making diplomatic approaches to Syria, in an effort to pull Syria from Iran’s embrace. Others doubt that Syria would be a serious partner in any peace negotiations. Lately, US Sec of State Condeeleeza Rice has talked about exploring the Syrian option. Not long ago U.S. President George Bush put Syria on the list of the “Axis of Evil” nations. Given Syria’s recent actions, one wonders what has made Bashar Assad, Syria’s leader, seem more peaceful? Certainly not supplying weapons to Hezbollah, nor allowing ‘insurgents’ from Iraq to train in Syria.

This week Kofi Anan will visit Syria and Iran. Some critics in Israel see this as a mixed signal to those two countries since both were deeply involved in supplying Hezbollah with weapons, and encouraging Hezbollah to attack Israel. These critics think Anan should have purposefully ignored Syria and Iran as punishment for their support of Hezbollah.

This comes on the backdrop of unnerving reports coming out of Iran. Most Israelis believe that the closer Iran gets to a nuclear weapon, the more danger Israel is in. The Jerusalem Post ran an article over the weekend saying that Iran didn’t care if they lost half their population as long as Israel was wiped out. Yesterday Iran opened up their heavy water plant, a crucial stage in the development of a nuclear weapon.

One report in the Israeli press stated that Israel might have to strike at Iran alone.
The head of the Air Force Gen. Schedi is the son of Holocaust survivors. He has made it clear that he would do what was necessary to protect Israel from another Holocaust, by any country. He once led a formation of Israeli jets in a flyover of Auschwitz. Schedi was recently appointed as the man in charge of dealing with Iran.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer recently encouraged the US to bomb Iran. He thought that the Iranians were hell-bent on getting into the nuclear club and would never voluntarily stop their weapons development, no more than North Korea would give up their nuclear weapons. Krauthammer said that once a country went nuclear that put them in an exclusive group that could use their weapons as leverage. Krauthammer thought that any appeasement of the Iranians would only postpone the inevitable: that Iran would use the weapons once developed.

Krauthammer did say that the results of striking Iran would be “terrible” but not as bad if the US waited until the weapons were developed. Israeli analysts believe Iran is still a few years away from a nuclear weapon. They also believe Israel would be Iran’s first nuclear target. Thus, one doesn’t have to wonder who would suffer “terrible” results if not Israel.

This weekend, the Iranian spiritual leader Khamani, who is reportedly the man who really calls the shots in Iran, hinted that the oil weapon was one that could be used if sanctions against Iran were imposed. He also said that the war in Lebanon proved that Israel was weak, and that the U.S. couldn’t win a war, directly, or indirectly. He went on to brag that the world would soon bow down to Iran, giving her the rightful place of leadership she deserved. These words sent shivers through the world, he said, as they should. An Islamic Iran would rule the region, he said, to the cheers of those gathered for his speech.

These developments are clearly disturbing. Are they as significant as Europe in 1938, as many say, or simply a blip on the screen, until the bombastic Islamic boasts are proved groundless. Had Hitler been stopped before he gathered momentum, tens of millions would have lived, rather than die through the war run by a madman. Iran’s Achmanijad also said that Israel has nothing to fear from Iran. One is reminded of Hitler promising British Prime Minister Chamberlain he had no ambitions to take over Europe.

Also, today, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah said that there would be no “second round” of fighting with Israel, nor would he be drawn into a fight due to Israel’s violation of the cease-fire. Some analysts assume he is now turning the job of dealing with Israel over to Iran. Oh, I forgot. Iran doesn’t have anything against Israel.

Israel is beset with political scandals that affected both the Justice Minister Haim Ramon and President Moshe Katzav. Both were accused of sexual harassment of female workers. Katzav is even accused of rape. Who knows? Reading Seymour Hirsch’s 1997 book, “The Dark Side of Camelot” one wonders at how much things have changed. According to Hirsch, during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, the press ignored his flagrant infidelities, and immorality. And avoided uncovering the blatant corruption, and duplicity.

Today every breath a politician takes is viewed and commented upon, for good or bad. Perhaps these scandals will help to clean up the Israeli government, and the way the leaders think about their responsibilities. Perhaps more thought will be given to how best serve the public, not how best to satisfy their own quest for fame, glory or pleasure. Maybe after this soul-searching, bound to come after this war, Israel will be stronger and healthier. Given that Iran is breathing fire, those Israeli knights better get their armored polished or they’ll wind up servants in the mosque, if they’re lucky; or toasted by the nuclear dragon if they’re not.