Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September 5, 2006 Peace and Prisoners

September 5, 2006 Peace and Prisoners

The Washington Post's syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer is a brilliant neo-con who constantly comes out on the side of Israel, bless his heart.

What he is saying in his recent column about Nasrallah losing the war is echoed in the Israeli press.

The wind was knocked out of the anti-Olmert protests with Nasrallah's statements. Most analysts say that Nasrallah is on the ropes. Some say that Iran is seething over the fact that the expensive long-range missiles they sent over were destroyed within the first 34-minutes of the war. Israel has been scowering the border finding and destroying bunkers and missile launching sites. Reports state that most of the Lebanese people are angry with Nasrallah for the storm of destruction that hammered Beirut for a month. While Israel didn't score a knockout, it is commonly believed that Nasrallah is out of the fight for a while, except for his behind the scenes encouragement of terrorist attacks by third parties.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stated that even with all of the pressure he will not resign, but expects to serve out his full four-year term. This remains to be seen. The commissions of inquiry into the war may find things that support Krauthammer’s view that Olmert was " inept and indecisive" and that " Israel did miss the opportunity to militarily destroy Hezbollah and make it a non-factor in Israel's security." Many Israelis share Krauthammer’s opinion.

There is also considerable turmoil over the way that Chief of Staff Dan Halutz ran the war. A group of generals met with him behind closed doors and reportedly expressed their displeasure with his planning and execution of the battles. Halutz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz reportedly did not agree on basic issues during the war, and are now sparing over the importance of various commissions of inquiry to the extent that each has appointed his own commission. The daily Haaretz newspaper reported that hundreds of generals and scores of investigating teams are at work sifting through what really happened during the war.

On Israel TV last night a report focused on soldiers who'd been seriously wounded during the war. Two were without legs. They still had a positive attitude, but weren't really angry with the government or the army. It was a war, they realized, a just war, and people got hurt. "It wasn't 'why me?'" said one soldier. "It was just the way war is."

There is no howl to replace the government. Olmert realizes that. Politicians are baying at the moon, but the country has settled back into its routine. The outstanding issue now is what happens to the three Israeli soldiers still held captive? Gilad Shalit is rumored to be already in Egypt, Israel Radio reported that he was in Egypt and would be exchanged within a few days for 800 Palestinian prisoners. Israel has demanded that none of the prisoners has "blood on their hands." The release of the Palestinians is to come in three stages, according to a report in today's Ynet news, a branch of Israel's daily Yideot Achranot newspaper. The final stage won't be completed until Shalit is turned over to the Israelis. As of now prison authorities claim they haven't yet been given a list to prepare even the first group of prisoners for release.

All sides in the negotiations deny that a deal has been struck. Most diplomatic and political sources are justifiably reticent to comment openly on the sensitive negotiations for fear of putting the kibosh on the deal. A German diplomat, who has helped in these prisoner exchanges between Israel and the Palestinians in the past, is reportedly the key figure in the talks. Egypt is also very involved in the negotiations. Egypt still sees itself as one of the leading countries in the Arab world. Egypt is also encouraged to be pro-active by the US. Egypt receives over $2 billion a year in US aid and tries to please the US when asked to do something.

Some people have wondered if the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has been in the Middle East since last Tuesday, with a multi-ethnic group of peacemakers, including Jews, Moslems and Christians, had anything to do with the deal.

Rev. Jackson has reportedly been in Damascus and met with Khalid Mashal, the head of Hamas, who lives in Syria. Mashal is supposed to be the guy calling the shots for Hamas; Mashal is said to be much more radical than the Palestinian Hamas leadership living in Gaza. Still it is Mashal who is said to have given the orders to dig the tunnel beneath the Gaza/Israel fence, attack the Israeli army tanks, and kidnap Shalit.

A few years ago Mashal was a target of an ill-fated assassination attempt in Jordan, when Israel's Mossad tried to inject poison into his hand using a needle concealed in an umbrella. Mashal did get quite ill but recovered.
The incident incensed the Jordanian leadership, and cooled the relationship between the two countries for some time.

Jackson has not publicly come out with a statement as to the outcome of his talks. Both he and UN Sec. General Kofi Anan were in Damascus at the same time. Both said they were optimistic for a release of the Israeli Prisoners. When Jackson approached the Israeli authorities and suggested he get involved in the negotiations, Israeli newspapers reported that he was politely told his help wasn't needed.

No word has been given on the fate of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the two Israelis captured by Hezbollah. Kofi Anan has said he is trying to negotiate their release. Perhaps Jesse Jackson is involved in those discussions. Or would like to be.

The recent terrorist attack in Jordan only underscores how terrorism is still a lethal tool used by the Islamic radicals to sow unrest and panic. An attack on a tourist site killed a British citizen, and wounded a dozen other tourists. Last year a bomb exploded in a busy Amman, Jordan hotel killing scores of Jordanians. In Egypt's Sinai desert two Al Queda hit squads are reportedly planning attacks. Israeli tourists, who flock to Sinai for the sand and sun and low prices, have been warned to stay away. Israel TV reports that the Israelis haven't headed the warnings and are still crossing over into Sinai to vacation. Last year a bomb went off at a hotel just across the Israel/Egypt border killing scores of people. Another terrorist attack in Sharm El Shek, in the Sinai destroyed a good part of a popular hotel.

These moderate regimes, like Jordan and Egypt are targets for the terrorists because they do business with Israel. However it isn't only these countries. Kenya, another popular venue for Israelis was hit a few years ago when terrorists planted bombs in a hotel filled with Israelis.

While Krauthammer may be correct that Hezbollah is out of the direct struggle against Israel, it is clear that Nasrallah will take any opportunity to strike at Israel in the traditional terrorist ways, bombing innocent women and children. Hamas does the same from Gaza with their rockets. For a while Hamas was deploying suicide bombers in Israel. Each day another bomb went off in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa; anyplace the bombers could strike they did. The rockets coming from Gaza and Lebanon were no different, really. Terrorists bombing innocent women and children. The cease-fire only put the struggle back to where it was before the war.

The negotiations that are now on-going will hopefully result in the release of the Israeli soldiers. This was Nasrallah's goal at the outset. But if, as Krauthammer and others maintain, Hezbollah was significantly weakened by the war, and Hamas put in a position that they are no longer a viable entity, then perhaps the war was worth it. Inept or not, Olmert stood up to Hezbollah and showed Israelis will still fight when called upon. Had they started the ground war earlier, analysts say, Israeli troops would have cleaned up a swatch of Lebanon far enough away so the short-range Katyushas wouldn't be a factor. Why the war was start and stop is the subject of the inquiries. Although many Israelis expect a whitewash, time will tell the outcome.

Meanwhile, Israel is testing weapons systems that reportedly are effective against short-term Katyusha rockets. One is the much talked about Nautilus system, the laser canon; the other is a conventional cannon firing a cloud of small projectiles that meet the Katyushas in the air and explode them.

More disturbing is a report in Debka.com that a UN flotilla is off the coast of Lebanon in the expectation that a war breaks out between the team of the US & Israel against Hezbollah and Iran. Nothing about this flotilla has been reported in the mainstream Israeli press.

So far five companies of Israeli soldiers have been brought out of Lebanon. More are expected as UNIFIL takes over positions in S. Lebanon. Reportedly UNIFIL is setting up roadblocks and denying armed Hezbollah fighters from traveling.

Israelis are still waiting anxiously for the release of the three soldiers. Today PM Olmert has said that once the soldiers are back home he will meet with Palestinian President Mohamed Abas and restart the peace negotiations. The Americans are pushing for a renewed "Roadmap." But just as easily something can happen to derail the process. And just as easily the Lebanese leader Fouad Signora can decide to hold talks with Israel and negotiate a peace. If he comes out publicly and says that he probably won't live 24 hours. But diplomacy, like that undertaken in the release of the Israeli prisoners, is usually low-key and secret. Deals are announced only when all the details have been worked out, and the signature is a formality worthy of a photo-op.

Let's hope that's the case with Lebanon. Should the US compete with Iran in providing aid to the Lebanese, as hinted at by Krauthammer in his article, then perhaps peace is closer than war. Perhaps Iran really means it when it says it wants to help bring peace to the region, peace to Iraq, peace to the world.

In reality peace with Lebanon is far off, so is peace with Syria. As long as the Iranians believe that the world must convert to Islam, and have the money and power to push that idea forward, then peace is a dream. As long as Iran and radical Islam continue to test the West's strengths and weaknesses, the world will see unrest.

Once the radicals find a weak spot in the West's defenses, they'll attack, again, as they did in New York, and London and Spain. If the radicals get a nuclear bomb, they'll use it. As Krauthammer said in an earlier article, once you're in the nuclear club you don't want to turn back. And given the insanity that rules the radical Islamic world, should Israel or the USA reply in kind, those Iranians who die think they're going to Heaven anyway, and relish the martyrdom. The only hope is that perhaps cooler minds will eventually rule, and the fanatics and the zealots will find their place in Heaven long before the rest of their people are faced with that possibility.