Saturday, January 22, 2011

I've had my fill of the Israel-bashing

Enough is enough!

These days every half-witted political  penpusher in a sleazy second rate rag is blaming us freely for any mishap and misery occurring in the Middle East and sometimes, even in the whole world!
And the United Nations, is also joining the fun, whenever the occasion is ripe. The so-called   UN "Human Rights"  council having staged Durban II in 2009, with the agenda being to update all the wonderful progress it had made in eliminating racism, really culminated in this ludicrous  farce. Once more, the conference accused Israel of racism, for simply existing and singled out the Jewish state by name - making it the only country so targeted in that grotesque festival. Countries not named "Israel" could enslave minorities, sexually mutilate women and trample on human rights of every kind, without so much as raising an eyebrow by the United Nations. Sofar the US misguided policy, thwarting the UN's  "Israel Bashing" festival  was, at best ineffective, if not totally ignorant. It is therefore high time for  President Obama to lead a full-throated boycott on such deliberate UN actions ( after all Washington is carrying most of the UN payroll!) and make sure to all understand that no friend of Durban III can also be a friend of the USA.

We Israelis are not gun-toting offish brutes, nor brandishing knives in our jaws. We might have our share of Arab-haters, or criminals and,  as are present in most countries, corrupt officials and among these, count even prominent political leaders. But we are the only democracy in this region, where such criminals are brought to justice and even incarcerated, once found guilty by law.
Nevertheless, every time Palestinians are killed, the stereotyped left-wingers and  usual liberalist types,  immediately gather to cry out about 'Zionist oppression' and 'Israeli apartheid'. Yet, when Palestinian rockets fall on Israeli villages and children are murdered in mass suicide bombings, those same "well wishers' are always keeping strangely mum. It may be of interest, that Israel has an abundance of such homegrown liberals in store here. There are watchkeepers ready to pounce on soldiers and their commanders, whenever they suspect them to act out of order against Palestinians, wether guilty or not. There is a free press, virtually uncensored, despite Israel being under constant threat for the last sixty three years. No military, or police commander is immune from scrutiny by the ever inquisitive and prying media hunters, looking into every nook and cranny of Israel's behavior in the territories, or during military operations. Even the sacred intelligence agencies are coming under the public monitor, when slightest suspicion of misbehavior is presumed. Our enemies have benefited from this, to them apparent weakness, as a luctrative, totally freely-accessible intelligence source.
Although Israel is surrounded by millions of hostile Arabs, wishing to eliminate the Jewish State since its creation, we have unflinchingly remained a dedicated democracy, in splendid isolation, among this volatile and dangerous region.

We do not claim to be a perfect nation, far from it. But we can certainly match our skills and moralistic behavior with any other democracies, including those, who constantly encourage indiscriminate criticism of the Israel bashers.

To our enemies and their staunch allies, any intelligent explanation will  be futile and in vain. But I do hope that Israel has still many friends left in the world. To those friends, some of which could, by unfortunate misrepresentations of our own media,  be negatively influenced, I wish to try and portray Israel's present  situation in an unfettered and unbiased way. This is the goal of my forthcoming opinion blogs, the first of which you are now reading.

I shall welcome your comments, whatever they are and look forward to a stimulating dialogue sharing our views.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hezbollah’s Gambit in Lebanon

The Shi’ite Lebanese “Party of God” Hezbollah, may be threading on the most fateful path in its thirty year history. On the face of the present situation, it may seem that Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah is calling all the shots in Lebanon, but events may turn out quite different as he planned. At the moment, with Hezbollah seemingly at the heights of its greatest power, the future facing it could also unveil its most glaring weaknesses.

And it already happened five years ago, when on his orders, in July 2006 Hezbollah triggered what turned out to be a disaster for Lebanon and the Shi’ite “hybrid’ guerilla army. The Mullah’s in Tehran were visibly unhappy, with all their huge investments in arming, what they planned to be their forward defense against Israel, went up in flames within hours.
No wonder, that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered Nasrallah a public slap in the face, when during his high-profile visit to Beirut he intentionally ignored meeting the Hezbollah leader in his subterranean bunker hideout.

Nasrallan meeting with Iran's president Ahmedinijad in Tehran

All this does not diminish the dangers lurking for Lebanon and the entire region, emerging from Nasrallah’s present gambit. Few dispute Hezbollah’s prowess in the dangerous standoff, which he created. The Lebanese in Beirut only remember too vividly how, in just a few days of fighting in May 2008, Hezbollah armed militias seized part of the capital and were then on the verge to take over most of the nation’s power sites.

The present situation holds tremendous challenges for all involved – not only in Lebanon itself. Should heightened tension escalate into a civil war, between Shi’ite, Sunnies and Christians, it might engulf the region into a much wider conflict, perhaps another war with Israel, from which the Lebanese people and foremost the Shi’ites – Nasrallah’s main supporters – will suffer. There are fears that Hezbollah may try to divert the Lebanese public’s attention from the international tribunal’s Hariri assassination findings, by prompting a flare-up on the northern border. Experience shows that such tensions may lead to an all-out conformation, even if the sides are not interested in one. At this stage, however, Hezbollah seems to avoid such confrontation, but this may change – if coming under internal pressure in Lebanon, or even within its own ranks, Hezbollah will feel threatened.

It is little known, that not all Lebanese Shi’ites actually do support Hezbollah. The poorest segment of the four million Lebanese people, have always bore the brunt of Hezbollah’s wars with Israel: Hundreds of thousands of South Lebanese are still displaced, close to 900 died in the last war, and scores more remain crippled and homeless. No wonder then, that these miserable have little to gain from another war with Israel. Moreover, among the Arab Shi’ites in Lebanon, as in Iraq, there is significant religious dislike against the growing extension of Iran’s foreign policy, using the Lebanese Arab Shia as an instrument of its foreign policy, in Persia’s quest for its Shi’ite regional dominance. Thus, while Lebanese Shi’ites support for Hezbollah is firstly in local interest, it does not necessarily translate into its allegiance to, or unequivocal support for a Persian shia Iran.

As for the immediate developments, Nasrallah’s strategic skills prove, no doubt, quite remarkable. As the political arena inside Lebanon indicates, Hezbollah has distinct chance to gain a majority in coalition with Christian Free Patriotic Movement led by former President Michel Aoun’s and Druze Progressive Socialist Party (led by Walid Jumbalatt) and, perhaps some smaller parties jumping on the bandwagon.

If this happens there could be a following potential development: Hezbollah will form a government and become involved, becoming a politically, local-oriented Lebanese patriot. This could bring about a similar development like the one already creating in Shia-ruled, post-US Iraq. It might even work in Lebanon, if Nasrallah will keep a low profile – avoiding a religious clash with the various sectarian groups.

But such a move would also become a serious backlash to Tehran’s investments, forwarding its ‘Shi’ite Crescent’ strategy, as both Iraq and Lebanon Shi’ites are Arabs and not Persian Shia. Hezbollah’s shift, from being Tehran’s loyal vassal, enhancing local political interest, against Tehran’s, will no doubt anger the Persian Mullahs, who may fear losing their strategic forward base, no longer under their full control. It might also encourage a policy shift in Damascus, towards the Sunni supporting west. With Iran’s waning power in Lebanon, Bashar Assad could hope to regain some influence in Lebanese politics, in the “new” administration.

However, the big question remains – how Saudi Arabia, the guardian of the Sunni Muslims, including Hashemite Jordan and Egypt, the Gulf States and perhaps even Sunni Turkey will handle the new situation. The extent of the Sunni concern over an Iran-sponsored political take-over by Hezbollah was already evident in 2008. WikiLeaks mentions a Riyadh meeting in May 2008 between US ambassador David Satterfield and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, saying that a “security response” was needed to the “military challenge”, then posed to Beirut by the Iran-backed militants. The Saudi prince feared a Hezbollah victory against the Lebanese government, led by then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, would eventually lead to Tehran’s takeover of Lebanon.

A high ranking Iranian visit in Damascus, 2008.

An interesting segment in any new developments in the Levant, might center in Damascus’ reorientation – with a possible move towards the Sunni leadership in Riyhadh. First signs of such a move became public through secret documents revealed by WikiLeaks, published in December 2009. The U.S. Embassy in Damascus then wrote a cable summing up the visits to Damascus, that month, of Iranian National Security Adviser Sae’ed Jalili, Vice President and Environmental Department chief Mahammed-Javad Mahamadzideh, and Defense Minister Ahmad Ali Vahidi. Being confronted with the demand to support any move against Israel, should the “Northern Front” escalate again, Damascus told the Iranians in response, not to expect Syria, or Hamas to take part in this war. In a moment of understatement, Iran’s reaction was reported as: “The Iranians, on their part, were not so pleased with the response”. It looks like Israel’s alleged attack on Syria’s nuclear facility in 2007 sent a strong message – one that was actually clearly received.

Syria – the Keystone in Iran’s Ambition of the ‘Shiite Crescent’

Syrian President Bashar el Assad welcomes Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his recent visit to Syria and Lebanon. Is Assad willingly paving the way for Iran's establishing the 'Shiite Crescent"?to Syria, last month.

For Syria, Lebanon presents not only a political, but first and foremost, a strategic and economic challenge. For decades, Syria’s economy has depended largely on the annual income from over a million Syrian workers living in its rich Levant neighbor. Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, carefully nurtured the bi-lateral relations with Beirut, shifting from goodwill to brutal force, as became necessary to maintain his iron reigns.

The Iranian and Syrian relationship with Hezbollah developed from a combination of ideological, domestic, and regional factors. Both Tehran and Damascus found Hezbollah to be a useful proxy to further regional objectives. But ‘Father Hafez’ was a wise statesman. He kept bi-lateral relations between Damascus and Tehran on an even keel-carefully avoiding any official, binding signs of an alliance. He also kept a tight leash on Hezbollah, always preventing its entering into Lebanese politics.
But matters changed dramatically on June 10, 2000, when Hafez al-Assad died and his younger son Bashar took the reigns of power. Though Bashar sought to observe the rules, governing Syria’s relationship with Lebanon and Hezbollah, his political inexperience and lack of strategic foresight, caused Bashar’s irresponsible shift towards the charismatic Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah, the latter just having ousted the Israeli army from its south Lebanese stronghold, a move, viewed throughout the Muslim world as a magnificent achievement. Also disregarding the dangers to Syrian’s hegemony in Lebanon, Bashar entered into a fully strategic alliance with Shiite Tehran, which President Ahmadinejad shrewdly exploited furthering the Shiite strategic dream. Washington’s geniality in pursuing Obama’s incomprehensible short-sighted pro-Muslim strategy astonishingly bestowed its encouragement to this dangerous move. The US inconceivable blindness to the developing danger in this regional turmoil is unbelievable.
For example, ahead of Ahmadinejad’s visit, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have actually deployed in force throughout Lebanon. Hezbollah was operating openly under the Revolutionary Guards Command. Such is not the behavior of an indigenous, Lebanese entity. It is the behavior of a wholly owned and operated franchise of Iran, foreboding of dangerous things to follow soon.
Tehran’s regional ambitions culminated with the recent visit to Beirut by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but were viewed with growing concern, not only by the Sunni Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, but also, alas silently, by the Sunni majority in Syria, who is watching in awe, the demise of Damascus’s traditional protectorate on Lebanese politics, shrewdly being taken over by Shiites, as result of the Alawite Bashar Assad’s shortsighted and, for Syrian interest, disastrous misconduct since 2005.
There are already first indications of growing discontent among senior Syrian officials, mainly belonging to Sunni sects. Feelings of suspicion and discomfort are apparently developing among the Syrian military and intelligence officers, watching with concern as Lebanon, once their exclusive playing ground is being dominated ostentatiously by Tehran’s brutal ‘Al Quds’ Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
The Bashar Assad Alawite-Ba’ath minority regime is strong and bolstered by Iran. But it remains a minority, ruled by force on a growing dissatisfaction within the Sunni majority and especially the Syrian Moslem Brotherhood, opposing the Ba’ath domination. Two issues, one religious and the other, national economic, could impose a change, if the Bashar regime continues its present trend: Tightening the Iranian sponsored Shi’ite alliance and its domination in Lebanese politics, denying Syria its traditional influence there and even the threat of Syria becoming a Shi’ite vassal of Tehran within the Sh’ite crescent spanning from Iran, via Iraq to Lebanon, with Syria being the key to the whole.
This move, if implemented could raise considerable disconcert among the Sunni community, not only in Syria, but in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and challenge the ongoing alliance between Islamic, but mainly Sunni Turkey with Tehran. Could such a trend eventually force a Sunni-backed regime change in Syria? Much will depend on Tehran’s ambitions in Lebanon and the Sunni Gulf states, but first and foremost on US Mid Eastern strategy – If America will continue to act indecisively and appear weak, the Shi’ite domination trend will continue, gain more power and weaken the traditional Sunni hegemony, a dangerous trend which can have serious consequences for the West and foremost Europe, in which the Muslim population is constantly growing, soon becoming a challenging political and dangerous security factor.

The Lebanon Crisis: A Simmering Powder keg about to Explode?

Outgoing Military Intelligence chief Maj. General Amos Yadlin warned last week that Israel’s next war would be fought on several fronts – causing far heavier damage and casualties than other recent conflicts. He was referring to mounting tension, fearing of a conflict in Lebanon following last week’s announcement by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that he knew the UN tribunal probing Hariri’s 2005 murder was set to indict Hezbollah members. Nasrallah made clear that he would not accept any indictment of Hezbollah members and has questioned the credibility of the tribunal.
His announcement has sparked fears of a new sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon, similar to one that brought the country on the verge of civil war in 2008.
Last week, a Canadian report, quoting unnamed sources, implicated Hezbollah in the assassination of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. The report was based on circumstantial evidence, having been unearthed by United Nations investigators, naming a former Lebanese intelligence officer, who was assassinated following these revelations. It is not surprising that Hezbollah leaders have immediately responded that it would not accept any indictment of its members in connection with the assassination.
Meanwhile tension inside Lebanon is already rising dangerously. Following the high profile visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Lebanon earlier this month, Hezbollah has gained substantial power status, strengthening both its political and military prestige, among an already weakened Sunni- Christian led, decade-long existing, sectarian-strifed nation.
According to undisclosed intelligence reports, aired by the Israeli media, early November,  Hezbollah conducted a secret command exercise  in all parts of Lebanon to test its armed militia’s readiness for, what its leaders called “zero hour”, asserting its grip on Lebanon by “cornering” Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The “zero hour” exercise demonstrated, “the quick implementation on the ground” of the necessary deployment. They claimed that in “less than two hours” they were able to “maintain a security and military grip of large areas of Lebanon.” These are no empty words either. In May 2008, Hezbollah actually seized most of western Beirut following a third day of clashes between opposition and government supporters. The “coup” was sparked by a government move to shut down Hezbollah’s secret telecommunications fiber network.
Back In 1975 Lebanon was plunged into a lasting, bloody civil war, in which the Syrian Army invaded the country and virtually controlled it for years.
These days, the situation in Lebanon is even more dangerous and if allowed to explode, could shake the Middle East beyond repair. Earlier this summer, Israeli chief of staff, Gaby Ashkenazi said that an earthquake was in store for Lebanon later this year, when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) names Hezbollah in connection with the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
As usual in the past, events in this region much depend on the attitude of the United States. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has so far done very little to subdue the simmering powder keg, which is about to explode. In fact, the Muslim world and especially the extremist Islamic jihadist, regard Washington’s recent hasty withdrawal from Iraq and Obama’s untimely announcement of his intended disengagement from Afghanistan, as a sign of weakness in facing a serious crisis situation.
Should the Canadian report be based on genuine information from the STL, Hezbollah might act with force to take control over Lebanon. With the Hezbollah in power, Lebanon might turn into becoming an active part of the Iranian Shiite sphere of influence- the so-called “Shiite Crescent”. This will create a highly sensitive situation: Syria, which regards Lebanon as part of its geopolitical domain, never having accepted the colonialist post WWI Anglo-French agreement, which made Lebanon into independent statehood, will no doubt react negatively on any trespassing into its traditional protectorate.