Archive for January, 2011

Why does Israel pull punches?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

I received an email today from a correspondent in Israel regarding my posting of the testimony of the naval commandos who landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara. The writer had been a combat soldier, a veteran of a special forces unit, someone who knows what it’s like to rappel from a helicopter into trouble. He wrote,

I haven’t felt so mad, disappointed, and dishonored in a very, very long time.  Mad at the world who will not let us fight to win, and our leaders who feel they aren’t able to. Disappointed at my commanders who would put my courageous brothers in such a helpless situation, then shed the responsibility from themselves. And dishonored that with all our supposed military strength, moral standards, and economic successes, we continually fail to [defeat] the barbarians.

There are a number of issues here. First, whoever was responsible for the intelligence failure that resulted in the soldiers being instructed to expect to be met by ‘peace activists’ who might spit at them or call them names rather than a lynch mob — fire them.

But that’s only the smallest part of the problem. There is something wrong on a deeper level. Israel is viciously attacked but pulls its punches, almost as if the leaders are afraid that the world will get angry — as if there isn’t an almost endless supply of Israel-hatred out there already.

So for example we have the Goldstone report, and in connection with the Mavi Marmara affair, a Turkish account that says that

All of the evidence, including bullet traces on the Mavi Marmara and several eyewitness statements, reveal that Israeli forces started the attack and that even before boarding the ship the forces had already killed and wounded people when targeting objects and people onboard.

Of course if this were true, one wonders why the soldiers jumped into the middle of the lynch mob with paintball guns? Would the Turks say something different if they had landed with real weapons drawn? I suspect that if that had been the case, both passengers and soldiers would have suffered fewer casualties.

So why does Israel always pull her punches? Why does she always stop fighting while the enemy is still standing, as in Gaza?

In some cases there are psychological reasons. Some Israelis have internalized the enemy ‘s narrative. But that’s not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is that Israel has developed an unhealthy dependence on the US. Israel’s greatest fear is that the US will cut off the supply of spare parts for expensive, complicated weapons systems. And the US is ambivalent toward Israel. Most US officials (but not all) want Israel to survive, but within 1949 lines. And they seem to want to maintain a balance of power between Israel and its neighbors, which means that Israel can’t be allowed to get too strong (see an example of this thinking here).

So while UN and EU resolutions are usually harmless, US actions can be very painful. And I think fear of US actions — or actual US interference, as happened in the Gaza war — are a major constraint on Israel’s ability to fight.

It is imperative that Israel begin to wean itself away from the US. It must develop other sources of weapons and other alliances. I understand that integration of weapons systems from multiple suppliers is a complicated technical problem, but it simply is unacceptable that the Jewish state has to behave like a banana  republic. This will be a long, difficult process, but it has to start.

There is another reason why Israel ought to reassess its behavior. It’s an unfortunate fact about humans that most of them do not respect restraint — they respect the exercise of power. It’s a truism that the Arab world always interprets a desire to compromise as a sign of weakness, but it’s not just the Arab world.

Greater force is not always the solution to a difficult problem — consider the Russians in Afghanistan — but restraint when force is called for only invites the other side to push harder.

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‘Palestine Papers’ aimed at PA

Monday, January 24th, 2011

I am not terribly excited about the so-called “Palestine papers.” There’s less there than meets the eye. Barry Rubin and Elder of Ziyon both have good posts on the subject.

But here are a few thoughts on the matter.

The ‘papers’ appear to be notes taken by Palestinian participants in various meetings with Israeli and US negotiators. Although they are being spun by Aljazeera and the UK Guardian — an organ even more hostile to Israel — as showing that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was prepared to make great concessions to Israel while Israel was rigid and intransigent, the documents so far published on Aljazeera’s site do not appear to show this.

In fact, the commentary by the Guardian and Aljazeera actually seems to attribute well-known Israeli positions to the PA!

What is especially interesting to me is the way the PA is furiously denying any hint that they might be prepared to compromise on anything — borders, Jerusalem, Refugees, etc. They see themselves as under attack by these allegations:

Al-Jazeera has declared war on the Palestinians … This station serves the interests of the enemies of the Palestinians — unnamed ‘Senior PA official’

This is a theater … This is part of a campaign targeting President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA at a time when we are going to the UN Security Council regarding the settlements. — Saeb Erekat, PA negotiator

For once I agree. The public the PA is trying to impress, both Palestinian Arabs and the rest of the Arab world, despise compromise and worship ‘resistance’. Even if the PA wanted to agree that perhaps not every one of the 4-5 million Arabs that claims ‘refugee’ status has an absolute right to ‘return’ to Israel, to say this would be to mark them as clearly inferior to Hamas by the only measure that counts: militancy.

This is why the PA continues to glorify terrorists and allow vicious anti-Israel  and antisemitic incitement in its media despite promises to stop.

So while the usual suspects like NPR will bleat about how this ‘proves’ that everything is Israel’s fault, the main effect of these documents and their spin will be to hit the PA where it hurts the most, in its credibility in the Arab world as champion of the Palestinian Cause.

The actual documents that I’ve seen have not contained anything new or surprising. It may be that the Guardian and Aljazeera have others which include strategic fabrications, such as placing Israel’s positions in the mouths of Palestinian negotiators. Or it may that the analysts are simply mixed up about who said what. If the actual documents are released, it will ultimately become clear, since the Israelis have notes too.

Of course by that time, as always, the damage will have been done, both major damage to the PA and minor damage to Israel. It’s ironic to see the Palestinians wounded by the same kind of falsehood bomb that they so often throw themselves.

There’s speculation about who did it. Certainly the Iran/Syria/Hizballah/Hamas axis has it in for the PA, and wouldn’t mind screwing Israel in the bargain. Or it could be another Fatah faction: some PA officials are blaming Abbas rival Mahmoud Dahlan.

What is most important here, at least so far, is not what is in the documents, but rather how they are being used — especially in the Arab world.

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What they faced on the Mavi Marmara

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
Yeah, right.

Yeah, right.

The Turkel Commission — the high-level commission appointed by the Israeli government to investigate the Turkish Flotilla affair — has released its report, which you can read here. The report is almost 300 pages in length and discusses the legal considerations surrounding Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, whether there was a ‘humanitarian crisis’ there, and the actual events that occurred before, during and after the incident.

I’m not going to try to summarize its conclusions except to say that I am impressed by the thoroughness and honesty that surrounded this effort. But I do want to reproduce a bit of testimony that appears in it, the experiences of three of the first naval commandos that landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara.

I’m certain that very few of you, even those who have been combat soldiers, have ever experienced anything close to what these young men did. Their bravery — after the first one hit the deck, the other 14 team members could see what was happening — and their presence of mind and strength, is remarkable.

The soldiers all testified that they expected to meet ‘peace activists’. One of them said,

During the preparation the message was passed that we were expected to encounter activists who would try to hurt us emotionally by creating provocations on the level of curses, spitting, removing face covering etc. but we did not expect a difficult physical confrontation… (note 518, p.150)

But try to put yourself in the place of the first soldier to rappel from the helicopter to the deck:

When I reached a height of 2 – 2.5 meters from the ship, people grabbed the end of the rope and pushed me to the side. Before I managed to touch my feet to the deck, about ten people jumped onto me and began brutally beating me from every direction, using clubs, metal rods and fists, and whatever they could grab. The blows were over my whole body and were concentrated mainly in the area of my face and head.

It is important to note that at this stage I was not armed – my weapon was fastened behind my back and in my vest pocket I had a taser (electric shocker) which was completely irrelevant in light of the brutal attack on me. At this stage I sensed a real and immediate threat to my life, and I tried to reach the weapon (a mini-Uzi) on my back. I only managed to open the clips that were securing the weapon but I didn’t manage to reach the weapon. At this stage I was occupied with attempts to reach my weapon while trying to protect myself as best I could from a fatal attack from the mob, and I waited for the rest of the soldiers to arrive.

The attackers pushed me toward the side of the ship. Because of the large number of attackers, I did not manage to resist. A number of attackers grabbed me by my legs and my torso and threw me over the side to the deck below, about 3.5 meters. Up until this stage, I did not see any other soldier aboard the ship, and, to my knowledge, I was the only solder who had fast-roped onto the ship.

Upon landing on the middle deck, I fractured my arm, and a mob of dozens of people attacked me and basically lynched me – including pulling off my helmet, strangling me, sticking fingers into my eyes to gouge them out of their sockets, pulling my limbs in every direction, striking me in an extremely harsh manner with clubs and metal rods, mostly on my head. I truly felt that I was about to die, way beyond what we define as life-threatening.

The behavior of the people at this stage was definitely like fighters of an enemy which has come to kill the other side, that is, me. I felt that at any moment I would take a blow to the head which would kill me. At this stage the mob succeeded in tearing my vest off of me (which included the weapon) and the weapon fell out of the vest.

I realized that I would not be able to overcome all of the attackers and in order to save my life I tried to jump into the water but: (a) I was worried that I would not fall into the water but rather onto the deck below me; (b) the mob blocked my access to the side. At a certain stage I managed to reach the weapon, I cocked it, and I shot one of the attackers in his leg. The considerations in shooting were as follows:

1) To distance the attacking mob from me and to minimize the injury to me.

2) To signal my location to the rest of the team on the ship and the fact that I was in distress and my life was in danger.

Immediately after I fired the shot, I took an extremely harsh blow directly to my head from a metal rod. This stunned me briefly, and in this second they grabbed the weapon from me. At this stage, I thought that the mob wanted to take me as a captive and use me as a bargaining chip for entry to Gaza or in general. A lot of blood began streaming down my face from the wounds to my head. The mob continued to hit me and push me forward inside the ship. — (p. 152)

The commander of the team from the helicopter was the third to land. Here is his testimony:

While descending down the rope I see that they are trying to throw different objects at us. I was struck with metal poles and rocks. As I reached the roof, I feel a very strong blow to the neck from behind, and I see around me about 15-20 people who are surrounding me – some of them have clubs, some have knives, axes.

They are all wearing orange life vests, some of them have kafiyot over their faces, some have gas masks, and some have their faces uncovered. I realize immediately that my life is in danger, I realize that the lives of the other soldiers who fast-roped and are fast-roping are in danger. I understand as the commander that I am not in control of the situation. I manage to withdraw my mini-Uzi which is secured on my back (the weapon is fastened to the protective vest, in a way that enables it to be “drawn” rapidly).

While I’m drawing the weapon, I feel myself flying – as the result of being pushed. Someone pushes me forcefully and I fall onto the side. I find myself sitting on the deck with my back to the side and facing all the people surrounding me. The people surrounding me have axes, knives, metal poles and clubs, and they’re running towards me – it’s a matter of a second or two before they reach me. I manage to cock the weapon and release two bullets.

I don’t know if I have hit anyone or who. People immediately reach me, grab the weapon from me, and hit me with full force with poles and clubs. I sit against the side with my knees bent – my side is turned toward the side of the wall, hands protecting my face. A mob of people around me are hitting me with many blows, mainly towards my head. The people surrounding me are going berserk, and they’re constantly shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

I feel the blows on all parts of my body and, as I said, many blows to my head. After about two minutes while the people are beating me and I’m trying to protect myself, I feel a number of people grabbing my hands and feet, lifting me up. In this second I realize that they intend to throw me over the side into the water. I resist, thrust wildly, struggle, but without success. It is important to state that also during this time I continue to take very strong blows to the abdomen. I am fighting with all my strength until a certain stage when they manage to get me over the side of the boat. I am holding onto the side, with my hands, and hanging from the side. At this stage, the people from above me are hitting my hands and a second group of people is pulling me from below by grabbing my legs.

Very quickly, I fall to the level below the roof. As I land, another group of people are running towards me. Here as well there are shouts of Allahu Akbar. I am lying on the deck, there are many people above me, one of the people jumps on me and I feel a sharp pain in the lower abdomen. I put my hand there and I feel a knife, and I realize that I’ve been stabbed, I instinctively pull the knife out of my abdomen. It is important to state that, during this stage as well, I’m taking many blows, including from clubs. — (p. 153)

Finally, soldier no. 5:

I landed with my feet onto the deck, while I’m throwing off the rappelling gloves. I start to take blows from metal poles, and I also clearly discern a terrorist with an axe in his hand. I withdraw about four to five meters towards the stern in order to distance myself from the encounter by the rope, and a group of about six (and it felt like more) pursues me toward the stern.

I clearly remember what the people had in their hands: there were three people with metal poles which were light-blue (the color of the ship). At first, I didn’t realize what they were. I thought maybe they were a type of toy, but as soon as I got hit with one of the poles, I realized that they were metal poles. There were two people with knives drawn, running after me with the intention of stabbing me, and another person with a crow-bar – a tool made of metal, about a half-meter long, which was sharp on one end and flat on the other […]

I’m surrounded by six people and another person who arrives a few seconds later. This person has a large camera tripod in his hand and he joins the terrorists and beats me with the tripod. My situation at this point is that, as I said, I’m surrounded by terrorists. They’re beating me with poles. I’m getting hit all over my body. I take several blows to the face with the metal poles. I take many blows to the head, my head is protected by the helmet (after the battle was over, my helmet was completely smashed). I am getting blows to my body, which is protected by my ceramic vest. I’m trying to protect my face with my arms and my arms are getting beaten. One of my arms breaks […]

I am trying with this hand to take out my pistol, which is fastened to my leg in a holster, but I don’t succeed, because they see my attempt to draw the pistol and they stop me by hitting my hand with metal rods. The fighting continues a little longer, and at this stage I realize I’m not managing to withdraw the pistol. I try to find a solution, and then a terrorist runs towards me with a knife drawn and stabs me with full force in the chest. What stops the knife is the ceramic vest I’m wearing. The terrorist who tried to stab me seems surprised that the knife was stopped by the ceramic shield and I push him off of me with a blow towards his head.

I realize that I need a weapon to defend myself. I run toward one of the terrorists who is attacking me, I grab the iron pole from his hand, and I use it to start striking back at the terrorists who are surrounding me – blows with the iron pole in my hand. I felt that from the moment I took the iron rod the blows increased. I started to feel their impact and it was hard for me to breathe. I also started to feel dizzy. At this stage, I feel a cut in the area of my ear or head, it isn’t clear to me exactly where.

I turn and see someone with a knife – I hit him with the iron rod and the person falls. When I turned towards the terrorist with the knife, my back was left exposed and the terrorists who were behind me struck a number of blows in the area of the back of my neck. I retreat a few steps and at this stage I stumbled; my right leg buckled under. I fall to the deck. I fall where underneath me there is an open entrance – the hatch on the right side of the roof. It’s about a meter wide. The people above are trying to push me down through the opening to the level below, and, at the same time, they are trying to pull me down from below. I manage to see that underneath me on the deck a mob of people have gathered.

I realize that, in a situation like this, I cannot let the terrorists push me downwards. I roll about a meter to the side in order to distance myself from the opening. At every stage, the blows with the poles continue, non-stop. I get hit in the head, the abdomen, and the legs. After I manage to get away from the hatch, I take a number of blows to the head and the back of my neck, and I lose consciousness.

The next stage that I remember — when I awoke from a very strong pain in my knee, I see soldiers from the unit under my command putting a tourniquet on me. During a number of minutes, I alternate in and out of consciousness. I hear a report by the soldier who is the commander of the medical team, transmitting a report about my condition. At this stage, I realize for the first time that I have been shot in the knee. I also realize that I have a slash in the ear and a slash in the head, and fractures in my arm, because my arm is distorted and I have severe pains in the elbow. — (p. 156)

All of these three were severely injured (no. 4 was critically wounded, but survived). The soldiers who were taken below decks were beaten further. Here is how soldier no. 3 described it:

At a certain stage, a number of people drag me into the ship. What’s running through my head is that they’re dragging me into the ship in order to kill me. I try to resist and to grab at anything along the way. Every time I resist, I get severely beaten. At the first stage, they are dragging me inside from the side into the staircase.

Before they start to bring me down the stairs, they take my equipment off of me. I resist with all my strength, without success. I recall a lot of shouting there, madness in the people’s eyes, hate. I realize that this is the end of me, and that they’re going to kill me.

They start dragging me into the stairwell, two people, one from above and one from below. I try to grab onto the banisters and the railings, the whole way – because I realize that, as soon as I get below and reach the lower level, they’re going to kill me. I hear the second helicopter arriving, I hear voices, shooting, and explosions on the deck, and I hope that within a short time they’ll come to rescue me, and I realize that this is my chance to stay alive. Every time I grab onto something, my hands get burns (the marks on my hands are still visible today).

While they’re taking me down the stairs, my pants fall down and my shirt rises up – I see that I am bleeding massively, that is, I’m losing a lot of blood, and I can tell that part of my intestines are protruding (today I know that they came out as a result of pulling the knife out of my abdomen). I also notice a deep cut in my left arm, from which I’m also losing a great quantity of blood. I also feel blood flowing from my nose into my mouth. At this stage, I have no head covering because they removed it from me after they took off my equipment.

During the descent in the staircase, I identify soldier no. 4 lying on the lower level, surrounded by a large number of crazed people, while he’s continuously being beaten. They’re continuing to drag me down the stairwell – while doing so, my pants fall down and my shirt rises up. At this stage, they move a bit away from me, and I find myself surrounded by people with cameras, video and stills, and they photograph me a number of times, with photos and flashes. At this stage, I ask for a doctor and point to the cut in my abdomen. I receive a gauze pad, which I press against the wound in my abdomen and hold in place using the elastic of my underpants.

My picture of the situation at this point is like this. I was dragged two flights down the stairwell, I’m lying in the staircase – opposite the entrance to this level of the ship. Soldier no. 4 is lying at the entrance to this level, surrounded by people who, on the one hand, are photographing him and me, and at the same time they’re continuing to beat him.

Two people I remember from this stage were wearing (green) Hamas flags wrapped around their heads, who were very eager to kill us. They tried to strangle me and soldier no. 4. The hate in their eyes was just burning. They told us in English that they were going to kill us. Apparently, what stopped them from succeeding was the people who prevented them from doing it. They pushed them away from the area.

Afterwards, they continue to drag me down another level through the stairwell, and they bring me into a large hall. Upon entering the hall, I identify soldier no. 1, whose entire face is covered in blood. They lay me down on a couch opposite soldier no. 1. The hall is large, with many couches and dozens of people in the hall. There are women in it, with covered faces, who are taking care of the wounded people, but not us. Just after they bring me down, they bring soldier no. 4, and lay him down on the couch next to me.

The current situation is that the three of us are in the hall on three couches. Soldier no. 1 is sitting, soldier no. 4 is lying down, and I’m lying down on the couch opposite them, at a distance of about three meters.

They tied my hands and feet with rope. They station a person above me who is holding a wooden pole in one hand, and with his other hand he’s holding onto my arm. He beats me with the wooden pole, and he indicates to me with his hand to be quiet, and that any movement by me will result in harsh blows with the wooden pole. Apparently as a result of the loss of blood, I started to become groggy. I notice a group congregating around soldier no. 4, I look in his direction and I see that they are sitting on him and beating him with harsh blows. Soldier no. 4 starts to convulse. Both soldier no. 1 and I started shouting in English for the doctor.

At this point, the activists brought water and poured it over his face and he stopped and lay down quietly. I was sure that at this point he was dead.

All of the soldiers that were taken below decks reported that there were two groups of people on board. Soldier no. 1 testified:

At this stage, I noticed that there were two types of people in the room:

1. Terrorists – very large and strong men, approximately ages 20-40, armed with cold weapons [deadly weapons other than guns or explosives — ed.], running back and forth and appearing as if they’re in the middle of a military operation. Some of them spoke into Motorolas, transmitted reports within the ship and, other than not having uniforms, looked and acted like a military force in every respect.

2. The relatively moderate people – slightly older men and women who showed restraint, relatively, and did not attack me.

I noticed that there was a disagreement between the two groups; the terrorist group wanted to attack me and kill me, while the moderate group tried to protect me. At this point, I was worried that someone from the terrorist group would succeed in getting to me and shooting or stabbing me to death. — (p. 163)

Some of the “terrorists” who were wounded resisted medical treatment; one pulled out a drain inserted by Israeli doctors and said “I want to die like a shaheed” (p. 175).

After the soldiers and some of the passengers that had been wounded were evacuated, the commander of the takeover force decided to enter the ship, retrieve the weapons that had been taken from the soldiers, and evacuate the rest of the wounded, who had refused treatment. A “Knesset member” among the passengers — that would be MK Haneen Zouabi — tried to stop them, but was pushed aside.

The section on the report dealing with the takeover of the Mavi Marmara concludes with a description of the various weapons and equipment that were found, and then this:

It should be noted that during the searches conducted on the Mavi Marmara, no humanitarian supplies were found. — (p. 179)

This post is far too long already, and there’s very little I can add. Read the report yourself — it’s clear and logical.

Naturally, the report and its conclusion that “Overall, the IDF personnel acted professionally in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence” will be ignored by those who believe in the Postmodern Theory of Truth (“A proposition is true if and only if it supports the Cause”). But there it is.

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Moty & Udi: It’s security, stupid!

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

I wrote about crazy Israeli politics last week. But today I want to explain why, despite the confusing electoral system, the multitude of parties, the coalition maneuvering, etc., it is really quite simple. There is one issue that is of paramount importance to the great majority of Israelis, and nothing else comes close.

That issue, of course, is security, or how to manage the hundred-year old conflict with the Arab and Muslim world.

While there are strong feelings about the balance between religious and secular society, economic issues, etc., all of these things are clearly of secondary importance when most Israelis vote. If you read the American press, which relies greatly on Israeli voices from the left-wing media and academic establishments, you would think that there is presently a burning issue about whether the government or right-wing groups or Avigdor Lieberman is suppressing free speech. You would think that large segments of Israeli society closely follow the progress of the ‘peace process’ and that many of them are sympathetic to the efforts of the Women of the Wall to be permitted to read from the Torah at the Western Wall.

You would be mistaken.

Israelis are worried about Hizballah and Hamas rockets aimed at their homes, and they want to know what politicians plan to do to defend them. They are worried about the Iranian nuclear threat. Many are uncomfortable with uncontrolled immigration of third-world refugees across the porous Egyptian border. They are concerned by the radicalization of Arab citizens of Israel. Most think that the ‘peace process’ is a charade carried on to please the US. They think the Women of the Wall are silly, if they think about them at all, and don’t understand why they want to make trouble with the Orthodox authorities, even if they abhor those authorities.

But keep this in mind when the next elections come around: the winning parties will be the ones that have the best answers to the security question, the ones that will most persuasively explain how they intend to disarm or defeat Hamas and Hizballah, and prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

Before 2000 many Israelis believed that the Oslo process could be made to work. When Ariel Sharon proposed his disengagement plan, a large number followed him. Both of these programs were associated with  political parties, Labor and Kadima respectively, and when they failed, the parties behind them took hits as well.

Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, while they come from different parts of the political spectrum, have this in common: their background as commanders of the top commando unit in the IDF, the sayert matkal. This counts — not because Israelis are militarists, but because they see competence in military matters as an absolute necessity for a nation that is unfortunately always at war.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this sign hanging on the wall behind the next PM:

It’s security, stupid!

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Turning up the heat on the Western frog

Friday, January 21st, 2011

This just about says it all about prospects for Lebanon:

BEIRUT — A potential kingmaker in Lebanese politics threw his support Friday behind Hizbullah, a major boost to the Shi’ite militant group that brought down the country’s Western-backed government last week.

Walid Jumblatt, the influential leader of the Druse sect, refused to say exactly how many lawmakers are with him, but his support is key for any candidate trying to form a government…

“The party will stand firm in support of Syria and the resistance,” Jumblatt told reporters, referring to Hizbullah by the popular term.

On Thursday, Jumblatt said he was under great pressure not to name Hariri as the government’s next premier despite earlier statements throwing his support behind him, Lebanese paper an-Nahar reported.

He told members of his party that insisting on Hariri as the country’s new prime minister would lead to “catastrophic consequences” for the security of the Druse party, himself, and the Druse population in Hizbullah-controlled areas. He added that things “have become greater than him and his ability to maintain the middle ground in a harsh battle in which Hariri’s regional and international backers only resort to statements, while his opponents (Hizbullah) turn to all manners of military and popular pressure,” according to the report. — Jerusalem Post [my emphasis]

This reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story that when Churchill asked Stalin to consider the position of the Vatican about Polish autonomy, Stalin replied by asking “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?”

The West isn’t short on ‘divisions’ or other means of persuasion, but as Jumblatt suggests, is not prepared to take any real action to oppose Hizballah.

Earlier this week, Hizballah operatives fanned out to strategic locations throughout Beirut, unarmed, but uniformed and carrying radios. The idea seems to have been to demonstrate that a coup was not beyond their capabilities.

In the recent past Hizballah has been content to exercise control over the government without actually taking over. They’ve avoided overt actions that might trigger another bloody civil war, and have maintained the fiction that Lebanon is independent and democratic.

Now they have apparently decided that it is absolutely necessary to prevent the independent tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of former PM Rafik Hariri from announcing indictments of Hizballah members.

One wonders why this is sufficiently important to justify threats of a takeover, which could easily become violent. After all, indictments would not diminish Hizballah’s reputation among its supporters, nor could it get worse among its enemies.

One possibility is that they think such an announcement by the tribunal would spark a confrontation, and they don’t want one. I doubt this, since Hizballah is regarded by all parties as the most powerful military force in Lebanon — as Jumblatt’s surrender illustrates. Christian elements do not have the capability to oppose Hizballah alone. If the tribunal announces its indictments, very little is likely to occur.

Another possibility is that it is a pretext — that they have now decided that they want to take full control of the country. The focus on the tribunal is just indirection.  But I doubt this, too, because an ‘official’ takeover would certainly make waves in the West and Israel — imagine if they declared Lebanon an Islamic republic! — and they don’t need this to achieve their main objective, which is to project Iran’s military power and threaten Israel.

Or — and I think this is most likely — perhaps they simply want to force the West to back down on the tribunal, and believe they can do it just by making threats. At the same time, when the government is reconstituted, Hizballah will end up with even more power and opponents will be weakened. They get what they want without firing a shot.

This is another so-far successful gambit in the chess game being played by Iran in which, little by little, Western influence in the Middle East is being squeezed out.

Or to use another metaphor, they are turning up the heat on the pot in which the West’s frog is being cooked, and the frog hasn’t noticed yet.

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