Lebanon

Indyk of Arabia

Posted by Cutler on August 01, 2007
Dem Zionists, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Martin Indyk wants to save the Arabs.

Inkyk–the Australian-born protégé of indicted AIPAC official Steven Rosen, former US Ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, and current director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy–has welcomed signs that the Bush administration is looking to forge a US-Israeli-Arab front to challenge Iran.

Hence the recent cheerleading for Bush’s anti-Shiite tilt in Iraq from Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, Indyk’s Brookings brothers.

Indyk is even more blunt in a recent Op-Ed published in The Age (Australia), entitled “Securing the Arab World.”

By insisting on elections and reinforcing the power of a Shiite Government in Iraq, the US has exacerbated Sunni-Shiite conflict…

For some time Sunni Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan had been warning that a Shiite arc was spreading its influence across the region….

They found it unacceptable that a Shiite-dominated, historically Persian Iran should blatantly interfere with Arab Iraq, Arab Lebanon and Arab Palestine and attempt to become the arbiter of Arab interests….

Given these Arab concerns, the Shiite rise presents the US and Israel with a measure of opportunity. The only way Sunni Arab leaders can counter Iran’s bid for regional dominance is by securing US and Israeli actions….

Presumably, then, Indyk is well pleased by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s efforts to use the promise of US military aid to construct an Arab-Israeli, anti-Iranian regional bloc.

The conventional wisdom appears to be that Arab leaders will welcome this strategic alignment.  An Associated Press report suggests the formation of the anti-Iranian bloc is a slam dunk.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia for a rare joint lobbying effort…

The Cabinet secretaries also will try to solidify what the U.S. sees as a bulwark of generally moderate Arab states against an increasingly ambitious and unpredictable Iran.

Unity against Iran is not a hard sell….

While the Saudis may not actually go so far as to refuse the US military aid, I’m not sure the Saudis are sold on the Iran plan.

Saudi King Abdullah has not yet embraced the Bush administration’s talking points on Iran, Lebanon, or Palestine.

Indeed, a case could be made that Secretary of State Rice–and Zionists like Martin Indyk–are dreaming of (and promoting military aid to…) a different Saudi King than the one who currently occupies the throne.

Saudi King Abdullah has refused to cooperate with the US in any of its major proxy wars against Iran.  Instead, the King has consistently favored dialogue over confrontation with Iran.

Saudi Resistance in Lebanon

In Lebanon, Abdullah did everything he could to kill the anti-Iranian Cedar Revolution and to foster unity between Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Saudi-backed Siniora government.

Saudi Resistance in Palestine

King Abdullah’s “Mecca Agreement” fostered unity within the Palestinian Authority between Iranian-backed Hamas and the Saudi-backed Abbas government, even as the Bush administration encouraged Abbas to launch a proxy war against Iran in Gaza.

When Hamas defeated Fatah in the Gaza proxy war, the US pressed for Fatah and Abbas to completely isolate Hamas.

There are important indications, however, that King Abdullah continues to resist US efforts to isolate Hamas.

The US may have Egyptian support for the anti-Iranian effort, but a rift might have developed between the Saudis and the Egyptians in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas victory in Gaza.

In late June, the Associated Press reported on the split:

Egypt and Saudi Arabia may not be seeing eye-to-eye over how to deal with the inter-Palestinian rivalry — with Cairo feeling its traditional leading mediator role has been sidelined by Riyadh’s growing influence.

In March, Saudi Arabia — not Egypt — managed to bring Hamas and Fatah leaders to Mecca for a reconciliation agreement. Since then, relations between the two nations have been cool, with Egyptian state-owned media recently reported that Saudi Arabia was undermining Cairo’s position.

In early July, Reuters affirmed the Saudi position:

[Israeli] officials said some Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, opposed U.S.-supported efforts to isolate Hamas following its defeat of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group in Gaza last month…

In remarks to Reuters in Riyadh, Saudi political commentator Adel al-Harbi, an editor at the semi-official al-Riyadh daily… said King Abdullah was trying “to get the Palestinian factions to come together in a unity government” again, due to his objections to the political split between Gaza and the West Bank, where Fatah holds sway.

“Saudi Arabia is against the idea of two authorities, one in Gaza and one in Ramallah … that’s not Saudi Arabia’s policy,” Harbi said.

Even as Abbas wraps himself in the security of US and Israeli support he has been snubbed by Saudi King.  Moreover, Abdullah has pressed–against the objections of the PLO–for an Arab League commission to investigate the events leading to the showdown in Gaza.

Saudi Resistance in Iraq

As I suggested in a previous post, there are signs that within the Saudi royal family, King Abdullah represents a position that is relatively soft on Iran but hard on Iraqi Shiite rule.

It would not be surprising, then, if Secretary of State Rice receives something of a lukewarm response to her request that Arab leaders rally around the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq.

Dreaming of a Crown Prince?

Martin Indyk may fancy himself the next Lawrence of Arabia, but Saudi King Abdullah seems unwilling to play the role of the cooperative Hashemite, Faisal bin Hussein.

Is the US really throwing massive amounts of military aid toward a leader who seems so resistant to the American agenda in the Middle East?

Perhaps Indyk and the Bush administration are merely naive about Abdullah.

Or maybe all that US military aid is meant to strengthen a specific element of the Saudi kingdom, the defense establishment headed by Crown Prince Sultan and the National Security Council, heading by Sultan’s son, Prince Bandar.

Is it possible that Indyk and the Bush administration are already dreaming of the next Saudi King should something untoward happen to King Abdullah?

Reading the Map Correctly in Israel

Posted by Cutler on May 04, 2007
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria / No Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is under pressure for his execution of the so-called “Second Lebanese War.”  Tens of thousands of protestors rallied in Israel, calling for Olmert to resign.

The protests are politically “vague” about the substance of the critique of Olmert, but insofar as Netanyahu and his Right Zionist allies are highly critical of Olmert’s execution of the war, the protests may bolster the case against Olmert.

Back in 2006, I wrote several posts describing Right Zionist dismay (here and here) with Olmert’s “cautious” execution of the battle in Lebanon.

The most “candid” Right Zionist critique of Olmert, however, comes from Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute who–along with her husband, David Wurmser–is part of the “family” of Right Zionists allied with Cheney.  In an extraordinary December 2006 interview, Meyrav Wurmser was very explicit about Right Zionist frustration with Olmert:

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Hizbullah defeated Israel in the war. This is the first war Israel lost,” Dr. Wurmser declares…

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Is this a popular stance in the [US] administration, that Israel lost the war?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Yes, there is no doubt. It’s not something one can argue about it. There is a lot of anger at Israel.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: What caused the anger?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “I know this will annoy many of your readers… But the anger is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians. Instead of Israel fighting against Hizbullah, many parts of the American administration believe that Israel should have fought against the real enemy, which is Syria and not Hizbullah.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the administration expect Israel to attack Syria?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “They hoped Israel would do it. You cannot come to another country and order it to launch a war, but there was hope, and more than hope, that Israel would do the right thing. It would have served both the American and Israeli interests.

The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space… They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its strategic and important ally should be hit.”

“It is difficult for Iran to export its Shiite revolution without joining Syria, which is the last nationalistic Arab country. If Israel had hit Syria, it would have been such a harsh blow for Iran, that it would have weakened it and changes the strategic map in the Middle East.

“The final outcome is that Israel did not do it. It fought the wrong war and lost. Instead of a strategic war that would serve Israel’s objectives, as well as the US objectives in Iraq. If Syria had been defeated, the rebellion in Iraq would have ended”…

“No one would have stopped you. It was an American interest. They would have applauded you. Think why you received so much time and space to operate. Rice was in the region and Israel embarrassed her with Qana, and still Israel got more time. Why aren’t they reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

Now, is this Likudnik critique of Olmert shared by organizers of the anti-Olmert rallies?

No.

It is instructive to note that the rally has been attacked from both the Israeli  “Left” and “far-Right.”  If the far-Right is to be believed, the rally is–like the rebellion by Olmert’s own Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni–part of a centrist effort to get Olmert out as Prime Minister, but to salvage the Kadima-led coalition government and preempt calls for new elections.

Why?  Because new elections could well result in the election of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.

If Cheney is going to have another pass at war against Syria this summer, then the clock is ticking for snap elections.

The Israeli Labor party will be under pressure to quit the Kadima-led government, but it appears to be scrambling to find a way to forestall demands for a fresh election any time soon.  This may become increasingly difficult, however, if Olmert survives in office until late May when Labor party primaries may force the leadership to split with Kadima.  The Economist explains:

Though the Labour primary is an internal vote among party members, from whom Mr Peretz has more support than among the public, most bets are on Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and army chief of staff, or Ami Ayalon, an ex-admiral and domestic intelligence chief. Mr Ayalon has already said he will pull Labour out of the coalition if he wins, almost certainly forcing an election. If, on the other hand, Mr Barak gets in, his dilemma will be whether to stay on as defence minister and share the flak with Mr Olmert, or risk an election race against the right-wing Likud party.

Cheney has a (Right Zionist) plan for the Middle East.  Act II of that plan was supposed to begin last summer.  It failed.

If Netanyahu is restored to office, Cheney may find himself with allies “reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

Needless to say, the clock is ticking.

Or, from the perspective of Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen, “Faster, please.”

Is Rice Really Nice?

Posted by Cutler on April 26, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Right Arabists, Russia / 1 Comment

In a recent post on Cheney, Iran, and the whole “British hostage” affair, I asked whether Cheney might not have sabotaged an Iranian-American quid pro quo that would have involved the release, by the United States, of the “Irbil Five”–Iranians held by the US in Iraq.

At first glance, the whole hostage affair seems to represent a loss for Cheney.

And he may, indeed, agree with Bolton that the whole deal was a victory for Iranian hardliners.

It is also possible, however, that Cheney is not quite finished.

The British have been release. But the Iranian “Irbil Five”?

No sign of them. At least not yet…

Is it possible that those are Cheney fingerprints on “the realpolitik of today’s Iraq”?

That was April 11th.

Yesterday, Michael Ledeen offered up some gossip that appears to confirm these suspicions, beginning with Ledeen’s discussion of a news story by Robin Wright in the Washington Post:

[A] story written… by one of Secretary Rice’s favorite journalists, Robin Wright of the Washington Post… said:

After intense internal debate, the Bush administration has decided to hold on to five Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents (sic) captured in Iraq, overruling a State Department recommendation to release them, according to U.S. officials.

I’ve been told that “intense internal debate” is exactly right–it was one of the most contentious debates in quite a while. Wright reports that Vice President Cheney led the charge against Rice’s position, and I am told that Secretary of Defense Gates was equally adamant. This is reinforced by a statement by General Petraeus, to the effect that we intended to keep them and keep interrogating them as long as we had food and they had things to say. Moreover, I am told that the intensity of the debate was due to the fact that Rice was not merely recommending the release of the Iranians, but had informed the mullahs that we would release them.

On the Iranian front, then, it certainly looks like Cheney and Gates leading the hawkish faction with Rice working to open diplomatic avenues.

The mystery here is Rice.  In an April 22, 2006 analysis, the Financial Times (subscription required) suggested that Rice was looking increasingly “realist” in her positions.

To judge from Ledeen’s anger (and Perle’s earlier accusations), one could imagine that Rice is something less than a Neocon “true believer.”

And yet…

The record is uneven, even on Iran.  On the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon?  Rice looks pretty hawkish.

And then there is Rice on Russia.  On missile systems in Europe, Rice doesn’t appear particularly dovish.

Perhaps there is an underlying logic to all this, but it escapes me.

Krauthammer: We Must Pretend

Posted by Cutler on September 01, 2006
Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Keep hope alive.

That seems to be the thrust of a Charles Krauthammer essay–“Hezbollah’s ‘Victory’“–in today’s Washington Post.

The hope in question? Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution. As I noted in a previous post (and again, here), the Cedar Revolution was, in many respects, dead upon arrival when the latest hostilities broke out between Israel and Lebanon.

Some of Krauthammer’s article is, by its own estimate, simply wishful thinking:

We must pretend that Security Council Resolution 1701 was meant to be implemented and exert unrelieved pressure on behalf of those Lebanese — a large majority — who want to do the implementing.

At least Krauthammer implicitly acknowledges that there is no real prospect of UN forces disarming Hezbollah.

But Krauthammer also engages in some “analysis” that may also represent a kind of wishful thinking. He insists that the Cedar Revolution–a revolution in Lebanese politics–retains intact:

True, under the inept and indecisive leadership of Ehud Olmert, Israel did miss the opportunity to militarily destroy Hezbollah and make it a non-factor in Israel’s security, Lebanon’s politics and Iran’s foreign policy…

Nonetheless…

Hezbollah’s political gains within Lebanon during the war have proved illusory. As the dust settles, the Lebanese are furious at Hezbollah for provoking a war that brought them nothing but devastation — and then crowing about victory amid the ruins.

Hezbollah is under renewed attack — in newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, as well as by many Lebanese, including influential Shiite academics and clan leaders. The Arabs know where their interests lie. And they do not lie with a Shiite militia that fights for Iran.

So, here is the old hope: Arab-Iranian tension will allow Israel to play the Arabs against Iran.

How is that going, so far? Wishful thinking?

In Lebanon, I see know sign that Hezbollah has been politically weakened, and Krauthammer doesn’t offer much support for such a claim:

Even before the devastation, Hezbollah in the last election garnered only about 20 percent of the vote, hardly a mandate. Hezbollah has guns, however, and that is the source of its power. But now even that is threatened.

Of course, this is a bit of sophistry. The real issue is not Hezbollah’s political support nationally, but among Lebanese Shiites. Here, I would wait to see evidence that they have any less of a mandate than they did before the recent fighting began. Surely it would be a major strategic error to undermine Hezbollah’s grassroots support in southern Lebanon. Does Krauthammer really belive that the primary source of Hezbollah’s political power comes from the barrel of a gun?

But there is the neighborhood, as Krauthammer says: “Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt” etc.

Here, I would also propose that some caution is in order. Krauthammer’s analysis rests on some tenuous assumptions.

He insists that “The Arabs know where their interests lie.” True enough. But his emphasis is on Iran: “they do not lie with a Shiite militia that fights for Iran.”

If we are talking about the Saudis, it might be worth noting that they have two relatively distinct “interests”–one relating to Syria and one to Iran.

Most of the heat that initially sparked the Cedar Revolution was between the Saudis and Syria, not Iran. The issue was not the disarmament of Hezbollah, but control of the Lebanese Presidency–specifically, Syria’s move to have Lebanese President Lahoud remain in office for a third term–and, implicitly, control of the economy.

On this front, the sparks have once again begun to fly. There are live tensions between the Saudis and the Syrians and–as I noted in a previous post–these tensions may have become worse since the end of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

Right Zionists in the US, like the Saudis, have little patience for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Krauthammer wants to keep the heat on the Syrian President:

We should be especially aggressive at the United Nations in pursuing the investigation of Syria for the murder of Rafiq Hariri…

Likewise, Right Zionists like James Woolsey were clear at the start of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah that he was ready to take the fight to Syria. At the time, Woolsey told Fox News,

I think we ought to execute some air strikes against Syria, against the instruments of power of that state, against the airport…

At least part of the trouble–for Krauthammer and Woolsey–is that Right Zionists aren’t running the whole show in Israel.

Shimon Peres is part of the Olmert government. And Peres-aligned Zionists want to open a dialogue with Syria, presumably in an effort to pry Syria away from Iran.

See, for example, the essay by Ron Pundak of the Peres Center entitled “There Is Someone to Talk To.”

For a similar perspective, see the recent essay by Dennis Ross–“A Cease-fire Reality: Dealing with Syria“–in the Washington Post.

The Bush administration, which has expressed an interest in weaning Syria away from Iran, won’t be able to do that without talking to the Syrians.

Moreover, there is far more evidence of current Saudi tension with Syria than there is of current Saudi tension with Iran.

True, the Saudis are certainly supportive of US efforts to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But Iran’s priority in Lebanon is Hezbollah and as I noted in a previous post, the Saudis–and their proxy in Lebanon, the Siniora government–made peace with Hezbollah back in January.

Krauthammer says that “Hezbollah” is under renewed attack in newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt. Most of the media reports that received attention in the US were about Syria–not Iran or Hezbollah–coming under renewed attack in such newspapers.

If the Peres crowd is hoping to pry Syria away from Iran, the Saudis may be trying to pry Iran–and Hezbollah–away from Syria. Indeed, this has been a risk for the Syrians since the advent of Saudi-Syrian tensions.

Where are the signs of Saudi-Iranian tensions? Immediately after the ceasefire took hold in Lebanon–amidst a veritable shouting match between Syria and Saudi Arabia–Saudi King Abdullah hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki for a meeting in Jeddah.

Did you hear lots of shouting and name-calling after that meeting? I didn’t.
Did you see Saudi Kind Abdullah welcome the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to Jeddah? Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see the Saudis roll out the red carpet for the Syrians.

The “hope” for Right Zionists, if there is any, would seem to be in the future of Saudi-Syrian tensions. I’m not sure the Saudis are actually spoiling for a battle with Iran right now.

Have I missed the signs of the times?

Podhoretz: Wilderness or White House?

Posted by Cutler on August 27, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I discussed a recent article by Norman Podhoretz entitled, “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?

Podhoretz was responding to the complaints of many Right Zionists who have been howling in the wilderness, upset that the Cheney administration has betrayed their Revolution.

Podhoretz explained to his Right Zionist friends that the central explanation for the setbacks was not to be found in an ideological battle (say, with Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft), but in a simpler domain: politics.

Its the election, stupid. If there is anyone to blame… blame Rove.

But don’t blame Rove, Podhoretz implied, because the Revolution will not be televised if the Republicans lose control of government.

One thing I failed to mention at the time of my previous post: Podhoretz might not have simply offering sage advice from movement elder who has done his own share of howling in the wilderness in years past.

Is it possible that Podhoretz was actually giving voice to the frustrations–and rationalizations–of those Right Zionists who continue to serve within the administration, including the White House?

I have in mind the “voice” of Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy at the White House National Security Council.

Why?

Because Abrams and Podhoretz are family. As Tom Barry notes in his recent Counterpunch article, “Gangster Diplomacy: Elliott Abrams in Jerusalem,”

Abrams, a proud self-declared “neoconservative and neo-Reaganite,” is the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, an activist couple who played a leading role in establishing neoconservatism as an influential political tendency in the 1970s.

It would still be highly speculative to talk about a rift between any Right Zionists and Karl Rove. None have explicitly attacked him.

On the other hand, it would be all the more interesting if the Podhoretz commentary was intended to serve as a kind of note passed from White House insiders to “movement” outsiders: “the President has not betrayed our ideology; he is just trying to keep all of us in office.”

Here is the punch line, from my perspective: any rift with Rove has nothing to do with Rove as an ideologue. It has to do with Rove as a “political professional” who knows how to pander to the polls. According to such a scenario, Rove acts as something like an opportunistic–even entrepreneurial–“register of the popular will” within an administration otherwise dominated by committed foreign policy factions.

And the popular verdict, in the current context? Don’t even think about sending US troops to Lebanon.

Wouldn’t that represent an interesting dynamic?

Guess Who Favors US Troops in Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on August 24, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 7 Comments

I was wrong.

I have been trying to figure out why nobody has been proposing sending US troops in Lebanon, especially in light of widespread “disappointment” with Israel’s campaign and growing “reluctance” on the part of France to lead a robust Multinational Force.

Most recently (here and here), I speculated about the possibility that Right Zionists would like to see US forces in Lebanon but might have quietly abandoned that idea when told by Karl Rove & Co that the administration was not prepared to take (more) casualties ahead of midterm elections.

Maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree. Like Ken Silverstein, I was expecting Right Zionists to be the primary champions of a US troop presence. After all, the most pro-Israel factional players in the Reagan administration–e.g., NSC staffer Howard Teicher–were also the most ardent advocates for an active US military mission in Lebanon back in 1982 and 1983. Right Arabists like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger were the most reluctant.

Well, I recently stumbled upon a Baltimore Sun Op-Ed by Drew Bennett, a Marine colonel on the faculty at the National War College, who warns against deploying troops in Lebanon. It was Bennett who noted what I had overlooked:

Although the Bush administration says that it does not plan on putting troops on the ground, some – including former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft – suggest that the United States might need to send peacekeepers into Lebanon

Bennett is correct.

In my own previous post on Brent Scowcroft’s July 30, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed “Beyond Lebanon” I completely overlooked the following passage:

The obvious vehicle to direct the process would be the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations), established in 2001 for just such a purpose. The Quartet, beginning at the foreign-minister level, would first organize the necessary international force for southern Lebanon and Gaza and then call for a cease-fire. The security force would have to have the mandate and capability to deal firmly with acts of violence. Ideally, this would be a NATO, or at least NATO-led, contingent. Recognizing the political obstacles, the fact is that direct U.S. participation in such a force would be highly desirable — and perhaps even essential — for persuading our friends and allies to contribute the capabilities required.

Ok, then. [Note: “Recognizing the political obstacles”–i.e., popular resistance to taking casualties, right?]
Warrent Christopher hits the same note in his July 28, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “A Time to Act.”

[T]he United States has an indispensable role to play. A succession of Israeli leaders has turned to us, and only us, when they have concluded that retaliation for Hezbollah attacks has become counterproductive. Israel plainly trusts no one else to negotiate on its behalf and will accept no settlement in which we are not deeply involved. Further, based upon my experience in helping bring an end to the fighting in the Balkans, the Europeans are unlikely to participate in a multinational enforcement action until the United States commits to putting its own troops on the ground.

No doubt about it. Here are two significant “Arabist” figures–one Republican and one Democrat, both held in contempt by Right Zionists–calling for US troops in Lebanon.

Now the hard part: what does it mean?

As I’ve mentioned before, the current conflict in Lebanon seems, in many ways, like a replay of 1982. But it is surely tempting to think that this issue–the source of pressure for US troops–marks a very significant change of some sort.
Ideas?

Taking Casualties

Posted by Cutler on August 22, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

An editorial in today’s Financial Times–entilted “Stepping Up to the Plate in Lebanon“–discusses the French reticence to lead a “robust” Multinational Force in Lebanon.

Just last Thursday, Jacques Chirac, the French president, told Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, that France was ready to assume command of the bolstered UN force in Lebanon. But he has so far promised to increase the French presence in the country by a paltry 200 troops. Paris, whichrevelled in seizing a leading role in negotiations at the UN SecurityCouncil, seems to be having second thoughts about putting troops where its mouth is…

At bottom, the dilemma over sending in troops bears on an unwillingness to take casualties. Providing manpower for Unifil has long been a deadly assignment. France is also all too aware that its frequent calls for Syria to be brought to account could make it vulnerable to attack by Damascus’ supporters in Hizbollah.

This has only exacerbated anti-French sentiment in the US, with Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly calling Chirac a Wanker.

But if the French are having second thoughts, I continue to wonder why the US seems to not have even had “first thoughts” of sending US troops to Lebanon.

Back in the otherwise eerily similar case of the 1982 Israeli campagin in Lebanon, there were big factional fights in the Reagan administration over the issue with Secretary of State George Shultz and much of the NSC staff strongly in favor of projecting US influence in Lebanon through active military participation in a Multinational Force.

Today, there appear to be no public advocates for US troops in Lebanon.

John Bolton–US Ambassador to the UN, and a figure who might have been expected to champion US participation–shut down the discussion very quickly at the start of the current crisis.

The Washington Post ran a story on July 22, 2006 that quoted Bolton:

As far as boots on the ground, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards,” said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a sentiment also expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday.

“I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces . . . are expected for that force,” she said.

So, what is the story here?

Have Right Zionists simply become more “pragmatic” now than they were back in the early 1980s? Are they implicitly acknowledging that Iraq has become such a quagmire than US troops are now overstretched?

[On the overstrethced issue: is that notion endorsed by all the “critics” who have insisted all along that Rumsfeld could have an should have sent 500,000 troops to Iraq in order to do it right? Now, with something less than 150,000 troops in Iraq, the US is unable to send, say, 50,000 troops to Lebanon?]

Or, perhaps Right Zionists would have argued for US troops in Lebanon if Bolton had not signaled early on that they need not waste any breath since a factional battle had already been quietly fought and lost within the administration.

Hence Bolton’s posture as a mere observer or fortune teller: it simply isn’t “in the cards”–regardless of the merits of the idea, from his perspective.

But if Right Zionists faced a quiet defeat within the Bush administration, who did them in? Was it the work of Right Arabists unwilling to risk a direct confrontation with Syria and/or Iran? Perhaps, although I think there may be good reason to doubt that.

Is it possible that Right Zionists were dealt a defeat at the hands of… Karl Rove?

There were rumors that Rove’s “in-house” slogan during the last Presidential election was “No War in 2004″–meaning no serious counter-insurgency activity that might produce US casualties. Such a rumor seems to have been given some support by the timing of the US assault on Fallujah which seemed to have been on hold for much of 2004, until Bush’s election was secured.

Is it possible that with mid-term elections on the horizon in the US, Rove is reluctant to risk US casualties in Lebanon–especially with the memory of the October 23, 1983 bombing of US Marine Barracks in Beirut that killed 241 US soldiers? A new “in-house” slogan: “No Barracks in 2006″?

All of this is speculation, of course.

But is it possible that all along Right Zionists have faced resistance, not only from Right Arabists, but from “political professionals” like Rove who detect–and “pander” to–an emergent, growing “isolationism” within the US and an indifference to the old motif of wartime sacrifice?

Why No US Troops in Lebanon?

Posted by Cutler on August 18, 2006
Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

It is clear that there isn’t going to be a “robust” multinational force–one strong enough to disarm Hezbollah–in southern Lebanon.

As Swopa at Needlenose has suggested, the French “hesistancy” can hardly come as a surprise to Israel–even though the Israelis now say they are “shocked, shocked” to discover that the multinational force is looking quite anemic. Swopa says…

[T]he Israelis and Americans… wanted a fig leaf to end a war that had backfired, and the French gave it to them by getting Hezbollah to agree to an “expanded international peacekeeping force” (wink wink, nudge nudge) that numerous realistic observers knew would probably never materialize.

As Praktike at American Footprints points out, Charles Krauthammer hasn’t yet given up hope on the idea that a force of some kind might be able to finished the job and disarm Hezbollah.

Krauthammer’s column in today’s Washington Post is entitled “A Moment to Be Seized in Lebanon.” Surely that title is an intentional, if tasteless, pun–a caustic reminder of those “seized” during the last multinational force in Lebanon. As Thomas Ricks and Robin Wright at the Washington Post recently recalled,

The last multinational force, deployed in 1982 and led by the United States, was repeatedly targeted by Muslim militants and forced to end its mission abruptly in 1984. U.S. forces were taken hostage. Marine Col. Rich Higgins was kidnapped shortly after he took over command of the U.N. Observer Group Lebanon in 1988. He died in captivity.

Surely all the wringing of hands about the multinational force begs a question:

Why No US Troops?

The most frequent answer seems to be that US forces are “overstretched.”

This was the explanation offered by Ricks and Wright on July 22, 2006 in the Washington Post,

In a departure from past peacekeeping missions to Lebanon, the force currently being discussed would not include U.S. troops, U.S. officials said yesterday…

U.S. forces are already stretched by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are no troops to spare for Lebanon, Pentagon officials said.

As reported by Defense News Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, provided some similar explanations on August 17, 2006.

No U.S. troops will go to Lebanon “because of the nature of the conflict there,” said Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs, the third ranking official at the State Department…

American troops have “raised so many different passions among the Lebanese public due to the history of our involvement in that country” and in the region, he said in comments to reporters.

The United States also won’t send troops to Lebanon because “we are engage elsewhere in the world — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Far East. We’re certainly doing our share for global stability,” Burns said.

The most clearly articulated of these explanations is the overstretched line: “we are engaged elsewhere.”

Burns also hints that “the history of our involvement” raises “passions among the Lebanese public.” Like Hezbollah Shiites? The same Lebanese Shiites who killed 241 Marines with a 1983 truck bombing?

Are those “Lebanese” passions that are likely to be raised? Or US passions–especially among elements of the uniformed military still haunted by that loss?

And then there is the most opaque but intriguing Burns explanation: “the nature of the conflict there.” What does that mean? That we do not want to be seen joining Israel in a direct confrontation with Shiites? Afraid of a reaction among Iraqi Shiites?

Ken Silverstein emphasizes the overstretched explanation:

The uniformed military… is ardently opposed to sending American soldiers to the region, according to my source [“a well-connected former CIA officer”]. “They are saying ‘What the fuck?’” he told me. “Most of our combat-ready divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or on their way, or coming back. The generals don’t like it because we’re already way overstretched.”

But back in late July, his CIA source suggested that the idea had not yet been ruled out:

According to the former official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a “multinational” deployment, and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea.

Who–according to Silverstein–might these “top administration officials” and “senior civilians at the Pentagon” be?

You guessed it…

The scenario of an American deployment appears to come straight out of the neoconservative playbook: send U.S. forces into the Middle East, regardless of what our own military leaders suggest, in order to “stabilize” the region.

I don’t dispute this. It has a certain logic to it. And yet, I can find no instance of neoconservatives banging the drum for US boots on the ground. Krauthammer doesn’t make the case–at least not explicitly–in his recent column where he insists that the multinational force is “so critical.”

At best, there is the following cryptic remark:

Now is [Hezbollah’s] moment of maximum weakness. That moment will not last long. Resupply and rebuilding have already begun.

This is no time for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations [John Bolton] to be saying, when asked about the creation of an international force, that “this really is a responsibility of the Secretariat.” Maybe officially, but if we are not working frantically behind the scenes to make sure that this preposterously inappropriate body gets real troops in quickly, armed with the right equipment and the right mandate, the moment will be lost.

Are French troops “real troops” in Krauthammer’s book? Or is that a nod toward a role for US troops?

I’m guessing that if Right Zionists really wanted US troops they might say so. They are not exactly shy or subtle. So, where is the demand for US troops?

Not a rhetorical question… has anyone seen Right Zionists banging the drum for US troops–as anticipated by Ken Silverstein?

Or is there some reason why that idea is a non-starter from the get go–even for “neoconservatives” who allegedly favor the projection of US military power anywhere and everywhere, even as an end unto itself, let alone when Israeli security is presumably at stake?

Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Posted by Cutler on August 16, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Can’t we all just get along? At least the “rejectionists”?

I have in mind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Likudnik Dore Gold who find common ground in their analysis of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Here is an Associated Press report on Assad’s speech from Tuesday, August 15, 2006:

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad yesterday said that America’s plan for a “new Middle East” collapsed after Hezbollah’s successes in fighting against Israel…

“The result was more failure for Israel, its allies and masters,” he said.

On the same day, Dore Gold was a guest on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal (no transcript is available on-line; transcription is my own; citation is minutes and seconds into Washington Journal program). Gold was just as clear as Assad. He said Israel required a period of “tremendous introspection” and “self-criticism” because the “goals” of the campaign in Lebanon “were not reached” (40:37).

Both Assad and Gold contrasted the recent failures with with Israel’s 1982 campaign.

Assad explained,

Bashar said this war revealed the limitations of Israel’s military power.

In a 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli forces surrounded Beirut within seven days of invading, he said.

“After five weeks it [Israel] was still struggling to occupy a few hundred metres.”

“From a military perspective, it [the battle] was decided in favour of the resistance [Hezbollah]. Israel has been defeated from the beginning,” Bashar said.

“They [Israelis] have become a subject of ridicule.”

Gold made a similar point, emphasizing that “air platforms” can tackle long-range missiles coming from Lebanon, but ground troops are required to deal with the “greater challenge” of short-range rockets:

In Israel’s Lebanon War of 1982, northern Israel was struck by Katusha rockets, launched not by Hezbollah but by the PLO.

At that time, Israel invaded Lebanon with three divisions and within 48 hours all Katusha rocket fire from southern Lebanon into northern Israel had been terminated” (46:32).

The blame will probably fall hardest on Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. According to Time, Halutz was quoted on July 14th saying,

“In this day and age, with all the technology we have, there is no reason to start sending ground troops in.”

As the campaign wore on, Halutz began to change his tune. On July 21, 2006 the Jerusalem Post quoted Halutz:

You cannot plant a flag in the ground with an F-16.”

Even then, however, the Israeli Cabinet apparently rejected the call by Halutz for significant ground troops. According to a July 27 Jerusalem Post report:

[T]he security cabinet decided on Thursday against significantly widening the IDF’s operations in southern Lebanon, rejecting a recommendation by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to escalate the offensive against Hizbullah…

As a result of the cabinet decision, the IDF said the operation in Lebanon… would retain its current format, according to which brigade and battalion-level forces – not division-level as Halutz had requestedcarry out pinpoint incursions on specific targets.

Whatever the actual source of the Israeli failure, the Syrian and Iranian victory dances are in full swing.

(Needless to say, Dore Gold is not celebrating the Israeli defeat–although his allies in the Likud party will certainly try to make political hay in Israel from the need for political “introspection” and “self-criticism” in light of the Kadima party’s responsibility for military failure.)

Assad: Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Syrian President Bashar Assad is not only celebrating victory over Israel. He is also going out of his way to snipe at other players in the region. A UPI report entitled “Assad Slams Lebanon Foes,” suggests that Assad used his speech to attack elements of the Lebanese government:

Syrian President Bashar Assad has snapped at anti-Syria Lebanese groups, accusing them of complicity with Israel in the war against Hezbollah.

In a speech Tuesday… Assad made it a point to brand as “traitors” the so-called “March 14″ gathering of multi-sectarian Lebanese groups opposed to Damascus…

Assad accused his Lebanese opponents of having encouraged Israel to wage war on pro-Syria Hezbollah in order “to boost their political stance” on the international level…

Assad… said the role of anti-Damascus groups is to salvage the Israeli governmentwhich was embarrassed by its defeat at Hezbollah’s hands.

They will do that either by provoking strife in Lebanon to move the crisis from inside Israel to the Lebanese scene or by forcing the disarmament of Hezbollah’s resistance,” Assad said.

Furthermore, the Boston Globe carries and Associated Press report that says Assad also implicitly attacked Arab regimes–like Saudi Arabia and Egypt–that criticized the initial Hezbollah raids into Israel:

In his speech, Assad lashed out at Arab regimes that criticized Hezbollah for capturing two Israeli soldiers July 12 and setting off the war. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan — all US allies — opposed Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the conflict.

We do not ask anyone to fight with us or for usBut he should at least not adopt the enemy’s views,” Assad said.

Oqab Sakr, a Lebanese analyst, said Assad’s remarks were tantamount to “a final divorce from the Arab regimes and a full marriage with Iran.”

Quite a bit is riding on whether Oqab Sakr is correct in his assertion that Assad has initiated “final divorce” proceedings from Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

It is the notion of such a divorce that leads Juan Cole to suggest that in these attacks,

Al-Asad is playing into Israel’s hands

[He] seems to want to pit Hizbullah against the reformers. But that is exactly what the Israeli hardliners were hoping for, as well.

According to the Boston Globe article, Assad has already prompted an Egyptian backlash:

A front page editorial in a state-run Egyptian newspaper derided Assad’s speech–a rare overt criticism by one Arab government of another. Al-Gomhuria daily scoffed at Assad, saying he was celebrating “a victory scored by others.”

“You should be prepared now for political and economic pressure put on you because of this speech,” it said.

Assad’s bold tone is intended to cement his earlier political victories in Lebanon–discussed in previous posts here and here.

If Assad is risking a backlash, it will not likely emerge independently from Lebanese political officials like Prime Minister Siniora or Lebanese MP Saad Hariri. They may have the will to battle Syria and disarm Hezbollah, but they almost certainly lack the power to do so.

Unless, that is, they have the support of the Saudis. Hariri and Siniora will both take their cue directly from the Saudis.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Daily Star reported that Siniora was under pressure from Hezbollah–back in January 2006–to declare that “the resistance is not a militia.”

At first, Siniora resisted.  According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

Shortly thereafter, however, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdel-Aziz Khoja was quoted in the Daily Star as saying,

[Saudi Arabia] is proud of Hizbullah’s achievements,” adding that the “disarmament is an internal issue and should be resolved by the Lebanese.”

In almost no time, Siniora reversed himself and the Lebanese government officially declared that Hezbollah was a resistance movement, not a militia (presumably meaning it would not have to be disarmed under the terms of UN Resolution 1559). Hezbollah promptlly ended its boycott of the Lebanese government. On February 2, 2006 the BBC reported:

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora told the Lebanese parliament on Thursday that Hezbollah had always been considered a resistance movement.

“We have never called and will never call the resistance by any other name but the resistance and it is a national resistance and we will not use any other expression to describe it but national resistance,” he said.

Then, as now, Siniora will take his cue from the Saudis.

So, in turn, will the French–who seem unlikely to put much into a multinational force unless Hariri and Siniora are prepared to disarm Lebanon.

According to the Financial Times:

French officials on Tuesday insisted Paris would resist leading a bolstered international force in southern Lebanon without Lebanese government assurances that Hizbollah, the militant Shia group, would be disarmed.

Paris’ requirements were spelled out on the eve of Wednesday’s visit by Philippe Douste-Blazy, French foreign minister, to Beirut – a visit likely to prove pivotal in deciding the fate of the multinational UN force proposed to police the fragile ceasefire between Hizbollah and Israel.

Officials in Beirut made clear that the army would not clash with Hizbollah and risk provoking internal conflict. Late on Monday, Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defence minister, told the local LBC television that the army had no intention of disarming Hizbollah in the south.

He suggested that Hizbollah understood that weapons could no longer be visible in the buffer zone, but said that if troops came across missiles they would not take them away.

Much, then, depends on the Saudis. Presumably, the future of the “marriage” (between Iran and Syria, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on the other) is the main topic today when the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki meets in Jeddah today with Saudi Arabia’s King Abudullah.

Would love to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!

Status Quo Ante

Posted by Cutler on August 14, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / No Comments

A Wall Street Journal editorial–entitled “Status Quo Ante“–sums up what I take to be the disappointment of Right Zionists.

Ever since war broke out last month on the Israeli-Lebanese frontier, the Bush Administration has said it wouldn’t tolerate a return to the “status quo ante,” in which Hezbollah behaved as a power unto itself within the Lebanese state. Yet after reading the text of the U.N. Security Council’s cease-fire resolution adopted unanimously on Friday, we’d say the “status quo ante” is nearly what we’ve got.

And perhaps worse than that, because Hezbollah has now shown it can battle Israel to a military draw. The new resolution does call for disarming Hezbollah, just as resolution 1559 previously did, but without saying who will do it. Presumably that task is intended for the Lebanese Army, which is supposed to occupy the parts of southern Lebanon from which Hezbollah launched its attacks on Israel. But Lebanon’s army is a weak force, consciously undermined over the years of Syrian occupation, and is largely Shiite. There’s reason to doubt it will be able to disarm Hezbollah’s still-powerful Shiite military.

That just about says it all. If the point of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon was to disarm Hezbollah, that goal has proven elusive and–given the state of Lebanon’s politics–looks unlikely to be met any time soon.

Yesterday’s news of an impasse in the Lebanese Cabinet (discussed in a prior post)–where Hezbollah ministers balk at any move by the government of Prime Minister Siniora to disarm Hezbollah–is an exact replica of a similar crisis that began in December 2005.

According to the Daily Star, ministers from the two Shiite factions–Amal and Hezbollah–began a boycott of the Cabinet on December 12, 2005. At that time, they reportedly demanded, as a condition for their continued participation in government, that Lebanon send a letter to the UN Security Council saying that the Lebanese government had fulfilled the conditions of UN Resolution 1559..

Lebanon’s governmental crisis faced new complications Monday, with Christian ministers refusing one of the conditions set by the Shiite ministers to return to Cabinet. Talking to The Daily Star, Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis said his party, the Lebanese Forces, was not about to accept addressing the UN Security Council with a letter saying that the internal part of Resolution 1559 was implemented.

Resolution 1559 calls for, among other things, the disarmament of Hizbullah and Palestinian militias, but the Lebanese government had said the issue should be solved through internal dialogue.

However, addressing a letter to the UN indicating that Lebanon has fully implemented 1559 has emerged as one of the main demands of the ministers of Hizbullah and the Amal Movement to end their 15-day-long boycott of Cabinet meetings and to resume their duties.

At first, Prime Minister Siniora dug in his heals–at least in part to appease UN Security Council–especially, the United States. According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

The spokesperson said that: “Such a statement would mean that UN resolution 1559 had already been implemented and thus put Lebanon in a state of confrontation with the Security Council.”

It was at this moment that the Saudis and Syrians met in January 2006 to try to patch things up.

At first, Siniora balked when the Saudis began to push accomodation with Syria and Hezbollah. According to a Daily Star article (“Lebanon Cool at Saudi Plan on Syria Ties,” January 18, 2006; unavailable on-line):

The Saudi plan made public this week seeks to patch up Syrian-Lebanese differences since the February killing of a Lebanese ex-prime minister in which a U.N. probe has implicated Syrian officials. More bombings have followed the assassination.

“This (Saudi) paper does not meet Lebanese ambitions,” Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora told reporters. “We see that there are steps that need to be stressed, beginning with the security situation and the need to stop the killing machine.”…

“To be precise on this subject, these are Syrian ideas that Prince Saud al-Faisal carried, there is no Arab initiative yet,” Siniora said.

Before long, however, Siniora was recalled to Saudi Arabia for a friendly visit and quickly changed his tune. According to a Daily Star article (“Siniora Sees Primary Role for Saudis,” February 15, 2006; unavailable on-line):

During his one-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday to revive Arab mediation efforts, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora reiterated that Saudi Arabia “was and will still be the main support for Lebanon.” Siniora has been meeting with Arab officials such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, both of whom have proposed the Arab initiative to “ease the tensions between Lebanon and Syria.”

The initiative is now being revived after it was thwarted when it was leaked last month to the leaders of the March 14 Forces, who viewed it as a “Syrian initiative that wants to restore Syria’s control on Lebanon.”

The revivial of the Saudi initiative took the wind out of any effort to disarm Hezbollah–and, not coincidentally, probably helped dull the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

According to the Associated Press:

U.N. investigators had earlier implicated top Syrian and Lebanese officials in the explosion that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005. Among those linked to the killing was Brig. Gen. Assaf Shawkat, Syria’s military intelligence chief and Assad’s brother-in-law.

After the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, the pressure on Shawkat seemed diminished. According to another Associated Press report, the UN pushed back the deadline for concluding the investigation.

Chief investigator Serge Brammertz, earlier reported to the Security Council that progress was being made but he refused to repeat accusations that top Syrian officials with links to President Bashar Assad were responsible.

It would seem that the Israeli attacks on Hezbollah have done little to change any of this.

Even the Wall Street Journal acknowledges that the Lebanese government may not have the power to disarm Hezbollah, even if it had the will to do so.

As to the will to disarm Hezbollah, that remains fragile at best. With its most recent retreat from participation in the Cabinet, Hezbollah is calling the bluff of Prime Minister Siniora.

One recent report from an Israeli source, Ynetnews, suggests some signs of political will among pro-Saudi Lebanese politicians to take on Hezbollah. But I can find no confirmation of the quotes from other news sources and it seems like slim pickings–as the analyst suggests:

We will obtain revenge against those who got Lebanon entangled,” Saad Hariri said fearlessly, while Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused Hizbullah of working for Iranian and Syrian interests, and not in the favor of Lebanon.

The Druze, the Sunni Muslims, some of the Maronite Christians, and maybe even some of the Shiites are lying in wait for Nasrallah,” explained Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon.

There is no doubt that they will hurl accusations at him for wreaking havoc in Lebanon, and there is no doubt that the issue of Hizbullah’s weapons will be raised.

But nonetheless, it still seems that there is no one who can disarm Hizbullah apart from Nasrallah himself. And southern Lebanon is the organization’s ‘home.’ It is reasonable to assume that it will do everything to rehabilitate and arm itself,” he added.

Only Nasrallah can disarm Nasrallah. Seems unlikely to me. How about you?

[Update…]

Just watched “Team Freedom” (Bush, Cheney, Rice) gather for a press conference to discuss the “Freedom Program” in the Middle East. Notwithstanding a lot of Right Zionist rhetoric, it was clearly a concession speech. At one point, in a response to a question about claims that Hezbollah won Bush said, “If I were Hezbollah I would claim victory, too.” Of course, he meant that everybody always tries to spin the news to their own advantage. But it was a telling statement. I don’t have a transcript yet, but there was also lots of talk about how “difficult” the battle against terror can be.

I think it might not be possible to overstate the importance of this defeat for the Bush administration. Either it marks a very new moment in US relations with Israel–and will undermine all future efforts to by Right Zionists to argue that Israel can help the US police the Middle East–or it will prompt the Bush administration to redouble its commitment to never lose again. I predict the former. This defeat is a far greater disappointment to Right Zionists than just about anything that has happened on Sistani’s watch in Iraq.

One final thought on the likelihood of anyone disarming Hezbollah now.

How about the French?

Not so much…

Here is the New York Times report:

Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, told Le Monde on Saturday that the purpose of the enlarged Unifil would not include the disarming of Hezbollah by force. “We never thought a purely military solution could resolve the problem of Hezbollah,” he said. “We are agreed on the goal, the disarmament, but for us the means are purely political.”

That is the kind of immediate backtracking from the resolution that worries the Israelis, and which they say justifies their continuing military offensive to push Hezbollah back beyond the Litani, because they do not believe that the Lebanese Army, even with Unifil, will do it.

A Foreign Ministry official pointed out that it was Mr. Douste-Blazy who, in Beirut, called Iran “a force for stability in the region” when Europe is trying, with the United States, to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

Lebanese PM to Iran: Over the Limit

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are some important signals–quite mixed right at the moment–coming from Lebanon about the balance of power in Beirut.

First, the news from Saturday, August 12th that the Lebanese Cabinet unanimously approved the UN cease-fire plan. The Associated Press reported:

Lebanon’s Cabinet accepted the U.N. cease-fire plan to halt fighting between Israel and Hezbollah fighters on Saturday, moving the deal a step closer to implementation, the prime minister said.

It was a unanimous decision, with some reservations,” Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said in announcing Lebanon’s acceptance of the resolution after a four-hour Cabinet meeting.

Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fneish, minister of hydraulic resources, said the two members of the Islamic militant group who are part of the Cabinet expressed reservations. Particular concern was raised over an article in the resolution that “gives the impression that it exonerates Israel of responsibility for the crimes” and blames Hezbollah for the monthlong war, he said.

Maybe the reservations were about the balance of responsibility and blame. But I tend to doubt it.

Today (Sunday, August 13th), Lebanese unanimity looks far more fragile and the reason seems to turn two very important and related issues: disarming hezbollah and deploying the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon.

According to reports, Hezbollah has now dug in its heels on the all-important issue of disarmament. Here is the latest report from Reuters:

A Lebanese cabinet meeting set for Sunday has been postponed because of divisions over whether to discuss the disarmament of Hizbollah guerrillas, a government source said.

Hizbollah had some observations over … the discussion of their disarmament,” the source said…

On July 27 the cabinet approved a Lebanese seven-point plan that among other things called for weapons to remain only in the hands of Lebanese authorities…

A U.N. Security Council resolution to end fighting between Israel and Hizbollah calls for 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 the Lebanese state.”

This has been a sticking point–especially for Hezbollah and Iran–all along.

Indeed, if anyone was looking for signs of Saudi-Iranian tension, this is the place to look.

After the July 27th seven-point plan was approved, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in Beirut for talks. According to a report in the Daily Star, Mottaki was clear about his own reservations about “initiatives proposed so far” (i.e., the Siniora seven-point plan) at that time:

“We believe that the initiatives proposed so far by the various parties to achieve a cease-fire are divided into two parts,” said Mottaki.

He added: “The first part includes a halt to the Zionist attack, and any other item which would gather a consensus from all Lebanese.”

The second part would include all the items which “do not enjoy the approval of all parties, and this would be solved through future negotiations.”

Needless to say, the disarmament of Hezbollah constitutes the central “item” for Iran that does not “enjoy the approval of all parties.”

Mottaki’s implicit criticism brought a sharp rebuke from Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora. According to Stratfor:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki “went over the limit” in implying he had reservations about Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s seven-point plan to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Siniora told the French-language newspaper L’Orient Le Jour in an interview published Aug. 4. During his recent visit to Beirut, Mottaki had said there was no rush to discuss questions beyond an immediate cease-fire.

As I have suggested in a previous post, it is not a great stretch to consider Siniora as a Lebanese proxy of the Saudis.

Right Zionists would like nothing better than to see this split widen into a full blown conflict.

Who Killed the Cedar Revolution?

Posted by Cutler on August 11, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

George Ball, in his canonical 1992 Right Arabist book The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel, 1947 to the Present (hereafter, PA), argues that the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon had two objectives.

At a minimum, Israel wanted to undermine the PLO as a political force in Lebanon. Likewise today, only with Hezbollah playing the role of the PLO (the distinction is mainly important because it has significant implications for the reaction of the Arab world; the PLO could rely on far greater support from Gulf Arabs than Hezbollah).

But, Ball insists, Israel’s “first objective” was accompanied by its second:

“the installation of a minority Maronite Christian government to rule over a Lebanese protectorate which would conclude a separate peace with Israel” (PA, p.120).

Ball calls this second objective the “grand design” that dates at least as far back as David Ben-Gurion’s 1948 diary entry cited by Ball:

“the weak link in the Arab coalition is Lebanon… A Christian state must be established whose southern border will be the Litani. We shall sign a treaty with it” (PA, p.120).

As regards the current situation, a very similar “dual objective” position has been outlined by Dore Gold in his July 17 brief regarding the outbreak of fighting with Hezbollah, “The Opening Round of Iran’s War Against the West.”

Gold elaborates the specifics regarding a “first objective”:

So what should be the aims of the entire Western alliance – including Israel – in the current conflict? The chief goals are: First, full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that call for the complete dismantling of Hizballah and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israel-Lebanon border instead. Second, the removal of all Iranian forces and equipment from Lebanese territory, along with any lingering Syrian presence.

But Gold goes on to suggest that the contours of a contemporary “grand design.”

At the same time, there is a need to recognize that this is a regional war. Iran is seeking to dominate Iraq, particularly its southern Shia areas – the provinces where British troops are deployed – and hopes to encircle both Israel and the Sunni heartland of the Arab world. Syria is Iran’s main Arab ally in this effort. There is no question that Iran’s main aim is to dominate the oil-producing areas by agitating the Shia populations of Kuwait, Bahrain, and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Defeating Iran’s opening shot in this Middle Eastern war is not just Israel’s interest, but the collective interest of the entire civilized world.

There are at least two things worth mentioning in reference to Gold’s grand design. First, unlike the 1982 Israeli invasion described by Ball–which aimed to court Lebanese Shia animosity toward Sunni and PLO political domination–the current “design” is intended to court Sunni Arab animosity toward Hezbollah, Syrian, and Iranian political domination in Lebanon.

Second, Gold’s “design” has not necessarily been adopted by the incumbent Israeli government. Gold is a Netanyahu Likudnik. Labor party Zionists like David Kimche who favor negotiations with Syria were relieved when the Likuk party–which refused to join Sharon in the formation of the “centrist” Kadima party–did relatively poorly in the most recent Israeli election.

Indeed, there are signs that the Right Zionists (neocons; US Likudniks) may be closer to power in Washington than they are in Israel. This may account for some of the recent tension between the Right Zionists in Washington and the government of Israel.

See, for example, an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “US Neocons Hoped Israel would Attack Syria.”

The White House, and in particular White House advisors who belong to the neoconservative movement, allegedly encouraged Israel to attack Syria as an expansion of its action against Hizbullah, in Lebanon. The progressive opinion and news site ConsortiumNews.com reported Monday that Israeli sources say Israel’s “leadership balked at the scheme.”

See, also, Charles Krauthammer’s criticism of the Olmert government, noted in a previous post.

War As Politics?
In his account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, George Ball suggests,

“Israeli leaders knew that timing was of the essence. Lebanon was required to elect a new president by August 23, 1982, and the IDF had to be in Beirut before that… Israel’s problem was to find, or create, an ‘internationally recognized provocation’…” (PA, p.122).

Back in ’82, Ball reports “a terrorist group obligingly furnished Israel with at least a shadowy casus belli by shooting in the head an Israeli envoy post in London” (PA, p.123).

In 2006, the July 12 Hezbollah raid furnished the casus belli.

The Israeli response to the Hezbollah raid is not merely “disproportionate,” however. It involves ambitious goals that seek to go beyond a return to the “status quo ante,” as Secretary Rice said at the start of the crisis.

So if the Hezbollah raid was the “manifest” trigger, what was the “latent” trigger, in terms of long-term Right Zionist “grand designs”?

Can the current war be either divorced from–or worse, at odds with–an Israeli agenda for the long-term contours of Lebanese politics?

One increasingly popular view is that the Israeli military tactics have actually undermined Israel’s political objectives. This perspective finds some support in an important Newsweek article, “Now Comes the Next War.”

Soon comes its next fight—a postwar political reckoning. Whether the [Hezbollah] party emerges from the current conflict weaker or stronger—and stronger seems the answer now—it will then have to battle the country’s other political, religious and ethnic groups for the soul and identity of Lebanon…

This face-off will transcend borders, for it is a microcosm of the wider struggle in the Middle East. On one side is the American-led West and Israel, with some very quiet Arab allies; on the other is the movement to affirm an Arab-Iranian-Islamist identity…

Even now, the military clash is largely a political war of wills, deterrence and resistance, at least in Hizbullah’s view. Holding out for a month and emerging to negotiate a ceasefire represents, to many, a considerable victory. Yet within Lebanon itself, the fighting has both accelerated and camouflaged deep political tensions.

Before the war, just over half the Lebanese said they supported Hizbullah’s role as an armed resistance group that deterred Israeli attacks. Two weeks after the fighting started, more than 85 percent of Lebanese in one poll said they supported Hizbullah’s military attacks against Israel. This included 80 percent of Christians, a figure that was obviously inflated by anger against Israel for its savage attacks against all parts of Lebanon, not just Hizbullah strongholds in the south.

Joshua Landis over at Syria Comment has been quoted along similar lines in the Los Angeles Times.

The decision by President Bush not to support the Lebanese government’s plea for a cease-fire, even though that government has been backed by the United States, has dealt a further blow to public feelings about the U.S. in the region.

Members of the governing bloc in the Lebanese parliament, led by Saad Hariri, “are the most pro-American Arabs in the Middle East. They have promised, ‘America will protect us if we stand against Syria,’ ” said Joshua Landis, a Middle East expert and professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Now Israel is “blowing the hell out of them, and America isn’t taking one step to protect them,” Landis said. “The whole Arab world is going to look and see that Hariri has been sacrificed on the altar of Israeli power.…”

The most important thing to know about Saad Hariri is not that he is “the most pro-American” Arab in the Middle East, but that he is the most pro-Saudi Arab in Lebanon.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was the father of Saad Hariri. It was the murder of Rafik Hariri in February 2005 that focused a powerful spotlight on Saudi-Syrian rivalry over political and economic control of Lebanon, especially once Saudi Arabia pushed Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

For Right Zionists, the murder of Hariri established the conditions for a dramatic realignment of Lebanese politics by prying Saudi Arabia away from Syrian and Iranian political forces in Lebanon. In the so-called “Cedar Revolution” Right Zionists hoped to establish and support an alliance between Lebanon’s pro-Saudi Sunni Arab political forces–now led by Saad Hariri and Rafik Hariri’s former aide (and current Lebanese Prime Minister) Fouad Siniora–and the traditional anti-Syrian Christian (and Druze) opposition that Israel has always courted.

If that alliance–the so-called “March 14 Forces,” named for the day in 2005 when there were huge anti-Syrian rallies in Beirut one month after Mr Hariri’s assassination–was strong and steady prior to the Israeli invasion, then it would be difficult to discern what plausible Israeli advantages might have been anticipated on the basis of the invasion.

Although it is far from certain that the invasion will in any way help the “March 14 Forces,” Israel might have had good reason to fear that prior to the Hezbollah raid, Saudi Arabia was doing everything within its power to paper over Saudi-Syrian tensions in Lebanon and to re-align pro-Saudi forces in Lebanon with pro-Syrian forces and Hezbollah.

Setting aside some fo the important details of Saudi involvement in Lebanon after the murder of Hariri, it is clear that by January 2006 a Saudi-Syrian rapprochement was in the works.

According to news reports (here and here) and commentary (esp. that of Pat Lang, here, and–for a different interpretation–that of Tony Badran, here) the deal was sealed at a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi Kind Abdullah in January 2006.

As Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis suggested at that time,

Now, Washington will have to deal with the Kingdom. If the “kowtow” was convincing, Abdullah et al will not want their “satellite” disturbed much more.

It is into this context–not the full-flowering of the Cedar Revolution–that Israel intervened.

Will the Israeli invasion “save” the Cedar Revolution and reinvigorate Saudi-Syrian tension? It may be too early to say for sure, but the chances look increasingly slim.

Did the Israeli invasion “kill” the Cedar Revolution? No. It was already dead.

Seems Like Nothing Has Changed (Since 1982!)

Posted by Cutler on August 07, 2006
Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 1 Comment

I know it seems like Condi Rice has been stalling on the whole diplomatic search for an immediate ceasefire. And I’m sure it seems like the delays have been designed to give Israel time to score some military victories on the ground in Lebanon before introducing a UN resolution. As it turns out, Rice was simply being gracious, insuring that US or Israeli policy would be frozen in time during my two-week absence. Thanks Condi! Go right ahead, now…

The US and the French have hammered out a draft UN “ceasefire” resolution, but as currently written it won’t amount to much. As the Washington Post (“Rice Calls Plan at U.N. Crucial Step to Peace“) reports,

The resolution does not call for Israeli troops to immediately withdraw from Lebanon, a point that has drawn sharp opposition from key players in the conflict…

The United States and France agreed on the proposed Security Council resolution Saturday to end the fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group. The resolution calls for a “full cessation of hostilities,” including the immediate end of Hezbollah attacks and “all offensive military operations” by Israel.

So, Israel can stay in Lebanon, Hezbollah must stop all attacks and Israel only has to stop “offensive” operations. What does a “defensive” operation look like under these circumstances?

An obscure footnote in Caspar Weinberger’s 1990 memoir, Fighting for Peace, recounts a similar ceasefire deal from an earlier Israeli invasion of Lebanon:

“One of the… more creative interpretations of the term “cease-fire” was [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s claim, after the Israeli Defense Forces invaded Lebanon in June 19982, that he did not believe a cease-fire was a “cease fire in place.” And so the Israelis felt they could advance as long as they did not fire, and if the other side fired to halt the Israeli advance it was a violation of the cease-fire” (FFP, p.141).

Rice herself was quick to point out that any deal at the UN would not necessarily lead to a halt in the fighting. Reuters reports,

If that resolution can be quickly voted on, Rice said, “I would hope that you would see very early on an end to large-scale violence…

That does not necessarily mean an end to all fighting in the short run because “these things take a while to wind down,” and there could be skirmishes for some time to come, she said.

“We’re trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years. So it’s not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council,” Rice said.

As Tony Karon has suggested over at Rootless Cosmopolitan

The purpose of the cease-fire deal, though, may not be to end the fighting — which Rice herself seems to admit is unlikely — but rather to make another attempt at winning diplomatic endorsement for Israel’s military campaign by isolating Hizballah as the obstacle to an internationally sanctioned peace.

No real signs of Bush administration retreat, here. Still, there are signs of disappointment. I have in mind Charles Krauthammer’s Washington Post column from Friday (“Israel’s Lost Moment“):

There is fierce debate in the United States about whether, in the post-Sept. 11 world, Israel is a net asset or liability. Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on July 12 provided Israel the extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate its utility by making a major contribution to America’s war on terrorism…

The United States… has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership. Foolishly relying on air power alone, he denied his generals the ground offensive they wanted, only to reverse himself later.

I gather things are not going so well (from a strategic, in addition to a humanitarian, perspective) on the ground in Lebanon. Krauthammer blames the Israeli political leadership. But Hezbollah resistance is probably the real story here, at least according to the New York Times article, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Suprises Israel with its Training, Tactics, and Weapons.”
All of which begs the question: What Were They Thinking?

I have tried to discern various elements of a Bush administration “strategy,” most recently in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Now, Matt over at Il Cattivo Soggetto/The Bad Subject has offered up a critique of this idea:

The Right-Zionist strategy always struck me as a massive gamble, and now it just seems like a stupid one…

While Hezbollah no doubt miscalculated the new Israeli government’s willingness to use it’s military might, they may yet have the last laugh. The US and Israeli plan, if indeed Cutler’s analysis is correct, is more and more imperiled with each day this conflict drags on. Israel has seriously miscalculated Hezbollah’s military capability…

At the outset, Saudi and Egyptian reaction to the Israeli offensive was measured, and many in the region were quick to lay the blame on Hezbollah’s adventurism. But with no end in sight, these same people are feeling the heat.

The first point seems quite right, although the battles continue.

On the consequences of “heat” on Arab leaders, the jury remains out. An Arab League delegation has promised to take Lebanon’s concerns about the current UN resolution language–especially its failure to demand an immediate Israeli ceasefire and withdrawal–to the UN. But I think a case could be made that Arabs are still holding their fire until the Israelis have been forced to hold theirs.
The idea of a strategic plan also comes under attack because there are signs–in the Financial Times–that the Bush administration is unwilling to back regime change in Iran:

And here’s another kink in the theory: the admnistration disappointed Iranian exile activists last week during a meeting focusing on Iran’s nuclear capability. Not only did Elliot Abrams, deputy national security adviser, and Nicholas Burns, a State Department official in charge of the Iran portfolio, tell the Iranian exiles that the US had no intention of broadening the conflic to Syria and Iran, they even “argued against regime change,” according to one of the attendees. And this at a “gathering of 30 Iranians, including analysts, academics and members of religious and ethnic minorities, was billed by the White House as a ‘historic first step in promoting personal freedom and liberty in Iran.'”

I think the report surely indicates that the Cheney administration isn’t yet ready to go public with an active campaign against Iran–especially with things going poorly against what is arguably something of an Iranian proxy army in Lebanon. Still, the meeting–and the sour comments from disappointed Iranian dissidents–is an important news story.

Finally, I note that the Right Arabist dissent remains pretty muted. I have in mind here Brent Scowcroft’s Washington Post Op-Ed “Beyond Lebanon.” Scowcroft doesn’t seem quite so upset with what is happening in Lebanon than what might happen “beyond” it once Israel has done the deed.

Of course, it is a Right Arabist plea for dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issue as the “root” of the crisis. I’ll grant that. So he leads with the language of dissent:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that a simple cease-fire in Lebanon is not the solution to the current violence. She says it is necessary to deal with the roots of the problem. She is right on both counts. But Hezbollah is not the source of the problem; it is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948.

But after that, it becomes pretty clear that Scowcroft has no critique of the Israeli war against Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

The current crisis in Lebanon provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible…

A comprehensive peace settlement would not only defang the radicals in Lebanon and Palestine (and their supporters in other countries), it would also reduce the influence of Iran — the country that, under its current ideology, poses the greatest potential threat to stability in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.

Ironically, there is more Rigth Zionist disappointment than Right Arabist dissent. At least for now…

Cutler’s Blog: Back August 7th

Posted by Cutler on July 21, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon / 4 Comments

As I prepare for a two-week hiatus, I have to wonder how things will look by August 7th when Cutler’s Blog returns.

Israeli Ground troops in Lebanon: As I write, Israel appears to be preparing to send ground troops into Lebanon.  Apparently, the idea is to create a 20-mile “buffer” between Hezbollah and the Israeli border, although I just saw John Bolton on Fox News saying that 20-miles isn’t nearly enough given the reach of Hezbollah rockets.  Oh boy.

International/UN force in Lebanon: It looks like there will be an international force of some kind but it will come only after the US thinks Israel has “done all it can do” unilaterally.  I see no reason to believe, however, that such an international force will actually have a different mandate than Israeli ground troops.  The key point is that there are no major international players (apart from Syria and Iran; and possibly the Sadrist-backed government of Iraq!) who actually oppose the disarming, dismantling, and/or destruction of Hezbollah.  The French and the Saudis, in particular, want this no less than the Israelis.  There are only two reasons why the current offensive would turn from an Israeli action into a multinational force: either because Israel has completed its mission or, more likely, because the Israeli mission becomes politically unsustainable and requires the cover of multinational legitimacy.

Syria: I would not be stunned to return August 7th to a new regime in Syria.  This could happen in one of two ways: either President Bashar Al-Asad does a “Qaddafi” and switches sides (“get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit” as our President says; very unlikely, but not impossible) or he is unseated in a US-backed coup.  Let us be clear, the parties to that coup are totally in place and would essentially represent a return of the “old guard” that was marginalized in the transition from Hafez to Bashar.  The key figure in this coup would be former Syrian Vice-President Abdel-Halim KhaddamThe coup option is in such plain view to all that this may, in fact, be sufficient to move Bashar.

Iran: I expect the Iranian regime will be in power when I return (not really a daring bet).  But the Iranian regime will be on the front burner and in the hot seat for some time.  A military option–by the US or Israel–remains a low probability, but I wouldn’t be so foolish as to rule it out as a possibility with the current folks running the show in Washington and Jerusalem.  In the longer term, I continue to think that the long-term agenda–especially among Right Zionists in Washington, but also within Right Arabist circles–is regime change in Iran.  But it will take some time before anyone in the US foreign policy establishment is ready to make a serious drive in that direction.

I look forward to comparing notes August 7th… Until then, hold onto your seats!

Iraqi Shiites and Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on July 20, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The New York Times reports the big news of the Shia Crescent (or the Shia Croissant, preferred by French Canadians) that connects Iraqi politics with the crisis in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush’s position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East.

“The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

So, the loss of the Iraqi Shia would surely be among the most dangerous geo-political consequence of what I have described as “Act Two” of the Bush Revolution in which the US “unites” Israeli and Arab client regimes against a common enemy, Iran.

The risk is implicit in the very idea of “dual rollback” in Iran and Iraq. The US-led attack on Iraq won Iranian acquiescence, but risked alienating Sunni Arab clients worried about an emergent “Shia Crescent” in the region.
Now, any move on Iran–and/or its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah–may win Sunni Arab acquiescence but threatens to alienate Shiites in Iraq.

Or, at least, the most pro-Iranian Shiites in Iraq.

Right Zionist strategists who favored Shiite power in Iraq–including majority-rule elections, etc.–have repeatedly suggested that intra-Shiite rivalry between the Iraqi clerical tradition of Najaf and the revolutionary Iranian clerics in Qom would allow the US to retain an alliance with Najaf, even as it worked to undermine the Qom-backed Iranian regime.

For one example among many, see Michael Ledeen’s recent article “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid” in which he suggests:

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Some analysts I respect quite a bit–including Swopa in a comment on this blog–have suggested that the notion of intra-Shiite rivalry is highly overrated.

This much seems clear: Maliki isn’t going to help Right Zionists exploit any intra-Shiite rivalry. How far will he go in his dissent? Would he actually try to call Iraqi Shiites onto the streets? Unclear. But his statement calling on the Arab League to step up to the plate seems to have more to do with embarrassing Arab officials than actually using his own leverage (such as it is) with Iraqi Shiites.

What about other Shiite leaders?

Sadr is an obvious candidate. He has played the anti-US insurgent before. He has aligned himself in the past with the Lebanese leadership of Hezbollah. And, as the New York Times notes, his father was very close to a revolutionary cleric in Qom, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri.

The New York Times article reports:

An Iraq-born cleric now living in the Iranian holy city of Qum, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri called in an Internet posting for Muslim warriors to support the “mujahedeen of Lebanon,” saying that “the battle is all of Islam against all of the nonbelievers,” according to a translation by the SITE Institute, which tracks Internet postings by Islamic militants.

But the affinity between Haeri and Sadr should not be overstated. Back in April of 2004 when Sadr was in full revolt, Haeri allegedly pressured him to end his uprising. He may have cut Sadr’s funding. In any event, Sadr seems to have been angered by the attempt to make him a pawn in an Iranian geostrategic game designed to curry favor with the US at that moment. The Sadrist movement in Iraq appears to have been steering his own ship since that time.

The New York Times article does mention that Sadr has had some harsh words about the Israeli attack on Lebanon:

The militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose followers play a crucial role in the government, said last Friday that Iraqis would not “sit by with folded hands” while the violence in Lebanon raged.

No uprising yet. (Indeed, given US raids on his Mahdi army, the lack of an anti-US Sadrist uprising is quite surprising). Keep an eye on this one.

Finally, there is the Grand Ayatollah Sistani. It is to Sistani that Right Zionists have always looked. He may not go out of his way to help the US strike out against Iran and Iranian proxies, but he may also try to sit out any protest.

The New York Times says Sistani has so far remained silent. The Los Angeles Times reports:

In the city of Najaf, Sadruddin Qubanchi, an influential Shiite cleric loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, declared Israel’s actions unacceptable and unjustified.

Israel is conducting an armed invasion of Lebanon in every sense of the word,” Qubanchi told worshipers. “This cannot be ignored by the international community.”

Not yet a call to arms. But much will depend on Israeli action in Lebanon.

A case could be made–and Right Zionist David Wurmser has tried to make it–that Sistani would have an interest in anything that might pry Lebanese Shiites from Iranian influence.

It seems difficult to believe, however, that there is anything Israel is doing in Lebanon right now that will pry Lebanese Shiites away from Hezbollah and/or Iranian influence. [This is a somewhat different question than whether Israel will also alienate Lebanese Christians and Sunnis… also a real possibility.] Whatever else one might say about the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, it hardly looks like a war for the “hearts and minds” of Lebanese Shiites.

Place your bets…

NeoCon Anger at Bush?

Posted by Cutler on July 19, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I try to make sense of the news, but this one I just don’t get:

The Washington Post has published a front-page Michael Abromowitz article today entitled, “Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush’s Foreign Policy.”  The lead quote in the article goes to Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute:

“It is Topic A of every single conversation…

I don’t have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration.”

To be more specific, Abromowitz is talking about alleged neoconservative fury:

In fact, it has been Bush’s willingness to respond to criticism from the foreign policy establishment — which has long urged him to do more to pursue a more “multilateral” diplomacy in concert with allies — that has led to distress among many conservatives outside Congress, particularly the band of aggressive “neoconservatives” who four years ago were most enthusiastic about the Iraq war.

So, whence the fury at the administration?  What are we talking about here?

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

Iran and North Korea.  Ok.  I can see that.  There are examples of that fury coming from AEI folks like Michael Rubin.  From June.  An old story.  It makes this Abromowitz article something like an overdue profile of neoconservative (i.e., Right Zionist) anger at the Bush administration decision to make diplomatic overtures to Iran.   Like a neoconservative lamentation for Time’s declaration of the end of “Cowboy” foreign policy.

But did the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute actually express “fury” or perceive unwarranted “timidity” or “confusion” about the “urgent new” problem–“the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah”?  No way.  Not a chance.

When did Abromowitz conduct the “interviews”?  Did the Post dig up this story from the June files?

Is Abromowitz trying to makes it seem like neocons think Bush’s refusal to engage or take action in Lebanon reflects timidity and/or confusion?  If so, he is playing a game and will surely be corrected in short order by the Right Zionists.

Current Bush administration inactivity–delay in sending an envoy, refusal to call for a ceasefire, refusal to back Kofi Annan’s efforts to cobble together an international force–is not timidity but bold–if implicit–support for an extraordinarily aggressive Israeli policy in Lebanon.

Bush’s reaction to Israel’s move to destroy Hezbollah will earn him eternal plaudits from neocon pundits.  Abromowitz is blowing smoke.

The Devil Wears Persian

Posted by Cutler on July 17, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I noted that the Hezbollah raid on Israel seemed to anger Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak almost as much as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In subsequent days, the depth of “official” Arab hostility toward Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran has become big news.

The New York Times (“Militia Rebuked by Some Arab Countries“) and the Washington Post (“Strikes Are Called Part of a Broad Strategy“) take note of official Arab reaction to the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah.

The possibility of Arab-Iranian rivalry has not escaped the notice of Israeli officials, either. Shimon Peres had this to say on CNN’s Larry King Live as King was concluding an interview:

KING: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, always good to see you. We’ve had…

PERES: I want to say one thing, Larry. Even the Arabs, this time — thank you.

KING: Go ahead. Whatever you wanted to add.

PERES: Yes, I wanted to add that, for the first time, the Arab countries, many of them, if not most of them, are calling for Hezbollah to stop it. The Lebanese government is asking for the same. It never happened before. And we feel that we’re doing the right thing, and we shall not permit the devil to govern our destinies or our region.

KING: Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, now Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.

Wonder of wonders, the “devil” is not Arab. The “devil” is Persian.

Swopa over at Needlenose goes so far as to link the idea of a new Arab/Zionist axis against Iran to the pro-Sunni Arab tilt of US policy in Iraq.

I am not sure that Right Zionists have abandoned the hope of a regional alliance with the “Najaf” Shiites aligned with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. But that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to try to simultaneously exploit both sides of any Arab/Iranian rivalry they can find.

The Bush Revolution, Part II: A Little Something for the Arabs

In my reading of David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally, as a kind of Right Zionist playbook, I noted that Wurmser wrote about “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. One way of looking at this “dual rollback” plan is to think of it as a two act play:

The invasion of Iraq is Act One of the Bush Revolution: Sunni Arab rule in Iraq is destroyed and the US turns to the country’s Shiite majority as a new “client.” Arab regimes are nervous and angry.

Act Two may is just beginning (please return to your seats and ignore Time magazine which seems to have mistaken the “intermission” for the end of the show).

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran and in this scene Arab officials presumably play a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran.

On Lebanon:

The drama unfolding in Lebanon centers on the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia. There has been long-standing tension between Saudi Arabia and Syria over control of Lebanon. In many respects, the Saudis perceived the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as a Syrian attack on their interests in Lebanon. Hariri–like Israel and the US–wanted Syria out of Lebanon.

Today, Hariri’s son continues in his father’s footsteps. Stratfor reports:

Saad al-Hariri, current leader of Lebanon’s Sunni community, is headed to Riyadh on July 16 for talks on the building conflict between Israel and the militant Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s actions, which have led to the verge of a major war with Israel, threaten the interests of the al-Hariris. Saudi Arabia, as a principal behind the al-Hariri clan, is concerned about Iran’s advances deeper into the region.

The Saudis and Hariri will have to weigh the risks and advantages of allowing Israel to wage war against their common enemy, Hezbollah. Will Hariri return from Riyahd with instructions to back Hezbollah’s uprising against Israel, or to keep his mouth shut, let Israel do its work, and prepare to inherit Lebanon?

So far, he has been critical of Israel, although his language has been somewhat ambiguous. The Daily Star reports:

A clear Arab stand should be taken on this Israeli aggression against Lebanon,” [Hariri]… said Saturday. “Lebanon should not be left as a battlefield for everyone, and Israel must know that Lebanon is not a terrorist state but in fact a resisting state and that Israel is the enemy.”

The key line is that Lebanon “should not be left as a battlefield for everyone,which presumably includes Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah as much as it does Israel.

Gilbert Achcar makes the point quite well:

Israel holds hostage an entire population in a disproportionate reaction that aims at pulling the rug from under the feet of its opponents and at pressuring local forces to act against them. But if this is indeed Israel’s calculation, it could backfire, as it is possible that a military action of such a scope could lead to the exact opposite and radicalize the population more against Israel than against Hezbollah

To hold the present Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s action, even after this government has officially taken its distance from that action, is a demonstration of Israel’s diktat policy on the one hand, and on the other hand the indication of Israel’s determination to compel the Lebanese to enter into a state of civil war, as it tries to do with the Palestinians. In each case, Israel wants to compel one part of the local society — Fatah in Palestine and the governmental majority in Lebanonto crush Israel’s main enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, or else they be crushed themselves.

We’ll see. There is an obvious risk for Israel that its aggression will inflame the “Arab street” and force Arab “officials”–including anti-Syrian Lebanese Christians and Sunnis–to rally around Hezbollah, etc.

On Palestine (aka Jordan):

The drama unfolding in Gaza may not really have much to do with Gaza. Right Zionists may not have a particularly complex plan for Gaza. The only real plan is to divide Gaza and the West Bank and help deliver the latter to King Abdullah in Jordan.

Right Zionists are reviving the old plan–last championed by George Shultz in the late 1980s–for Jordan to take over the West Bank.

The most prominent champion of such a plan is Meyrav Wurmser–whose husband is David Wurmser (see above). Wurmser announced a “Paradigm Shift” in the New York Sun today:

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process. That paradigm was grounded in the idea that the best solution to the Palestinian problem was the creation of a third state along with Israel and Jordan within the League of Nations mandatory borders of interwar Palestine. Until Oslo, Jordan, Israel and the United States all publicly repeated that an independent Palestinian state was dangerous to their national interests...

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces that sought to trigger Arab-Israeli wars that were convenient diversions or vehicles for imperial ambition.

This plan has been circulating in Right Zionist circles. See, for example, the March 2003 Middle East Quarterly article, “Re-energizing a West Bank-Jordan Alliance.”

Hamas’s landslide victory in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections is the latest sign of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) failure. The collapse of the West Bank into civil chaos and jihadist control would pose a security dilemma not only for Israel but also for Jordan. It is a scenario that increasingly occupies the Jordanian government’s strategic thinking…

King Abdullah has signaled a willingness to reengage in West Bank affairs. In the most significant Jordanian intervention in the West Bank since July 1988, Abdullah began in March 2005 to enlist new recruits for the Jordan-based and influenced Badr security forces (also known as the Palestinian Liberation Army) for possible deployment to parts of the West Bank…

Marouf al-Bakhit, at the time Jordan’s ambassador to Israel and, subsequently, the kingdom’s prime minister, elaborated that the Jordanian government hoped to play a more active role in the West Bank.[25] On the eve of Zarqawi’s attack, former prime minister Adnan Badran told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Jordan could no longer sit idle “with its arms crossed and watch what transpires in Palestine because it influences what happens in Jordan for better or worse”[26]

In March 2005, the Jordanian government made clear its willingness to alter the traditional peace process paradigm. On the eve of the March 2005 Arab League summit in Algiers, Jordanian foreign minister Hani al-Mulki called for a “regional approach” to Middle East peacemaking along the lines of the 1991 Madrid peace conference. This set the stage for King Abdullah’s proposal at the summit, in which he called for a broader and more creative approach.[27]

The Jordanian leadership appears increasingly willing to play a direct role…

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But not unimportant to know just what kind of “thinking” Right Zionists are doing these days…

Beirut to Baghdad

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The big news story of the day is the Israeli strikes against Lebanon. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Israel bombed Beirut’s airport early today and sent troops and tanks deep into Lebanon after guerrillas from the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a meticulously planned border raid.

It was Israel’s first major offensive in Lebanon in six years

Many in the US will join the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, in criticizing Israel for “a disproportionate act of war” against Lebanon, especially in light of Israel’s massive, 2-week-old, ongoing offensive in Gaza sparked by a June 25 raid by Hamas.

Hamas, however, seems less focused on or surprised by Israel’s disproportionate reprisals than Hezbollah’s “heroic” border raid. According to the Kuwait Times

Hamas political bureau member Mohammad Nazzal told Reuters the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was a “heroic operation” and would help a campaign to free 1,000 Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, Israelis are also focused on Hezbollah’s border raid and they are outraged.

More surprising, however, the raid also seems to have upset Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. According to press reports,

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also indirectly criticized Syria, suggesting it disrupted his country’s attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release. Hamas was subjected to “counter-pressures by other parties, which I don’t want to name but which cut the road in front of the Egyptian mediation and led to the failure of the deal after it was about to be concluded,” Mubarak said in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Massai newspaper published yesterday.

Egyptian “attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release” were undertaken at the behest of the Bush administration, specifically David Welch. Welch is the former US ambassador to Egypt and currently serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Near Eastern Affairs is traditionally the center of Right Arabist influence in the foreign policy establishment.

In return for his cooperation, Mubarak may have looked forward to easier relations with the US and a green light from the US to position his son, Gamal, as his successor.

Welch’s deal had been rumored in Israel, but it was not popular there. According to The Forward:

[P]rior to the abduction of two more soldiers near the Lebanon border… one of Olmert’s closest allies in the Cabinet suggested that a kind of retroactive prisoner swap could be in the works.

“The release of the kidnapped soldier will be a must. The moment that Qassam rocket fire also stops, we will enter a period of quiet, at the end of which it will be possible to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture,” Israel’s internal security minister, Avi Dichter, said at a conference in Tel Aviv. “This is something that Israel has done in the past and that can serve it in the future as well.”

The remarks were relayed internationally, prompting Dichter to say he had been misunderstood and Olmert’s office to deny a deal was in the offing.

But the Welch deal was undermined by the “counter pressures” on Hamas by the “other parties” that “cut the road” out from under Welch and Mubarak.

According to Bloomberg News, Dennis Ross—a Clinton administration Middle East envoy—faulted Welch for his reliance on Mubarak.

Ross said the U.S. has put too much faith in Egypt’s ability to mediate Shalit’s release…

Rather, the U.S. needs to talk most urgently to Syria, which hosts Hamas’s leadership and facilitates Hezbollah operations. Hezbollah’s attack yesterday “is obviously part of a coordinated effort to help Hamas,” Ross said. “And now there’s a risk of a wider escalation, and the address for all of this goes back to Damascus.”

The Welch initiative in Egypt was, in essence, an “Arab” response to the end of the Hamas ceasefire and the massive Israeli response.

The opening of a second front—sparked by the Hezbollah raid—has consequences in the Middle East and in the US.

In the Middle East, it has allowed Iran and Syria to undermine Arab control of the Palestinian resistance. As luck would have it, Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa and Iranian top nuclear diplomat Ali Larijani were together in Damascus for a press conference. Kuwait Times reports:

“When the Zionist entity attacks and slaughters the Palestinian people resistance is necessary,” Larijani said.

The Hezbollah raid also allows Iran to display some of its regional leverage amidst US attempts to isolate the Iranian regime at the UN.

In the US, the opening of a Hezbollah front shifts the factional center of gravity within the Bush administration where Welch shares the Israel/Palestine portfolio with Elliott Abrams, the Right Zionist White House as Deputy National Security Adviser.

The shift of focus toward Hezbollah moves the spotlight from Welch and his Egyptian allies to Elliott Abrams and his Israeli allies.

A spokesman for Elliott Abrams and the National Security Council put the blame squarely on Iran and Syria, gave Israel a “green light” for intervention, and made an appeal for Lebanon to cut its ties to Iran and Syria.

Reuters reports:

“We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

We also hold Syria and Iran, which directly support Hezbollah, responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence,” Jones added…”Hezbollah terrorism is not in Lebanon’s interests,” Jones said…
“This attack demonstrates that Hezbollah’s continued impunity to arm itself and carry out operations from Lebanese territory is a direct threat to the security of the Lebanese people and the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.”

As Juan Cole has suggested, Israeli intervention in Lebanon has the potential of spilling over into Iraq.

[H]ard line Shiites like the Sadr Movement and the Mahdi Army are close to Hizbullah. Israel’s wars could tip Iraq over into an unstoppable downward spiral.

A Sadrist uprising already seemed likely after US-backed raids in Sadr City last week and Israeli brutality toward the Shiites of southern Lebanon could certainly generate a response among the Shiites of southern Iraq.

If Right Zionists in the US support Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas and terrorize the population of Gaza, it does not follow that they favor a parallel track amongst the Shiites of southern Lebanon.

David Wurmser—the Right Zionist who presumably still serves as Cheney’s Middle East expert on his national security staff—had quite a bit to say about the Shiites of southern Lebanon in his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally:

“[A] shift of the Shi’ite center of gravity [from Iran] toward Iraq has larger, regional implications. Through intermarriage, history, and social relations, the Shi’ites of Lebanon have traditionally maintained close ties with the Shi’ites of Iraq. The Lebanese Shi’ite clerical establishment has customarily been politically quiescent, like the Iraqi Shi’ites. The Lebanese looked to Najaf’s clerics for spiritual models [until it was transformed into a regional outpost for Iranian influence]. Prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shi’ite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balance and to whittle away at Syria’s power” (TA, p.107, 110).

Do Right Zionists still hold out the hope of “prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away” from Iran?

If so (I have my doubts), much will depend on the nature of Israeli retaliation. If Israel tries to slaughter the Lebanese Shiite population, it won’t have much hope of “prying them” away from Iran or Syria.

News reports thus far (morning, July 13) are mixed. The New York Sun reported:

[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] immediately called up 6,000 reservists yesterday and put into effect plans for an extended incursion into southern Lebanon, which has long hosted Hezbollah terrorists. The intention appeared to be to dismantle the extensive network of terrorist bases and persuade the Beirut government to meet international calls to disarm the group once and for all.

Israeli forces went on the attack, targeting bridges, communication towers, military bunkers, and other facilities. At least two Lebanese civilians were reported to have been killed in the attacks.

On the other hand, there are reports that the most high-profile Israeli retaliation in Lebanon includes a naval blockade and a bombing campaign against Beirut’s airport, both of which serve to cut the ties that link Lebanon with Iran and Syria.

An attempt to pry Lebanese Shiites from Iran?

Good luck with that…