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.
“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…