Notes on Israeli threats of launching a ‘Dahiyeh’ attack on Gaza

1. Some prominent Israelis are calling for a ‘Dahiyeh’ operation against Gaza.
I just watched this clip from a news/discussion program on Israel’s Channel 2. In it, “military analyst” Roni Daniel openly calls for the implementation of a “Dahiyeh” operation (“like in Beirut”), against Gaza. Dahiyeh is the simply the Arabic word for “suburb or neighborhood”. In this context it refers to the extensive and very highly populated southern suburbs of Beirut where, during the Israeli war against Lebanon of summer 2006, the Israeli military flattened an entire, more than kilometer-square area of 7- and 8-story buildings, the vast majority of them civilian apartments.
The topography and population density of the Beirut Dahiyeh (which has since been extensively rebuilt) is very similar to that of most parts of Gaza City and the six other cities that run down the long-besieged Gaza Strip.
When the Israeli military struck against the Dahiyeh in July 2006, the 450,000 or so residents of the area were able to flee. They fled en masse, ending up gaining a degree of refuge in mosques, schools, churches, and monasteries all over Lebanon. That mass relocation under fire was accomplished in a somewhat organized way by Hizbullah and its supporters because they had gained so much experience undertaking similar mass relocations-under-fire during Israel’s many previous assaults against both South Lebanon and other areas of the country. Relief supplies poured in to help the large groups of displaced families– who meanwhile lost all their worldly possessions as their homes were pulverized by the Israeli air force.
Israel’s authorities could threaten or even implement a “Dahiyeh Doctrine” assault against Gaza if they wanted. But where would the civilian residents of the targeted areas flee to?( And how could the supplies so necessary to their immediate relief after their dislocation be gotten into them?) The Gaza Strip is closed off from the outside world by the lengthy Israeli siege; and no part of the area inside it is immune from Israeli attack.
Already, many thousands of Gazans have received leaflets, phone calls, and text messages from the Israeli military telling them to flee their home areas. They regard those messages as a sick joke or an insidious form of psychological warfare. Where should they flee to?
2. Even the ‘Dahiyeh Doctrine’ DID NOT SUCCEED, strategically, during its seminal implementation, against the Beirut Dahiyeh in 2006.
The strategic goals of that war that PM Olmert and his generals launched against Lebanon in July 2006 were two-fold. Primarily, they were trying (as they openly stated) to inflict such pain on the population of Lebanon that the population would turn against Hizbullah and force it to give up the arsenal that it still retained under its control despite the fact that it had also, since 1992, been an active participant in Lebanon’s parliamentary system. In a secondary and broader way, the war was launched to “re-establish the credibility of Israel’s deterrent power” which, the generals thought, had been badly damaged by the unilateral withdrawal that Israel had made from South Lebanon in May 2000, bringing to an end a military occupation of the southern portion of Lebanon that had continued since 1982.
During 33 days of extremely damaging fighting, during which the Israeli military destroyed large portions of Lebanon’s national infrastructure, killed many hundreds of civilians, and dislocated more than a million people from their homes, the people of Lebanon rallied ever closer and closer around Hizbullah. Most certainly they did not “turn against it” or repudiate and seek to punish it, as Olmert and the generals had hoped.
Pres. George W. Bush gave Olmert a complete green light to continue his assault as long as he wanted, and provided some much-needed resupply for Israeli munitions as they started to run low. But still, Israel was unable to force Hizbullah and the Lebanese people to bow to their demands. After 33 days, the conflict was also becoming disruptive, to a small degree damaging, and definitely embarrassing to Israel. (A ground attack against South Lebanon that was a last-minute way the military sought to impose its will on the Lebanese turned out to be an extremely poorly planned fiasco.) So Olmert himself became increasingly eager for a ceasefire; and with the help of the Americans one was organized on August 13, 2006. The ceasefire terms notably did not include any mechanism for the disarming of Hizbullah.
This was also not great in terms of re-establishing the credibility of the Israeli deterrent. So in 2008, Olmert felt he had to try again to achieve this… which he did in late December 2008, against Gaza. Once again, there, he and his generals were unable to force their terms of capitulation on their target (Hamas), which was able to prevent the Israeli ground forces from taking control of any of the Strip except a small portion; and which survived with its leadership structures and its political positions unbroken… And so it goes.
It is, however, important to note that though it might feel “good” to some portion of Israelis if their government implements a “Dahiyeh Doctrine”, actually, even that is extremely unlikely to bring to the Israeli government the politico-strategic goals that its seeks. It is more likely, indeed, to be extremely counter-productive at the politico-strategic level.
3. Some good resources on the “original” Dahiyeh assaults:
To understand what it was like for one Lebanese civilian social activist to live in Beirut under the onslaught of the Dahiyeh Doctrine, read Rami Zurayk’s amazing and poignant, 60-page-long War Diary: Lebanon 2006, which my company published last year. You can get it as a paperback, or an e-book.
You can read the fairly detailed analysis of the 2006 war that I published in Boston Review in Nov/Dec 2006, here.

July 2006, lest we forget

In these days six years ago, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and his team were battering much of Lebanon to smithereens in the “Dahiyeh War”– designed, as we remember, to break Hizbullah once and for all, primarily by battering Lebanese civilians and their infrastructure so harshly that they would turn against the Hizb.
We all know how that turned out. In mid-August, after 33 days of extremely destructive actions against Lebanon, Israel finally acceded to a ceasefire and withdrew from Lebanon with its tail between its legs.
Today six years later, we should all recall just how lethal and destructive that war was for the Lebanese people who bore the brunt of the destruction… This evening, we watched a remarkable film, “Under the Bombs”, which was set in the ending days of the war and uses a lot of raw, real, contemporary newsreel footage to set the scene for the situation through which the two main characters move. It is an amazing depiction of the immediate postwar days.
For another depiction of what it was like to live through the war, people should buy Rami Zurayk’s small book War Diary: Lebanon 2006, which I was proud to publish last year. You can buy it as either a paperback, or a Kindle ebook.

Remembering Qana, five years on

On this day five years ago, at 1:30 am Lebanon time, Israel’s U.S.-supplied warplanes attacked houses in the south Lebanese village of Qana, killing more than 60 civilians, 37 of them children. Go watch this soberly reported video clip from Britain’s Channel 4 to get a measure of the horror.
The Qana Massacre of 2006 was the single deadliest episode in the gruesome 33-day assault that the government of Israel unleashed against Lebanon– with the full support of the U.S. government– in July 2006.
Washington’s role throughout the war was twofold. At the military level it provided many services including speedy replacement of the huge amounts of ordnance with which Israel pummeled Lebanon’s people and their national infrastructure. At the political level, Washington’s main role was to stave off all the calls for a ceasefire that mounted internationally as the long-planned assault proceeded throughout July and the first half of August.
Over the weeks that the war lasted it became increasingly clear to Israel’s military leaders that (1) they could not force a Lebanese surrender purely through the use of standoff weapons, as their super-arrogant chief of staff Dan Halutz had imagined; (2) that they would therefore have to use ground forces, as well, to try to achieve their objective; but (3) their ground forces were unable to prevail against the very well-planned defenses that Hizbullah maintained throughout South Lebanon… The war– which had been designed to “restore the credibility of Israel’s military deterrent” in the eyes of potential opponents from throughout the region– was instead having quite the opposite effect! So by the second week of August, Ehud Olmert’s government in Israel was becoming increasingly eager for a ceasefire. A ceasefire agreement was finally agreed among the parties, via the U.N. Security Council, on August 11 and it went into effect on August 14.
Throughout the entire 33 days of the war, Washington put not one iota of pressure on Israel to stop the carnage. Indeed, some days before the July 30 Qana Massacre, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the importance of the already heavy Lebanese civilian casualties by describing these losses as only “the birth pangs of the New Middle East.”
This woman– who fwiw has never herself experienced “birth pangs”– helped bring to the families of Qana and so many other places in Lebanon a stream of dead babies and toddlers, caked in the dust, grime, and blood of the sarcophaguses that had been their families’ homes.
For the people of Qana, the massacre of 2006 was an eery replay of the massacre they suffered ten years earlier, during the assault that Israel launched against Lebanon in April 1996. On that occasion, Israeli artillery demolished a clearly marked U.N.-run refuge in which hundreds of old people from the local area had sought shelter from the fighting, killing 106 of them.
On both occasions, Israeli leaders did all they could to deflect responsibility for these acts. They challenged the veracity of the very well-documented news accounts (and U.N. reports) of the incidents. And they claimed that because they had “instructed” local residents to leave the area prior to the attacks, the residents “had only themselves to blame” by staying their home villages: an amazingly arrogant and quite illegal argument for an attacking foreign army to make! In addition, very early in the fighting, the Israeli air force had demolished all the key highway bridges linking south Lebanon to the rest of the country. How were families with old people, disabled people, and young children supposed to “leave” their home village when “instructed” to do so by a foreign army?
I still have a deep well of sadness about what the Israeli military did– with the full backing of my own government– in Lebanon in 2006. Longtime JWN readers will know that on August 11, 2006, a cousin of my ex-husband was killed when the Israeli air force attacked a civilian convoy that was leaving Marjayoun for safer areas further north. The route and timing of that convoy had been clearly pre-arranged in coordination with the Israeli military. But still, the Israelis attacked, killing Colette Rashed and six others of the fleeing Marjayoun civilians. Read more details about that attack here.
… And please, don’t forget to check out (and buy) War Diary: Lebanon 2006, Rami Zurayk’s amazing account of what it was like to be in Beirut and South Lebanon during the whole of that war, which my company is publishing as an ebook ($4.00; several formats) and a short paperback ($7.00). The Israeli assault against Lebanon in 2006 was a turning point for the whole region in several ways. It gave Arabs and Muslims everywhere the idea that there were indeed ways for well-organized national groups to stand up to and defy military organizations that enjoyed apparently unchallengeable superiority on the battlefield. It revealed (yet again) the degree to which U.S. policy had been made into a handmaiden of Israel’s. And it showed the importance of forging strong bonds of unity between secular anti-imperial forces and more Islamist anti-imperial forces if the power of a a hostile and aggressive imperial alliance is ever to be successfully broken.
Rami Zurayk’s book is a wonderful document: humane, impassioned, tender, intimate, and wise. Advance orders for it will be fulfilled on or before August 10. Yes, I think it is important to sell this book and get the story it tells much more widely disseminated within the Anglosphere. But I also want JWN readers to stay keenly alive to the tragedies and costs of war, everywhere. In 2006– and still, today.

New e-book soon: ‘War Diary: Lebanon 2006’

Today is the fifth anniversary of the beginning of that terrible march of folly, the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006. So I’m delighted to announce today that my publishing company, Just World Books, will shortly be publishing as a short e-book War Diary: Lebanon 2006, by the Lebanese social activist (and AUB professor) Rami Zurayk.
I think it’ll take us 10-14 days to get the e-book up and available for you to purchase. It will cost $4.00 and have around 40 pages. I’m hoping to be able to take advance orders for it very soon.
More about the book later. But you can find some good details about it if you go to that web-page for it.

Lebanon, what next?

Anthony Shadid had a piece on Lebanon in the NYT today, with this lede:

    With Hezbollah’s toppling of the Lebanese government, the militant Shiite Muslim movement entered what may prove to be one of the most dangerous chapters in a 30-year history that has made it reviled in the West and popular in the Arab world: At the moment seemingly of its greatest power, the path facing it could unveil its most glaring weaknesses…

Shadid’s reasoning was that if Hizbullah undertakes a repeat of the action it undertook in May 2008 when, amidst inter-communal clashes between Shiites and Sunnis in Beirut, its militiamen moved in and within a couple of hours disarmed the large “bodyguard” forces that Saad Hariri and several of his allies had assembled– then such an action “could further tarnish its reputation here, making it look more and more like a sectarian militia than the resistance movement to Israel it considers itself.”
For all of Shadid’s alarmist analysis, however, he provided no evidence that Hizbullah is about to do this! Why not? Because there is none… Not least, because Hizbullah already exercises all the control it needs over the streets and neighborhoods of western and southern Beirut.
And, it is also important to note, Saad Hariri and his political allies have remained perfectly able to continue their political activities throughout the country, even after losing their proto-militia forces back then in 2008.
Just today, indeed Hariri returned to Beirut from his very lengthy tour around many foreign countries, to try to deal with the current political crisis. If he felt that his life would be endangered by returning, do you think he would have done so? I doubt it. He does not have the reputation of being a terrifically courageous man.
In Shadid’s piece, he quotes the Crisis Group’s Rob Malley as saying of Hizbullah:

    “In some ways, they’re in a Catch-22… Even as [Hizbullah] increases its power in Lebanon, it could be exacerbating its own problems in the country…
    “They see the trap of either backing down, and losing credibility, or acting on their threat, and paying a price in terms of their image. At some point, they’re going to have to decide whether they cross the threshold of taking actions.”

I disagree with my friend Rob. I don’t see the present situation as one that carries any great risks for Hizbullah. Ever since 1991-92, when the organization’s leadership decided to enter Lebanon’s parliamentary political system, Hizbullah has played within that system in a way that has been extremely smart and also nearly always cautious. Interestingly, its entry into the political system back then coincided exactly with the elevation of the then-very youthful Hassan Nasrallah to the top tole in the organization’s leadership.
In every national election since 1992, Hizbullah has both had election victories of its own people, and helped organize the victories of a far greater number of political allies, who come from all the religious sects that form the basis of the countries very convoluted electoral system. In several governments formed since 1992, Hizbullah has also had its own ministers in the government. The participation of Hizbullah ministers in the government formed in 2008 was far from unprecedented.
So why do I disagree with Rob Malley’s assessment that the present situation faces Hizbullah with great risks? Firstly, because Hizbullah and its many political allies don’t actually have to do anything more at this point, beyond having pulled their 11 people out of the government. The Saad Hariri government has fallen. In his capacity as acting PM, Hariri cannot take any of the “big” political decisions that a still-extant non-caretaker PM could take (with the support of his government.) He is in Beirut. He is probably still in the lovely office in the downtown “Serail” where I met him when I was co-leading the CNI trip to Lebanon in November 2009. But he is now powerless in everything that matters. Hizbullah has him exactly where they want him.
Secondly, the overwhelming evidence from Hizbullah’s political actions inside Lebanon up to now has been that they don’t seek to exercise direct political power at this point. May that day come sometime? That is another question. But for now, they really do seem more eager to continue operating within Lebanon’s political system, but not at the head of it, than to overtly take it over.
So in the present situation, how can Lebanon get along without a government, you may ask?
Easily! Lebanon’s people have gotten along without an effective central government throughout many periods since they gained political independence in 1943. Lebanon (like Afghanistan) is a mountainous country, to whose mountains successive waves of different population groups have come, over the centuries, often seeking a safe refuge from religious- or ethnic-minority status elsewhere. By and large (I hate to get too cultural-essentialist, but here goes…) the mountain people– a group that in Lebanon notably does not include the Sunnis, who are nearly all urban and coastal– are hardy, self-sufficient types who don’t see much use for central government and work actively to keep it weak. And when it is weak, their various mountain communities and coastal enclaves have nearly always been able to continue keeping their economies, livelihoods, and trading links going– all the more easily, in the view of many of them, when there is no central government to trammel them.
That is a snapshot of Lebanon and (on a much larger scale) Afghanistan. It notably is not the case in Iraq, or Egypt, or other countries built on great river systems where over the course of now millennia, central government has played a vital role both in regulating and maintaining the water systems and in providing security for the overwhelmingly riverine and flatland (and therefore, fairly vulnerable) populations.
So now, Hizbullah and its allies have pulled out of the government in Beirut. This will not in itself provoke a serious socioeconomic or constitutional crisis. Yes, there has been a long-simmering economic crisis for many low-income Lebanese… and this can be expected to continue. But the existence or non-existence of a government makes no difference to these hard-pressed families. In many parts of Lebanon, anyway, Hizbullah and its allies are the main forces providing social services and development aid, an effort that has strengthened its political hand for the past two decades now, and can be expected to continue.
Hizbullah’s “Al-Manar” media empire reported yesterday that the organization and its allies “will name a personality with a history of national resistance to head the new government.” According to a longstanding tradition in Lebanon– one which under the Taef Agreement of 1989 was supposed to be phased out pretty rapidly thereafter, but still has not been– the country’s PM is supposed to be a Sunni. Hizbullah could easily find a Sunni personality to name for PM if they wanted. I’m not sure they’ll be in a hurry to do so. They do, as I noted, have Saad Hariri almost exactly where they want him.
Also, I certainly don’t rule out that the possibility that after further negotiations, Hariri might come back in as the next prime minister, too, and this time with a form of “backing” from Hizbullah in which his political dependence on them would have been even more clearly spelled out.
But Hizbullah need not hurry. This government “crisis” could easily carry on for 12 or 24 months, just as it did during the long period before the Doha Agreement of May 2008– and this time, without Hizbullah supporters having to go through the discomfort of sitting in chilly tents in the downtown area for all those months.
From this point of view, I think I would revise just a little bit the assessment I penned here on January 12, when I said,

    My sense from afar is that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his friends and backers in Tehran are sending a fairly blunt message to the west… that regime change is indeed a game that more than one side can play.

I do still think they are sending a message. But it is not particularly blunt. It is more a tweak, a little nudge (as I had also written, later in that same blog post), than a blunt message…
Hizbullah probably undertook Wednesday’s pullout of government ministers in part with a view to the issue of the overwhelmingly western-backed “Special Tribunal for Lebanon”, the role of which I explored here a little, yesterday. But the latest news today from the STL’s seat in the distant Netherlands is still that, even though prosecutor Daniel Bellemare is expected to lodge the latest round of indictments with the pre-trial judge “imminently”, it will take that judge “about six to 10 weeks” before he reaches his decision on whether to confirm the indictment and issue arrest warrants, and if so, whether to issue these warrants “under seal” or by naming suspects publicly…
Like Bellemare, that judge is also, by the way, not Lebanese, though the STL is supposed to be a “joint” Lebanese-UN institution.
So the STL issue keeps on simmering away– there in The Hague. But if there is only a “caretaker” government in Beirut when any indictments are issued, then it will not be in any position to collaborate with the court in executing its arrest warrants– as did happen back in 2006-07, when there was a government in power in Beirut, and a very pro-western government at that. (Those earlier indictments later collapsed under the weight of a lack of probative evidence, and the arrestees were released.)
So I still think, as I wrote on Wednesday, that Nasrallah and his local and Iranian allies probably decided on their “tweak” against Hariri in Beirut with much more than just the STL issue in mind. The five significant indicators of the U.S.’s regionwide weakness in the Middle East that I identified there are certainly important in the strategic planning of players within both Tehran and Beirut. (Beirut, remember, has always been something of a hub, bellwether, watchpost, and observation tower for developments in the wider region. Hizbullah’s links to Tehran are no more “extraordinary” in this regard than the ties of Hariri, pere et fils, to Saudi Arabia, or in various eras the ties of many Maronites to France or Israel, those of many Sunnis to Egypt or Syria, or whatever.)
The five indicators were, in brief, developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. If you go to Al-Manar’s homepage (offered in Arabic, English, Spanish, and French) you can certainly see how closely they are following all these developments…
But my bottom line for today here is that Hizbullah’s action on Wednesday neither forces Lebanon into a deep and unmanageable constitutional crisis, nor confronts Hizbullah itself with the kind of “very tough” choices that Rob Malley describes. It was one more move, perhaps a significant one, in a political campaign that for Hizbullah’s ever-wily and smart strategists has a time-line measured in decades, not weeks or months.

The STL and the myth of judicial virginity

The myth propagated by supporters of the various “international” criminal tribunals established since 1992 has been that somehow a judicial proceeding could rise completely above the sordid field of politics and follow its own complete integrity. I used to subscribe to that myth. But in 2000-01, as I started to investigate more closely the work of the two ad-hoc tribunals created by the UN during the mid-1990s, it became clear that “international” criminal tribunals can never, ever, be separated either from the politics of the countries whose developments they probe (and whose politics are inevitably affected by the work of the tribunals themselves)– or, from the politics of the “international” constellation of governments that establish, fund, and provide continued support for these tribunals’ work.
My 2006 book Amnesty After Atrocity? provided copious evidence of this, with regard to the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. But it is not only the ICTR whose work is irredeemably politicized. So has been the work of all “international” tribunals running from the Ur-example in Nuremberg through to today’s “International Criminal Court.” As longtime JWN readers know, I’ve written a lot about this issue, both here and (earlier) on the now nearly-defunct “Transitional Justice Forum” blog. Check over there for, in particular the field reports of the reporting trip I made to northern Uganda in 2006, to assess the very harmful effects that the work of the ICC was having on peacemaking there.
And then, there was the travesty of the (heavily U.S.-supported) Saddam Hussein trial…
Plus, the fact that the government leaders in Washington responsible for launching the completely unjustified invasion of Iraq in 2003, and therefore also all the deaths and violence that ensued from that invasion and occupation, were easily able to evade ever being held to account for that act of aggression (an act that was, at Nuremberg, certainly prosecutable– and prosecuted.) This, while the U.S. has also stood quite aside from all entreaties that it join the ICC– though over recent years it has given extensive logistic and financial support to some, but not all, of the ICC’s investigations and prosecutions… when this suited Washington’s own, inevitably political, purpose.
The neutrality of these judicial bodies before an “impartial” international law? That is nowhere to be seen.
… And then, there is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,a body that has been irrevocably “politicized” and “political” ever since its establishment in 2006-07. It is a joint project of both the U.N. Security Council and the Government of Lebanon, established at a time when the U.S. still held important sway over both bodies.
Now, Hillary Clinton and her people are busy talking about the need to allow the STL to continue doing its allegedly quite “impartial” work. The STL has been the focus of considerable controversy and swirling allegations and counter-allegations over its years in existence, and I confess I have not followed these with enough diligence to be able to make clearcut judgments regarding them.
What I can say with a high degree of confidence, based on my own work on this issue of international tribunals over the past decade is that no criminal court, within a country or at the global level, can ever have its work divorced from politics. Criminal prosecutions at a national level involve the state using the laws that already exist within the country to bring a prosecution against a defendant, who may upon being found guilty be subjected to serious sanction by the state– even, in the U.S. and elsewhere, the death penalty.
At the national level, too, the head of state or government always has the power to give clemency or pardon to convicted criminals (as in the case of Elliott Abrams in the U.S.), and leaders often use these powers with the goal of fostering national unity, or other worthwhile political goals.
And at the global level? Where is the agreed-upon, duly legislated, and equality-respecting legal basis for the work of international prosecutors? Where is the opportunity for global political leaders to issue pardons or enact clemency? Where, in short, is the supra-“judicial” legal-political infrastructure that can assure the impartiality as well as general social utility of the work of prosecutors and judges?
It doesn’t exist. In a world marked by striking political inequalities– especially between countries that have P-5 status on the Security Council, and those that don’t; and between countries that have at least submitted themselves to the judgments of the ICC, and those that haven’t– the “impartiality” of international criminal courts is a myth.
I wish it weren’t so. I wish we had the kind of global system in which all national leaders and other significant political actors could be held equally accountable for their actions. But we don’t. Rights activists from around the world who have put so much energy into fighting for the establishment and support of the existing international courts really also need to examine closely the effects that these courts have had on the lives, livelihoods, and wellbeing of the millions of citizens of the countries that have been their targets. In Amnesty After Atrocity? I looked at the effects on the citizenries of Rwanda, South Africa, and Mozambique of the widely differing approaches those three countries adopted to the issue of seeking “accountability” for past war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The two countries that decided against using criminal courts to deal with perpetrators of atrocities during the episodes of severe violence that all of them had suffered were the ones that came out with their social cohesion, political purpose, and the rights situation of their citizenries the best assured.
It is not only in Lebanon that a crucial “trade-off” exists between the work of (an inevitably “political” and backward-looking) international tribunal and the prospects for peace and people’s wellbeing going forward. Look at some of my own past work on this issue. Look at what the Obama administration is now actively considering doing in the context of Sudan, for goodness sake! Today, White House officials including “Ms. Anti-Genocide” herself, Samantha Power, are openly talking about the possibility of easing up the pressure that Pres. Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been subjected to from the ICC, in exchange for his cooperation with implementing the results of the South Sudan referendum.
It surely should not be that only in Lebanon does Washington pursue the chimera of the “impartiality” of a tribunal with strong international dimensions at the expense of the wellbeing of the target country’s citizenry.
Accountability for Rafiq Hariri’s killing? One day, let’s hope, the facts will all emerge. But this highly politicized judicial process centered in The Hague looks unlikely to be able credibly to uncover them. And if it does issue indictments, what then? STL prosecutor Daniel Bellemare and whose army will arrest those indicted? What of the Lebanese government’s supposedly co-equal role in managing this whole “criminal justice” project?
The next time Sec. Clinton or a State Department spokesman starts talking about the need to preserve the “impartiality” of this court, the STL, they should be asked about some of these very important questions…

Lebanon’s government crisis and the regional tides

Lots of people have been scrambling to ask what lies behind the decision of Lebanon’s Hizbullah-led opposition bloc to pull their 10-plus-1 ministers out of the Doha-launched unity government… And there are no clear answers from anywhere yet.
My sense from afar is that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his friends and backers in Tehran are sending a fairly blunt message to the west (whose leaders often like to describe themselves as the “international community”) that regime change is indeed a game that more than one side can play.
Let’s look at the position of the pro-U.S. forces in the Middle East today:

    * Tunisia is in the throes of a serious socio-economic upheaval that threatens to spread to many other M.E. countries that, like it, are important to US power projection in the region.
    * Think Egypt, in particular.
    * The Israeli government continues not only to keep Gaza’s 1.5 million people locked in an impermeable and quite inhumane cage but also to viciously knock the guts out of Palestinian East Jerusalem and thus out of any hope that a viable “two-state” solution can be salvaged from the current mess of repression in Palestine… And Washington is doing nothing– nothing!– about any of that. Even its long-lasting fig-leaf of pretense that there is something called a peace “process” has now been shredded to nothingness. For far too long, there has been no progress towards any form of a just and sustainable peace. Now, there is not even the pretense of any “process.”
    * The U.S. has now definitively lost the campaign to have any lasting influence over the government in Baghdad; and it is in serious trouble further east in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    *Egypt is not the only country, central to U.S. interests in the region, where an aged long-time ruler is now well into his 9th decade on earth and starting to falter, physically. Think Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is particularly germane to the situation in Lebanon, since it was the Saudi-Syrian entente of early 2008 that allowed Lebanon to recover from the prolonged political crisis that preceded that date.
Interesting that the resigning opposition MP’s in Lebanon made a point of saying that the pro-Hariri bloc ad foiled the wishes of both the Syrians and the Saudis, and that the Hizbullah media reported it that way too.
Where is Saudi King Abdullah? He has had several serious medical procedures recently. Who has (?former) PM Saad Hariri been listening to as he has made his decisions of recent weeks?
… If Nasrallah and his friends in Tehran (especially Supreme Leader Khamenei) indeed think the time has come to give the western house of cards in the Middle East a little nudge in Beirut to see what happens, the fallout from this could well end up extending far beyond Lebanon’s tiny confines.
Well, I have been planning a short visit to Beirut next month, anyway. It should be an interesting time to be there.

The passing of Ayatollah Fadlallah

Juan Cole has an elegant and generally well-sourced short appreciation of the life and work of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who died in Beirut yesterday.
Without a doubt, Fadlallah was a commanding figure in the “Shiite Awakening” in Lebanon (and throughout the whole Middle East). As Juan notes, Fadlallah was closely associated with the founders of the Da3wa Party in Iraq, where he had been born of Lebanese parents and where he studied at the great seminaries in Najaf. The Da3wa Party was, of course, also the political incubator of post-invasion Iraqi prime ministers Ibrahim Ja3fari and Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Juan notes the role that Fadlallah played in inspiring the anti-Israeli resistance that grew up among Lebanon’s Shiites in particular after Israel’s large-scale, sustained, and very brutal occupation of 1/3 of Lebanon in 1982. He also notes that the CIA was widely thought to have organized the 1985 bombing of Fadlallah’s residence in southern Beirut which killed 80 people, the vast majority of them civilians– but not either Fadlallah or a young bodyguard of his called Imad Mughniyeh, who went on to become one of the strategic masterminds of Hizbullah.
Fadlallah always, as Juan notes, pursued a steadfastly anti-imperialist line. However, he had at least one very serious theological differences with the current Hizbullah Secretary-General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah believes in the concept of the Guardianship of the (Islamist) Jurisprudent– wilayat al-faqih— while Fadlallah strongly opposed it.
(This was in a way a paradox, since Fadlallah himself could have qualified to be the faqih in question, whereas Nasrallah, who has never attained any of the higher ranks of Shiite jurisprudence, could not. The marja’/faqih whom he follows is Iran’s current Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.)
The sense I have had from the times I have been in Beirut in recent years is that Fadlallah always had a very strong following among Lebanese Shiites– both those who supported Hizbullah and those who supported the other significant Lebanese Shiite movement, Amal. It is very doubtful, however, that his passing will lead to any recurrence of the Hizbullah-Amal tensions that sometimes arose in the past, since Hizbullah has clearly established itself as the more powerful and energetic of the two movements, with Amal’s people more or less resigned to living in its shadow.
Juan writes that,

    Most Lebanese Shiites either follow Sayyid Ali Sistani of Najaf in Iraq, or Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran (Hizbullah favors Khamenei). But some followed Fadlallah. His partisans will likely now turn to Sistani, strengthening the new, Shiite-dominated Iraq’s influence in Lebanon.

I am not sure that the first of those sentences is accurate– I’d love to see Juan’s sources for that judgment. I also think it’s unlikely that Fadlallah’s passing will cause any significant rise in the “influence” that either Sistani or the new Shiite-dominated Iraq is able to wield in Lebanon. Lebanon has its own very robust Shiite politics and its Shiite citizens have their own, always compelling reasons for the political choices they make. Fadlallah’s passing will almost certainly further increase the social and political heft of Hizbullah, since the gentle “brake” that Fadlallah often applied to Hizbullah power will now be removed; and it seems unlikely that anyone from his circle will speedily (or indeed ever) replace him in that role.
Also, re the idea of Iraqi “influence” in Lebanon, the Iraqi government can’t even wield sufficient “influence” inside its own broken country, let alone anywhere else… and come to that, what Iraqi “government” might we be talking about here??
Hizbullah’s Al-Manar website has an informative account of Fadlallah’s many contributions to social welfare and other civil-society projects in Lebanon over the past decades. It tells us that Nasrallah has announced a three-day mourning period for Fadlallah, and calls for a large turnout for Fadlallah’s funeral, to be held tomorrow.

10th anniversary of Lebanese liberation

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day on which Israel’s forces, acting on orders from then-PM Ehud Barak, undertook a chaotic, humiliating retreat from South Lebanon, bringing to a nearly complete end their 22-year-long military occupation of the area.
That retreat was important for a number of reasons:

    1. It marked the first time Israeli forces ever retreated from occupied territory in the absence of pressure from the United States (as had happened in 1956, from Sinai and Gaza) and also in the absence of a peace agreement with the government of the country occupied (as happened with Egypt in 1979.)
    2. The 2000 withdrawal therefore marked a new phase in Israeli strategic decisionmaking, one in which the stress that all Israeli leaders had previously placed on the need to secure strong, binding peace agreements with their neighbors in “return” for Israeli withdrawal from their lands was now replaced by a disdain for peace agreements and an insistence that Israel would “draw its own borders.” This preference for unilateral rather than negotiated action marked Israel’s evacuation from the body of the Gaza Strip (though not its international borders) in 2005. It also marked the construction of the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank from 2002 on, and the arrogance and almost palpable disdain with which Israeli leaders have approached the tasks of peace diplomacy from the premiership of Barak until the present.
    3. Israel was not the only party to eschew negotiations. Hizbullah’s leaders have always refused to engage in direct negotiations with Israel. On occasion they have taken part in indirect negotiations with it– as happened in 1996, which marked the strategic turning-point in the balance between the two forces. Hizbullah has also remained extremely wary of the readiness of the U.N. to take any decisive action to liberate occupied lands. The fact that Hizbullah and its Lebanese allies liberated South Lebanon without engaging in negotiations and without relying on the support of the U.N. provided a new example for Arab communities chafing under foreign occupation– primarily, the Palestinians. Four months after Hizbullah’s supporters liberated South Lebanon, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza launched the Second Intifada, with many participants citing south Lebanon’s example as their inspiration.
    4. The Lebanese people’s liberation of their land marked a real achievement for “people power” at both the tactical and the strategic levels. Tactically, the development that in May 2000 set off the final rout firstly of Israel’s proxy forces in south Lebanon, and then of the IDF forces themselves, was a cavalcade of unarmed villagers returning to their homes and farms in south Lebanon. Strategically, the will, unity, and pro-liberation determination of south Lebanon’s civilians formed the essential sinews of the entire resistance movement that grew up after Israel’s second major offensive into the country, in 1982. Yes, Hizbullah also used many violent tactics throughout the years against both the Israeli occupation forces and the Israeli proxy forces of the SLA. And that violence seemed to have some effect: The steady and unstoppable toll of losses among Israeli soldiers in Lebanon slowly incubated a strong desire among Israelis to withdraw– on almost any terms. But throughout the years of occupation, the IDF and the SLA had enacted horrendous violence against Hizbullah fighters, suspected Hizbullah sympathizers, and the South Lebanese population in general. Hizbullah could never have developed and maintained its capabilities if it had not also been able to organize the civilian population with great effectiveness.
    5. Hizbullah had shown its talents as an effective and disciplined force– both on the battlefield and in civilian affairs– on numerous occasions before 2000. (For example, it participated successfully in Lebanese elections since 1992, and helped to democratize the country’s internal political life significantly, throughout the 1990s. It also participated skilfully in those indirect ceasefire negotiations that halted the big Israeli assault of 1996.) But in masterminding the civilian-led recovery of south Lebanon in 2000, Hizbullah’s leaders demonstrated their smarts, and the discipline of their followers, in another extremely important way: They laid great stress on urging their victorious followers not to undertake any extrajudicial retaliations against the numerous Lebanese who had been part of Israel’s proxy-force structure, and expressed pride in the near-total absence of any such retaliations after liberation.

In sum, Hizbullah’s emergence into the Lebanese and Arab body politic marked the arrival of a force of considerable depth and sophistication. It has also served as a new example of a specifically Islamist, specifically anti-colonial form of Arab modernism.
Western analysts who look at only at superficial phenomena such as whether women wear head-veils or not tend to miss completely the modernizing nature of Hizbullah’s project in Lebanese politics and society. Those who look only at the organization’s military prowess tend to miss the importance of its sturdy, mass-organizing underpinnings. Those who spout off about “implacable Sunni-Shiite hatreds” have no understanding of the degree to which Hizbullah’s victories of 1996, 2000, and 2006 served to inspire millions of Arabs and Muslims from the whole Middle East region, regardless of of their form of worship.
Here’s hoping– and working– for an end to all military occupations, everywhere!

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb responds

    [In a follow-up to the exchange that I blogged here yesterday, Dr Amal Saad-Ghorayeb has written the response that follows. I will be happy to publish, in full, any further remarks that Dean Grant Hammond or any of his staff at the NATO Defense College (NDC) cares to submit. The subject of how, exactly, officials in key NATO structures like the NDC define NATO’s “mission” in the Israeli-Arab theater is an important one that citizens of all democracies– in Lebanon and elsewhere– should certainly be ready to discuss. Anyway, here is Saad-Ghorayeb’s contribution. ~HC]

by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb

Despite the very personal nature of Dean Grant Hammond’s
last e-mail (apparently sent to me by mistake), I had no intention of
dignifying his vulgar outburst with a reply. However, given the publication of
his response to Helena Cobban’s queries, I feel obligated to alert the reader
to the distortions of reality, inconsistencies, and omissions which
characterize his defensive tract, all of which can be readily discerned from
the—as yet unpublished– e-mail exchanges that took place between myself
and the NATO Defense College staff.

But more important than my efforts at
clarifying the episode, is my endeavor to underline its exact magnitude, lest
it appear a mere tit-for-tat exchange between myself and NDC

The episode is nothing short of a
botched attempt to enlist me –on account of my “academic expertise [on Hizbullah] and reputation” to borrow Hammond’s words– to
deliver a lecture on the Lebanese resistance movement to an audience of Israeli
and other NATO officers and diplomats,  and then, in clear violation of
my country’s laws, to engage IDF officers and diplomats in back-channel talks,
in the context of the scheduled “Q&A” session. It is crucial to repeat here
that these Israeli guests were not private citizens but diplomats and IDF
officers, and that accordingly, I was invited to not merely engage in cultural
normalization with Israeli academics, but in security normalization with
Israeli officers. 

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