Thursday, August 03, 2006

To Anyone Wondering Why Israel Opposes a Cease Fire

Thank the Iranian president for being kind enough to explain:

“Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate ceasefire must be implemented,” Ahmadinejad said, according to state-run television in a report posted on its website today.
In other words:

A cease fire is a necessary step on the path to achieving the goal of the destruction of Israel. Damn those Israelis (and the US, who unaccountably also would prefer not to see that happen) for not playing along. Who do they think they are, anyway, fighting to avoid being destroyed . . .

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Way Out?

The hardest thing about war, it seems, is not fighting it; the hardest thing is the exit strategy. That's what bedeviled the US in Vietnam and is stumping it in Iraq, what caused so much trouble for Israel in its 1982 foray into Lebanon and is doing so again now. The problem seems intractable, a gordian knot incapable of being cut. The problems?

First, from the Israeli perspective, it cannot accept a return to the status quo ante, with Hezbollah again hunkering down armed and unopposed on the Lebanese side of the border, continuing its quest to destroy Israel and ready, willing and able to provoke another conflagaration any time it chooses.

Israel would accept a robust international force charged with a mandate of preventing Hezbollah attacks against Israel and disarming Hezbollah by force, if necessary, but the international community isn't exactly tripping over itself volunteering to supply the soldiers, arms and support such a force would require.

Hezbollah, of course, will not lay down its arms as doing so would be a massive humilliation and defeat, particularly without any Israeli concession on the Shabaa Farms/Har Dov area which Hezbollah uses as its pretext for attacking Israel.

And Israel, of course, cannot surrender on Har Dov for two reasons: first, its withdrawal in 2000 was certified by the UN and the UN's experts have determined that Har Dov was captured from Syria, not Lebanon. Thus, surrendering Har Dov to Lebanon despite the lack of a legal claim would be an invitation to invent still more disputed Lebanese territory as a pretext for Hezbollah's continued war against Israel. Second, and much more importantly, surrendering Har Dov in response to Hezbollah attacks would simply prove to Hezbollah, Hamas, and the rest of the "Destroy Israel" crowd in the Arab world that terrorism and violence works, it gets results, and could be successfully be used to achieve the ultimate goal of an Israel-free region.

All in all, it seems like a wholly insoluable mess. But lately I've been thinking that there may be a solution lurking in there after all. Let me lay out what I think the solution could look like, and then I'll explain it.

Step 1: Syria and Lebanon sign a treaty by which Syria irrevocably cedes all claims to the Shabaa Farms region to Lebanon.

Step 2: Israel and Lebanon sign a peace treaty with the following terms:

a) An immediate cease fire; and
b) Israel will turn control of the Shabaa Farms/Har Dov over to Lebanon exactly three years to the day after the treaty is signed, as long as the following conditions are met:
1) The captured soldiers are returned alive and unharmed;
2) Hezbollah agrees to disarm and disband, turning its arms over to the Lebanese army in a process certified by a UN team to include observers from the US, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, which must have been certified to have been completed by two years after the date the treaty is signed; and
3) There are no further attacks on Israel from Lebanon in the interim, whether by Hezbollah (or any other such entity), the Lebanese government, or even individual Lebanese citizens;
c) Should any of these conditions fail to be met, Lebanon will unconditionally and irrevocably cede the Shabaa Farms/Har Dov to Israel; and
d) Should there be any attack on Israel from Lebanese territory after the date that Israel turns over the Shabaa Farms/Har Dov, whether by Hezbollah (or any other such entity), the Lebanese government, or even individual Lebanese citizens, which if the attack had originated from the government of Lebanon would be a breach of the peace treaty, Lebanon will immediately and irrevocably cede control of the Shabaa Farms/Har Dov to Israel.

What does this accomplish? Well, first, step 1 removes the problem of invalidating the UN certification of the 2000 withdrawal, since if Syria officially and irrevocably cedes its claim to the area to Lebanon, then it becomes Lebanese territory as of the date of that act, and Israel can separately negotiate over the Shabaa Farms/Har Dov with Lebanon, rather than being forced to negotiate over it only in the framework of a broader agreement with Syria. Step 1 also ensures that if either of what I'll call the "forfeiture provisions" come into play, Israel's title to Har Dov becomes undisputed, instead of subject to possible dispute from Syria.

As to the treaty between Israel and Lebanon, which would formally end the state of war that has existed between the two since 1948, it:

1) allows Israel to accomplish the necessary goal of neutralizing the strategic threat posed by Hezbollah;
2) allows Hezbollah to claim a modicum of victory in achieving control of the Shabaa Farms;
3) satisfies Israel's need to not be seen as being forced to capitulate to terror, as the Shabaa Farms would become Lebanese territory only through peace, and not through war; and
4) provides an incentive to Lebanese extremists who would support further attacks on Israel regardless of the pretext of the Shabaa Farms to keep from doing so, as if they attacked Israel they would be directly harming the Lebanese national interest, while simultaneously both providing Lebanon and its non-extremist citizens with an incentive to be vigilant against extremists in their midst and gives Israel assurances that if it trades land for peace it will either get that peace or, if not, it will get to keep the land.

Personally, I think it's a pretty elegant solution, not only because it seems to satisfy the needs of the parties but because it quite effectively puts Nasrallah and Hezbollah on the spot; they can either accede to a deal that stands to greatly benefit Lebanon - the country whose interests they claim to serve - or they can veto it and reveal themselves to their Lebanese constituency as entirely uninterested in the good of Lebanon, which would hopefully drastically weaken their base of support among Lebanon's shiite community.

Comments, please!

What is self-defense?

"And you must also be aware that this attack isn't a self-defense action; only a move to erradicate Hezbollah."
This quote - taken from a comment to Chayei Sarah's pitch-perfect satire/explanation of the war - is a perfect illustration with what's wrong with much of the analysis of this war - the instinctive and unjustifiable separation of "self-defense" from "erradicating Hezbollah"

The fact is, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization sitting on Israel's northern border, quite openly threatening to destroy Israel and regularly attacking it. They have chosen a war of attrition as the best means of doing so, since they are not yet capable of defeating the IDF in a full-scale assault. The analysts criticizing Israel's response as "disproportionate" are essentially saying this:

"Israel, Hezbollah has chosen a war of attrition. Therefore, you must respond in kind."

Absurd. Hezbollah thinks it's best chance of defeating Israel is a war of attrition. So why should and how could international law demand that Israel accede to the strategy preferred by its enemies for its destruction? When a terrorist militia like Hezbollah decides that a war of attrition is in its interests, the only rational form of self defense is to decline to fight the war on Hezbollah's terms, and instead fight it in the way that Hezbollah would prefer to avoid.

Hezbollah wants a war of attrition? Well, then the only proper response - the only meaningful form of self defense - is an all out war dedicated to their erradication.

In other words, "a move to erradicate Hezbollah" is not distinct from self-defense; it is the meaning of self defense.

I have only two problems with the way Israel is conducting this war. First, they have been too reckless with civillian life in several attacks, and that is both strategically harmful and - more importantly - morally wrong.

Second, paradoxically, they are being too timid in their ground assault. Yes, Israel suffered losses in Bint Jbeil, yes, they will likely suffer more, and no, that's nothing that should be minimized. But the objective of erradicating Hezbollah - or at least degrading its capabilities enough that it ceases to be an existential threat to Israel - requires exactly that.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Israel's Been a Bad Bad Girl (Its Been Careless with a Delicate Plan)

Anyone who knows me - in real life or on messageboards like or - knows I'm about as staunch a defender of Israel as they come. But that doesn't mean that anything Israel does is right, merely because it's Israel doing it. And Israel's prosecution of this Lebanon campaign has been as wrong as they've been in a long time.

War is hell, that goes without saying. And civillian populations will suffer in times of war, particularly wars against non-state actors like Hezbollah, who - unlike civil states - locate key military objectives in civillian areas, out of hope that the presence of civillians will deter an attack and in the knowledge that if it does not then the civillian deaths will make a tremendous propaganda tool. When Israel attacks a Hezbollah compound built in a residential area of Beirut, it's almost a given that civillians will die. And in some cases that is a tragic reality and necessity of war. (It's a reality that applies equally to both sides; regardless of who started the war or who was right to do what when, if Hezbollah kills civillians in an attack on an Israeli army base, it's equally tragic, and equally legal).

But it's become all too clear that Israel's campaign has caused civillian death far beyond the necessary and unavoidable. Israel has attacked bridges and roads while they were in use by civillians, has killed refugees fleeing the village of Marwaheen, and has otherwise demonstrated an apparent pattern of reckless disregard for the safety of Lebanon's civillians that is too abhorrent for words.

I say apparent because I hold out an anguished, fraying hope that there is some explanation for what I am seeing that I don't understand. That Israel got hold of some horrifically bad intelligence that led them to believe that a car full of refugees was loaded with Hezbollah fighters. That missiles were fired at bridges that were reasonably if wrongly expected to be empty at the time of impact. That if the pilot who fired those missiles did so in the knowledge that the bridges were occupied, it was against orders and that he will rot in jail for the rest of his life, because if those bridges were knowingly hit while civillians were using them, then it was - bluntly - murder. No amount of possible resupply to Hezbollah justifies attacking a bridge while it was in use, not if there was even the bare possibility that it could be hit while empty.

And, of course, the secondary tragedy of this - secondary because strategic implications pale before the loss of human life - is that the harm to civillians has all but eliminated any possibility that Israel's response to Hezbollah's cross-border attack would strengthen the sizable number of Lebanese who were anti-Hezbollah. And so it may be that in recklessly firing on the Lebanese, Israel also shot itself in the foot.

And if that leads to another 20 years of anger and war that could otherwise have been avoided, the secondary tragedy of this war may be destined to be the primary tragedy of another. And that thought is almost too much to bear.

Lebanon, Part Deux

Well, I started this Blog to give me a place to comment on American politics, but events have overtaken me, and while I'm sure I'll migrate back to my intended topic, my next few entries are probably going to be on what the Lebanese are already calling the "July War" - perhaps in hope that giving it that name will keep it from extending into August. No commentary here - at least not from me, not this time (though one will be upcoming). Just wanted to give some publicity to the Lebanese Blogger's Forum, an invaluable resource for anyone who wants some insight into how the Lebanese are viewing the war. Some of the blogs -Ramzi's, Bob's, and others - fill me with hope, and make me incredibly angry at how careless Israel has been with its assault; because of that, I fear they've lost what could have been a tremendous asset (more on that later). Others fill me with despair, as I read justification and support for Hezbollah, and bloggers condemning anyone who criticizes Hezbollah as a "traitor".

I'll leave you with this post, from Ramz' blog. It's one of the most powerful, best pieces of writing I've come across in a long time, and I think it speaks for itself.

I’m blogging involuntarily, in a way. Starting a new job and a new chapter in my life had pushed blogging, flickering and other things to the background. Nothing like a war (if you must call it that… extermination is what I call it) to drag you back into it.

I’d started out by saying that the Israelis were justified (sad as that may be), nothing like an attack some 200 meters from where I grew up and my family still lives to make you reconsider. A hizbullah agent in my town is as incognito as a rapper at a KKK meeting. Yet still, the Israelis saw fit to attack two trucks, one empty, one carrying cement, in the middle of a busy street. True the attacks were precise, and not even the street was touched, but still, I have to ask why. The Israeli army is the one of the most advanced in the world, and the rate of civilian casualties has been too high to pass as accidental. I don’t put it beyond Hizbollah to hide between civilians (or to be civilians in disguise, so to speak), but still. Hizbollah is NOT Lebanon, and Lebanon is not Hizbollah. The extent of these attacks has gone beyong the acceptable boundaries of bombing a terrorist group. These attacks are also driving the anti-hizbollah Lebanese (and there’s quite a few of us) to question whether there is a hidden agenda, and whether the motives exceed the simple disarmament and disabling of hizbollah.

God knows it’s hard to detach oneself, and to be completely “objective” for a Lebanese when he sees his country’s infrastructure being destroyed and his compatriots dying, but I can’t help but have this constant thought in my head: Those that started it are more guilty. I don’t know what it means.

The Lebanese prime minister spoke up and said that the Lebanese army will go to the South, brave words, hopefully, soon to be supported by brave acts.

More and more Lebanese are saying: Fuck you. Fuck you both. Fuck Hizballah and fuck Israel. And it’s more than understandable.

I left work this afternoon and headed to a cafe to work some more (how approriate). Sitting next to me were two girls, one of them looked oriental. I didn’t really pay much attention to them, but I knew they were there, and having some airy conversation. Her phone rang. She picks up, and the tension in her voice is palpable:



“Oh no…”

“How many?”

She hangs up close to tears.

All of this was in German, of course. I could sense that this was THE WAR, OUR WAR (the one we were dragged into feet first, that is). I looked at her and asked “The war?” And she said “Yes.”

“What happened?”

“They bombed a residential building, three victims so far… It’s crazy”

I could see this girl sitting in a cafe in downtown Beirut, or clubbing, or dancing at a beach party… And I could see that she knew that we had at least one thing in common… that fucking war.

My heart twisted and shrank, as it does whenever I learn of new bombs… I asked her what town was bombed.


Like it or not, we are in this together. There are innocents dying on both sides, and there are people who care about their countries on both sides receiving phone calls like that, giving them a jolt of reality and reminding them of the fragility of life. Sadly, I see no solution on the horizon. More innocent deaths, breeding more hatred between the citizens of two countries that are, in end effect, destined (cursed?) to be neighbors.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Collective Punishment? (or War - huh! - What is it Good For?)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past day or so, you are aware that Israel has responded to a Hezbollah cross border incursion and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers with a massive aerial barrage on Lebanon. Unsurprisingly, Israel's critics - such as the Lebanese Daily Star are referring to its reaction as "collective punishment", a phrase that has made its way into usage in analysis at such venerable sites as Salon as well. The fundamental claim appears to be that because Lebanese civillians - who clearly and inarguably had nothing to do with the Hezbollah attack - are suffering, it follows that Israel's actions are "punishment" of those civillians for the bad acts of a few.

But let's stop and think about this for a second. Israel was attacked, by a terrorist militia that the UN has said must be disarmed. That terrorist militia has - with the Lebanese government's acquiesence, if not blessing - taken up fortified positions on the Lebanese-Israeli border and has consistently fired rockets at Israeli towns and military positions. For six years - since Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon - Hezbollah has operated without even the most token of attempts at prevention from the Lebanese government or army. The Lebanese government, in fact, has no presence at its own border whatsoever, choosing to leave the border in Hezbollah's hands.

Why is it that the Lebanese government has allowed this to happen? Well, there are only two possibilities. Either they have allowed it to happen because they want it to happen or - more likely - because they felt that making the attempt to stop Hezbollah provided too much risk for too little reward. Any Lebanese attempt to dislodge Hezbollah would likely be bloody and (unless Lebanon accepted external help) unsuccessful. More, a sizable minority of Lebanon's citizens support Hezbollah, and attacking Hezbollah might result in a wider conflict. No, for Lebanon's government it was far preferable to sit back and do nothing and hope that Hezbollah would fade away over time (unlikely with Iran supplying it with $100,000,000 a year in equipment and funding, but over a couple of decades who knows what could happen). After all, leaving Hezbollah alone didn't cost Lebanon anything.

Because, in the end, the only ones threatened by Hezbollah were the Israelis. And hey, the Lebanese government could live with that.

Israel, of course, cannot. And Lebanon's refusal to even attempt to curb Hezbollah's presence and actions on the Lebanese-Israele border, and willingness to accept Israeli casualties, makes it almost as culpable in Israel's eyes as Hezbollah itself. The Israeli position on this issue should be recognizable and non-controversial - it's one that the rest of the world endorsed when the ruling government of Afghanistan refused to act against the terrorists sheltering and training there.

And so, Israel has taken its war beyond Hezbollah to Lebanon itself, not to "punish" the Lebanese civillians, but as its only method of ensuring that the Lebanese government lives up to its obligations to at least attempt to prevent the illegal attacks from its territory. Israel has done this by changing the calculus that led to Lebanese inaction in the first place. Leaving Hezbollah alone no longer only endangers Israelis. Now, it endangers the Lebanese as well.

And, with that in mind, it should be clear that Lebanon has a simple - though difficult - way to stop Israel from attacking Lebanon. End the fence sitting. Convey to Israel Lebanon's determination to live up to its responsibilities with respect to securing its border with Israel, by fighting alongside Israel and against Hezbollah.

Do that, and Lebanon will have earned the respect of the world and a just and enduring peace.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Greetings and Salutations

I know the description of this Blog says you should expect political commentary, but since this is my first post I think introductions are in order.

So here I am, a 27 year old lawyer, days away from becoming a 28 year old lawyer, up since five in the morning because my son decided sleep was too good for me (or at least that's how I think of it - for him, it was probably just a bad dream, a growth spurt, or deciding that sleep was too good for me) and finally taking the time to put this Blog in motion. I've been thinking of doing something like this for a while - mainly I've been thinking of writing a book of political commentary, but it finally dawned on me how pretentious that would be. I'm a neophyte to this world; I've never so much as taken a political science class, and it would be singularly insane of me to pretend to speak for the center in this country when I've spent all of my life on the East Coast, barring a year or so in LA when I was a baby. Personally I don't think that counts for anything; my brother, who was born there, thinks it qualifies to allow him to root for the Lakers. Perspective really is everything, I guess.

So I'm going to do this in Blog form, and we'll see how it goes. I'm keeping the title for my book, though (and the sub-title, which became the description). Hey, I'd worked hard coming up with it (yeah, that's as far as I got) and I'm not going to waste it. Plus, it was available, and if you've tried to start a Blog on this site in the past year or so you know what a minor miracle that is.

So why Rallying the Base? Because from the first time I heard the term used to describe the play-to-your-core-supporters, red-meat-tossing, get-out-the-vote political strategy that's become the scorched earth basis for most of the campaigns in recent memory, I picked up on the double meaning. Yes, when political consultants use the term "base" they're using it to mean "foundation" - the core voters who will vote Republican or Democrat no matter who the candidate is, as long as they vote. Rallying the base is all about getting those foundational voters energized and excited about your candidacy (or about the dangers presented by the opposition candidate) so that they actually do go vote. Playing to those voters by running hard right or hard left is more important than appealing to centrists, the thinking goes, because in moving to the center you risk losing more of those foundation voters than you gain in swing voters (who are an ever decreasing portion of the population anyway, it seems, as political views ossify and society grows ever more polarized).

But there's another meaning of "base", and one that I think fits equally well when politicians are described as rallying the base, or playing to the base. To quote from the American Heritage Dictionary (how's that for an appropriately named source?) base also means "having or showing a contemptible, mean-spirited, or selfish lack of human decency; devoid of high values or ethics; inferior in value or quality." And that's what I think about when I see politicians rallying the base: the politics of the lowest common denominator, of sound bite policy and poll driven "leadership", of politics as a game to be won with an opponent to be defeated, rather than the method by which we as a society collectively determine how we should live our lives, on the basis of a dialog and debate between often opposing views of how to reach a common goal - making America a stronger, safer, happier and above all else better place to be.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm sick of it.

Hey, I guess we did get to the politics after all.