Jul 13, 2006


You have NO IDEA how deeply it pains me to say this… but I actually read an insightful and mostly accurate description of the current situation in Israel written by… deep breath… ROBERT FISK.

Yes, THAT Robert Fisk. He of "fisking" fame. The inspiration for the annual "Fiskie" Idiotarian of the Year Award. Robert freaking Fisk.

25 times out of 100, someone "fisks" Fisk, and 74 times out of 100 Fisk manages to basically "self-fisk." But that leaves 1 remaining... and this is it. I'll give it to him on this article. Kind of. My reservations will be made clear at the bottom. This is from the pay version of "The Independent," which I don't have an account with, and requires a login that I can't seem to beat, even with help from bugmenot. But no matter… I have my sources…

Beirut waits as Syrian masters send Hezbollah allies into battle
It's about Syria. That was the frightening message delivered by Damascus yesterday when it allowed its Hizballah allies to cross the UN Blue Line in southern Lebanon, kill three Israeli soldiers, capture two others and demand the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.

Within hours, a country that had begun to believe in peace - without a single Syrian soldier left on its soil - found itself once more at war.

Israel held the powerless Lebanese government responsible - as if the sectarian and divided cabinet in Beirut can control Hizballah. That is Syria's message. Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's affable Prime Minister, may have thought he was running the country but it is President Bashar al-Asad in Damascus who can still bring life or death to a land that lost 150,000 lives in 15 years of civil conflict.

And there is one certain bet that Syria will rely on; that despite all Israel's threats of inflicting "pain" on Lebanon, this war will run out of control until - as has so often happened in the past - Israel itself calls for a ceasefire and releases prisoners. Then the international big-hitters will arrive and make their way to the real Lebanese capital - Damascus, not Beirut - and appeal for help.

That is probably the plan. But will it work? Israel has threatened Lebanon's newly installed infrastructure and Hizballah has threatened Israel with further conflict. And therein lies the problem; to get at Hizballah, Israel must send its soldiers into Lebanon - and then it will lose more soldiers.

Indeed when a single Merkava tank crossed the border into Lebanon yesterday morning, it struck a Hizballah mine, which killed three more Israelis.

Certainly Hizballah's attack broke the United Nations rules in southern Lebanon - a "violent breach" of the Blue Line, it was called by Geir Pedersen, the senior UN official in the country - and was bound to unleash the air force, tanks and gunboats of Israel on to this frail, dangerous country. Many Lebanese in Beirut were outraged when gangs of Hizballah supporters drove through the streets of the capital with party flags to "celebrate" the attack on the border.

Christian members of the Lebanese government were voicing increasing frustration at the Shia Muslim militia's actions - which only proved how powerless the Beirut administration is.

By nightfall, Israel's air raids had begun to spread across the country - the first civilians to die were killed when an aircraft bombed a small road bridge at Qasmiyeh - but would they go even further and include a target in Syria? This would be the gravest escalation so far and would have US as well as UN diplomats appealing for that familiar, tired quality - "restraint".

And prisoner swaps is probably all that will come of this. In January 2004, for example, Israel freed 436 Arab prisoners and released the bodies of 59 Lebanese for burial, in return for an Israeli spy and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers.

As long ago as 1985, three Israeli soldiers captured in 1982 were traded for 1,150 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners. So Hizballah knows - and the Israelis know - how this cruel game is played. How many have to die before the swaps begin is a more important question.

What is also clear is that for the first time Israel is facing two Islamist enemies - in southern Lebanon and in Gaza - rather than nationalist guerrillas. The Palestinian HAMAS movement's spokesmen in Lebanon yesterday denied that there was any co-ordination with Hizballah. This may be literally true but Hizballah timed its attack when Arab feelings are embittered by the international sanctions placed on the democratically elected HAMAS government and then the war in Gaza. Hizballah will ride the anger over Gaza in the hope of escaping condemnation for its capture and killing of Israelis yesterday.

And there is one more little, sinister question. In past violence of this kind, Syria's power was controlled by the Hafez al-Asad, one of the shrewdest Arabs in modern history. But there are those - including Lebanese politicians - who believe that Bashar, the son, lacks his late father's wisdom and understanding of power. This is a country, remember, whose own Minister of Interior allegedly committed suicide last year and whose soldiers had to leave Lebanon amid suspicion that Syria had set up the murder of Rafik al-Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister, last year. All this may now seem academic. But Damascus remains, as always, the key.
Fisk's assertion that it's "all about Damascus" is not entirely true. Where does Damascus take most of their cues from, after all? Ahhhh… Fisk can't quite make the leap to Tehran, but the fact he managed to get his brain moving this far is striking.

His continued reference to the UN Blue Line is comedic more than anything else. Since when has the UN mattered in all this? They are not respected by the Palestinians, even though they'll run and cry to the UN about "abuses" of any sort, and the UN will always weigh in on their side. Meanwhile, the US is constantly bending over backwards to conform with UN edicts and then getting shafted by them. All the way around, the UN is no true friend to anyone but the UN, and this mythical Blue Line that Hezbollah was supposed to respect is a joke to begin with.

This situation has the potential for greatness or disaster. After last year's "Cedar Revolution," I - along with many others - was inspired and overjoyed to see Lebanon kick Syria to the curb. "Here's somebody that may become at least a 'neutral' in the region, and maybe even a friend," I thought. But that's going to be a hard sell if Israel and Lebanon go head to head. That's probably not what Israel wants. They want the terrorists. And while the Lebanese government has very little real power right now, it IS in charge of the country and it HASN'T done anything to get rid of Hezbollah within it's own borders. Are they "terrorist supporting"? Possibly. "Terrorist allowing," on the other hand - definitely. Hezbollah has operated openly in Lebanon for over two decades. And that tolerance is now going to bite them in the ass.

In a perfect world (aka - one run by me), what you'd see would be a mutual effort by Beirut and Jerusalem to root out Hezbollah (AND Hamas) from the region. The Israeli army would move north, the Lebanese army would move south, and they would squeeze Hezbollah until their eyeballs shot out of their skulls.

Sadly, what's more likely is a shooting match between two nations that really don't have a beef, and while I don't think that this is going to end in a release of prisoners by Israel like Fisk asserts, it will probably end short of where it really needs to - Syria. When Fisk mentioned the US and UN "appealing for that familiar, tired quality" called "restraint," I was floored. Did he just say that "restraint" is a pain in the ass that needs to be abandoned? Did he actually go so far as to assert that it's time for the gloves to come off and for the punches to start flying in the direction of the 'head' of the enemy? Maybe he meant something else, but that's how it came across. Although, on a second reading, I think maybe he's just saying that Israel should "save lives" by skipping over the whole messy shooting part and just go straight to the prisoner exchanges. And if THAT'S what he actually meant, THAT would be the Fisk that we all know and love, because it would help restore the "peace"... and then it would start the whole cycle over again, leading right back to where we are today.

So, was Fisk "unfiskable" on this one? Not totally, but it'll take someone with more ability than me to really pull it off with style.

And the real issue here is bigger than Fisk could ever hope to be. Israel will try to focus itself like a laser beam on Hezbollah . They're already dropping leaflets over southern Lebanon telling the populace to take cover or take flight, because they don't want to hurt anybody that's not connected to the bad guys. But what's one sovereign nation to do when another one starts dropping bombs on it's territory without permission? Does the Lebanese army shoot at Hezbollah, or at the Israelis? Here's hoping that Lebanon knows who it's real enemy is. If their message to Syria last year is any indicator, maybe they do. But with the Lebanese Interior Minister calling the strike on Beirut Airport "a general act of war" that had nothing to do with Hezbollah and only aimed at hurting Lebanon's "economic interests" - namely tourism - maybe they don't...

Israel claimed the strikes to be necessary to keep the kidnapped Israeli soldiers from being taken to Iran. Maybe yes, maybe no. That would be the fastest way to do it, but it's not like those guys couldn't get smuggled overland into Syria and flown out of there… WITH SYRIAN GOVERNMENTAL HELP. And so, Fisk's point that it all comes back to Damascus is valid, even if he doesn't carry it through to it's obvious Iranian conclusion. Of course, that won't stop the shooting match that's about to go down, and sadly won't involve Syria feeling any of the pain they so rightly deserve.

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