Saturday, July 22, 2006

Condis big adventure and the rush to re-arm Israel:

The Bush administration is really doing a masterful job of conducting our foreign policy. While W. blurts out in front of an open mike that he thinks this could be all solved with one phone from Kofi Annan to Bashar al-Assad; Condi is off on a trip to Rome to work on a cease-fire she has already said she doesn't want. And she isn't going to talk to any of the parties involved in the conflict except for Israel, which already knows they have a green light to do what ever they want. While Condi is sending messages to Tel Aviv urging "restraint," Elliot Abrams, Cheney's neo-con attack dog, is telling them what the real deal is: Bombs away!

As if this entire process wasn't rediculous enough already -- crying crocodile tears for civilian casualties while at the same time urging Israel to go all the way -- now comes this story in the NYT today:

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday. The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said." (That's a big surprise.)

Looks like the 23 tons of
GBU-28s they dropped on southern Beirut the other day didn't get the job done. But that's ok, we send them $3 billion a year for this sort of thing, so blast away. It's a beautiful system, a real virtuous circle: They take our tax payer money and then they send it right back, not to the treasury, but into the bank accounts of Cheney's defense industry buddies. I wonder what Condi's Arab guests in Rome are going to have to say about this developement, though. It could be awkward.

Friday, July 21, 2006

W. tells Israel to 'go biblical' on Lebanon:

This can't be good, the WaPo reports W. is having a moment of "clarity" on Isreal's siege of Lebanon. Michael Abramowitz writes:

"In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq."

And we all know how well that's going: The Sunday Mail reports: "Baghdad morgue officials have said they took in 1595 bodies in June, 1375 in May and 1155 in April. Of those, about 80 per cent were victims of violent deaths, they said." The UN says about 6000 "Iraqi civilians were killed in the last two months alone as casualties continued an 'upward trend.' "

I'll say! The WaPo reports that the big "crack-down," operation which was launched last month in Baghdad to put an end to the violence hasn't been going too well:

"The number of attacks in Baghdad averaged 23.7 a day, according to statistics released Thursday by the military. By comparison, the daily average for the previous three months was 23.8. However, from July 14 through July 18, the five days after the operation had reached the one-month mark, the average number of attacks jumped to 34.4."

Not to worry, though, it can be managed. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said during a news briefing that, "'There was in fact a slight reduction in the level of violence' during the first month. So there was in fact a slight down-tick that was occurring and progress was being made as we moved forward with this operation.'"

Yes progress. . . and I'm sure our good firend and ally in the war on terror is full-square behind our support for letting Israel turn Lebanon into a large crater, right? NO? The NYT reports:

"Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. '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.'”

But getting back to Lebanon:

Abramowitz writes in his article that W. is feeling even better about his theory that he can just sit back and let Israel do whatever it wants as the pressure from the UN and Europe mounts for a cease-fire:

"'He thinks he is playing in a longer-term game than the tacticians,' said the former official, who spoke anonymously so he could discuss his views candidly. 'The tacticians would say: 'Get an immediate cease-fire. Deal first with the humanitarian factors.' The president would say: 'You have an opportunity to really grind down Hezbollah. Let's take it, even if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed.' " Again, just like in Iraq.

Or in Somalia, how's that going? Oh, the religious fanatics have taken over the country and the Ethiopians have crossed the border? Weren't we giving the warlords who opposed the religious nuts money to stop this from happening? It can be managed! The AP reports:

"Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, speaking on Radio Shabelle, said Ethiopia's decision to send troops to protect the transitional government in Baidoa, 150 miles northwest of Mogadishu, must be met with war. 'I am calling on the Somali people to wage a holy war against Ethiopians in Baidoa,' said Aweys, accused by the United States of having ties to al-Qaida. 'They came to protect a government which they set up to advance their interests.'"

Don't worry be happy; the Inquirer reports that State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says, "We are watching the situation very closely" and "we would urge the Ethiopian government to exercise restraint."

Where have I heard that before? Oh right, Condi Rice said last week, "It is extremely important that Israel exercise restraint in its acts of self defense." And how's that going? Another article in today's WaPo reports frothe southern city of Tyre, where the Israelis are getting ready to really show some "restraint."

"The warning came in the morning Thursday, a recorded message dialed to phone numbers in southern Lebanon. In flawless Arabic, it instructed: Leave now, beyond the Litani River that bisects the rock-studded wadis of the south. Don't flee on motorcycles or in vans or trucks. Otherwise, you will be a target. The message signed off simply: the state of Israel."

Ivan Watson reported from Tyre for NPR this afternoon. He witnessed the mass burial of 80 bodies that had been kept in two refrigerator trucks until they could be identified. There were about 20 more bodies still waiting to be buried and more were arriving all the time. He says there are lots of civilians who would obviously like to get out of the line of fire of Israel's bombs but the Israelis keep blowing up people in their cars as they try to escape.

This loss of life is very tragic, but what are you going to do? These do-gooders at the UN like Kofi Annan who condemned Israel's "excessive use of force" yesterday, are not seeing the big picture. Hezbollah has to be destroyed, so therefore innocent civilians in Lebanon have to die. Hezbollah's gets its weapons and funding from Iran and Syria but this war will go on in Lebanon until Hezbollah stops firing rockets... or was it to turn over the soldiers they captured or . . .what was it again, I forget.

The main thing is W. "will not bow to international pressure to pressure Israel. I have never seen a man more committed to Israel;" so says Fred S. Zeidman, a Texas venture capitalist who has been close to the president for years, according to the WaPo.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Just sit back and hope for the best:

The WaPo reports:

"[ Condi] Rice is now expected to travel to the Middle East as soon as this weekend, but with a limited listening mission in Israel and Egypt. The United States is still struggling to define the timing and purpose of her mission. She is tentatively expected to leave a team behind in Israel, head on to Malaysia for a conference of Southeast Asian nations, and possibly return to the Middle East for further negotiations if her team can put the right "building blocks" in place, a U.S. official said."

Malaysia? My God, could she get any further away from what's going on? Now that's showing real engagement! This is even worse than when Colin Powell took the slow boat to the Middle East in April of 2002. Just as now, the US decided to let Israel go ahead and do what ever it wanted; flatten Jenin; maybe accidentally kill Arafat; who knows what might happen, but first we need to go to Morocco, Jordan, Damascus, Beirut: and then to Palestine maybe next week to see Arafat.

This approach is seriously deluded. What makes this administration think any amount of Israeli bombing is going to weaken or eliminate Hezbollah. They're Lebanese, where are they going to go? The thinking behind this non-engagement strategy is reported in Newsweek:

"U.S. diplomats are working hard to keep Israelis from killing innocent Lebanese, despite the call by some Israeli hard-liners to make the strikes "Biblical" in severity, according to the senior U.S. diplomat. 'The Israelis intend to bruise Hizbullah, and that's probably a good thing. I don't think there should be call for a ceasefire right now,' he said. 'But we're saying [the strikes] shouldn't be unbridled and promiscuous.'"

That's a policy? What about the tens of thousands of Lebanese without water and electicity? How about the thousands of refugees trying to leave and get into Syria? This is completly outrageous.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Embryos are more valuable than Lebanese civilians!

Here we go again with the same old justifications for Israel's heavy-handed military assaults on civilian populations. Typically, when the world begins to recoil from the photos and TV footage of the barbarity of the IDF's heavy-handed, unrestrained attacks; the defenders of Israel start cranking out the op-eds and letters to the editors in order to blunt the criticism of what can not be defended. Expressions like "moral equivalency" and "threats to Israel's existence" start to show up in every pro-Israel statement and diatribe (as if they were all coming from the same talking points.)

Ehud Olmert, set the tone in a speech on Monday repeating the oft used red herring that Israel was on the brink of destruction, in order to justify his government's outrageous attacks on a totally defenseless sovereign country: "Isreal will not be held hostage," he vowed, as the onslaught he ordered began to grind Lebanon into a pile of concrete dust.

And as usual, the rest of the world is lined up against Israel and its efforts to defend itself. Kevin Ferris in the Inquirer asks: "Will the world stand by as Israel takes Hezbollah apart? It seems unlikely." Of course, because Israel is a poor, beleaguered country, surrounded by enemies on all sides that just barely survives; but for the three billion dollars a year in US aide, which goes mainly to pay for the most advanced and deadly weaponry in the world, Israel would cease to exist.

This is a very, very old chestnut that gets pulled out every time the Israeli government launches another one of its over-the-top retaliations for a relatively minor provocation. Who seriously believes that Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets or Hamas' Qassams are any match for the IDF or the IAF's F-18s? (Not to mention their fleet of Dolphin silent subs that carry converted cruise missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.) Israeli soldiers have been captured before and trades have been made, what's the big deal now? And, let's get serious here, neither Iran nor Syria is contemplating attacking Israel; they'd be crazy to attempt such a thing.

Before the Six-Day War in 1967, the world might have bought this line of BS, but not anymore. Even General Matitiahu Peled, an architect of the Israeli's victory in that war, said shortly after that:

"There is no reason to hide the fact that since 1949 no one dared, or more precisely, no was able, to threaten the very existence of Israel. In spite of that, we have continued to foster a sense of our own inferiority, as if we were a weak and insignificant people, which, in the midst of an anguished struggle for its existence, could be exterminated at any time. . . To claim that the Egyptian forces concentrated on our borders were capable of threatening Israel's existence not only insults the intelligence of anyone capable of analyzing this kind of situation, but is an insult to Tashal." [Maariv, March 24, 1972]

Of course, if you throw out the theory that Israel is fighting for its life by turning Lebanon into a gigantic crater; the 300 or so lives lost and the half-million (half the total population) displaced civilians so far, starts to look real bad in the eyes of world opinion.

Not to be deterred, though, Jack E. Cohen in a letter to the NYT, writes that he is outraged that the US would even ask Israel to "minimize the damage to civilian bystanders." Don't they realize that, "Israel is, and has been, fighting for its life?" Everyone must understand that "Israel is determined to crush Hezbollah, and unfortunately, civilians will be victims."

Yes, "unfortunately," cars full of people desperate to get from under Israel's bombardment will have to be killed as they flee on the roads; the tops of buildings will have to be sheered off killing all those on the top floors; entire families will die in their homes, moms, dads, and children all together; and even the Lebanese army, which isn't in this fight, will be slaughtered in their barracks. Because as Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, explains: "Proportionality is not compared to the event, but to the threat, and the threat is bigger and wider than the captured soldiers." So, the threat that even more than the 13 Israeli civilians dead already from Katyushas

Livni says, "Unfortunately (there's that word again), civilians sometimes pay the price of giving shelter to terrorists." The NYT writes that Livni claims that civilians in southern Lebanon have Katyusha rockets under their beds. She says, "when you go to sleep with a missile, you might find yourself waking up to another kind of missile." Wow, I had no idea Israeli intelligence was so good; they can see under people's beds! Or is their version of Cheney's 1 percent doctrine: if one villager has a Katyusha under their bed the whole village gets leveled?

See, there is no moral equivalency between one or two Israelis targeted by terrorist and Palestinian or Lebanese civilians who are killed in their hundreds to stop those attacks. Just like John Bolton said: "I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts. It's simply not the same thing to say that it's the same act to deliberately target innocent civilians, to desire their deaths, to fire rockets and use explosive devices or kidnapping versus the sad and highly unfortunate consequences of self-defense." [AFP]

Hell, even embryos are more important to W. & Co. than Lebanese civilians! Today W. vetoed the stem-cell reaserch bill because he said it crossed 'moral line.' "This bill would support the taking of innocent human life. Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value."

You've really got to feel for those poor embryos!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israel given license to kill:

The Israeli assault on Lebanon goes into its 8th day today and Lebanese PM Fuad Saniora has put the death toll from Israeli military action at 300, saying also, according to AP, that: "1,000 have been wounded and a half-million displaced." There's no doubt that the toll will go far higher as bodies are pulled out of the wreckage of buildings Israeli bombs have leveled.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is apparently in no hurry to step in to put pressure on Israel to put an end to its remorseless attacks on innocent men, women and children. I've heard tell that the Israeli military always operates on two clocks; the military clock, which says how long they have to accomplish their objectives; and the diplomatic clock, which tells them how long they can expect to get away with what they're doing before the US says 'enough.' This time around it looks like Israeli generals have been given the green light. The Guardian reports today that:

"The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on Hizbullah before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according to British, European and Israeli sources. . .US strategy in allowing Israel this freedom for a limited period has several objectives, one of which is delivering a slap to Iran and Syria, who Washington claims are directing Hizbullah and Hamas militants from behind the scenes."

Unfortunatly, this polciy also puts over 3 million Lebanese under the boot of the fourth most powerful military in the world and assumes that there will be anything left of Lebanon by the time Israel is done. Something tell's me W.'s urging Israel to use "restraint" is going to carry too much weight.

Michael Hirsh in this week's Newsweek writes that: "A senior Lebanese official said U.S. pressure on the Israelis was marginal at best. 'In practice, what they're saying to the Israelis is, instead of blowing up a bridge with five bombs, make it four bombs,' he said bitterly."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Is Israel really our friend? Purity of weapons: these days not so much.

[ Note: this was written on Staurday]

I find it interesting that the American media is being ever so cautious not to be too critical of Israel, broadly accepting its line that it's justified in destroying civilian infrastructure and killing men, women and children, all in the name of 'self-defense.'

An Editorial in the NYT today says that Israel's "far-reaching military responses" are "legally and morally justified," but then goes on to politely suggest that such action might "end up advancing the political agenda of Hamas and Hezbollah." I guess, maybe they're worried the Lobby might come after them again like they did back in 2002 when they had the audacity to report what the Israelis were up to in Jenin.

The Lobby also mobilized a one day boycott against the NYT for the unspeakable crime of publishing a picture of a pro-Israel parade in Manhattan that showed a group of anti-Israel protesters in the foreground. [Independent] So the Times is probably a little gun-shy nowadays about going after Israel.

But this kit glove treatment of Israel's naked aggression is in stark contrast to European opinion pages. Yesterday, an editorial in the FT wrote that:

In the past, "situations similar to this have led to disaster. In 1982, Israel's stricken former prime minister Ariel Sharon, then its defense minister, used a flimsy pretext to invade Lebanon to crush the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The result was a two-month siege of Beirut that killed 19,000 people, destroyed Israel's reputation and gave rise to Hizbollah. Israel's last invasion of Lebanon was meant to crush Hizbollah. The Shia Islamist movement emerged greatly strengthened while Israel's image was further besmirched by the massacre at a United Nations base in Qana. Israel's reprisals this time are disproportionate, illegitimate under international rule that outlaw collective punishment of entire populations and have already resulted in the heavy loss of civilian life, especially children."

A case in the point, by the way, are the deaths of the Akkash family in the village of Douir. An Israeli strike killed Abdel Akkash along with his wife and ten children. I found it humorous that after Hezbollah fired one rocket at Haifa, which harmed no one, David Baker, an official in the prime minister's office, warned that; "Those who fire into such a densely populated area will pay a heavy price."

Yes, because Israel never fires missiles from Apache helicopters or drops 2000 lbs. bombs into densely populated areas. This is the Israel myth of Israel's 'purity of arms': Israel always does the right thing and if innocent Palestinians get killed it's always someone else's fault.

Turning back the clock 28 years:

In an interview from May 10, 1978 with the Israeli newspaper Al-Hamishmar, General Mordecai Gur, Chief of Staff during the 1978 invasion of southern Lebanon, was asked whether the Israeli army had bombarded Lebanese civilians "without discrimination. . ."

GUR: "I've been in the army thirty years. Do you think I don't know what we've been doing all these years? A million and a half refugees! Really, where do you live? Since when has the population of South Lebanon been so sacred? They know very well what the terrorists were doing. After the massacre of Avivim, I had four villages in South Lebanon bombarded without authorization."

Al-HAMISHMAR: "Without discrimination?"

GUR: "What discrimination? What had the inhabitants of Irbid [a non-Palestinian town in north Jordan] done to deserve being bombarded by us?"

AL-HAMISHMAR: "You maintain that the civilian population should be punished?"

GUR: "And how! I am using Sabra language: and how! I never doubted it, not for a minute. When I said. . . bring in tanks as quickly as possible and hit them from far off before boys reach a face-to-face battle, didn't I know what I was doing? I gave that order. Of course, that was not the first time that I had given that order. For thirty years, from the War of Independence to this day, we have been fighting against a population that lives in villages and towns and the question that accompanies us endlessly each time is from the beginning is whether or not to hit the civilians. . ."

Apparently, they don't agonize over it too much, though. Israel tends to be reluctant to put their soldiers in 'face-to-face' battles where they might suffer casualties, so they do most of their fighting from 20,000 feet or from miles away behind the protection of artillery pieces. That type of killing is much more civilized than what the terrorists do, right? Amnon Danker, an Israeli writer decried the attempt to distinguish the one type of brutality from another.

"The first kind. . . are the personal atrocities. This is condemned by all. Thus, for example, it is forbidden to kill prisoners of war, forbidden to shoot civilians once you can see them with your own eyes. On the other hand, the brutality that is far from sight is accepted and regarded as proper, though 'unpleasant.' The pilots throw bombs, the rest of the soldiers use long range cannon against the civilian population and they are not brutal, they are not performing atrocities, because they are not emotionally involved, they cannot see the 'clients' of their actions with their naked eyes. So you should say: a soldier who shoots an old Palestinian woman from a distance of two meters is a brute who has lost his human image and should be tried. On the other hand, the Phantom pilot who releases a 250 kg bomb over a civilian quarter or a soldier who fires a phosphorous shell that burns woman and children is not cruel but a good soldier. This attempt to distinguish between two kinds of war acts, which are both immoral, is an artificial attempt that can be accepted only by the meek minds that have been brain washed by the sticky mixture of Israeli piety." [Haaretz, August 5 1982]

[Exerpted from: "The Gun and the Olive Branch" by David Hurst]

We seriously need to get over this idea that Israel is always morally in the right; that somehow Israeli lives are worth more than Arab lives. I'm not ignoring the fact that 5 Israeli civilians have been killed by Hezbollah's indiscriminate rocket attacks in the north of Israel, but the body count in Lebanon is reaching over 70 dead and hundreds injured. Israel says in the last three days Hezbollah has fired 300 rockets into Israel and towns on the border have had to be evacuated, but for all those attacks only 5 rockets have found a target. In Gaza, since Israel pulled out last September, some 1,600 Qassams have fallen into Israel, killing 8 Israelis. By contrast, over a hundred Palestinians have been killed, many of them children, in Israel's reprisal attacks on Gaza.

Although, Hamas and Hezbollah definitely need to stop their attacks, because innocent people on both sides are being killed, neither group presents an existential threat to Israel, certainly not the type of threat that in anyway justifies the level of fire-power Israel is using against the Palestinians and the Lebanese. And for all the damage they've caused and all the suffering they've brought on these peoples, where are their soldiers? Have they stopped Qassams and Katushas from being launched? What has any of this accomplished?

What began as a rescue mission in Gaza and Lebanon, has now turned into a full scale offensive to finish Hamas and Hezbollah, once and for all. People are speculating on whether Iran gave to go-ahead for the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers or not, but what I want to know is; did the government of Israel bother to tell our government, their biggest foreign donor and supporter, what they were up to? They did pass it by W. before they presented him with a big fat crisis right in the heart of the Middle East? Because, we're a little busy right now dealing with: North Korea's missiles; Iran's nukes; the civil war in Iraq and the mess in Afghanistan.

I don't know, I just think before they went off half-cocked and started a war that has the potential to turn into a regional conflagration of biblical proportions, they'd pass it by us first. To me, this doesn't seem like the sort of thing a friend does to another friend when we're already up to our neck in troubles.

Here's a funny notion, maybe they're not such great friends after all.
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