Letting Lebanon burn

Excerpts from a new MERIP editorial on the war.

On the US media:

The American broadcast media nevertheless labor to fashion symmetry where there is none. There is balanced treatment of the casualties on both sides. The Israelis forced into bomb shelters are juxtaposed with the Lebanese politely warned to flee their homes. For competing renditions of the day’s bloodletting, CNN’s avuncular Larry King turns first to nonchalantly windblown Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen and then to a program director from Hizballah’s al-Manar satellite channel, Ibrahim al-Musawi, who always seems to have one eye on the sky. The rock-star reporters who parachuted in to cover the story dispense dollops of confusion. CNN’s Anderson Cooper in Cyprus explained that, since Hamas members are Sunni and Hizballah members Shi‘i, they are “historic rivals.” MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, sans bowtie to convey the seriousness of the occasion, wondered if Hizballah had rocketed Nazareth because its residents are all Christian, ignoring the images on the screen behind him from the attack victims’ funeral at a mosque.
On Hizbullah's motivations:

No evidence, beyond leaked Israeli intelligence of secret meetings between Nasrallah and his alleged Syrian and Iranian puppeteers, has been presented for the thesis of broader conspiracy, let alone for the core proposition that Hizballah snatched the Israeli soldiers on orders from Bashar al-Asad and/or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Who else sees the hand of Iran, by the way? Saddam Hussein, admonishing Syria from his Baghdad jail cell not to “deepen its coalition with Iran, because Iranians have bad intentions toward all Arabs and they hope to do away with them.”) The fact that Hizballah’s arsenal includes missiles of Iranian and Syrian provenance is also adduced as proof. By this same logic, of course, Washington must be ordering every sortie of Israeli F-16s over Beirut and every demolition of Palestinian homes by Caterpillar bulldozers.

Hizballah is not shy about acknowledging its external patrons, who presumably assented to its operation. But the timing of the militia’s cross-border raid, as Israel was punishing all of Gaza for the capture of one soldier, suggests another motivation rooted in regional politics -- namely, that Hizballah aimed to impress the Arab public as capable champions of the Palestinians, in contrast to the impotent grumbling of the US-allied Arab regimes. Surely, as well, Saudi and Egyptian criticisms of Hizballah stem more from the popularity of Nasrallah among their own (all or mostly Sunni) populations than from a genuine fear of a “Shiite crescent.”
This Shia crescent nonsense has been way overblow, in my opinion. The Saudis have been warming to the Iranians for years, and the Egyptians have tried but have been probably blocked by the Americans. What does Hosni Mubarak have to fear from Shias? He barely has any in Egypt. The only thing he fears is being upstaged as a regional VIP.

Here's the conclusion, but read the whole thing:

On July 19, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Tony Snow if Bush’s insistence that Rice not undertake shuttle diplomacy until Israel “defangs” Hizballah made the conflagration in Lebanon a US war as well as an Israeli one. Snow dissembled: “Why would it be our war? I mean, it’s not on our territory. This is a war in which the United States -- it’s not even a war. What you have are hostilities, at this point, between Israel and Hizballah. I would not characterize it as a war.”

It is a war, an unjustified war. Israel’s legal justifications -- protecting the sanctity of its borders and enforcing UN resolutions -- are disingenuous to the point of being dishonest, after Israel’s own years of ignoring the will of the international community and crossing and erasing boundaries with impunity. The US is the only international actor with the power to stop this war, and instead has chosen to encourage the fighting. So the US, too, will be held accountable by history.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.