The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Lebanon war readings

Just an overview of what I've read and seen -- sorry some with no links.

Casualties: 10 to 1

Thus far today Israel has killed 36 people in Lebanon, including 16 in Tyre, where a building used by rescue workers was hit. That brings the number of Lebanese killed to 120 since hostilities started. A lot of children died today in one particular attack.

Hizbullah struck Haifa and killed eight people, bring the number of Israelis killed to 12 since hostilities started. It was the most daring and deadliest Hizbullah strike on Israel ever, and Olmert has said he would retaliate massively.

On top of this we must not forget that millions of dollars' worth of critical infrastructure has been destroyed all across Lebanon -- major roads, the airport, etc. Lebanon is a country that is largely dependent on trading and commerce. The strikes against its power stations are also very damaging because the country faces recurrent energy shortages, has no oil of its own, and therefore must get electricity a lot of the time from Syria.

Incidentally, there was a peace protest in Tel Aviv today with the protesters demanding an end to hostilities and an exchange of prisoners. About 2,000 people, mostly from the far left parties, peace movements and NGOs, both Jewish and Arab, took part. and Saw it in a AFP feed, but not elsewhere.

Foreigners and dual nationals living in Lebanon

Eight Canadian citizens have been killed by Israeli strikes in South Lebanon. Le Monde reports that 350 Europeans fled Beirut to Rome on Sunday, while the Prime Minister of Cyprus has said his country is readying to welcome "hundreds, if not thousands" of foreign refugees. Germany organized the evacuation of 200 of its citizens (and some Austrians) through Syria, Russia is also making plans.

The US and UK say they are planning the evacuation of their citizens from Lebanon and are sending emergency rescue warships. There are 3,500 British families living in Lebanon and 25,000 Americans. The State Dept. says there's no immediate decision on whether they will stage a mass evacuation of citizens or diplomatic staff.

Obviously there are hundreds more or guest workers in Lebanon (from India, Sri Lanka, Philippines etc., but I haven't heard anything about evacuation plans for them.

(Update: A friend sent in some wire reports about plans for guest workers. The Philippine government is trying to evacuate the 30,000 citizens it has in Lebanon but has not found an alternative route to the destroyed airport and roads. There are 100 Thais living in Lebanon, 25 have left through Syria, and a Thai govt. spokesman said "the rest living there have been moving to safer places, such as a Christian Lebanese community which is not the target of the attack.")

US inaction in crisis

Allow to elaborate on my previous rant, namely that the US needs to act fast to contain and calm this crisis, which it is indirectly responsible for by having abandoned the Israel-Arab peace process since 2000.

This Le Monde editorial (my translation) on the situation sums it up well:
In the Near East, the Bush administration invented an empty shell to stand for negotiation: the Quartet. It combines the US, Russia, the EU and the UN and its purpose is to pretend to encourage Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. The Quartet serves no real purpose. Who knows when it met for the last time? Its members have chosen to be powerless, for various reasons.

Since the arrival of George W. Bush at the White House, the US has abandoned its role of "honest broker" and sticks to Israel's policy, whatever it may be. The Russians have no particular strategy, except making life difficult for the Americans. The Europeans have a hard time making themselves heard, since they don't exist politically. And, as a pathetic session of the Security Council showed on Friday night, the UN is powerless.: it is the reflection of the bad faith of all involved.
(Incidentally, side note on French politics: while Jacques Chirac came out steaming against the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, Nicolas Sarkozy essentially took the same line as the Bush administration.)

From the latest State Dept. briefing it doesn't look like we'll be seeing any creative diplomacy from the US:

QUESTION: Chuck Hagel suggested today that you all should appoint Colin Powell or James Baker or a similar figure as an envoy, send them there, do something dramatic, a U.S. -- direct U.S. intersession. Is anything like that under consideration and is there anything -- should the U.S. make some sort of next level intersession here beyond phone calls?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think -- a couple things. One, certainly, we have a great deal of respect for Senator Hagel and his views, but the fact is you have the national security apparatus of the United States working on this issue as well as a variety of other issues with which we are confronted around the world now. Secretary Rice has been very active working the phones, as I've talked about over the past couple days. David Welch and Elliott Abrams are -- have been in the region.

One of the things you don't want to do in a situation like this is you don't want to have various envoys' diplomatic efforts stepping on one another as they move about the region. Right now, you have a UN effort that's underway at the behest of Secretary General Annan. It has our support. It really has its origins, I think, in some conversations the Secretary had with Secretary General Annan a couple of days ago. We support those efforts and we support Mr. Larsen as well as the two other members of the team that are going to be out there in the region. So we think that that's where the center of international diplomatic effort should be. Also working with whatever bilateral efforts there might be with the governments in the region, we're going to continue to stay very plugged in to these efforts, do what we need to do, working the phones and also having our embassies on the ground contribute to a solution in any way that they feel is appropriate.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Is there anything that's being considered over at the G-8 or within the Secretary's discussions, as such a -- like a wider kind of Quartet or Contact Group, that type of thing, to get interested leaders of the -- in the region and the international community together to see if there's something to be done to calm the tensions?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of such efforts. It's probably best to check with the folks in St. Petersburg. Right now, I'm sure that this is going to be right at the top of the agenda when the leaders get together to -- for the G-8 Summit this coming weekend. I think it's probably best to check with the folks in St. Petersburg as to what shape the conversations are taking, where they're headed.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary considering any travel to the region?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not at the moment. No plans.
Note that the State Dept. has sent David Welch and Elliott Abrams (a rabidly pro-Israel racist who has been in charge of the peace process for years -- doesn't it show) to talk to Mahmoud Abbas. Sounds helpful.

Meanwhile, analysts are predicting $100 oil...

US media and intelligentsia generally revolting

I don't mean they're taking to the streets, but the punditry going around (in the "MSM" and blogs) on the conflict is on the whole either disgusting or sophomoric.

Obviously the war-mongering, pro-Israel, conservative media is war-mongering (pride of place goes to William Kristol, though, who thinks there's not enough war around), but that's expected.

Supposedly centrist CNN, on the other hand, does this:
Later, I went back and checked CNN's reporting, via, and discovered that throughout the day CNN repeatedly reported on the lone Israeli civilian causality without making any mention of the more than 50 Lebanese civilian casualties. To be exact, CNN did that at 10:31 a.m., 11:02, 12:09 p.m., 12:19, 1:00, 1:30, 1:52, 2:00, 2:17, 2:30, 2:50, and 4:04.
Read the whole thing.

A lot of the talk from "world leaders" (can they really be called that anymore), the media and Israel is trying to make this about Syria and Iran. Well, obviously they are involved in this and have interests in the crisis. But the insinuation seems to be that they planned the whole thing, whereas they are merely cynically taking advantage of the situation. Show proof of what you're saying with your grand phrases, Tony Blair (and the the millions of journos, bloggers and politicians who are echoing each other about this.)

Arab government and press reaction

(sorry, I don't always have links here.)

The Saudi statement issued on Thursday, essentially blaming Hizbullah for the situation, is an interesting development. They said:
"A distinction must be made between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements inside (Lebanon) and those behind them without recourse to the legal authorities and consulting and coordinating with Arab nations," a statement carried by the official news agency SPA said.

"These elements should bear the responsibility for their irresponsible actions and they alone should end the crisis they have created."
The statement predictably received praise from the Saudi press, which dominates international Arab media.
That also seems to be the Egyptian position, although less overtly stated. Leading Egyptian government daily Al Ahram said the same day, in its editorial:
The seriousness of the situation demands that we cease talking about determining who started the hostilities. The whole world must know that it is Lebanon, and not a single faction, that is paying the price of this aggression.
The great Al Ahram editorialist Salama Ahmed Salama wrote yesterday:

We must recognize this terrifying fact: Israel launched a fifth war against the Arabs, although without a declaration of war. Israel is ready to launch an offensive on all Arab fronts and nothing will stop it if it believes its interests demand it... The objective is to put an end to all resistance in Lebanon and Palestine. Israel will thus determine the new shape of its relationship with the Arab world... Israel continues to fight without worrying because President Bush had assured his support to exercise its right of self-defense.
The Egyptian government is more coy than Saudi Arabia but essentially seems to think the problem is Hizbullah. Hosni Mubarak is earning is $2b a year:

Egypt persuaded Israel against a planned land attack on the Lebanese capital of Beirut following Hizbullah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers earlier this week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Sunday. The Egyptian leader also disclosed an Iranian offer to negotiate a settlement with Hizbullah as part of Arab initiatives to resolve the crisis, but called Tehran's bid "a trap."

"Egypt was keen not to let the Israelis into Beirut," Mubarak told reporters Sunday after talks with the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan. "If we hadn't stepped in, Beirut would have been destroyed," Mubarak said.
Read on for Mubarak's ideas on how Iran tried to set a trap for him. This is reminiscent of Mubarak's attitude last week when he accused Iran of sabotaging negotiations with Hamas.

(Side note on Egypt-US relationship: with the recent upgrading of these bilateral relations through a permanent consultation mechanism, and Egypt's centrality in the region's various conflicts, consider the Egyptian democratization issue being shelved by Washington till c. 2010.)

We'll see what comes out in the planned Arab League meeting -- not that I think anything positive would ever come out of an Arab League meeting.

Interesting post from Abu Aardvark:

More seriously, the al-Jazeera report about the press conference held by Secretary General Amr Musa and the Emirati Foreign Minister is absolutely fascinating. According to al-Jazeera, the journalists at the press conference laid into the Arab officials, blasting them for their silence and inaction. A range of journalists threw out furious questions about why the Arab League was ignoring the anger of the Arab street (their word, not mine) over Israeli aggression against Lebanon and the Palestinians (ditto). Musa, taken aback, expressed understanding and even agreement with his questioners - saying that the assembled officials had agreed that the peace process had completely collapsed and that "certain world powers" had conspired against the process on Israel's behalf. How impressed the assembled journalists were by his response is unclear. But it is a telling moment, with Musa and the Arab League confronted by this angry set of journalists claiming to speak for the Arab public... not quite the obsequious questioning to which they prefer to be accustomed. And for Musa himself... a long way from the days when the second half of the refrain to Egyptian singer (and would-be pulse of the Arab street) Shabaan Abd al-Rahim's hit "I hate Israel" was "I love Amr Musa".
What can be done

Not much if you don't live on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I won't tire of saying it: this is the culmination of six years of total neglect (and sometimes worse) by Washington of the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for regional politics. If you are American, please write to your Congressmen and let them know that the US needs a bold and independent foreign policy in the Middle East -- not Israel's.
(Incidentally, tomorrow I will post a long list of links to articles discussing the "Israel Lobby" article that appeared in the London Review of Books. The debate over that question is crucial to what's going on now and the failure of American policy in the region, because the lobby has for all intents and purposes paralyzed American statesmanship in Congress and the White House.)
If you are not American, and especially if you are Arab, you are fucked.
Finally, read this great post from Lebanese Political Journal and, if you blog, answer this call:
Dear World Leaders,
This letter is a plea from the Lebanese people, and friends of Lebanon . We urge you to exercise any political influence you may have to guide a cease fire between Israel and Hezbollah. Negotiations must take place. The violence that has escalated in Lebanon has gotten out of control, it is insanity! The people of Lebanon are suffering; the Lebanese economy will suffer deeply for years to come. As I am sure you know anger, resentment, and poverty can only lead to further extremism. For the welfare of Lebanese citizens, Israeli citizens, the stability of the Middle East , and indeed the world, we implore you to take action as soon as possible to prevent further violence, destruction, and casualties.
Friends and Citizens of Lebanon