Saturday, May 15, 2010
This headline, "Hezbollah Leader Calls for 'Islamic United States'", is completely ridiculous and geared to generate a reaction--i.e., people click on it.
It gives the illusion that the article is about Hezbollah in Lebanon (what other Hezbollah do we talk about?).
Hezbollah just means "party of God" and is used by many lesser Shia groups throughout the Shia Crescent. So this really isn't news because it is just what some unknown cleric in Tehran said... the only news here is that the AP, who initially ran the story, is hurting for website hits.
And yes, I am playing off this same nonsense with my title... jokes, jokes: the fun of blogging for free!
But really, this has to stop.
Friday, May 14, 2010
The Iron Dome defense project was designed to provide an automated defense shield against rocket fires originating in Gaza and Southern Lebanon, yet the project has been meet with substantial resistance, outside the US that is. Despite relative the relative cost inefficiency and questions of the projects efficacy, President Obama has called on the US Congress to provide an additional $200+ million to fund the project in addition to the $300+ billion the US is to provide Israel this year.
[tweetmeme] At first glance, the President's decision seems like a waste of money. In tests, the Iron Dome defense shield has been proven to be rather ineffective against the Qassam rocket, the most popular kind of projectile hurled at Israel. Iron Dome is effective against rockets shot from farther than 4 km, though most rockets are launched from Beit Hanun on the Gaza border, less than 2km from Israel.
As for the cost-efficiency of the project, each Iron Dome missile (used to shoot down the rockets) costs somewhere around $100,000 while a Qassam can cost as little as $5. Iron Dome's sister system, 'David's Sling' is potentially worse. Used to shoot down longer range missiles and projectiles, each defensive rocket costs around $1 million.
From the Jerusalem Post:
“The Iron Dome is all a scam, [Tel Aviv University professor and noted military analyst Reuven Pedatzur] said. “The flight-time of a Kassam rocket to Sderot is 14 seconds, while the time the Iron Dome needs to identify a target and fire is something like 15 seconds. This means it can’t defend against anything fired from fewer than five kilometers; but it probably couldn’t defend against anything fired from 15 km., either.”
Added Pedatzur: “Considering the fact that each Iron Dome missile costs about $100,000 and each Kassam $5, all the Palestinians would need to do is build and launch a ton of rockets and hit our pocketbook.
The David’s Sling is even worse, he said. “Each one of its missiles costs $1 million, and Hizbullah has well over 40,000 rockets. This issue has no logic to it whatsoever.”
The logic behind Obama's decision to invest $200 million in a 'scam' is thus blurry at first, but becomes clear when one considers the timing. Even if the system is ineffective against rockets fired from a close proximity, it represents an effort to provide a sense of security to Israelis living in border towns such as Sderot. While the town has been the target of many Qassam rockets over the years, such attacks have diminished in recent months, thanks to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad renouncing such rocket attacks.
Obama's decision to invest in the system is most likely an investment not in Israeli security, but in the perception of Israeli security. One of the most destabilizing arguments against the current proximity talks is the perceived threat of the Qassam rockets. If Israel feels secure, there is less of a reason to undermine the talks (as if the opponents to the proximity talks needed more ammunition, so to speak). Furthermore, the US investment reiterates the US support for Israeli security during a time when this support is being questioned.
It is possible that the US investment is a waste of money, but it is wasted money well-spent. The US cannot afford to allow the perception that it does not support Israel to proliferate (a ridiculous, yet often repeated claim considering the recent row between the two countries). If Israelis feel the US is backing the Palestinians more than Israel, it provides an easy excuse to withdraw from negotiations or, worse, to revert to more draconian means of defense (see: Gaza 2008-present).
Thus, it is entirely possible and even likely that Obama realizes the deficiencies of Iron Dome, but has decided to allocate money for its development anyway. If this is true, the money provided to Israel for the project is far more symbolic in purpose.
Photo from Israel Matzav
This post is cross-posted from Notes From a Medinah
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Like most in the Levant, I think of the Blue Line, or Israeli-Lebanese border, as a place of conflict. In the book I'm writing, I explore the fact that one can not travel from northern Israel to southern Lebanon. The Blue Line is closed. So traveling with my surfboard, a new and unlikely means to telling an old story, I ventured into Jordan to fly around this closed border.
But not everyone is afraid of the Blue Line. According to the New York Times:
Yet it is here, just yards from Israeli border fences and military posts, that a flamboyant new resort is taking shape along the Wazzani River, complete with three swimming pools, marble-floor chalets and a Moroccan-style restaurant and bar. Israeli soldiers sometimes walk to the far side of the river to stare in wonder as Syrian laborers hammer away at the fake waterfalls and stone walkways.
“A lot of people tell us we are crazy to put millions of dollars into this,” said Khalil Abdullah, the confident 58-year-old Lebanese entrepreneur who is building the Wazzani Fortress, as the resort is called. He waves away all talk of war, saying the resort will bring tourists and much-needed jobs.
To me this says that upon the day of Middle East peace, there are plenty of people working to cement the reason for laying down arms. This seems like just the kind of economic investment needed to give people jobs and a better future. And someday, when I'm rich, I can't wait to go stay in this totally cool-looking resort along the Blue Line!
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Joyce Karam - the Washington correspondent for the Beiruti daily The Daily Star -wrote a piece today for Foreign Policy's The Middle East Channel that supposes the decline of US diplomatic activity in Lebanon is responsible for the dramatic resurgence of Hezbollah since the 2006 war with Israel. There is no one simple solution to the complex political situation in Lebanon that ties Hezbollah to Syria and Iran; diplomatic pressure in Beirut must work in concert with other strategies in order to truly combat Hezbollah, and I am sure that Karam would agree. However, Karam overestimates the effect of a stronger US presence in Lebanon.
Reversing Hezbollah's gains will require the United States and the international community to increase their engagement with the government in Beirut and have a more robust diplomatic presence in the country. Talking to Syria is a necessity, but that alone will not be enough to contain Hezbollah's arms smuggling.
To support this claim, Karam notes the success of a strong US engagement in the aftermath of PM Rafiq Hariri's assassination in 2005, when the US, Saudi Arabia and France worked together to help set up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) and to brokering the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, as well as being instrumental in the forced withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Yet Karam only refers to the end results and ignores some of the more important public opinion trends.
It is certainly true that the US-Saudi-French trio aided Beirut and contributed to a pro-western feel during the age of the Cedar Revolution, but their efforts are hardly the whole story. In 2005, after the assassination of Hariri, 77% of Lebanese supported Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon - up from 65% the year before. The murder of a generally loved (if not respected) Prime Minister clearly forced many Lebanese to reconsider the cost/benefit ratio of Syrian occupation. Strong anti-Syrian sentiment among the Lebanese population pushed the Lebanese government as much as the US pulled.
Today, circumstances are greatly different. This year, polls show 97% of Lebanese Shi'a support Hezbollah, while 35% of the Lebanese community as a whole supports the Party of God (Lebanese Shi'a make up 25% of Lebanese citizens). Importantly, these figures do not include the approximately 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (10% of the entire population), of which, 61% favor Hezbollah. Furthermore, the 180 degree turns made by most politicians, including PM Saad Hariri and Druze/socialist leader Walid Jumblatt has once again paved a clear road for Lebanese politicians from Beirut to Damascus.
The reversal of policies by Hariri, Jumblatt and others arguably can be attributed to the withdrawal of US pressure to keep the Lebanese government facing West. However, the rise of Hezbollah as a political force (now with veto rights in the government) and the continued threat of Israel has clearly been major factors in repaving Syrian-Lebanese relations. Indeed, with Israel looking aggressively at Lebanon, Syria and Iran, war with the Jewish state looks increasingly possible. Despite being supported mainly by Shi'a and a handful of Christians, Hezbollah finds mass support among Lebanese in the context of a war with Israel: 84% of Lebanese trust Hezbollah to protect the country against Israel.
It is true that the US diplomatic hand in Lebanon has been far less active than in 2005, but a reversal of US policy will not relieve the threat of war with Israel - perhaps one of the most important factors pushing Lebanon to Hezbollah and Syria - or the demographics of Lebanon.
Karam ends his essay by saying the status quo (a strong Hezbollah and a not-completely-western-based central government) will lead to a second round of violence between Hezbollah and Israel. Certainly, increased American involvement could change the stance of some Lebanese politicians, but considering the type of support the US gives Israel - there is nothing President Obama can do to relieve the threat Israel poses to Lebanon.
(Though it is true, as Karam notes, that the threats to Lebanon increase as Hezbollah's power increases. Unfortunately, as the Israeli threat grows, so does Lebanese support for the Party of God - a pretty good demonstration of the cyclical nature of Middle Eastern politics.)
Lebanon and Hezbollah are thoroughly tied to Israel, Palestine, Syria and Iran. Simply increasing US diplomatic efforts in Lebanon will not have the drastic change that Karam seems to imply. A heavier US hand will not prevent the Lebanese from seeing the possibility of an imminent Israeli attack or their belief that Hezbollah can protect the country.
To 'solve' the Hezbollah question, the US must fully engage with Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Iran (a daunting task) and seriously consider the security concerns of each. The US needs to engage with Syria (something that the administration agrees with) and work towards peace between Israel and its neighbors. Unfortunately, the US Congress has recently refused to confirm Robert Ford to the ambassadorship in Damascus, relations between Israel and Syria have hit a low point after peace talks broke down in 2008 and the proximity talks between Israel and Palestine look doomed even through rose glasses.
Without progress in these areas, an increased US presence in Lebanon will not be able to reverse the evolution of the political atmosphere that has taken place since 2005.
This piece is cross-posted at Notes from a Medinah