Just Above Sunset
July 30, 2006 - Root Causes













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Tuesday, July 25, 2006, the root cause of all the recent troubles in the Middle East became clear -

 

Are Israel's troubles in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and the Hezbollah rockets slamming daily into major Israeli population centers here a result of the Jewish state's tacit support for a homosexual parade slated for next month in Jerusalem?

Some rabbis seem to think so, and they are attempting to block the event from taking place in Judaism's holiest city.

"Why does this war break out this week, all of sudden with little warning? Because this is the exact week the Jewish people are trying to decide whether the gay pride parade should take place in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv," Pinchas Winston, a noted author, rabbi and lecturer based in Jerusalem…

… Winston is one of many rabbinic leaders here to blast the World Pride Parade, a mass international gathering of homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people scheduled Aug. 6-12.

… Lazer Brody, an author and dean of the Breslov Rabbinical College in Ashdod, Israel, concurred with Winston.

"When God's presence is in the camp, nothing can happen to the Jewish people," Brody stated. "But If the Jewish people bring impurity into the camp of Israel, this chases away God's presence."

Brody contends the "removal of God's presence" led to the recent violence here, but he said he still feels the Jewish state is being protected.

"Over 1,000 Katyusha rockets have been fired thus far, and the damage has been equivalent to scratches," Brody said.

 

But what will happen if the gay pride parade isn't blocked?

Didn't Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, one or the other, or maybe both, say the same sort of thing back in September 2001 - that what happened in Manhattan and down at the Pentagon was God showing us that he was angry with us all for tolerating gay people? What with those guys, and these rabbis, and the recent public hangings in Iran of young gay men, something is up. Things will be better when we become pure and pious, or something. When men of deep faith are in charge, or can manipulate public policy, things get a little strange. But then, maybe God really does hate the gay folks He created, and all three sides here - Christian evangelicals, ultra-orthodox Jews, and the Muslim fundamentalists - see things more clearly than those who think secular tolerance is fine and that whatever Lars and Spanky do in their place down the block is their business, and of no concern.

Of course these "people of faith" agree with each other. That's odd. But they do see God intervening down here all the time.

Yes, they're peas in a pod, but then, why belabor that particular point? Choose your favorite subset of the fundamentalist vision of the truth of things. That's what the world offers these days. We like ours - we are doing God's work in this world - and the others like their vision of what God wants. Someone's got it wrong, or God is laughing his ass off, or he left long ago, having other things to do.

The funny thing is that there are those who want what is happening in the world to all to make sense in empirical terms. That would mean that instead of assuming God's hand in all of human life, rewarding the those who worship him best (one assumes He really likes that) and punishing those who really tick Him off, you'd turn to reviewing actual events without assuming they were the result of interventions from above. You'd look at national policies, and the motivations of the key leaders, and their personalities, and who would gain what from doing this or that in the world - economics and trade, matters of security and influence - all that stuff. And that's tedious. A jealous and angry God isn't.

And some things just don't make sense. Whether or not caused by the gay folks about to descend on Tel-Aviv or not, the seemingly incomprehensible event of Tuesday, July 25, was this - an Israeli air raid in south Lebanon killed four UN military observers in an attack that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan described as "apparently deliberate." Yep, he was ticked off, and added - "This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked UN post at Khiam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire." And for the record - "The dead included observers from Canada, Austria, China and Finland, a senior Lebanese military official said."

So what game is up here? Was this just an accident? Was it a message to the UN? Was it God punishing the UN for not much liking John Bolton, the man our born-again president sent up there to kick ass and take names? As for it being an accident, the professionalism and skill of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is legendary, and they have all that high-tech command and control and targeting we sold them - we trained them and they must still have the user manuals. As for sending a message, the Israelis over the weekend had said they'd accept a NATO force to manage the neutralizing of the Hezbollah threat to Israel and stop fighting when that was in place, and this isn't exactly welcoming to any third party.

Or maybe they just aren't that professional, as Bill Montgomery notes here -

 

The last time the Israelis and Hizbullah went at it in a major way, in 1996, the IDF accidentally (I think) lobbed an artillery shell into a U.N. compound, killing 102 Lebanese civilian refugees. It brought the whole operation to a crashing halt - just as the 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut brought the curtain down on Ariel Sharon's big production.

… If I were the Israelis, I'd stick to punching holes in the tops of ambulances. If you really are looking to encourage NATO peacekeepers to plunk their behinds down in southern Lebanon, this ain't the right way to do it.

 

No, it isn't. And the Israeli government is now officially outraged at Kofi Annan for saying this was deliberate. He was told that observation post would not come under fire - he had the top level promise - so this was incompetence. No, that cannot be right. It might have something to do with the gay pride parade? Who knows?

Of course this might just be what Montgomery calls War by Tantrum.

The text for that particular sermon is this in the Jerusalem Post -

 

A high-ranking IAF officer caused a storm on Monday in an off-record briefing during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa.

 

And the sermon goes like this -

 

For every one of ours; ten of yours. In Roman times, it was a hundred.

Morality aside (since terror now seems to be the order of the day on both sides) this is a very bad sign for the Israelis. It has the smell of panic about it. It's like the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi - an exercise that served no rational purpose other than to vent Richard Nixon's rage at his own inability to bend the North Vietnamese government to his will.

The difference is that Nixon could get away with it - he'd just won a landslide re-election, and the destruction of Hanoi wasn't being covered in real time by every television network on the planet. But in Beirut, now, an order like this is almost the equivalent of asking for terms. It's as if the Israelis were deliberately trying to do something so horrible it would force our idiot president to demand an immediate cease fire in place: Please stop us, because we can't stop ourselves.

 

That seems a bit too farfetched… maybe. But more likely the IDF Chief of Staff just lost it. This whole "airpower solves everything" business is just not working out.

Montgomery suggests more -

 

Halutz should be relieved of duty, just as the head of the Israel's Northern Command should be relieved for the original ambush that led to this fiasco. But people who know a lot more about Israeli politics than I do are pretty sure they won't be - both because of the PR blowback and because neither the Prime Minister nor his Defense Minister have the military leadership credentials to fire two ranking commanders in the middle of a war.

If so, then it's another sign of the dry rot that seems to have crept into the Israeli political and military establishment since the Jewish state last fought a major war. This isn't just a matter of military hubris - the inability to adapt to the realities of fourth generation war. The IDF is showing signs of more fundamental problems, like an almost obsessive reluctance to take casualties, which translates into extreme cautiousness, at both the strategic and tactical levels - "The Israelis prefer to stay away from those bunkers, the soldiers said, instead calling in coordinates so forces massed behind the border can hit them with guided missiles."

… One would think that with dozens if not hundreds of rockets falling daily on Israeli towns and cities, the IDF and the Israeli public would have the motivation and the determination to close with enemy - if that's the only way to get the job done. At least, that's what I thought would happen. But it's beginning to look like Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, may have had at least a bit of point when he compared Israel's military will to a spider's web.

Certainly, having the IDF Chief of Staff call for terrorist reprisal bombings - which almost certainly would have absolutely no effect on Hezbollah's will to fight - doesn't do anything to change that impression. One can have some sympathy for the Israelis, who love life and don't want to die (although that hasn't stopped them from killing a lot of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians) but considering the stakes, a little more aggressiveness on the ground, against an enemy who can shoot back, would seem to be in order. Unless that is, the Israelis really do want a cease fire sooner rather than later, in which case the psychological map of the Middle East has just been completely redrawn.

 

Maybe it's none of this, and more like this -

 

Bush and the public assumed that the army knew what it was doing, and that Israel, with its superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology, would be able to put an end to Hezbollah as a menace to Israel. Little by little, however, a worrying picture has begun to emerge: Instead of an army that is small but smart, we are catching glimpses of an army that is big, rich and dumb.

 

Maybe so. Or maybe not. There are some inexpiable things going on. It may be a real error to think it all makes sense, empirically or theologically.

Some things are easier to figure out. Sunday the 23rd the president had the Saudis drop in for a chat, asking them to work on getting Syria to stop supporting Hezbollah, as his grand insight is that if Syria just "stops all this shit" everything will be over. It's quite simple. People have made it far too complicated. That Saudis wanted an immediate ceasefire, but he told them that wasn't going to happen, so quit whining and do something about Syria.

Two days later you got this -

 

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned on Tuesday of war in the Middle East if Israel continues attacking Lebanon and the Palestinians, in an apparent appeal to key ally the United States to end the fighting.

"Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war," state-owned media quoted the king as saying.

 

Oh crap. This is not what they're supposed to say.

Here's some snark -

 

Heck. How's the US 'n Israel gonna help the Sunnis defeat the Shi'a and bring democracy tah everybody if they lose their nerve at the least little thing? Surely, they aren't feeling heat from their own people now are they? If so, they just need to tell 'em to stop this shit.

They need to understand that the US is there to spread God's gift of freedom (and, if we're lucky, bring on Armageddon.) Israel is bombing the shit out of Lebanon for its own good.

Man, these Arabs have a helluva lot to learn about how things work in the Middle East...

 

Yeah, it's hard to get good help these days.

 

And here's some analysis -

 

There is, of course, only one kind of "war" that Saudi Arabia could possibly try to wage that wouldn't knock the Israelis over laughing - the oil war. But crude's down a buck a barrel today so obviously nobody is taking the threat of an embargo very seriously. Nor should they.

Still, it looks like Hezbollah has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab world - on either side of the Shi'a/Sunni divide.

 

Yep, the world's top oil exporter, and Jordan and Egypt, fear "that popular anger could escalate and force them to take an aggressive stance over Israel that angers Washington and worsens the crisis." And it's happening. You don't want to appear on the American side, which is Israel's side. Public opinion could turn against you, and "as this goes on longer and more and more Lebanese are killed, it looks bad for them," or so said one diplomat in Riyadh. They're not dumb. This is logical. But then Bush will be angry. So King Abdullah just warned him - domestic pressures may make us go to war against you and the Jews. And you want us to do what, exactly?

This is power politics - and they want a ceasefire now, or they may have to make this a really wide war, just to keep themselves from being thrown out of power. It doesn't get much more basic than that. So they tell the president, who never changes his mind, this might be a good time to give that a try. The Sunnis aren't carrying any messages to Damascus. And maybe the president ought to tell Israel to "stop this shit."

Checkmate. And God is not intervening here. This is pure self-preservation, and logically you could see it coming a mile away. As the Stones put it nicely - "You can't always get what you want, but sometimes, if you try real hard, you get what you need." Or you don't.

Of course sometimes you just fool yourself, as the other side did here - "A senior Hezbollah official said Tuesday the guerrilla group did not expect Israel to react so strongly to its capture of two Israeli soldiers." Oops. An accidental war? It hardly matters now. It's a war. But it seems that everyone deludes themselves. Bush isn't unique.

But for a real show of delusions colliding in the light of day the event of note Tuesday, July 25, was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visiting the White House for a chat with the president. T

 

he New York Times account is here, and it's all about the disconnects. The president wants to tout the success of what we've done in Iraq, and a hundred die each day in the streets of Baghdad in the religious-civil war now raging. He wants to say we have a new ally, and Maliki condemns the Israeli bombing and says he has no problem with Iran - and by the way, he spent years in exile in Damascus, which is Syria of course. And he has said he wants an end to legal immunity for our troops over there, and a broad amnesty for Iraqi insurgents. It was a clown show. But they did agree to take all the reserves the United States has in Kuwait and throw them into Baghdad, before there's total disintegration there, and it may be too late of course. The whole thing was a joke.

And then there was this - the House Democrats demanding that Maliki not be allowed to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday unless he apologizes for condemning "Israeli aggression" in Lebanon. There's this letter party leaders are circulating - "We are unaware of any prior instance where a world leader who actively worked against the interests of the United States was afforded such an honor."

Amusing. Like you'd not expect them to run with this? That one too was something you could see coming a mile away. Just as you could see what positions made Maliki a viable leader. It's like watching a train wreck.

In Thomas Ricks' new book, Fiasco, about how things went down in Iraq, he quotes a colonel assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority describing his team's mission as "pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck." That'll do. That's what the visit was all about.

It's all a mess. And how did it get this way? Maybe because we were too nice to gay folks. Or maybe no one was thinking things through. Take your choice.































 
 
 
 
Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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