Fallout of Failed Israeli Raid
Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the Israeli raid into the Biqa’ was aimed at kidnapping a prominent Hizbullah leader, or possibly recovering captured Israeli soldiers. The official Israeli cover story is that they were preventing the supply of arms to Hizbullah by Syria. But that makes no sense. Why would you send a special ops team into a village near Baalbak to stop truck shipments? You would just mount an air raid on the truck. You send in a team of men to capture someone.
Going in, the Israeli helicopters flew over Qana, again traumatizing the town where residents only recently were able decently to bury 16 children killed by an Israeli air raid during the war.
Lebanese Shiites in the raided village of Buday are convinced that the Israelis were trying to capture Shaikh Muhammad Yazbek, a senior Hizbullah leader with close ties to Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei. Yazbek, who is originally from Buday, is said to be a conduit for Iranian money into Lebanon. Hizbullah has spread around thousands of dollars per family to begin rebuilding and to pay rent for the displaced and to recompense Lebanese Shiites for their losses during the war. Since about a million Shiites were affected, if Hizbullah gave each person $1000 (which would be $7000 for a family of seven), that would come to $1 bn. Iran’s oil income this year is projected at $45 bn., up from a little over $30 bn. in the year ending last March 21. In other words, Khamenei can afford to buy some loyalty from Lebanese Shiites.
There is some danger that Hizbullah will retaliate for the raid, which could start the war back up.
Kofi Annan agreed with the Lebanese government point of view on the operation, that it was a violation of the UN ceasefire resolution. The Lebanese government is threatening to delay its positioning of troops in the south if the Israelis are going to ignore the cease fire.
Why would the Israelis risk reopening the war? The Olmert government at the moment looks like a loser, especially to the Israeli public, and needs to pull off a big win. What if they could capture a leader like Yazbek? Or free the 2 captured Israeli soldiers? All of a sudden they would be heroes, not losers. So the impetus is there for further adventurism. And imagine that the Israelis have some paid agents inside Hizbullah, who are glad to take their money to tell them tall tales. “Your soldiers– yeah, they’re in this village near Baalbak . . .” “Yazbek? Yeah, I know just where you can find him. That will be another $10,000 in my bank acount first, though.”
The raid, instead of rehabilitating Olmert, was another fiasco. Hizbullah appears effectively to have fought it off, killing an Israeli officer and inflicting injuries on others in the party. Shaikh Yazbek remains at large, and Hizbullah is passing out crisp $100 bills to Lebanese Shiites, getting credit for being more well organized than the government. Kofi Annan condemned it. Siniora threatened to suddenly become less cooperative. It did not exactly help Bush recruit more troops from France for the south. France wants a peace keeping mission, not a hot war that might engulf its soldiers, and Olmert just confirmed Paris’s suspicions that the French are being suckered into a combat situation. Olmert wants to be Yitzhak Rabin, who presided over the Entebbe operation. But he instead keeps coming up with Operation Eagle Claw and more of a Jimmy Carter image (circa 1979) inside Israel.
Speaking of kidnapping people, the Israelis on Saturday abducted the elected deputy prime minister of the Palestine Authority. Bush keeps saying that Lebanon and Iraq are fragile democracies. I guess all the democracies in the Arab world are fragile, in some large part because international or regional superpowers keep intervening in them with massive force.
Did the US share satellite surveillance of Iran and Syria with the Israelis during the recent war?
Bush said Friday that it would take some time for “people” to see that Hizbullah had lost the recent war. I’m not sure which people he is talking about, but if he means Middle Easterners, he may have a fair wait. Al-Quds al-Arabi reports that [Ar.] the Ibn Khaldun Center in Egypt just released the results of a poll of the Egyptian public. It found that Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah, is the most popular politician in Egypt. In second place comes Khalid Mashal, the radical Hamas leader who operates from Damascus and has been implicated in terror attacks inside Israel. In third place? Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On Saturday, demonstrators had a rally at al-Azhar seminary, at which they raised placards with Nasrallah’s picture on them. Egyptian security forces surrounded the premises to prevent the demonstrators from coming out on the steet. Among the political parties represented were the Muslim Brotherhood, Tomorrow and Kifayah, i.e. both religious and secular dissidents opposed to the authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrations in Egypt are generally small affairs because they are technically illegal and the government intervenes to make sure they don’t go too far. It would therefore be difficult to gauge how popular this demonstration was, if we didn’t have the opinion poll to substantiate its signficance. (The Ibn Khaldun Center, by the way, is generally pro-Western and knows how to do a professional poll).
Tom Friedman and other Western observers sometimes maintain that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not actually very important to most people in the region, but local governments make a big deal out of it in the media so as to take the focus off their own corruption and authoritarian government. But in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak usually tries to calm things down with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it is the Egyptian street that keeps raising the issue. The US has essentially bribed the Egyptian government with $2 bn. a year in aid to make nice with Israel. The Egyptian bureaucrats take the money and grumpily put up with the Israelis. But the Egyptian person in the street sees little benefit from the $2 bn. and some proportion of them is upset about the passivity of the Egyptian government on this score. On the other hand, a long-term Arabophone Western resident of Cairo wrote me recently that she did not find a lot of Egyptians willing to risk anything for the Lebanese.