Sunday, July 23, 2006

As the "Civilized" World Looks On

Israel has the right to exist and the right to defend its existence. But not by destroying an entire nation:

On Saturday, British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells, on a visit to Beirut, Lebanon, echoed sentiments heard in some European capitals that Israel has been using disproportionate force. In contrast to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Howells criticized Israel for killing civilians and said he hoped the Bush administration understood the damage being inflicted on Lebanon.

"The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people, these have not been surgical strikes," Howells told reporters. "And it's very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. If they're chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation."

Lebanese-Americans are among the 4,000-plus U.S. citizens evacuated by the Marines:

At a police base in Beirut, US Marines are registering thousands of US citizens anxious to flee the violence.

They have moved over 4,000 evacuees in the past 36 hours; teams here are aiming to double that number at least over the weekend.

The system these days is first-come, first-served - so many people queue from 0500. Marines are on hand offering water and words of comfort, but in the baking Beirut sunshine it is a long, hot wait.

"The past days were scary; there was a lot of bombing," Nada says as she drags a large suitcase across the tarmac.

"I'm glad I made it here safely. But I'm leaving my parents behind," she adds, choking back tears. "I hope they will be safe, and I will see them again."
"I hope the world realises the amount of damage and destruction being done to this great country," says Nasser, a Lebanese-American who was visiting Beirut on holiday.

"You would imagine that after 350 innocent people were killed the world would say something. The country - and our hopes and dreams - have been completely destroyed by this."

Most of these evacuees are fleeing the Beirut area. But thousands of US citizens are still trapped in southern Lebanon, where the bombing has been more intense.

Ibrahim and his family had been on holiday with family in Tyre. This week the three houses nearest theirs were destroyed by bombs. Seven people were killed.

"How could our government allow this to happen? Where we supply all the armoury to Israel and then allow this to happen to us. Can't they tell Israel to stop bombing for a day and let us go?" Ibrahim fumes as he waits in line to leave the country.

His brother had to risk the hazardous drive to Beirut to make sure the family reached a ship out.

"There's no such thing as a secure place. They bomb civilians now. They don't care. And the whole world is watching - it's amazing!"

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the most up-to-date casualty figures:

At least 372 have been killed and 1,482 wounded, according to Lebanese security officials. Among them are 20 Lebanese army soldiers and at least eight Hezbollah guerrillas.

Among the civilian deaths are 8 Canadians, 2 Kuwaiti nationals, 1 Iraqi, 1 Sri Lankan, 1 Jordanian.
34 Israelis have been killed, including 19 members of the miltary, according to authorities. More than nine soldiers have been wounded, and 231 civilians, according to rescue officials.

The Seattle PI also has an analysis of what this war may cost Israel:

Israel may appear to be solidly in the driver's seat in its fight with Hezbollah - pushing relentlessly to weaken the Islamic guerrilla group as much as it can while there is little international pressure for a quick cease-fire.

But in the long run, wars in the Middle East are not won only on the battlefield, especially when they are waged against tough and savvy militant groups like the one in south Lebanon.

In many ways, the biggest risk is that this sudden, violent little war will tip the balance toward extremists and away from moderates across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, where the government has been dramatically weakened by the fighting.

Not only can Israel lose soldiers, as it did Thursday in an ambush in the south. It also faces the risk that whenever the fighting ends, Hezbollah - and its key backer, Iran - might be in a stronger, more influential political position than before.

That would be a bad outcome not just for Israel but also for the United States, hurting everything from U.S.-led Palestinian peace efforts and the standoff over Iran's nuclear program to the still-rocky struggle to stabilize Iraq.

Damage to the fledgling democratically elected government would be a loss for the United States as it struggles to realize its secular vision for the region.
Hezbollah at first seemed to have miscalculated when it snatched two Israeli soldiers. It may have believed Israel would negotiate a prisoner swap as it had in the past. The Saudis and Egyptians initially criticized Hezbollah but now are turning the harsh words on Israel.

But instead, Israel hit back hard, and as it did, Hezbollah appeared to be losing political ground. Many in the Mideast were deeply dismayed at the group's provocation and blamed it for the destruction wreaked on Lebanon.

Yet as the fighting goes on, the mood is shifting perceptibly, at least among average Arabs, from anger at Hezbollah to more-familiar feelings of hostility toward Israel. That is what Hezbollah counts on, and Nasrallah is highly skilled at using the region's media to beef up his political position.
"Unless the current fighting somehow really does lead to the disarming of Hezbollah, a flood of aid to Lebanon, and a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian war ... the mid- to long-term outcome will be as bad for any apparent victor as the defeated," [Anthony Cordesman] said.

"The Israelis will lose, Hezbollah will lose and so will everyone else."

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