Monday, July 17, 2006


Must-Read TAP Piece On Israel And Lebanon

Check it out, here. Some excerpts:

Mark Perry is co-director of the Conflicts Forum, a Beirut-based nongovernmental organization that has, over the past three years, put former senior American and British policy-makers and intelligence officials in talks with Hezbollah and other militant political Islamic groups in Lebanon. He formerly worked as an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and as a reporter for Newsday. Perry has recently returned from Beirut and is now in Arlington, Virginia. Laura Rozen interviewed him by telephone Friday about the unfolding crisis in Lebanon and Israel. So explain what your group, Conflicts Forum, is about and under what auspices you have been having a dialogue with Hezbollah We have been talking to Hezbollah for three years. [Conflicts Forum] has put together a group of former senior policy-makers to talk to Hezbollah. We did two official, open sessions, in March and July of 2005, and then we did a lot more informal, private sessions. And [my co-director, former MI6 agent] Alistair [Crooke] and I talk to them every time we go to Beirut -- about once a month -- and talk to them on the phone on a weekly basis.
We’ve been hearing the theory that the timing of Hezbollah’s Tuesday kidnapping of the two Israeli Defense Force soldiers was planned well in advance and with coordination from Tehran or Damascus. Can you speak to that? Oy vey. There are a lot of people in Washington trying to walk that story back right now, because it’s not true. Hezbollah and Israel stand along this border every day observing each other through binoculars and waiting for an opportunity to kill each other. They are at war. They have been for 25 years, no one ever declared a cease-fire between them. … They stand on the border every day and just wait for an opportunity. And on Tuesday morning there were two Humvees full of Israeli soldiers, not under observation from the Israeli side, not under covering fire, sitting out there all alone. The Hezbollah militia commander just couldn’t believe it -- so he went and got them. The Israeli captain in charge of that unit knew he had really screwed up, so he sent an armored personnel carrier to go get them in hot pursuit, and Hezbollah led them right through a minefield. Now if you’re sitting in Tehran or Damascus or Beirut, and you are part of the terrorist Politburo so to speak, you have a choice. With your head sunk in your hands, thinking "Oh my God," you can either give [the kidnapped soldiers] back and say "Oops, sorry, wrong time" or you can say, "Hey, this is war." It is absolutely ridiculous to believe that the Hezbollah commander on the ground said Tuesday morning, "Go get two Israeli soldiers, would you please?”
Some are proposing that the Lebanese government send its army into southern Lebanon. What do you think of that idea? [said sarcastically] It’s a really great idea. The Lebanese army can’t collect the garbage in Beirut. Neither can the Syrian army. Southern Lebanon is Hezbollah land. … Hezbollah is the second or third most competent military force in the region, after Israel and Iran. It could probably defeat a good sized Egyptian battalion.
How do you see this playing out? Some interesting things are going on in Israel, and we ought to take note of it. The first thing, the current prime minister in Israel [Ehud Olmert] is a very capable guy. And he is a realist. … But he isn’t Ariel Sharon. He’s not a warrior. He has a genetic mistrust of the uses of bombs and airplanes to conduct foreign policy. But when you are attacked you respond, and he did. And he has been very clearly signaling that there are limits here. While Condi Rice and George Bush talk about Syria and Iran, Olmert has taken Syria and Iran off the table, put them back on, and then taken them back off. When Hezbollah attacked Haifa Thursday, first Hezbollah said, “We didn’t do it.” Then they said, “We didn’t target Haifa.” No one picked up on it. Here’s what they meant to say: “We understand hitting Haifia is a major escalation, and we didn’t mean to do that.”… Olmert responded, “You get Haifa, we’ll take down Beirut,” and he went after Beirut. So far as I can tell, since then, Haifa has been off limits. Now so far as I can tell, there are rules here. And the rules are, you take down our major cities and we’ll make life very uncomfortable for you. And Olmert put Damascus back on the table as a clear warning. And I think [Syrian president Bashar al-] Assaad probably called Hezbollah -- over which he doesn’t have too much influence -- and said, “Did you hear that signal or not?” And they got it. So now we’re in a game. … I expect we’ll see an escalation here over the next two days, but what I would expect to find after that is that both sides climb down off the ladder.

The Israeli ambassador is pushing the line it is World War III.

This is ridiculous: a couple of soldiers got captured in a war that has been going on since 1946.

It is only World War III if the rest of the world decides to take it seriously.

We should let them fight it out, giving no support whatsoever to Israel. They are becoming an embarrassment and a liability to the United States.
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