Scorpions in a Bottle

I can’t tell you how anguished I feel watching Lebanon, my new adopted home, being attacked by American-made F-16s and Israeli artillery. To hear that the Israeli Defense Forces have imposed an air and sea blockade on the country. To know that the only link Lebanon now has to the outside world is … Syria.
I can’t reach any of my friends on the phone, although email seems to be working. My friend Irina reported that in Hamra, people are going about their business in the hot and humid Beirut summer. The Lebanese will take this in stride, having endured worse at the hands of numerous enemies, but this is only the first day of what looks to be a prolonged attack. The shutting down of Hariri International Airport will hit hard on the economy. This is the high tourist season and many Gulf tourists with their Gulf money will either be unable to get in or flee through Damascus — although the road to Damascus has been bombed. The IDF has said a naval blockade is in effect and all ships entering and leaving Lebanon’s ports will be stopped. Israel is trying to box Lebanon — and Hezbollah — in.
This will have serious repercussions in Lebanese politics. It could start another civil war. The Shi’a overwhelmingly support Hezbollah and the other political parties of the March 14 alliance are in a bad spot. Who will reign in Hezbollah? Will Lebanon’s already fragile political arrangement collapse into a Shi’ites vs. everyone else arrangement, with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah on one side and Christians, Druze and Sunnis on the other backed up by … Israel? And/or the United States and France? I’m just not sure how many Christians will turn on Hezbollah, even though they blame them for bringing the wrath of Israel down on the country.
Then there’s the Palestinian question. Groups allied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, are not based in the big Fatah-run camps and are instead loyal to Syria. They are effective partners to Hezbollah. But with the current operation against Gaza going strong, I would guess that _all_ Palestinians would ally with Hezbollah against Israel and whatever allies it might pick up in Lebanon.
I’ve been told by very smart people that another civil war in Lebanon is impossible, not because the Lebanese people don’t want one — so what? Wars usually happen despite the wishes of the populations involved — but because no one would pay for one. Well, one side is being armed by Syria and Iran. If Lebanon splinters into two (or more camps), you can bet the Israelis and others will arm those hostile to the Party of God, the idea being that if Israel has to fight a two-front war, Hezbollah can be made to fight one, too.
But won’t that bring chaos? Again, so what? Looking at Gaza and the West Bank, it’s pretty clear that Israel will tolerate some chaos on its borders as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and can be kept at arm’s length. Israel was quite willing to let Fatah and Hamas militias slaughter each other as long as they didn’t stray over the border too much.
So where to go from here? More fighting, it looks like. Israel today is starting to make bellicose statements about “enforcing 1559” (which calls for the disarming of Hezbollah and other militias) and not letting Hezbollah back near the border (by a new occupation of a 1-km-wide “security band” on Lebanese territory). This is a recipe for chaos, violence and renewed civil conflict, and it’s very real and very close.
But for Israel, keeping a bunch of weakened scorpions in a bottle may be exactly what they want. It’s a crime that it’s the Lebanese people who will get stung.
*UPDATE 7/13/06 9:22:13 PM:* IDF is reporting two missiles have struck the port city of Haifa in northern Israel. Haifa is about 35km from the Lebanese border, which is deeper than Hezbollah has ever managed to penetrate. This indicates the missiles are probably not Katyushas, but larger — and possibly more deadly — rockets. I’m also getting conflicting reports of a journalist wounded in a rocket attack in Nahariya, a coastal town about 7km from the border.

War in the south

I’m not really able to blog much as I’m traveling still, but the situation in southern Lebanon is _very_ serious and could spiral out of control very quickly. Some quick thoughts:
* Hezbollah has linked the release of the Shalit and its alleged captives to the release of Lebanese prisoners and Palestinian prisoners. While the Israelis have constantly talked about how Hezbollah is influencing Hamas, and I’ve had Hezbollah specialists tell me the same, this is the first direct evidence of linkage. An obvious next step is to ask what the connection glue is, and the answer is Iran.
* Olmert has had three soldiers kidnapped in three weeks. He looks weak. He will have to do something. And it will be big.
* This points to a major operation in southern Lebanon and Gaza as a show of strength. Or a deal. But a deal will make Omert look weak, while a major operation will give Hezbollah what it wants: an excuse to keep its weapons and a chance to bog Israelis down in the tar pit of southern lebanon again. (The scars of that still haven’t healed there.) Olmert’s in an impossible situation.
Right now, the death toll stands at at least seven Israeli soldiers killed, two kidnapped and a tank destroyed. An unknown number of Hezbollah fighters have been killed. Likewise, I’ve not heard or seen a count of Lebanese civilians hurt or killed.

Names deleted from Mehlis Report?

Hm. According to an AP story, the names of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother, his brother-in-law and “other top Syrians” were edited out of the Mehlis report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

BAGHDAD — Hm. According to this story, the names of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother, his brother-in-law and “other top Syrians” were edited out of the Mehlis report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

At a hastily called news conference, Mehlis told reporters that he stands by the final version and deleted names becausesince they were identified by a witness and had not been corroborated “it could give the wrong impression” of guilt.
“None of these changes were influenced by anyone,” Mehlis said.

Well, let’s not let the AP tell us what’s what. Here’s a (big) “PDF file showing all the markups”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/Files/Final_Mehlis_report_markup.pdf. And here’s a “list of the markups”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/Files/Mehlis_changes.pdf just to make things easier.
The key passage seems to be this one, on page 29 (strike-throughs are deleted in the final copy, bold-faced is an insertion):

96. One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, Maher Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al-Sayyedsenior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that Sayyeda senior Lebanese security official went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian HotelHotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of Shawkata senior Syrian security official. The last meeting was held in the house of Shawkatthe same senior Syrian security official approximately 7seven to 10 days before the assassination and included Mustapha Hamdananother senior Lebanese security official. The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.

Ho, ho! Now, I’m no expert on Lebanon — or Syria for that matter — but why did Mehlis name names and then take them out? Fortunately, the markup has a time-stamp on all the changes. By examining the schedule of the special representative Detlev Mehlis, we can get an idea as to whether “these changes were influenced by anyone.” And, potentially, by whom.
Coincidentally enough, according a source of mine at the U.N., Mehlis and Secretary-General Kofi Annan met at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. The meeting was 50 minutes long. So that gives us a window of 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. on Oct. 20. When were the names deleted? According to my copy of the Word document, which doesn’t show it in the PDF I created, the names in the section I quoted above were deleted at 11:55 a.m. under the name of “special representative.” In the middle of a meeting with the Secretary-General? and “none” of the changes were influenced by anyone? Annan had no input during that meeting? Really? That’s unusual. A friend of mine suggested the meeting with Annan — and the deletion of the names — was the “please don’t get Syria invaded” meeting.
The two men also met later that day from 3-3:45 p.m. There appear to be no substantive changes during that meeting, and most of the ones immediately prior to it are corrections of typos and the like.
So, what happened in that first meeting? Who else was present? And why take out the names? I’m sure a lot of Lebanese would like to know.
[UPDATE 10/22/05 12:00:59 PM: Mehlis says the names were deleted to protect the “presumption of innocence.” I suppose that’s a valid reason, but indictments are handed down all the time in the United States and other democracies with the people named in it, and that doesn’t seem to harm the presumption of innocence.]
(I made the PDF files using Mac OS X’s built-in function. Not a single character was changed in making these PDFs. “Here’s the original Word document”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/Files/Final_Mehlis_report.doc if people are interested.)

Still alive and kicking

I’m on the tail end of my vacation at the moment and I’m heading back to Baghdad some time next week. After Marla’s death and the slog in Ramadi, I just didn’t feel much like blogging…. The response after the CNN blogging panel in Atlanta at the beginning of June, however, really got me ready to get back into it after a repose.

BEIRUT—Hello all. I’m still alive, and well. I’m on the tail end of my vacation at the moment and I’m heading back to Baghdad some time next week. After Marla’s death and the slog in Ramadi, I just didn’t feel much like blogging.

The good news is that I’m ready to get back up to speed on blogging. The response after the CNN blogging panel in Atlanta at the beginning of June really got me ready to get back into it after a repose. So, next week, look for some new stuff. Finally.

And thank you all for your concern.

Background on Lebanon

Juan Cole has an excellent summary of the background on Lebanon with this column. I sometimes take issue with his take in Iraq — more from his tone than anything else, really — but Juan knows his stuff on Lebanon having lived there through some of the 1975-1990 civil war(s).

NEW YORK — Juan Cole has an excellent summary of the background on Lebanon with “this column.”:http://www.juancole.com/2005/03/lebanon-realignment-and-syria-it-is.html I sometimes take issue with his take in Iraq — more from his tone than anything else, really — but Juan knows his stuff on Lebanon having lived there through some of the 1975-1990 civil war(s). He argues, convincingly, that Bush’s influence in Lebanon is marginal, at best, which jives with my sources who say Bush is not to be thanked for this. (I’m reminded of the credit his father received for ending the Cold War. History, it seems, can be made just by showing up on time.)
As to the question of who will take power, what happens next, that’s a good question and I wish I had the answer. Hezbollah might cause trouble, as then the group will be severely weakened with the departure of one of its main patrons. The pro-Syrian forces might be moved toward violence; this isn’t Ukraine, despite the similarities. It’s a brutal neighborhood and the Syrian regime might feel threatened enough to not go quietly. (It makes a great deal of money off of Beirut’s port business, for example.)
What happens in the coming days and weeks will be most interesting. Washington’s challenge is to ride the coming whirlwind effectively.