Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The fog of war - replies

Comments on 'The fog of war', from Jeff Weintraub.
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   I am mostly in accord with the thoughts expressed in that post, and especially with their tentative character.  But I'm not entirely in accord.  For example ...
The captured soldiers Israeli rhetoric talks about them being 'hostages kidnapped by terrorists'. But many regard them as legitimate targets and prisoners of war. Their capture was an act of war (that can be qualified in various ways: the war was undeclared; the act was unprovoked).
   This is correct, though they can be described as "legitimate" targets only in terms of what "just war" doctrine calls jus in bello considerations (i.e., how military conflicts are being conducted), but not necessarily in terms of jus ad bellum considerations (as the parenthetical remarks quoted above indicate).  In the broader sense, the Israeli soldiers attacked in northern Israel a week and a half ago were not legitimate targets.

   On the other hand, it is quite correct to describe this attack as an act of war rather than an act of terrorism.  Whatever specific terms one wants to use, there is a fundamental difference between attacks against soldiers and deliberate targeting of ordinary non-combatant civilians.  The Israelis (and others) are often too careless about this.

   With respect to the Hezbollah attack, however, Olmert specifically said something different:
'I want to make it clear, the events of this morning are not a terror attack but an act by a sovereign state which attacked the state of Israel without reason or provocation,' the premier, who called an emergency cabinet meeting for Wednesday evening, told reporters in Jerusalem
This is right, in so far as this was not a terrorist attack but an act of war. 

   On the other hand, of course, it is a bit of a stretch to describe this as an act "by" a sovereign state, since it is well known that this attack was not directly ordered or carried out by a unified Lebanese state, but by an entity that could be regarded as one fragment of it.  Lebanon does not have a fully coherent state apparatus that meets minimal Weberian definitions, particularly since there is no state monopoly on the use of large-scale legitimate violence.  However, with respect to the legal fictions customarily used for recognized sovereign states, the Lebanese state certainly can be held responsible for this attack and is also responsible for returning the captured soldiers.  (But this is one of those cases where legal fictions and political realities diverge considerably.)
Israeli spokesmen claim that they withdrew in 2000 'from the last inch' of Lebanese territory. But this is disputed: 'Hezbollah, with broad Lebanese political support, says the Shebaa Farms area is occupied Lebanese territory - but Israel, backed by the UN, says the farms are on the Syrian side of the border and so are part of the Golan Heights...' Another outstanding issue is the Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails. I am not sure what the exact status of these is.
Well, yes ... but these "issues" are quite bogus.  They are pretexts, not legitimate or even plausible grievances.  On these matters, see:   What Hezbollah is fighting for - A reality check

 =>  I don't want to get involved in an extensive discussion of the main substantive issues.  But I might mention that one person whose commentaries on this unfolding crisis have been unusually intelligent, well-informed, and humane is Jonathan Edelstein, who blogs under the title Head Heeb.  I just linked to one of his earlier posts on this subject, which I think is still well worth reading.  (He has posted others since then.)  I largely (though not entirely) agreed with what Edelstein said there, especially his emphasis on the fact that the crises in Gaza and Lebanon present quite different moral and political issues in important respects.
The escalation along the Lebanese border is obviously in conjunction with the fighting in Gaza, but the two have differences as well as common dimensions. My thoughts on the Gaza crisis have thus far been very mixed, and I find it hard to reflexively condemn either side. [....] 

I have no such trouble assigning blame for the escalation in Lebanon. Hizbullah, quite simply, committed an unprovoked act of war, and despite Nasrallah's rhetoric about solidarity with the Palestinians and liberation of Lebanese prisoners, the raid was fairly obviously aimed at maintaining political relevance. Hizbullah was once a genuine resistance group that fought Israeli occupation, but that occupation has been over since 2000, and lately it's been more in the business of provoking Israel than resisting it. The identity of the aggressor in Gaza is ambiguous, but on the Lebanese frontier it isn't.


Jeff Weintraub
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My comments.

On Olmert and the 'act by a sovereign state': yes, I heard that too. I have also heard several Israeli spokesmen talking about terrorists etc. 

I thought I had covered the weakness of the Lebanese state, particularly in 'The fog of war - 2'. That's why I supported the idea of an international force. Bernard Kouchner, in the interview I mentioned, also talked about the 'political fictions'.

The Shebaa Farms may well be 'a sliver of land' and a 'pretext' for Hezbollah, but unless the BBC is wrong, they have "broad Lebanese political support". As Jeff says, a diplomatic solution should be sought.
Kouchner also said he doubted whether there were "thousands" of Lebanese prisoners held by the Israelis. Jeff, in his post  What Hezbollah is fighting for - A reality check,  has this:
When it gets specific, Hezbollah tends to mention three names (yes, that's 3), ...
Read the rest, in the link above. People speaking for the Arab side usually prefix their remarks with a formula such as, 'nobody speaks about the Lebanese prisoners...' Yet they are given plenty of access to the BBC, say, and they always mention it.

I have no reason to doubt the truth of what Jeff says, backed by an authority like Yossi or Joseph Alpher. If so, then the propaganda is unspeakably bad on the Israeli side, since this fact is not widely known.

I think I reached more or less the same conclusion as Jeff and Jonathan Edelstein / the Head Heeb,  regarding Gaza vs Lebanon.

In another message, Jeff says:
the long-term Likud policy of permanent occupation and large-scale settlement in the West Bank and Gaza was not only unjust, oppressive, and morally indefensible--it was also lunatic and self-defeating from Israel's own perspective.  Most Israelis have come to realize this themselves ... but they should have paid more attention earlier on to people inside and outside Israel who pointed this out to them
I think a lot of nonsense is talked about Gaza. Nobody is talking about re-establishing the settlements there. Military intervention there is a different matter, though I agree, whether the recent actions are appropriate is open to doubt. 

Update:  Something I didn't mention from yesterday morning (24 Jul): Michel Barnier, French FM 2004-5, said on France Inter that international assistance could also be provided for strengthening the Lebanese army. This aspect seems to be the most acceptable one for the Lebanese (Newshour, 20:05).

This morning, Tim Franks, from Jerusalem, reports on a 'startling shift' in Israeli thinking. If an international force is acceptable in Lebanon, to provide Israel's security, why not in Gaza, as part of implementing the road map? For Israelis, this is a second-best... ( BBC Radio 4audio; also broadcast on the World Today, 6:32 GMT , where it was followed by questions to Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor.)

I missed this: profile of 'the controversial leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah'.

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