Monday, July 17, 2006

News from the war

Despite initial concern that the adminsitration was not being forceful enough in its support for Israel, it should be clear that the United States is unequivocally supportive of Israel's military actions. (More below the fold)

President Bush on Saturday abandoned his earlier calls for Israeli restraint in its escalating conflict with Hezbollah, instead calling on Syria to rein in the Shiite Muslim militant group.

Bush and his aides had for several days balanced demands for Hezbollah to stop firing rockets at northern Israel with muted declarations that Israel needed to try to avoid civilian casualties as it retaliated.

"The best way to stop the violence is to understand why the violence occurred in the first place," Bush said at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on the eve of a summit of the Group of 8 industrialized nations in this suburb of St. Petersburg. "And that's because Hezbollah has been launching rocket attacks out of Lebanon into Israel, and because Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. That's why we have violence.

"And the best way to stop the violence is for Hezbollah to lay down its arms, and to stop attacking," he said, adding, "I call upon Syria to exert influence over Hezbollah."

That's a bit of refreshing moral clarity, and of course that doesn't sit well with our worthless so-called allies.

President Jacques Chirac of France characterized the statement issued here as a call for a cease-fire — a word the Bush administration has sidestepped at every turn over the last few days. The host of the summit meeting, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, told reporters that “we do get the impression that the aims of Israel go beyond just recovering their kidnapped soldiers.’’

I know it's shocking that the French are being so weak-kneed in response.  Perhaps if Assad calls Chirac's mother a name that will get the French to act like men for once.

Meanwhile, in case there was any doubt as to who was pulling the strings behind all this, you might want to read this.

But battles—and battle lines—are rarely if ever simple in the Middle East. Nasrallah knows that. So do the Israelis, who saw hidden hands behind the Lebanese and Palestinian militants. They accused Syria, which harbors the Hamas leadership in exile and has a longstanding alliance with Hizbullah in Lebanon, of complicity. But they also saw the long arm of their ultimate enemy, Iran—the creator of Hizbullah, a patron of Hamas, the ally of Syria, the provider of rockets that struck 22 miles deep into Israel last week and a missile that crippled an Israeli warship. Iran, developer of nuclear technology and eventually, perhaps, nuclear weapons.

In an exclusive interview with NEWSWEEK's Richard Wolffe, President George W. Bush said he thinks those suspicions are legitimate: "There's a lot of people who believe that the Iranians are trying to exert more and more influence over the entire region and the use of Hizbullah is to create more chaos to advance their strategy." He called that "a theory that's got some legs to it as far as I'm concerned."

As usual, our supposed "chimp in chief" demonstrates more foreign policy savvy than the very people who criticize him, but that's another matter. 

Matters are getting serious indeed as Hezbollah now seems to be in control of the country.

After moderating their stance in recent years, the guerrillas surged back to the war front with a surprise attack on Israel and a sophisticated arsenal, leaving Lebanon's politicians and army looking nearly powerless. The government seems paralyzed over how to deal with Hezbollah, whose Shiite Muslim fighters have had near autonomy in the south for more than a decade.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah acted Sunday like the man holding Lebanon's reins, though he looked tired and stressed as he vowed that his group had only begun to fight.

"We are in our full strength and power," he said on the group's Al-Manar TV. "Hezbollah is not fighting a battle for Hezbollah or even for Lebanon. We are now fighting a battle for the (Islamic) nation."

Israel states that it currently has no intention of attacking Iran or Syria, and indeed I don't doubt they'd rather avoid opening up another front.  But something tells me that they might not have another choice.

H/t to Dan Darling for the many links.


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