October 24, 2006

Berri Crosses Lebanon's Red Line

A few days ago Lebanon's Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri floated the idea of opening peace talks with Israel. (Hat tip: Bad Vilbel.)

Now is the time to raise the issue to returning to peace negotiations...It is possible that now is a very appropriate time for peace talks.
He said this in France to a reporter from Al-Arabiya.

Before I say anything else, here's a caveat. Earlier this year I wrote the following in a dispatch from the Lebanese-Israeli border.

The rhetoric that comes out of Beirut in Arabic rarely has anything to do with reality. The Lebanese government regularly affirms its "brotherhood" with Syria, its former murderous master that still knocks off elected officials and journalists. Undying loyalty to the Palestinian cause is constantly trumpeted, even while Lebanon treats its hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees worse than neglected zoo animals. Arab Nationalism is another regular theme, even though Arab Nationalism is more dead in Lebanon than in any other country around.

Lebanon is a hard country to read from afar. I can't tell you how many times a government official said some boilerplate nonsense in public that almost everyone knew wasn't sincere. You had to know the Lebanese "street," and you had to look at the target audience. Most statements on foreign relations are intended for foreign consumption, especially the bits about Syria.

The same goes for Israel. Lebanon has officially been at war with Israel longer than I've been alive. But the Lebanese state never acts like it's at war. Lebanon never fights Israel. People in Lebanon -- the PLO and Iran's private army -- were the ones who fought Israel.

A cynical observer may say the Lebanese government wants to have it both ways. The Lebanese state gets its war and it gets deniability.

I don't read it that way. When the PLO used Southern Lebanon as a base to fight Israel during the 1970s and early 1980s, Lebanon's Sunni population applauded. But the Christians and the Shia were apoplectic. Lebanon disintegrated into the worst war in its history over this question.

Most Lebanese hated Hezbollah and wanted Iran's and Syria's little plaything disarmed even before they dragged the country into yet another pointless war against the will of the majority.

Even so, advocating peace talks with Israel was a "red line" when I was in Beirut. Some Lebanese did it anyway, but they only did it in private. No newspaper wrote editorials in favor of Israel or of peace. No politician from any party dared say anything of the sort even though everyone knew some would if they could. The stupid parties (Hezbollah, the Syrian Social Nationalists, etc.) still accuse the March 14 Movement (aka the "Cedar Revolution," aka the government) of being Zionist agents even when the red line isn't crossed.

So it's telling that Nabih Berri, the Speaker of Parliament, a Shia from South Lebanon, Hezbollah's "moderate" ally, one of Bashar Assad's point men in the country, said what he said even to foreigners. He did say it in Arabic to Al-Arabiya. He did not say it in French to Jacques Chirac.

It doesn't mean peace talks are imminent. Hezbollah, or anyone else for that matter, could sabotage peace talks in five minutes. (See Hamas.) But if Berri can say it even if he is not sincere, so can anyone else who has the guts.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 24, 2006 12:23 AM
Comments

It may be that only a Shi'a southerner could make statements like these. Only someone like that would be seen to be "tough" enough to do the sane thing.

It's Nixon in China.

Posted by: Craig at October 24, 2006 04:52 AM

#2 comment ... and already too late!
Only a Republican could go to China, or exit Vietnam.

The easiest way for almost any "democratically elected" leader to Do Something -- is to do what his political rivals want. They get what they want (so little opposition); he gets to be seen as an Active Leader (Powerful, Potent!).

That's why Reps in WH power find it easier to raise spending, and why Dems in WH power find it easier to do welfare reform or free trade -- what the other partisans want.

[Not so relevant for US SC appointments.]

If Berri can talk about it now, he becomes the most likely to be able to LEAD towards this, and most of his Shia supporters will support him. Because he's Shia. The Christians might well support him, for peace.

What about those Leb. Sunnis? Do they want peace with Israel now, or not?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at October 24, 2006 05:33 AM

Tom Grey,

I am fairly certain that 99% of the lebanese civilian population just wants to live in peace and have no interest in war with anyone. If they could be reassured that Israel had no interests in Lebanon, via a peace treaty, they'd take it.

I say "be reassured" because for well over 50 years, the notion that the "zionist enemy" has all sorts of malevolent aspirations, has been ingrained in the Lebanese psyche (read brainwashed). You and I might know there are no such aspirations, but the average Lebanese will need to see it to believe it. A peace treaty, one that doesn't look imposed (like the one from 1982) would go a long way towards that.

I say all this in response to your question. Don't let the rethoric coming out of political parties (like Hezbollah) fool you. The average Lebanese citizen (civilian) has gone through over 3 decades of instability, and as a result suffers from what I would call "cause fatigue". There was a time when Lebanese were willing to believe in "causes", be it the arab nationalist cause, the palestinian cause, the "canton" cause of christians in the 80s, you name it. These days, I think most lebanese just wanna be left alone.

Posted by: Bad Vilbel at October 24, 2006 10:33 AM

Lebanese may well 'just want to be left alone'. Most Lebanonese may indeed 'hate Hezbollah', and not 'want it both ways'. BUT, they just found out that the day has come when they have to stand up for what they want, have to get a government that will represent those wants, maybe to the point where a great many will be killed. Learning that lesson just cost them over a thousand killed. They (the Lebanese people) cannot have a government who opposes Hezbollah (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) but refuses do to anything about the fact that Hezbollah acts as a country within a country. Oh, but the Lebanese central government is so weak, the cry goes. Oh, but the Lebanese army is powerless in the face of the well-organized, well-led Hezbollah, continues the wail. Well, when Hezbollah starts a war with Israel, Isreal is going to strike where Hezbollah is, and if that is in Lebanon among Lebanese civilians, so be it. Where is the Lebanese Ben-Gurion? Nowhere to be found. The only Lebanese "leaders" are to be found sniveling at the UN about how unfair Israel is! Give me a break!

Posted by: Kevin at October 24, 2006 12:30 PM

The only Lebanese "leaders" are to be found sniveling at the UN about how unfair Israel is!

Well, Berri just changed the channel. And he's one of the worst politicians in the entire country. If he's on board with reality even insincerely and part-time that's a huge shift.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 24, 2006 12:42 PM

Interestingly, I think the Israelis will have to overcome the same hurdles that the Lebanese will have to jump over. It's sort of a boy who called wolf problem. The Arab world has used peace treaties as an opportunity to rest and gain concessions from Israel too many times for them to be taken seriously when they say that they want peace.

Posted by: Fern R at October 24, 2006 01:02 PM

Kevin,

Can't argue with you on that one. The Lebanese people do, indeed, need to stand up for themselves and to these politicians who have been, for lack of a better word, imposing, wars and unrest on them.
In the end, no one can do this for the Lebanese. They have to do it themselves.

Posted by: Bad Vilbel at October 24, 2006 01:11 PM

Yes, Fern. But I assure you most Lebanese are uninterested in continuing the war against Israel. Lebanon really is different. As I said before, Lebanon has never actually been at war with Israel in the first place. If Lebanon did not share a border with Israel, Lebanon's "war" against Israel would be about as meaningful as Tunisia's "war" against Israel.

Most Israelis I've spoken to, left-wing and right-wing alike, are well aware of this. The government may or may not be.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 24, 2006 01:11 PM

BV's comment: "Can't argue with you on that one. The Lebanese people do, indeed, need to stand up for themselves and to these politicians who have been, for lack of a better word, imposing, wars and unrest on them.
In the end, no one can do this for the Lebanese. They have to do it themselves."

certainly reflects my opinion. If the Lebanese do not take the actions necessary (sorry MT, words do not really count in the end) to have a viable country, then my concern about and support for them is non-existent. If the Lebs cannot take control of their country then they do not deserve one (my opinion and one that I believe is historically pretty much just the way the world is).

Posted by: Ron at October 24, 2006 01:33 PM

Agreed Ron, words aren't enough. Obviously. The country is in mortal peril as long as the private terrorist army of foreign dictatorships continues to dictate foreign policy.

I highlight the words of Lebanese leaders and citizens not to give the entire country a pass but to show where public opinion rests and, in this case, because it marks a shift.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 24, 2006 01:40 PM

Ron said, "If the Lebanese do not take the actions necessary to have a viable country, then my concern about and support for them is non-existent. If the Lebs cannot take control of their country then they do not deserve one (my opinion and one that I believe is historically pretty much just the way the world is)."

if lebanon were an island in the middle of nowhere, or its own planet, then your viewpoint would be completely acceptable (though i of course don't share it).

the fact of the matter is, countries don't cease to exist. maybe the lebanese "don't deserve" a country by your logic -- but if the rest of the world stops supporting the moderate lebanese, they will end up leaving, and what you'll be left with is a full-fledged iranian satellite on israel's border and a stone's throw from europe (instead of the only remotely democratic, meaningfully liberal arab state -- which would you rather were there?)

if you don't care about the lebanese, fair enough. but i'm willing to bet you care about some of countries and people who would be jeopardized and existentially threatened -- much, much more imminently than they are now -- by the demise of lebanon as we know it.

Posted by: carine at October 24, 2006 02:50 PM

Carine,

While I agree that moderate Lebanese need the full support of the west, and anyone else out there able and willing to offer such support, for the sake, not only of Lebanon, but that of Israel and the entire region, really, one has to acknowledge that we (and I speak as a Lebanese here) have to take matters into our own hands eventually. We cannot expect the UN, France, or the US to do our work for us. In the end, I look at the internal politics of Lebanon, and i see the same bunch of buffoons running the show that were around in the 70s, 80s during the civil war. I see a culture of corruption, sectarianism and "to hell with others as long as i'm doing ok" that is still unchanged since the day I left in the early 90s. The world around us is changing. Opportunities for peace and prosperity keep coming and going. I believe we have such a window at the moment, and have chosen to highlight that on my blog. These opportunities don't stay open forever, and we have had a history of letting them slip by. "Kevin" is right. Where is our Ben Gurion? Where is our true national leader?
I can guarantee you none of the nincompoops currently running the show over there have what it takes (or the desire) to be true national leaders. And as long as we keep tolerating these incompetent "leaders" and re-electing them because of sectarian or other antiquated considerations, we have but ourselves to blame.

Posted by: Bad Vilbel at October 24, 2006 03:08 PM

I am fairly certain that 99% of the lebanese civilian population just wants to live in peace and have no interest in war with anyone.

What, the million Lebanese who turned out en masse to hear Nasrallah's "victory" speech were just there for the tofutti?

Posted by: Solomon2 at October 24, 2006 03:52 PM

BV -- i completely agree. and i certainly don't believe any foreign powers can solve our problems for us (sorry if i was unclear before)!

i was trying to make a separate point, responding specifically to the quote from ron. to restate: if westerners are looking out for their own interests (especially security), their support for lebanon shouldn't depend on whether they care about lebanon in and of itself, or think the lebanese "deserve" a country. it's irrelevant.

lebanon doesn't exist in a vacuum! (though ironically, if we WERE a neighborless island in the middle of nowhere, we'd probably have a lot fewer problems :p )

i know i'm living in the wrong country for this, but i like things to be logical, and it frustrates me when people miss the bigger picture.

Posted by: carine at October 24, 2006 04:35 PM

It's worth noting that Berri had just returned from a 3-day trip to Saudi Arabia, during which he met with King Abdullah and discussed Lebanese reconstruction and the regional situation. The Saudis, who are pumping reconstruction money into Lebanon, are the sponsors of the "Arab peace initiative" announced at the 2002 Beirut summit of the Arab League. Berri's comments refer to the Saudi plan.

So as not to bloat your comments thread, I've added longer comments as a blog post here.

Posted by: Zvi at October 24, 2006 04:40 PM

(I do find it hopeful that most Lebanese don't really want to continue this idiotic conflict. Lebanon has absolutely nothing to gain, and everything to lose.)

Posted by: Zvi at October 24, 2006 04:43 PM

Carine: if westerners are looking out for their own interests (especially security), their support for lebanon shouldn't depend on whether they care about lebanon in and of itself

Yep. This is true even if you (and I don't mean Carine, obviously) hate Lebanon for some bizarre reason.

And that goes ten-fold for Israel, even thoush Israel has no way of "supporting" Lebanon at this time, except in the negative sense. In other words, don't do anything that weakens the government.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 24, 2006 04:59 PM

"Well, Berri just changed the channel. And he's one of the worst politicians in the entire country"

Michael, I don't have enough knowledge about the politicians in Lebanon to be able to judge them very accurately, but if what you're saying is true then it may make sense that it is Berri who is fishing for peace with Israel. If he's un-electable under any other platform, what's he got to lose? (aside from the usual assassination attempt)

Posted by: Paul MacPhail at October 24, 2006 06:04 PM

Paul,

I don't mean Berri is unelectable. He's a secular Shia and his Amal party is the only sectarian Shia option aside from Hezbollah. His place as Speaker of Parliament is a lock no matter what. Hassan Nasrallah will never get that job.

He's one of Lebanon's worst politicians because he is corrupt beyond belief, even by the standards of the Middle East. And he's a tool of Bashar Assad. At least he was. He seems to be moving away from that lately and is becoming a fence-straddling triangulator instead.

He's not a good guy all of a sudden, but he is shifting away from the Syrian-Iranian axis. Either because he either feels like he has to or because he finally feels like he can. (Probably because he feels like he has to.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 24, 2006 06:21 PM

Let me put things in perspective a bit here, as I did in my blog entry about this issue:

Berri is indeed one of the most corrupt politicians out there. He's by no means a "good guy" on account of mentioning peace with Israel. More than likely, this is maneuvering on his part. Berri has been adept over the past 3 decades at reinventing himself in order to maintain his power (read ability to steal money by being in power). He hitched a ride on the Syrian bandwagon for years. That bandwagon has been quickly fading, since 2003, and Berri, being the sly individual he is, has most likely recognized that fact and is looking for a new bandwagon to hitch himself to. He's one of those guys that sides with whoever he believes will be the winner.

In today's middle east (and this is the point I've been trying to make for a few months now), there appears to be an increasing push for a reconciliation (or at the very least a thawing) between the moderate Arab states (US allies like Saudi Arabia & Egypt) and Israel, to counter a common enemy: the extremism coming out of Iran (and its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas). As Zvi pointed out, it is probably no coincidence that Berri made these comments on the heals of a visit to Saudi Arabia. Berri, most likely, sees that the Syrian bandwagon is going nowhere, and that the future lies in the moderate Arab camp (i.e Saudi Arabia and Egypt).

In short, he's bailing off a sinking ship :)

The Berri news in and of itself is not that significant to me. The only reason I posted about it is because it plays right into the pattern I've been documenting, since July, of a thaw between the moderate Arab states and Israel, possibly leading to peace talks based on the Saudi 2002 initiative. All signs indicate we're moving in that direction (if anyone is interested, they can go through my archives and note the various subtle indications I've documented).

Posted by: bad vilbel at October 24, 2006 06:33 PM

Carine, semantics aside, certainly countries/nations/state cease to exist, just as countries/nations/states come into being. Look at a world map from the 1800's thru today. The period after WWI and WWII were especially active in this regard in Central Europe, Africa and the Middle East (and this is taking a very short view of history).

"Logic" and "the big picture" regarding the Middle East depends upon ones perspective. It appears to me that even the "experts" on the Middle East have a bit of a challenge understanding who is who, and what means what.

My overseas travel to date has been to the South & Central Pacific, and the Orient; no European or Middle East first-hand exposure. I cannot count being in Canada many times as visiting a foreign country -well, maybe Quebec :).

I neither like nor dislike Lebanese people as I have no valid basis for an opinion of that nature (not counting the seven years I lived in Dearborn/Detroit and very much enjoyed the various foods from the Middle east. The D/D area had, even twenty years ago, a thriving Middle Eastern presence).

Regards,

Posted by: Ron Snyder at October 24, 2006 07:28 PM

Michael J.,
Israel can do a lot if it wants to help Lebanon. Firstly, it can withdraw from the Shebaa Farms area, stop its illegal overflights of Lebanese airspace, and (which it may or may not be doing according to recent reports) engage in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah.

When there are no more Lebanese in prison in Israel, no more Lebanese occupied land, and no more violations by Israel of Lebanese sovreignty, then what reason does Hezbollah have to stayed armed? It will have no choice but to disarm, because believe me, even Shias are not all that concerned with having the Palestinians liberated by Hezbollah.

The question that everyone is asking, is why does Israel not do these things, knowing that they will create a situation on the ground where Hezbollah's situation is untenable from an internal Lebanese standpoint. Hezbollah did exactly what it did in July to nullify the agreements that were reached in the Lebanese National Dialogue about its disarmament, because who would dare call for this now as loudly as before right after Israel destroyed the country?

Anyone can go sit and go on about the evil Hezbollah and the righteousness of the Israeli cause..well that's your opinion, but if you want to see things change on the ground, you have to realize that there are certain steps that need to be taken. At the end of the day, it was Israel that made enemies out of the South Lebanese in the first place.

What Berri said doesn't matter, because it was made for external consumption. He would be the second to last person to call for peace with Israel at this point. And can you blame him? His electorate got blown to bits just a few months ago.

Posted by: Omega80 at October 24, 2006 10:51 PM

Omega80: When there are no more Lebanese in prison in Israel, no more Lebanese occupied land, and no more violations by Israel of Lebanese sovreignty, then what reason does Hezbollah have to stayed armed? It will have no choice but to disarm, because believe me, even Shias are not all that concerned with having the Palestinians liberated by Hezbollah.

I know enough about you to believe that you mean this in good faith. And I know enough about Hezbollah to know this won't work, even if lots of Shia also think this would be good enough.

The question that everyone is asking, is why does Israel not do these things

Israel did withdraw to the internationally recognized border. The UN confirmed this. Hezbollah did not raise the issue of Shebba until after Israel withdrew. They needed an excuse to keep their guns, and they found one.

As far as releasing prisoners goes, at least one Lebanese prisoner (I don't know about the others) murdered an Israeli family, including a very young girl, in their house. This is not okay. I don't know why on earth any Lebanese would want a guy like that as their free neighbor anyway. It's a silly thing to demand.

If a crazed Israeli sneaks across the fence and murders your sister while she's asleep in her bed, I would hope Lebanon never lets that man out of prison.

At the end of the day, it was Israel that made enemies out of the South Lebanese in the first place.

You are right about that.

He would be the second to last person to call for peace with Israel at this point. And can you blame him? His electorate got blown to bits just a few months ago.

I don't expect Berri to like Israel. I don't expect any Lebanese to like Israel. I do, however, expect Lebanese to prefer peace with Israel to war with Israel. Because war in hell, and Lebanon will lose.

Unless you want to get bombed again (and I'm pretty sure you do not), it only makes sense to prefer a peace treaty to a continuing state of war. Right?

I don't like the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Not at all. But I would much rather have peace with them than continue watching them and my fellow Americans blow each other to pieces.

You don't have to like people to make peace with them. That can come later.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 24, 2006 11:13 PM

I think Israel stopping its overflights of Lebanon would be a good "card" for them to play soon.

"Exchange of prisoners", some 100 to 1 or something? I think some exchange of least likely to be violent prisoners is another card for Israel to play.

But what cards is the Leb. gov't playing? Or Hezbollah?

Or Berri?
"He's one of Lebanon's worst politicians because he is corrupt beyond belief, even by the standards of the Middle East. And he's a tool of Bashar Assad. At least he was. He seems to be moving away from that lately and is becoming a fence-straddling triangulator instead."

If he's corrupt, and just visited Saudi Arabia, and is now changing his tune -- he sounds like he can be bought, and HAS been bought. And if he's about to become a Clinton style triangulator, or quadrilateralator (Sunni, Christian, Shia, Secular), perhaps HE will become the voice of the new Leb. "Ben Gurion". For money; plus fame; plus a peace agreement in which to enjoy the cash, and perhaps even "give" some 10-20% of it away on reconstructions which make him even more popular, powerful, and rich.

If HE is the first one talking "Peace with Israel", and Lebanon goes down HIS path -- he's leading.

Which is one of the main reasons words DO matter -- but only if the words DO lead to action.
(unlike 99.9% of blogging; though Dan Rather isn't anchor...)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at October 25, 2006 12:15 AM

Hey, it looks like you're right about Berri. Supposedly he is going to release his plan for peace with Israel sometime today.

Posted by: Fern R at October 25, 2006 01:52 AM

I don't expect Berri to like Israel. I don't expect any Lebanese to like Israel. I do, however, expect Lebanese to prefer peace with Israel to war with Israel. Because war is hell, and Lebanon will lose.

Unless you want to get bombed again (and I'm pretty sure you do not), it only makes sense to prefer a peace treaty to a continuing state of war. Right?

I don't like the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Not at all. But I would much rather have peace with them than continue watching them and my fellow Americans blow each other to pieces.

You don't have to like people to make peace with them. That can come later.

I've been saying this for a while (though not as politely) and I've never got an answer except for a little bit of cringing...

Arabs must think that peace is so humiliating that they can't possibly be asked to make it. Ultimately they think they're far too damn good for peace.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at October 25, 2006 11:10 AM

You don't have to like people to make peace with them. That can come later.

Yet one must keep in mind that just because they like you, doesn't mean they won't try to kill you if some imagined or real slight to the tribe demands appeasement. I think Arabs understand this and Americans don't...

Posted by: Solomon2 at October 25, 2006 09:39 PM

Michael,
You got it right on, Hezbollah is using Shebaa as an excuse, so why not take that excuse away from them?
Once these few things are settled, they won't have any more cards to play in justifying their military wing to an already highly skeptical Lebanese public. They would have no choice but to disarm, the alternative in the long run would be renewed civil conflict in Lebanon, and Shias have the most to loose from this.

About the prisoner in Israel that killed an Israeli family, you are talking about Samir Kuntar, who has been in prison in Israel since 1978. This might be hard to stomach, but wouldn't releasing him knowing this is part of the process that will lead to Hezbollah's disarmament worth it? Sometimes hard choices need to be made.

Either way, if Israel wants to help Lebanon out, the best thing they can do is tell their allies in the U.S. government not to give in to Syria in any way shape or form. Those guys are the real bad guys in the area, and everyone knows it.

Posted by: Omega80 at October 26, 2006 03:08 AM

Omega80,

If those steps would actually lead to Hezbollah's disarmament, then I would say yes. What do I care about Shebba? Israelis don't care about Shebba, either, I assure you. They don't want it. They aren't using it. I just don't think it would work. Hezbollah can always find another excuse.

We will help our Syrian brothers liberate the Golan. Etc.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 26, 2006 10:44 AM

Michael -

My question is if Berrri is the "moderate" Shiite faction, which still appears more closely aligned with Hezbollah than anyone.... is he saying this because -

a) Syria correctly figures it is a very smart political move to further momentum to pressure unilateral Israeli withdrawals from the Golan - Sheba Farms and/or the West Bank?

b) Because he truly wants relations and is throwing the statement out there in a trial balloon because it would benefit Lebanon economically, in relations with the US and bcs if a Christian of the Cedars said it it wouldn't work so better to have a Shiite say it.

I would like to think it is b and wey're crossing a line in the sand here - but I know better particularly when it comes to politics - particularly Arab politics as it relates to Israel...

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at October 26, 2006 01:37 PM

I think Omega80 knows all that, MJT. Perhaps he just has ulterior motives, that's all.

Posted by: Solomon2 at October 26, 2006 01:42 PM

I don't think Omega80 has ulterior motives, Solomon. I know him from previous comments and I know many people personally who are in his political party.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 26, 2006 02:28 PM

Michael -

Can you give me an answer to the above.

Omega 80 -

Assuming you are well intentioned, you need to put down the Alice in Fairyland Kool Aid.

Ok -

a) First if Israel withdraws from Lebanon we will disarm. 2000
b) We are protecting Lebanon from "Israeli aggression" and for Sheba Farms. 2006
c) Israel must release a man who bludgeoned a 5 year old girl after he bludgeoned her father in front of her so should see it before he murdered her. 2006

THEN OH BOY THEN............ WE WILL DISARM AND LEBANON WILL BE ONCE AGAIN SAVED FROM CIVIL WAR... BUT IF NOT.... ISRAEL WILL BE TO BLAME.... baddies!!!

How about NOT....

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at October 26, 2006 03:46 PM

Mike,

I think something along the lines of "a" is the most likely answer.

Either way, it weakens the strength of the "red line" and makes it more acceptable for more genuine individuals and, later perhaps, movements, to say the same thing.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 26, 2006 04:50 PM

Hezbollah should be forced to live with their mistake.

They publically asked for Samir Kuntar to be released. The Israelis should release him and make a f***ing three ring circus out of it, publicizing Kuntar's crime as explicitely as possible, as loudly as possible and as often as possible. AND THEN make sure that they always say "Kuntar" whenever "Hezbollah" comes up.

Say this is what Hezbollah is, this is what Hezbollah stands for, this is what they want, this is what they support. Hezbollah are genocidal murders, plain and simple. They want genocide of women and children and nothing but...

Let Kuntar be the the millstone around Hezbollah's neck from this moment on. Let him kill Hebollah in it's bed.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at October 26, 2006 08:22 PM

Michael,
I'm sure you know well how many people in Lebanon now want Hezbollah disarmed. Do you think anyone is going to accept them saying they want to liberate the Golan Heights, or the West Bank for that matter?

At the end of the day, they will have to disarm, not because of Israel, not because of the U.S., not because of France, not because of anything other than the fact that all Lebanese demand this. It is political science 101 that the only entity that has the right to the use of force is the State. Thus, they have a monopoly on the use of force within their borders. Hezbollah thus weakens the Lebanese State, which is something unacceptable. It is also unacceptable that in Lebanon's confessional system a political party that represents a sect has arms while the others do not, this tips the scale in Lebanon's delicate power structure, which is also something that can't last long.

We all know the end result would be renewed Civil War, and we all know that is what Bashar al-Assad wants in Lebanon, which is why the FPM concluded an MOU with Hezbollah, in order to try as much as possible to prevent this from happening.

Posted by: Omega80 at October 26, 2006 09:53 PM

Do you think anyone is going to accept them saying they want to liberate the Golan Heights, or the West Bank for that matter?

Did you think in 1999 that anyone would accept Hezb saying they wouldn't disarm because of the Shebaa Farms - a border dispute between the U.N., Lebanon, and Syria? Did Hezb disarm because other Lebanese ridiculed their claim and demanded they do so?

So no, I don't see any grounds to believe Lebanon will "demand" that Hezb give up its weapons or its expansionist agenda. Hezbollah doesn't have a record of honest dealing and other Lebanese haven't worked up the courage to deal with Hezbollah, even with foreign troops available to do much of the heavy fighting for them.

Posted by: Solomon2 at October 27, 2006 09:32 AM

Berri was being entirely disingenuous. Just like his recent announcement of a new National Dialogue, his claim that he wants to begin dialogue with Israel is merely a stalling tactic that will allow Syria back into Lebanon.

Syria and Lebanon, by treaty, must engage in all issues of defense and over relations with Israel together. Syria can't wait to become relevant again, and the only way they see that as being possible right now is to begin negotiating with Israel.

Of course, they won't stay true to their word, while simultaneously supporting Hamas and Hezbollah.

Some Israelis are duped into following the Syrian line that the Syrians must be negotiated with. Thank god, the rest of the Israelis are sane enough to realize that they can't negotiate with a regime that does everything in its power to cause further instability in the region.

Posted by: Charles Malik at October 27, 2006 10:51 AM

Michael, I was wondering what you thought of Thomas Friedman's book, From Beirut to Isreal. It's next in line on the reading list for me.

Posted by: Ted at October 27, 2006 05:41 PM

Ted,

From Beirut to Jerusalem is a GREAT book, especially the first half, the half about Beirut. It is by far the best thing Friedman has written, much better than what came later.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 27, 2006 07:19 PM
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"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


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Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn