Lebanon: So much for a “strong mandate”

According to today’s Haaretz, Israel has abandoned the idea of an international force in Lebanon designed to disarm Hezbollah. What they are now talking about is a 1 km wide “demilitarized zone” along the Israeli border where Hezbollah can’t deploy, enforced by Israeli artillery over the border in Israel.

Since Hezbollah’s rockets go a lot further into Israel than that, this indicates, if the report is true, that stopping rocket attacks is no longer seen as a viable goal for this conflict. And, a demilitarized zone enforced by artillery fire has no impact on Hezbollah’s ability to undertake the kind of border skirmishes that served as pretext for this fight. So, deployment of an international force is becoming not much more than a cover for Israel to declare some form of victory in a conflict they certainly appear to be losing. So much for “strong mandates” and avoiding, in Condoleeza Rice’s words, “temporary solutions”.

Beirut’s Daily Star is offering a more optimistic outlook this morning, suggesting Israel will accept some kind of negotiated trade for its kidnapped soldiers (which it could have gotten in the first place without going to war) and that Hezbollah might agree to stop to rocket attacks on Israel in return for some sort of settlement on the Shebaa farms area, an end to Israeli harassment of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and some other outstanding issues. If either side was going to be honest in making such an agreement, an international force would hardly be necessary to keep the peace. In a true flight of fancy, the Lebanese editorialist sees such an agreement as opening the way to settlements between Israel and Syria, and to addressing Palestinian grievances. Fat chance.

Hezbollah’s chief is openly declaring the intent to continue rocket attacks even while declaring itself open to political discussions to resolve the conflict. He also admits that no one expected Israel to freak out like this. This willingness to discuss options from Hezbollah, and Israel’s apparent willingness to accept reduced demands, might be indicative of an openness to some kind of agreement, as the author of the editorial suggests. But it almost certainly means no meaningful solution.

Again, I have to ask: Why should anyone send troops to Lebanon if the intended outcome is nothing more than a restoration of the status quo ante that led to this war in the first place? If negotiation is supposed to end this conflict without actually undermining either side, then what purpose is served by a peacekeeping force with no mandate to keep the peace? Why should outsiders participate in saving face for Israel and in solidifying what will no doubt be perceived in the Middle East as a Hezbollah victory?

Xenophobia and human nature

There has been some cricket chirping on AFOE the past few days, so allow me to make a little bit of noise here and chase them away.

Amnesty International has a new report out, called Russian Federation – Violent racism out of control. I shall quote part of the report below the fold and ask some questions to our readers.
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Abu Hafs al Masri Brigade Claim Attack

In a website posting yesterday the Abu Hafs al Masri Brigade have one more time claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks, in this case yesterdays bombs in London. It should be remembered that this group also claimed the Madrid bombings and the July 7 bombs. Just how much credibility should be accorded to all this?
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London Incidents Update

The Times has a pretty reasoned assessment of the state of play. We are still with the same two theories, the copycats, and the same group. I don’t like the copycat one since it seems to overlook some basic details. These attacks are not so easy to carry out logistically. Normally there is a high degree of training and preparation, especially ‘mentalisation’ if suicide bombers are involved (eyewitnesses suggest that at least one tube bomber today did try and blow himself up). So I don’t think this kind of attack can be improvised on the ‘oh why don’t we try and do one of those this week’ kind of basis. Whoever was at work today will have had this planned for some time. So then, what a coincidence that a different group had exactly the same idea, even down to the bus (which now seems intentional).

Also the timing was reasonably coordinated. They managed to penetrate security and get to the detonation stage. Avoiding security may have been one of the reasons for the time of day chosen. The question is really why they had so few explosives, and why the bombs didn’t go off. The way things panned out on 7 July, and what the implications of the car in Luton car park are, may provide part of the missing explanation. Essentially I agree with Robert Ayers (quoted in the Times link) from – what a surprise – Chatham House.
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Another Thread

There is considerable speculation taking place at the moment about the nature of the connections (if any) between the British born bombers and militant jihadists in Pakistan. One of the names which keeps appearing is that of the group Jaish-e-Mohammad. Now this name should remind us that this is not the first time British-born Pakistani terrorists have caught the headlines: there is – for example – the case of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who attended English public school Forest School Snaresbroke, and then the London School of Economics, before graduating to assasination and, in particular the horrendous killing of Daniel Pearl. Saeed Sheikh is a member of Jaish-e-Mohammad. Pakistani police are claiming that Shehzad Tanweer met with convicted Church bomber and terrorist Osama Nazir. Nazir is in custody in Pakistan, and according to sources there has allegedly confirmed the meeting:

“Nazir, a member of the al-Qaida-linked Sunni militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, told authorities from jail Thursday that he met with Tanweer in Faisalabad, 75 miles southwest of Lahore, before his arrest.

It was not clear what the men discussed, or whether there was any connection between that meeting and the July 7 attacks against three trains and a double-decker bus.”

Rather chillingly, the above link on Jaish-e-Mohammad has the following under operational strategies: “Most Jaish-e-Mohammed attacks have been described as fidayeen (suicide terrorist) attacks”.

Suicide Bombers

Well a consensus seems to have been reached that some at least of the bombers were ‘suicides’ (the probability seems to be that they all were). So what do we know about suicide bombing? Well reading around I came across this document from the Rand Corporation which contains a chapter from terrorism specialist Bruce Hoffman entitled “Defending America Against Suicide Terrorism” which seems quite to the point. This paragraph seems especially prescient about ‘Why is suicide bombing so attractive to terrorists?’.

To answer these questions, we conducted extensive research and interviews with foreign police/security forces with prior experience with suicide terrorism. The following conclusions emerged.

First, from a tactical standpoint, suicide attacks are attractive to terrorists because they are inexpensive and effective?with an extremely favorable per-casualty cost benefit for the terrorists. Moreover, they are less complicated and compromising than other lethal operations. No escape plan is needed because, if successful, there will be no assailant to capture and interrogate. Suicide attacks are perhaps the ultimate ?smart bombs.? They can cleverly
employ disguise and deception and effect last-minute changes in timing, access, and choice of target. Finally, suicide attacks guarantee media coverage. They offer the irresistible combination of savagery and bloodshed.”

And for those who are interested in points from the ‘oh why do we keep making the same mistakes department’ this (pdf) file from Hoffman on Insurgency and Counter Insurgency in Iraq (written in June 2004, but still largely valid) makes an interesting read.

Fears

A quote from a Johann Hari post, via Digby:

But another fight began yesterday: to defend our civil liberties ? and especially those of the decent, democratic Muslim majority ? in an age of terror. I headed for the East London Mosque ? a few minutes? walk away from the bomb in Aldgate ? to watch afternoon prayers. Chairman Mohammed Bari said, ?Only yesterday, we celebrated getting the Olympics for our city and our country. But a terrible thing happened in our country this morning? Whoever has done this is a friend of no-one and certainly not a friend of Muslims. The whole world will be watching us now. We must give a message of peace.? Everybody in attendance agreed; many headed off to the Royal London Hospital to give blood. But they were afraid the message would not get out: several people were expecting attacks on the mosque tonight.

From the media, it seems to representative of British muslim reactions in general. And quite understandably so.

There ar really several questions here: a) will there be harassment and violence now, in the wake of the attack, b) the long term negative impact n inter-ethic relations, b) will civil liberties be (further) curtailed.

As for b and c, based on the admirably non-hysterical response by the public so far, I’m cautiously optimistic. Cautiously. As for a, it only takes a few racist scumbags, doesn’t it? Regardless of how decent the general population may hypothetically be. But maybe it won’t get really horrifically bad, seeing as I haven’t seen any really serious incidents serious happened in the first night. Or did I miss them.

Guardian reports on the backlash:

At the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, worshippers said passersby had shouted abuse and rattled the entrance gates in the hours after yesterday’s bombings.

Within hours of the attacks police forces across the country were sent advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers on how to counter any backlash.

Forces are supposed to make contact with “vulnerable communities”, in this case Muslims, and react quickly and robustly to incidents of hate crime.

There are two fundamental aims, to keep Muslims safe, then to ensure there is the maximum chance that those with information about the planning of the attacks have the confidence and trust in the police to come forward.

Input from people who know what they’re talking about would be good.

(I’d also like to hear what the long term and short term reaction was after 3/11. It’s not necessarily hugely relevant, but interesting in itself.)

It’s perhaps a phrase that’s lost all meaning, or never had one, but I’d say if bigotry prevails, the terrorism will in some real sense have won.

Madrid Bombing: Update But Not Yet A Retraction

Update: Friday morning 8:30 CET. The uncertainty about the authors of this crime continues. I think having been fairly forthright at the start, prudence on my part is now what is called for while the investigation continues. Meanwhile I think it is important we don’t lose sight of the magnitude of what has happened: 198 dead, and 1,430 injured according to the latest government figures. It is with the victims and their families that our first thoughts should go. I will post again if and when there is meaningful news, and in any event around 19.00 CET when the demonstrations will be assembling.

Now: Just to follow up on my Madrid bombing post. I have to recognise that the evidence is now more contradictory than it was this morning when I first posted. First we have the case of the van with the tape: the van in fact contained seven detonators and a tape in Arabic. The Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said the tape had recordings of verses from the Koran.

And then there is the letter to the London based al-Quds newspaper.

A letter purporting to come from Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network has claimed responsibility for the train bombings in Spain, calling them strikes against “crusaders”, according to a London-based Arabic newspaper.

“We have succeeded in infiltrating the heart of crusader Europe and struck one of the bases of the crusader alliance,” said the letter which called the attacks “Operation Death Trains”. There was no way of authenticating the letter, a copy of which was faxed to Reuters’ office in Dubai by the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.

So I have to recognise that I may have got it wrong. The emphasis here is on may. If I do have it wrong I seem to be in good company, the UN itself just reached the same conclusion and the first version edition of the Spanish left-of-centre newspaper El Pais has run with a headline similar to that of my original post . One additional question which concerns me is how it was that Batasuna were themselves so rapidly on the Islamic trail. I mean if this isn’t Eta, there has been a terrible failing in international security. The CIA has no information, but Batasuna apparently sees ‘indications’: I don’t quite know what to make of that. Since I’ve presented my own views sufficiently before, and since I may have misjudged things, I present below some alternative hypotheses.
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Resurgent Anti-Semitism In Europe: Myth or Reality?

David is right. Islamist terrorism has now finally reached Europe for real.


Not just because the tragic terrorist attacks against the Neve-Shalom and Beth-Israel Synagogues took place in the undisputedly European part of Istanbul. Not just because the fear of a rising tide of al-Qaida triggered fundamentalist terrorism could once again lead to a round of attempts to legalise previously unimaginable governmental infringements of civil liberties. And not just because such attacks could actually happen around the corner of our very own house, church, or temple.


Yesterday, Europe – or the European public, published and otherwise – has been accused by a number of Israeli politicians of having watered the seed of Islamist terrorism by continuous criticism of Israel and its military with respect to the handling of the second Intifada: In a joint statement with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the Istanbul bombings had to be seen “in the context of … recent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks heard in certain European cities in recent months”.


Even discounting the fact that these statements were made under the immediate impression of the attacks, they are certainly remarkable. Not only because they are suggesting that – in the words of Mr Shalom – “verbal terrorism” is being perpetrated against Israel or Jews in Europe these days but also that it should be seen as promoting the kind of abhorrent deadly terror we witnessed yesterday.


I suppose it is hardly deniable that criticism of Israel has recently been more pronounced in Europe than, notably, in the United States. Earlier this year, Timothy Garton Ash remarked, that this criticism could even be the origin of the transatlantic communicative difficulties, because of it’s alleged link to anti-Semitism – a link once again made yesterday, a link that certainly requires some analysis. In the words of Mr Garton Ash –


“The Middle East is both a source and a catalyst of what threatens to become a downward spiral of burgeoning European anti-Americanism and nascent American anti-Europeanism, each reinforcing the other. Anti-Semitism in Europe, and its alleged connection to European criticism of the Sharon government, has been the subject of the most acid anti-European commentaries from conservative American columnists and politicians. Some of these critics are themselves not just strongly pro-Israel but also “natural Likudites,” one liberal Jewish commentator explained to me. In a recent article Stanley Hoffmann writes that they seem to believe in an “identity of interests between the Jewish state and the United States.” Pro-Palestinian Europeans, infuriated by the way criticism of Sharon is labelled anti-Semitism, talk about the power of a “Jewish lobby” in the US, which then confirms American Likudites’ worst suspicions of European anti-Semitism, and so it goes on, and on.[A problem] difficult for a non-Jewish European to write about without contributing to the malaise one is trying to analyze…”


Maybe. Maybe I am contributing to the malaise by trying to analyse it. But then again, the unqualified allegation against Europe and its people of giving at least negligent if not malevolent ideological support to terrorism is too serious to be simply brushed aside as an expression of anger and despair even in the light of yesterday’s attacks. It is too serious to be brushed aside even if, as the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports today in a story that was likely written before the attacks, more and more Jews in many parts of the world are personally feeling more and more uneasy because, as they see it, criticism against Israel is always likely to be at be least partly directed against themselves.


This is a valid fear. One that can also not be brushed aside. All over Europe many Synagogues are now being protected by police – for a reason. As a German, I may be particularly sensitive about this, but it has never been a good sign for any society when its Jews started to feel uneasy. And there are certainly people around who “hide” their anti-Semitism behind “legitimate” criticism of Israel. From said Haaretz article –


“Those who worry about the low point Israel has reached in global public opinion are sharply divided over the reasons for it. Is opposition to Israel rooted in its military policy toward the Palestinians, or has anti-Semitism awoken after a long hibernation? As time passes and the negative attitude toward Israel intensifies, many Jews are beginning to feel that these sentiments are more anti-Semitic than anti-Israeli. Prof. Shmuel Trigano of the University of Paris X, a prominent French Jewish intellectual, believes that the clash between the Jews and the non-Jewish world started out as anti-Israeli, in the wake of the intifada, but has spilled over into anti-Semitism. In France, he says, people are no longer embarrassed to express views about the Jews that were taboo until just a little while ago.”


But does this mean that all non-Jewish criticism of the Israeli government’s and military’s policies – often harshly critized by Israeli citizens and soldiers alike – or even anti-Zionism, is simply old-style anti-Semitism that comes in new bottles? Hardly.


Yet there are people who seem to claim just that. About a year ago, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman published an article on CommonDreams.org about A Day At The American Enterprise Institute, home to many of the “natural Likudites” mentioned in the Garton Ash piece cited above. In the morning of that day they listened to a panel discussion titled “Europe: Anti-Semitism Resurgent?” that


“… was supposed to be a debate between two right-wingers, Ruth Wisse of Harvard University and John O’Sullivan, of United Press International. But there was little debate. Everyone agreed that the issue wasn’t anti-semitism, as traditionally defined, but anti-Israel views. In fact, Wisse and O’Sullivan had now effectively redefined the term anti-semitism to mean anti-Israel. We had suspected this, but didn’t get a confirmation until a questioner in the audience asked Wisse about Billy Graham’s 1972 conversation with Richard Nixon, memorialized on the White House tapes, and made public earlier this year by the National Archives.

In the conversation, Graham says to Nixon that “a lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, … Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.” And how does he feel? Graham tells Nixon that the Jews have a “stranglehold” on the country, and “this stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” “You believe that?” Nixon says. “Yes, sir,” Graham replies. “Oh boy,” Nixon says. “So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”

So, the questioner wanted to know whether Professor Wisse considered these sentiments, as expressed by Graham, and widely publicized earlier this year, to be anti-semitic. No, they are not anti-semitic, Professor Wisse says. Not anti-semitic? No, anti-semitism exists today in the form of “political organization” against Israel.”


Anti-Semitism is a camelion – what was once purely religious suddenly turned “racial” in the 1880s when religion lost much of its function as social glue in the heyday of industrialization. So could Professor Wisse’s assertion that the camelion has once again changed its colour be correct? Wikipedia.org defines the term as

“… either of the following: (1) hostility to Jews as a group which results from no legitimate cause or greatly exceeds any reasonable, ethical response to genuine provocation; or (2) a pejorative perception of Jewish physical or moral traits which is either utterly groundless or a result of irrational generalization and exaggeration”


This might be a good starting point. But there is no straight forward way to define anti-Semitism – well, maybe in a Habermasian ideal speech situation. But in the real world? Guess what – the Wikipedia definition’s “neutrality” is disputed, just as pretty much every article in their database that is conceptually remotely related.


Yet it must be possible to find a way to discern truly legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from the kind that is merely a vehicle for anti-Semitism in order to be able to usefully discuss and if possible refute general accusations against “Europe” and be able to point to those who are really guilty as charged.


How? I don’t know yet, but it seems the discussion has just been declared open.


PS.: Done. Now my left hand is really happy that I have a physio-therapy session in a few hours…