Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Personal Update

Welcome to the World of Turkish Airlines!!! Lots of people we know (American faculty and students from the American University of Beirut) left on a bus to Turkey sent by the Turkish government and open to people of all nationalities who want to travel on from Turkey. There are many more airports in Turkey than there are in Cyprus or Syria, so this is probably the best way to get out - no guarantees against getting bombed on the way but the odds seem OK. Only forty or so civilians were killed in rocket attacks on moving buses, 40-50 thousand escaped safely. We have relatives who live abroad who took a taxi to Syria, but right now the airlines are not even taking bookings anymore for the foreseeable future (or 4 weeks, whichever comes first.) So Tishikkur Turkiye.

We had a bit of a scare yesterday when we heard a loud bang (we are too far away to hear most of the blockbusting hits on Beirut) and the power went out. We thought they had finally decided to cut off all power by bombing the last operating power stations. Not yet, it turned out, but they have bombed fuel stores and, on top of the blockade, it will only be a couple of weeks before only those with solar panels will have electricity. Unfortunately even a gadget-loving guy like me lacks the budget to make the 21st-century version of these an appropriate buy for a Christmas gift to oneself.

The weather changed from 8 hours of fog per day to about 4 up here at 700 meters above sea level, so we took the kids swimming. Gas is being rationed but luckily we have access to a pool just a mile away. Before we noticed the lack of gas at the stations, we had driven all the way to the top of the mountain to get produce at only 20% above pre-war prices. I was not prescient enough to load up the car; we just got a three-day supply of peaches and melons and chard and the like. On our way down, the road that connects the other side of the mountain to the Beqaa valley was bombed. I wondered if our melons had come up that road, or whether they grow them at altitude.

The Usual Blather

It looks like a coherent strategy has emerged from the Israeli side. Classic "last war" but with a new twist. Again, let me start with a historical example for background.

Anyone remember the first Intifada? The schoolboys throwing rocks? Israel was still expanding settlements on land that was simultaneously being negotiated over, and popular resentment rose fanned by blah blah blah - either you know the story better than I or you do not care, so onwards. How did this stop? Israel fought the kids while keeping the battleground of public opinion firmly in mind. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Truncheons. Curfews. All relatively acceptable ways to deal with riots, and the kids throwing rocks were indistinguishable from rioters in Western eyes, including perhaps mine and yours if one may presume. It did not work because this was not your regular neighborhood Sunday afternoon riot. So the Israelis slowly changed the frame of reference. "What happens when a rock is thrown at the windshield of a car moving at 60 miles per hour?" they repeatedly asked with a thousand voices on the media. The answer was that the effect is indistinguishable from a bullet. "Aha!" was the collective Israeli response. So we can use bullets against the kids! End of era. From then on, high-powered sniper rifles shot the eyes out of rioters. Palestinians did not have the gumption or wisdom of a Ghandi who might have continued to send kids out against snipers, so it died down until the "armed intifada" a few years later.

When this new battle in Lebanon started, it was clear that Israel was lashing out instinctively, as before. "We will send Lebanon 20 years back?" they threatened. Twenty years does not mean much to most modern nations, except maybe China with its 10% annual growth rate. But in Lebanon, twenty years ago was roughly when Israel laid siege to an already hollowed-out Beirut. So this was a classic "last war" tactic: go all out until the indignation of the world finds a coherent voice, by which time Israeli objectives have been achieved. Simultaneously, the other "last war" tactic of hunting down under-armed opponents. Now, because this is a new kind of war, neither response was enough. The Lebanese government did not do a thing (although yesterday, when Lebanese army command headquarters and presidential complex were being targeted, they may have fired their sole anti-aircraft missile and predictably hit a thermal decoy.) Simultaneously, Hezballah revealed their hand: lots of missiles, well hidden, fortified, and firmly under strict command control with a strategic vision to fire them in an escalating manner.

Israel talked high and talked low. No coherence. This may have been because both the prime minister and the minister of defense were both for the first time in Israel's history non-military people. Or it may have been part of the "creative chaos" approach to war. I have no way of knowing. But yesterday, I think I saw a glimmer of a plan.

They are not able to bomb all of Lebanon to rubble because the initial shock of international inattention is over (old war reason) and because it would not have stopped the onslaught against them anyway (new war reason.) They also could not target the missiles because they had no idea where to shoot. "Well organized militia" logic. Never before seen in modern times. I will have more to say about this in a later post. But again I digress.

No, in previous wars culminating in the second intifada, Israel had made it common and legitimate practice to target civilians among whom militants were suspected of hiding. "The terrorists have no right to hide behind civilians, including their own wives and children." Plain enough. But since they had no idea where the militants were this time, the rules are slowly shifting, again to Israel's advantage. They cannot target all of Lebanon: too big. They cannot target the missiles hidden in someone's back yard: too little intelligence. So what we see now is that entire cazas (Ottoman-era Lebanese for "counties") are being pummeled one by one in the south. If a missile came out from near of a city quarter or a set of villages, then all of the villages with their inhabitants are a target. Not a target for shelling or commando raids, but a target for leveling to the ground and napalming (not too sure what weapons system, to be honest, but I used the word "napalm" to evoke something horrible) anyone too slow to evacuate or daring enough to drive an ambulance in. This is the new reality behind the old-war rhetoric of "terrorists hiding among civilians."

It is too late to roll back the myriad fait accomplis of the Jewish genius for following the letter of God's law while accomplishing human objectives. But if anyone is itching to fight the last war, this is the single one front where the boundaries between right and wrong are still shifting and thus still just possibly amenable to a concerted show of indignation. How many square miles of civilian human habitation are fair game when seeking to destroy hostile arms? Stand by, or man the barricades, whichever suits you. I for one still pray that the last word will be for the logic of negotiation between strategic peers who both want peace with dignity. If indeed both sides truly want peace with dignity as opposed to the complete subjugation of the other side. For that I have more hope than evidence, unfortunately. On both sides, to be 100% frank.


  • At 19/7/06 3:50 AM, Anonymous Jo said…

    I am glad you continue to be safe, and share your hope that the nations and militias involved will be rational actors at some point soon.

  • At 19/7/06 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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