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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Middle East Q&A: Middle East Conflict Questions and Answers

My students keep asking questions about the ongoing wars in the Middle East. Here are their latest questions along with answers provided by various Middle East scholars.

Why did Hezbollah and Hamas kidnap and kill Israeli soldiers?

The Israelis had kidnapped many Lebanese and Palestinian civilians prior to this. Hundreds of Arab men, women, and children are currently held in Israeli jails. Hezbollah and Hamas know the Israelis will only release these prisoners in exchange for Israelis. This prisoner exchange has happened in the past under the supervision of German security forces. Four of the Israeli soldiers killed in the initial days were killed when their tank hit a land mine inside Lebanon.

Why did Israel destroy the UN post and Beirut Airport runways?

To get them out of the way. Planes approaching or taking off from Beirut Airport necessarily fly over south Beirut. Israel was planning to completely destroy southern Beirut and therefore could not risk hitting civilian airliners. It is also true that Hezbollah is a partner in the Lebanese airport and airline business. The UN peacekeeping force was threatened many times before the four unarmed men from Austria, China, Finland, and Canada were killed. Each time they asked the Israelis to stop bombing them their requests were ignored. In the end it a precision-guided missile that hit the UN post.

Wasn't the airport hit as part of the blockade of Lebanon?

Initially this was true. Israel apparently wanted to prevent Hezbollah from moving the two Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers out of Lebanon. However, if Israel really wanted to completely blockade Lebanon over the long term they would have kept their warships in place even after Hezbollah nearly sank the Saar guided missile destroyer. In addition, they would have occupied the border between Syria and Lebanon.

The UN post was hit to get the peacekeepers out of the way?

Absolutely. The peacekeepers were sending regular reports of their observations to the United Nations. These reports included precise locations of IDF operations. These reports also included the fact that the IDF is targeting ambulances and evacuating civilian convoys. The IDF tells civilians to evacuate a village then bombs the cars as they evacuate. In addition, Israel is using cluster bombs and phosphorus munitions in civilian areas. The use of phosphorus bombs on civilian targets is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Are those the only reasons the UN observation post was hit?

No. Israel also wanted to clearly demonstrate the deadly risks faced by any peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. They hope this will dissuade some countries from participating in the peacekeeping missions being proposed in Rome. Remember, when the UN headquarters in Iraq was bombed, the UN pulled out of Iraq.

Now that southern Beirut is destroyed will the Israelis allow the Beirut airport to reopen for major airline flights?

No, for the same reason the Gaza airport is not allowed to reopen. Israel wants to cripple the economy in all weak Arab neighbors. Israel may allow some humanitarian flights to land simply to gain a few public sympathy points. Israel targets civilian infrastructure including farms, power stations, water treatment facilities, sewage treatment plants, and large bridges for one major reason. Surrounding populations are forced into distant refugee camps this way. In many cases the Israelis then move in and occupy these lands for several growing seasons. The West Bank, Shebaa Farms, Golan Heights, and Gaza are a few examples of this destroy and occupy strategy. Of course, the Israelis also do this in order to obtain strategic military advantage. Ironically, when the airport and other key infrastructure is rebuilt, the Hezbollah construction firm, Jihad al-Bina, will profit from many of the building projects.

Do all Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere support Israel's actions?

No, there are many Jewish people who disagree with the actions of the Israeli government. Most of the extreme actions of the Israeli military are decided by a small group of Jewish people known as Zionists. They believe the Old Testament of the Bible directs them to carry out this violence in support of the "Holy Land." Most Jewish people are like all humans and just want to raise their families and live in peace with all neighbors. They work hard, help the poor, and practice their religion without oppressing any other people. These moderate Jewish people are deeply embarrassed by the behavior of the Israeli military controlled by Zionists.

What is the root cause of Hezbollah attacks on Israel, Hamas attacks on Israel, bombs in Mumbai/London/Madrid/Sharm el-Sheik, and the attacks of September 11, 2001?

The failure of world leaders to address key issues related to Arab populations throughout the Middle East and Asia. In order to maintain a steady supply of cheap oil, Western nations have propped up corrupt regimes in the Middle East for decades. The Israeli occupation of Palestine, the Indian occupation of Kashmir, and the US occupation of Iraq are major causes of Arab militant activity all over the world. The western nations fight for oil and in support of Christian beliefs. Muslim people fight for personal freedom and in support of Islamic beliefs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israeli Bombardment of Lebanon and Upcoming Nuclear War

The major media outlets seem to be ignoring the consequences of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon. If the current blitzkrieg or "lightening war" continues the conflict will undoubtedly spread to other nations. This is the nature of warfare, known for centuries from careful study.

Currently a civil war is taking place in US-occupied Iraq. The U.S. supports the Shiite community in Iraq with weapons and military training. Israel supports the Kurdish community in northern Iraq with military training ( New Yorker article). Those activities are now somewhat counter-productive given that Iraqi Shiites support Lebanon's Hizbollah community. This means the United States is indirectly supporting Hizbollah and Israel at the same time. Intelligence analysts in the U.S. and Israel must really be struggling to untie that Gordian knot.

The war will certainly spread to Syria, either through a deliberate provocation from Israel or simply by a Syrian decision to assist a neighboring country. Israeli leaders use every public forum to insist that Syria and Iran support Hizbollah. It is a peculiar fact that so far the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have not begun to attack Syrian or Iranian forces, given all the rhetoric. Apparently Israel's closest ally, the United States, has been able to force that limitation on IDF actions. There can be no other reason why Israel is hesitating to expand the conflict beyond Lebanon.

The United States has threatened to attack Iran using nuclear weapons quite recently. Military observers also know for certain that the IDF possesses nuclear warheads. Israeli politicians and military leaders have made it clear that every weapon in the Israeli arsenal will be used if that nation feels threatened with defeat. When a nuclear war commences it will likely be one of these two nations that initiates the first strike.

The most likely scenario to follow a nuclear strike on Iran is a disruption of all oil shipments out of the Middle East. Every nation dependent on oil from that region could expect to suffer a major economic collapse as a result. Worldwide depression, including famine and an extreme rise in violent criminal activity, is sure to follow.

Other nations will surely become involved should the US, Britain, Australia, and Israel expand the current conflict beyond the borders of Iraq and Lebanon. Nuclear war or conventional warfare will place a tremendous strain on an already fragile world economy. The recent tumble in world markets is a precursor of what would take place if the wars in the Middle East expand.

All the military and intelligence analysts seem to be ignoring another major player in Middle Eastern affairs. Recent arrests, along with bombings in India, Egypt, London, and elsewhere, clearly indicate that international militant organizations remain potent. These well-organized groups are capable of striking anywhere at anytime. They primarily sympathize with suffering Islamic communities, such as those in Palestine, Lebanon, Kashmir, and Iraq. Any additional attacks on Muslim communities will surely result in more bombings in the nations that initiate the violence.

Those who advocate increased military response to perceived threats are advised to take all of the above under consideration. Hasty actions taken today will increase global suffering exponentially and require decades of costly reconstruction. The world community will not quickly forget the source of such calamities. Individual families have already begun to mourn the loss of too many innocent lives in a growing conflict that was not necessary and is only likely to quickly grow out of control.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bombs Blowing Up In Our Faces

Kidnapping soldiers to use as pawns in exchange for prisoners certainly is wrong.

Bombing civilian trains or electrical power stations is also very wrong.

Launching rockets at your neighbor is definitely an act of war, but so is bombing civilian airlines in a major city.

International diplomatic efforts are now underway but Israel, Hezbollah and the Palestinians will probably not wait for the statesman to arrive. Each of those parties is unlikely to alter short-term violent behaviors even after the foreign ministers speak their peace. So now we have a new, costly war taking place. Exactly who will pay for this new conflict? What are the potential consequences for the local, national, and international communities?

Locally, Israeli, Lebanese, and Palestinian people should expect explosions without warning, loss of electricity, water, and peace of mind. The citizens of those lands can be certain of more premature deaths in their communities due to the violence and damage to infrastructure.

In the long term some people will benefit from this new war. Health care workers will get more hours at work while taking care of the injured. Undertakers will have more people requesting burial services. Construction workers will get new jobs rebuilding the power plants, buildings, bridges, and airport runways. U.S. military contractors will make money selling Israel more weapons to replace the ones being used right now. Other manufacturers in other countries will be able to sell all kinds of equipment and parts to all parties involved. Some of these sales will even involve materials used to prepare for the next war, sure to follow.

It is possible that nations other than those directly involved will respond with short term or long term actions. Shiite leaders in Iran may decide to interrupt the flow of oil to Europe or Asia. Other nations and groups in the Middle East or even elsewhere may decide Israel's response was too zealous. These nations may take quiet actions which will increase prices and result in hardships for poor people in many places around the world. Ordinary North Korean civilians will surely see smaller portions of rice in their bowls. The global community is woven together tighter than the combatants in any conflict realize.

Right now the United States is defending Shiites in Iraq from a mostly Sunni-led insurgency. But consider this: the Hezbollah in Lebanon are Shiites, and so are the Iranians. The U.S. provides billions of dollars of support to Israel at the same time! Saudi Arabian oil keeps cars and trucks rolling across North America. The Saudis are Sunni Moslems, just like the ones the U.S. is fighting in Iraq. The world is now a complicated place where killing your neighbors can also mean starving your friends or even total strangers thousands of miles away.

There are also wild cards in this deck composed of many suits. One leader in Asia finds it convenient to build nuclear weapons while his people go hungry. Certain global organizations have already made it clear that attacks on civilians in one place will certainly result in attacks on civilians in other locales. The Mumbai train bombings were simultaneous attacks conducted on the 11th day of July. Madrid trains were bombed on March 11, 2004. The World Trade Center and Pentagon were bombed on the 11th of September. They missed the date by one day in the case of the USS Cole attack. This date is chosen deliberately so those in power will understand but so are the tactics.

Sharm el-Sheikh, London, Bali, Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi are all examples of multiple bombs set to go off simultaneously, killing mostly civilians.

All these attacks are related to each other in other significant aspects. A major reason, cited repeatedly by those who claim responsibility, is the involvement of the United States and allies, including England, Australia, India, and Israel, in Arab conflicts. Those who plan the attacks and assist the bombers are surely taking careful note of the new war started in Lebanon and Gaza. In the end it will not matter that Hezbollah or Hamas militants kidnapped one or two soldiers. The driving force for the next unexpected attacks will be the fact that Israel responded by deliberately killing large numbers of Arab civilians. The ongoing US occupation of Iraq, and resulting civilian deaths will also lead certain global organizations to plan future attacks.

The role of religion in most conflicts remains very significant, as it has for thousands of years. Christians killing Muslims killing Jews killing Muslims killing Hindus killing Muslims killing Christians, it all goes round and round in the name of God. Leaders may deny religion is a root cause but someone is plainly not loving thy neighbor in the case of every major conflict. Many religious leaders sure seem to enjoy fanning the flames when war breaks out between people of different faiths.

This vicious cycle will continue until every leader learns that large-scale indiscriminate violence solves no problems. In the meantime everyone in the world, but mostly the poor, will continue to suffer the consequences. All because so much of the wealth of the world is being spent on devices that blow up in our faces.