Across the Bay

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hezbollah's Latest Useful Idiot

Hezbollah does not need to pay much cash to disseminate propaganda and disinformation. For that it relies on the Western media -- for free. Western outlets are sure to quote Hezbollah card-carrying propagandist in chief, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. You could even try hapless dilettantes. But now they've found someone else to carry their water for them.

I had once described Mitchell Prothero as a clueless blazing idiot, after he wrote a complete parody of a piece. He seems intent on confirming this charge. Witness this astoundingly ridiculous, dishonest, and demonstrably false piece of unfiltered Hezbollah propaganda.

I don't have time to go through it all in full right now, and really such a screaming display of ignorant idiocy doesn't merit much attention. But one part of it stood out for combining Prothero's now-standard inanity and ignorance with a dose of dishonesty and lack of professionalism:

Israeli official statements suggest the increasingly aggressive recruiting results from the heavy casualties suffered by the group in 2006, a notion dismissed by sources within Hizbollah and even by the US military. While Israel contends that between 500 and 700 Hizbollah fighters were killed, the group itself said that about 80 fighters had died. Hizbollah sources admit that the losses were double that figure, while the US military study decided the death toll was 184.

A US military study, eh? What study, pray tell, is this? Prothero never identifies it.

After some vetting with the help of a friend who knows all the studies done on this topic, the source was identified. It's Matt Matthews' study "We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War." (PDF)

First of all, it's not an official US military study. It represents his own views, as stated specifically in the document ("The views expressed in this CSI Press publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense."). But that's the least problematic issue.

Here's the relevant graph from Matthews:

By 8 August, 61 Israeli soldiers had been killed, while the IDF reported 450 Hezbollah fighters killed. This last figure was highly exaggerated, as it appears likely that only 184 Hezbollah fighters were killed in ground fighting in southern Lebanon during the entire war.37

You'll notice a footnote there at the end that references where Matthews got his figure.

Are you ready?

The number comes from a piece by the notorious Hezbollah groupies Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, "How Hezbollah Defeated Israel, Part II: Winning the Ground War."

This is the only piece that cites this number. Other reports accept the 500 estimate. See for instance Sarah Kreps' study "The 2006 Lebanon War: Lessons Learned" (PDF. p. 4). Lebanese officials estimated 500 Hezbollah fighters were killed, as did a UN official. Hell, even Hezbollah accepted 250 dead.

And so, Prothero broke new ground here. He managed to be a Hezbollah useful idiot quoting a piece by Hezbollah groupies putting out figures that were less than what Hezbollah itself accepted! To top it all off, he tries to pass it as an official US military estimate. And so, Prothero graduated to the enviable status of dishonest useful idiot and propagandist.

Next time, The Observer would be well advised to fact check anything this tool writes.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Who's Converting Whom?

Read Peter Rodman's excellent recent remarks on engagement with Syria to the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Also, make sure to read Michael Young's sharp comment, rebutting an utterly nonsensical comment by Jon Alterman.

I'll have more to say on this, from the same Realpolitik perspective that Michael argues, as I just made that argument on a panel on this subject.

Addendum: On a related topic, Zalman Shoval's recent piece is worth the read. Shoval has been consistent and sound on this.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Busted

Statement by the Press Secretary:

Today, administration officials have briefed select Congressional committees on an issue of great international concern. Until Sept. 6, 2007, the Syrian regime was building a covert nuclear reactor in its eastern desert capable of producing plutonium. We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syria's covert nuclear activities. We have good reason to believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on Sept. 6 of last year, was not intended for peaceful purposes. Carefully hidden from view, the reactor was not configured for such purposes. In defiance of its international obligations, Syria did not inform the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the construction of the reactor, and, after it was destroyed, the regime moved quickly to bury evidence of its existence. This cover-up only served to reinforce our confidence that this reactor was not intended for peaceful activities.

We are briefing the IAEA on this intelligence. The Syrian regime must come clean before the world regarding its illicit nuclear activities. The Syrian regime supports terrorism, takes action that destabilizes Lebanon, allows the transit of some foreign fighters into Iraq, and represses its own people. If Syria wants better relations with the international community, it should put an end to these activities.

We have long been seriously concerned about North Korea's nuclear weapons program and its proliferation activities. North Korea's clandestine nuclear cooperation with Syria is a dangerous manifestation of those activities. One way we have chosen to deal with this problem is through the Six Party Framework. Through this process we are working with our partners to achieve the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The United States is also committed to ensuring that North Korea does not further engage in proliferation activities. We will work with our partners to establish in the Six Party Framework a rigorous verification mechanism to ensure that such conduct and other nuclear activities have ceased.

The construction of this reactor was a dangerous and potentially destabilizing development for the region and the world. This is particularly true because it was done covertly and in violation of the very procedures designed to reassure the world of the peaceful intent of nuclear activities. This development also serves as a reminder that often the same regimes that sponsor proliferation also sponsor terrorism and foster instability, and cooperate with one another in doing so. This underscores that the international community is right to be very concerned about the nuclear activities of Iran and the risks those activities pose to the stability of the Middle East. To confront this challenge, the international community must take further steps, beginning with the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions dealing with Iranian nuclear activities. The United States calls upon the international community to redouble our common efforts to ending these activities and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction in this critical region.

More to come, especially on Imad Mustapha and his lapdogs' comedy show. But here's something to refresh your memory as Imad and his poodles take to feverish and frantic -- yet certainly amusing -- spinning.

However, this story along with the tribunal is going to institutionalize and structuralize Assad's isolation more than ever. This story is huge and the myriad questions it raises are no less serious.

Addendum: You can see the video presentation about the nuclear reactor here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Syria: Terror Grand Central

From the Counterterrorism Blog:

When Jemaah Islamiyah leaders Agus Purwantoro and Abu Husna were captured in Malaysia in mid-April they were seeking false travel documents in preparation for meetings in Syria with an unspecified "international terrorist network," according to reports citing Indonesian and Malaysia police. (Emphasis mine.)

No, no, see, Syria "cannot" work with Jihadists. You dig?

That's why we call it terror central.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Facts and Myths of the Syrian-Israeli Talks

Michael Young's latest is worth a read. Much of his points, puncturing many a trendy idiocy, have been raised here in the past:

[T]he rationale for Syrian-Israeli peace talks rests on a bed of myths. Syria's regime may be secular, but it has built long-term alliances mainly with Islamist regimes and groups, such as Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas. When possible, as in the case of Fatah al-Islam, Syria has created or overseen militant Islamist groups, while Al-Qaeda operatives caught in Iraq will routinely describe their training and passage through Syria, usually via networks linked to the country's intelligence services. Given all this, the Assad regime's "secularism" seems irrelevant.

What about Syria's purported willingness to break off from Iran? Syrian officials have repeatedly affirmed that Iran is more than an ally; it is a strategic partner. However, optimists on Syrian-Israeli negotiations write this off as a Syrian bargaining step, a case of upping the ante before an eventual divorce from Tehran. In fact nothing suggests Syria is lying. Assad is wagering heavily that Iran will emerge as the regional superpower, which is precisely why he has been so willing to risk his Arab relationships lately in Tehran's favor. Logic, too, indicates a Syrian-Iranian split is not in the cards. Its close ties with Iran are what make Syria sought-after. If those ties disappear, Syria's sway would markedly decline.

Which brings us to the third issue: control over Hizbullah. A sudden downgrading of the Syrian-Iranian relationship would indeed leave Damascus with little regional sway, except if one thing happens: Syria returns its soldiers to Lebanon, taking the clock back to where it was before 2005. Israel would have no problems with this, and was never enthusiastic about the so-called Cedar Revolution. The only thing is, the Israelis forget that Hizbullah built up its vast weapons arsenal under Syria's approving eye. Far from imposing its writ on Hizbullah in order to eventually disarm the group, Syria has every incentive to keep the Hizbullah threat alive as leverage so that it remains indispensable.

That leads us to an obvious but seldom considered truth. Syria will not engage in serious negotiations with Israel unless it first manages to reimpose its hegemony in Lebanon. Without Lebanon in hand, Damascus has no real cards to play when haggling with the Israeli government, which has already demanded as a precondition for peace talks that Syria end its affiliation with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah.
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So what we are bound to see in the coming months, and probably beyond, is the foreplay of Syrian-Israeli contacts, without the real thing.
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Israel has no impetus to give up the Golan without assurances that Syria will make major concessions in return; and the Syrians will not make major concessions before Israel assures them that it will hand back all of the Golan and look the other way on, even assist, a Syrian restoration in Lebanon.

I'll have more on this issue as soon as I'm done with a backlog of work.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Trouble With Talking

Lee Smith pens a sharp piece about the "talking" fetish. An Arabic version appeared in Asharq al-Awsat here:

The Bush administration itself, of course, also knows what it's like to get played by Asad. After a visit to Damascus in 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell boasted that he'd gotten Asad to close the local offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, only to later discover that they were still open for business. The administration's last official mission to Syria was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's trip in January 2005, when one of the main topics of interest was political tension in Lebanon. Weeks later, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and 22 others were killed in a massive car bomb explosion in downtown Beirut. The next day, Washington recalled its ambassador, a post that has been vacant ever since.

So, it was not doctrinaire anti-diplomatic tendencies that led the Bush administration to curtail relations with Syria. The administration's outreach had done nothing to alter Syria's behavior, and to keep talking would merely demoralize anxious American allies in Lebanon, which has become one of the U.S.'s most valuable assets. Not only has Lebanon been a key venue for taking on Iran by facing down its proxy, Hezbollah, but the pro-Western government there led by Christians, Druze, and moderate Sunnis represented precisely the sort of Middle East the administration's democracy advocates had envisioned. An Obama White House may have no interest in "regional transformation," but the delicate diplomacy required to support Lebanon still represents an almost insurmountable barrier if it chooses the road to Damascus.

President Obama may be surprised to discover that Bush's Lebanon policy is a model of multilateral consensus, formed in partnership with allies like France and regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Still, Washington is clearly the senior partner, and engaging Syria at this point would mean shaking the cornerstone of a coalition built on international law, including a string of U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and a U.N. tribunal established to try Hariri's murderers.

More than three years after the assassination of the former Prime Minister, the tribunal is finally ready to go and may begin as early as early summer at the Hague. Judges have been selected, and if, as expected, members of the Syrian regime are indicted, there is a mechanism for trying suspects in absentia. According to the U.N.'s chief legal counsel, Nicolas Michel, "There is no way it can be halted."

Of course, there is one way Bashar al-Asad might be spared the Milosevic treatment, and that's with a diplomatic initiative from the White House. "Washington's friends and enemies in the Middle East would understand engagement with the Asad regime as the end of U.S. commitment to the tribunal," says David Schenker, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and previously the office of the Secretary of Defense's Levant country director. "It's difficult to imagine the White House opening a dialogue with Damascus with international indictments pending."
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The Syrians, for their part, aren't giving anything away, even at the behest of a White House eager to sit down with them. Let's say, hypothetically, that Obama could arrange to tank the Hariri tribunal in exchange for Asad agreeing to leave Lebanon alone. The problem is that Syria cannot afford to abandon its claims on its smaller neighbor and so it wants the whole package: protection from the tribunal and hegemony in Lebanon. "He wants more than anyone can deliver," says Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident now living in Washington, "and he has nothing to offer."

Bashar has to have Beirut. It is a cash cow for a financially strapped Syrian regime desperately squeezing the last drops out of its oil revenue. But most importantly, Syria needs to maintain an open front against Israel, and since it dares not risk war on its own border from the Golan, it fights instead via Hezbollah on Lebanon's border. Without that front in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Damascus cannot project power in the region.

Syria's demands then are necessarily maximalist--no to the tribunal, yes to a renewed role in Lebanon, including an open front on the Israeli border--and thus unacceptable to the international community, including, presumably, an Obama administration. The question is whether a new president would do the math before rushing off to engage Damascus. The Bush White House, perhaps having foreseen this possibility, has built in checks that will be difficult for the next President to override.

Read it all, and make sure to also read Lee's other excellent piece for Pajamas Media.

Update: Lee Smith elaborates some more over at Power Line blog, commenting on Carter's latest idiotic shenanigans.