Palestinian human shield policy to backfire?

In an effort to prevent further Israeli airstrikes, Palestinians have begun forming human shields around target buildings, taking advantage of the Israeli policy of sending telephone warnings that give occupants 10 minutes to evacuate.

The Christian Science Monitor calls the new tactic:

perhaps the most effective act of nonviolent protest in the six-year Palestinian uprising

But I wonder if it is actually one of the least effective. 

The Israeli policy of telephoning warning was one of the most positive developments in the otherwise pointless conflict in Lebanon.  It was one more step in the long road taken by democratic countries towards limiting civilian deaths through conflict.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly better than bombing target buildings where civilians were sheltering.

But now Israel can’t send warnings to civilians about which buildings it will bomb.  Instead, if it feels it needs to destroy a building, it will need to attack it while civilians are still in residence.  The results will be awful, and the death toll among innocent bystanders will increase.

This is a victory for Palestinian civilians?

Should we protect the embassies of our enemies?

A Muslim police officer apparently objected to protecting the Israeli embassy on moral grounds.  To make matters worse, the bungle-prone Metropoliatan Police accepted his request for another posting:

PC Alexander Omar Basha, who is attached to the force’s Diplomatic Protection Group, objected to being posted to protect Israel’s embassy in central London from possible terrorist attack because he disagreed with the country’s bombing of Lebanon. The officer had reportedly attended a recent anti-war protest.

Most commenters are – rightly – upset because he’s been allowed to pick and choose what parts of his job he does based on his political beliefs, rather than demonstrate the political impartiality that is required of a police officer. 

But I thought I’d add one more thought to the mix.  Has PC Basha considered what the role of an embassy actually is?  It’s too facilitate talking – negotiation rather than war.  We encourage the presence of the embassies of our enemies, so that we can try to talk our way out of crises – even occasionally while fighting rages around.  

If we all followed the logic of PC Basha’s actions, we’d remove all protections from embassies of those countries with whom we disagreed.  They’d then either be attacked, or live in fear being attacked.  And, if they had any sense, they’d pack up and go home.

And we’d have no-one to talk to about peace. 

Update: And how’s this for a breath-takingly stupid take on the affair:

MPA member Peter Herbert said the row was a “ridiculous fuss about nothing” and attacked Sir Ian [Blair – head of the Met Police] over an “unwise judgement” on opting so quickly for a review.

“From a security point of view, the Met would be seriously criticised if this guy has relatives in Lebanon and his picture was used around the world to demonstrate the irony about having a Muslim defending the Israeli embassy in the UK.”

Has Peter Herbert not noticed that 40% of the people of Lebanon are, in fact, Christians?  Would he also advocate preserving the Met’s reputation by preventing Christian police officers from protecting the Israeli embassy?

A turning point in Iraq?

The Guardian notes that tribal leaders in Western Iraq are turning on al-Qaeda:

The clashes erupted after a new grouping calling itself the Anbar Rescue Council – which claims to represent a large number of Anbar tribes and sub-clans – said it intended to clear the province of the terrorist group. It also follows a meeting between tribal leaders and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, last week in which they asked for government support and arms in their fight against al-Qaida.

The tribes’ courtship by Iraq’s prime minister has been oiled by cash gifts and alleged salaries to some sheikhs of up to $5,000 (£2,650) a month. Tribal fighters have also asked for weapons.

Al-Qaeda bought influence in Iraq using cold hard cash, and now it looks as if that money is running out.  The Iraqi government, by contrast, does have the cash to buy political support.  And I’d imagine that, once they finally start ramping up oil production levels, they’ll have onging reserves to cement their control of the country.

Although, if this pattern continues, it does seem likely that Iraq will return to the patriarchal pattern so beloved of countries across the Middle East.

Belarus and Harvard

I’ve been remiss this week in not publicising the great work that Robert Mayer has been doing over at Publius Pundit recently.

He’s just been on a trip around Eastern Europe, investigating the failed attempts to remove Alexander Lukashenko from office in Belarus, and the more successful Orange Revolution in Ukraine.  Here, in One Student’s Struggle in Belarus, he interviews a Belarussian democracy activist, who is managing to continue the struggle in Ukraine.

And yesterday, he published his picture (and words!) report on former Iranian President Khatami’s visit to Harvard University.

Hezbollah in Venezuela

The story that Hezbollah is actively working in Venezuela and Latin America has been spreading around some of the US blogs over the past day or so. Here’s a quote from the story in Venezuela Today that appears to have kicked it all off:

Hezbollah. The Islamic fanatics of Hezbollah are rapidly infiltrating the tribe of the Wayuu. They are indoctrinating the members of this tribe, to convert them into Islamic fanatics in charge of disseminating the terrorist message that has already created chaos, death and misery in the Middle East.

I must confess, I’m not quite sure what to make of the story yet. Some of the claims about Hezbollah activities are pretty far fetched, and I doubt their ambitions are – for now at least – particularly high. But still, it’s a story to watch.

Hot Air has a more in depth video report on Hezbollah’s activities in Venezuela and Latin America.

Update: Hot Air have uploaded part 2 of their video report.

Russia to send peacekeepers to Lebanon?

It looks like a debate is going on in Russia at the moment about whether to send peacekeepers to Lebanon. A couple of politicians are sounding quite enthusiastic, but Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov is talking the idea down a little:

“We are examining the situation, so far we are not clear on the peacekeepers’ status and rights, what they will do there, what mandate they will have,” Ivanov said as quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency. However, “giving such humanitarian aid would fully answer our country’s interests,” Ivanov added.

Personally, I’d quite like to see Russia become more involved in multi-national UN peacekeeping missions, rather than their usual unilateral missions, which serve only prop up tin-pot dictators on their borders.

I wouldn’t mind seeing China kitting out a few more of its troops with blue helmets, either.

These are two of the world’s major powers, two of the five permanent security council members, and can field two of the world’s best equipped and trained armies. It’s about time they started pulling their weight on the international scene.

And I think the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon might be just the place to do it. It’s high profile mission but one that is, frankly, not really expected to achieve all that much. The involvement of Russia and China would balance out claims that the UN force is too pro-Israel (because, whatever some people think about France, the man on the Arab street still views them as a ‘Western’ country). And their presence would go some way to appeasing Hizbullah, which isn’t going to be thrilled to see a peacekeeping force made up almost entirely of European Union member states.

Syria rejects UN peacekeepers in Lebanon

This statement from the Syrian President is, frankly, bizarre – a major miscalculation of the international mood:

Bashar Assad, said the stationing of UN troops in the border area of Lebanon would be a hostile move against Syria.

“This is an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty and a hostile position,” President Bashar Assad told Arab TV.

Nobody’s doubts that Syria isn’t thrilled at the prospect of a beefed up UN peacekeeping force on it’s Western border, to complement the US force on its Southern border in Iraq.

But to actively come out against the very idea of a peacekeeping force being stationed in what was, until last week, an active warzone seems to be coming out firmly against the idea of peace in Lebanon.

Even the most slimy of dictators usually manage to pay lip service to the idea of peace, even if they surreptitiously continue to try and undermine it.

The gambler versus the wise man

Fascinating use of language in this comment about the struggle between the US and Iran for influence in the Middle East, which seems to be casting America as the foolish gambler, and Iran as the wise, measured grandmaster:

“While the US has been playing poker in the region, Iran has been playing chess,” said Nadim Shehadi, a report contributor. “Iran is playing a longer, more clever game and has been far more successful at winning hearts and minds.”

As someone who plays both chess and poker, I see many similarities between the two games. And, to be honest, at the highest level, both are games that, at their heart, are based on strategy first, tactics second. 

Italy, Lebanon, and the need for strong peacekeepers

It’s heartening to see that, as France reneges on it’s earlier offer, Italy has offered to contribute up to 3,000 troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon

This comment, however, is a little worrying, showing how little some European states really understand what peacekeeping is all about:

Italy’s foreign minister, Massimo D’Alema… said his forces would not go in unless Israel respected the ceasefire. “From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.

Keeping the peace is not a safe job, and anyone who expects it to be so shouldn’t be contributing troops to UN missions.  True, there does need to be a reasonable expectation that there is a peace to keep, but D’Alema’s comment seems to me to betray that the primary concern of the Italian governments is to ensure the safety of their troops over and above the success of the mission.     

Most cease-fires are tenuous at best – both sides will be jumpy, and will be ready to react to the slightest provocation, whether real or imagined.  Because of this, it is an absolute requirement of any peacekeeping troops that they be calm, and that they be prepared to step in early – at risk to themselves if need be – in order to calm tensions and separate the parties of small incidents before they escalate.

Both Israel and Hezbollah will be well aware of the circumstances of Italy’s withdrawal from Iraq.  True, it’s not an exact parallel with a peacekeeping mission, but both will perceive that Italy’s government may crack under pressure, if it thinks the peacekeeping mission is likely to be costly to itself.

Italy will need to be absolutely resolute if it wants to lead this mission to any kind of successful outcome.  They must make it clear – by using force at the appropriate time if necessary – that they will not be pushed around, or pushed out of Lebanon.  If they aren’t prepared to do that, they shouldn’t be in Lebanon.