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The Tentacle


July 18, 2006

Not World War III

Roy Meachum

Over the recent week totaling the latest murder and mayhem in the Middle East, a friend asked several times: "Is this World War III." It's not, but could be if Israel decides to lengthen the front to include Syria.

If that happens Damascus' ally Iran would doubtless intervene placing American forces in Iraq in the very uncomfortable middle; as I write, Teheran's foreign minister is huddling with his Syrian counterparts.

Only the other day when asked if the U.S. would call for a cease-fire, President George Bush replied he wasn't about to tell Israel how to run its military. From his eyes, as overheard at the St. Petersburg G-8 Conference, he sees Hezbollah as the creation of Syria and Iran; he wants leaders in Damascus and Teheran to call off "their" lap dogs. Once again, Mr. Bush has trotted out his appalling ignorance of how things work in the Middle East.

Iran and Syria are almost certainly helping the guerrillas; there was a suggestion in a story that Damascus had provided the missile that killed all those people in a Haifa railroad yard. But there's nothing to indicate anybody "owns" Hezbollah, anymore than the United States can order Israel about.

If tracing the country that manufactures weapons used by both sides, American-made or American-designed would apply to most of what the Israelis use. That's one reason for the bitterness nations in that part of the world hold for this country.

No master-servant relationship exists in either case. In the instance of the tangled web that involves strictly Shiite entities, each is very capable of striking out alone; knowing the world's most powerful nation is having its pants kicked in Iraq. America simply lacks manpower to take on a new adversary, which, I suspect, is why North Korea let loose those long range missiles recently.

Spaniards have a justified reputation for prickly pride in their dignity (dignidad). Well, they learned that attribute during the 700 years Arabs, called Moors, ruled the peninsula. The last emir sailed away in 1492, the year Columbus headed this way; his departure in no way eradicated the presence. Not even the Inquisition's whips and chains could make Spain Arab-free. Overwhelming pride may very well be the last to go.

Failure to appreciate this existential element in the Middle East culture contributed overwhelmingly to the Iraq invasion. America went to war thinking lopping Saddam Hussein's head would pacify the people, bringing Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to throw flowers at U.S. troops. Continuing to underestimate the individuality among Iraqis official policy flounders on and on.

The greatest goof may have been trying to isolate actions in Iraq from the rest of the region. That doesn't work. And getting tame nations into the act does little good. What do Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Jordon and Egypt have to do with Hezbollah? The Arabian Peninsula countries are all Sunni and under domination by regimes that fear they will be next on guerrillas' target list. In the event, Egypt and Jordon survive only because of U.S. doles; of course they will say what Washington wants to hear.

Talk in St. Petersburg of sending an international force to quell south Lebanon sounds very much like what we've heard before. U.N. blue berets were common sights during my time in Cairo, and on American heads; they were there to prevent a fracas in the Sinai, which had recently been restored to Egypt.

The Israeli government sent word to Rome that it's willing to call the shooting off on conditions that its kidnapped soldiers are returned and a 20-mile deep safety belt be established in south Lebanon. Meanwhile, it expects to be able to do with Palestinians whatever it pleases. And that's how this mess got started.

Radicals grabbed an Israeli corporal and the entire Gaza Strip came under raking fire, killing and wounding hundreds. Hezbollah seized another pair of Israeli soldiers and then it became Beirut's turn to pay the blood price.

Not content with smashing the county's international airport, Tel Aviv subjected much of Lebanon to punishing air strikes. Since most of the people killed - not all - had nothing to do with the insurgent group, Israel squandered good will while intensifying further the Middle East situation. And still their soldiers remain captive, if still alive; if they're not, all the murder and mayhem may have been for naught.

Having demonstrated once again the weakness of the government, it seems less than sensible to expect Beirut to roll the insurgents 20 miles back from the border. As the kids still say, you and what army?

Hopes that the loss of life may have taught the kidnappers a lesson would presume they didn't know what they were risking in the first place. As I said, they did; they meant to show solidarity with Palestinians caught in the whirlwind of their own irresponsible radicals.

Putting a cap on today's crisis will prove, at best, unsatisfactory. Israel should have learned long ago that the answer to violence cannot be more and greater violence. Something in the Bible talks about people who live by the sword. The Crusaders tried that strategy and their Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted less than 100 years.



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