… and everybody is pissed off already. ‘”The United States believes a show of support is important for regional stability,” said a senior Bush administration official, who spoke on condition he was not identified.‘ Siniora has immediately begun distancing himself from this all too obvious interference of his sponsor, emphasizing he did not ask for the destroyer USS Cole or any other part of the US navy to pass by (at this point in time). He even went as far as summoning the US ambassador to ask him about the matter. Syria is balking, and Hezbollah are obviously not amused either – but neither are they deterred, as they’re quick to stress. Aoun is trying to calm everybody down by stating that it’s just a deterrent with no real force or capability. Berri doesn’t agree, saying the US is moving in to help Israel’s planned ground attack on Gaza by stopping Hezbollah from coming to Hamas’s rescue (though how they should be able to do so from a destroyer out at sea is not immediately clear to me – intercepting arms deliveries by sea to Hezbollah would be a more likely explanation). There is talk here in Lebanon, by the way, about a planned new Israeli offensive on Hezbollah after the jewish passover feast – which would be in the second half of April. Together with the Gaza offensive, that should make things ‘safe’ again in time for Israel’s 60th anniversary celebration in May, which Bush will be attending.
The Cole meanwhile is staying wisely ‘beyond the horizon’, having experienced firsthand what can happen to even the most sophisticated war ship lying under the coast when it was attacked by al-Qaeda in Yemen in October 2000. Hezbollah’s bull’s eye shot on an Israeli vessel during the July 2006 war will be fresh in the navy’s mind as well, one might guess. The Cole is the ‘electronic flagship’ of the US navy and presumably it’s main task will be to get busy eavesdropping on the local communication networks anywhere from Syria over Dahiyyeh to Gaza – not forgetting the Russian military ships lying off the nearby ports of Latakia and Tartous of course. These waters are getting very crowded.
Although a little balloon was let up recently about building US bases in Lebanon (it was shot down straight away), this is the first time the US has sent any part of its army anywhere near Lebanon since 1983, when Reagan pulled back the marines after hundreds of them got blown up when their barracks were attacked by a truck filled to the brim with explosives, in what was said at the time to be the largest non-nuclear man-made explosion ever. Suspected mastermind of this operation was… Imad Mughniyeh. Surely the timing of the return, barely two weeks after Mughniyeh’s death, is pure coincidence. In any case, rather than ‘stabilizing’ or ‘reassuring’ anyone, all the move is doing is making all sides here more nervous. In an equally reassuring move, Saudi Arabia has called its ambassador back from Syria (and sent him to Qatar, which they have excellent relations with now that Qatar has made al-Jazeera shut up about the Saudi government except to praise it).
I haven’t been blogging these last few days as I had an opportunity to tour around the country a bit. I’ll be writing on that in the near future.