Regional update for June

I have been swamped with work recently, so there wasn’t much time left to update the blog. Recent developments in Lebanon have been revolving around two main subjects: the newly discovered gas fields in the Mediterranean, off the Lebanese and Israeli coasts and the arrest of a technician of Alfa, one of Lebanon’s two ridiculously expensive mobile phone networks, on charges of giving Israel access and monitoring capabilities on the network for the past 15 years. Ian Black at the Guardian gives a concise overview of both issues: ‘Beirut media reports claim that Charbel Qazzi worked for the Mossad secret service for 15 years and that information gleaned from his position in the transmission section of the Alfa network – one of the country’s main providers – allowed the Israelis to locate and kill individuals during the 2006 war. The Shia movement Hezbollah has warned that Israel has compromised Lebanese national security and there have been calls – endorsed today by President Michel Suleiman – for the death sentence to be imposed on anyone convicted of spying for the enemy. The neighbours have been in a state of war for more than 60 years. “You know how everyone would joke that it was assumed the Israelis could listen to anyone’s mobile calls?” a Lebanese military intelligence officer was quoted as saying. “Well, we can stop laughing and assuming, because they can.” According to one source, prosecutors may ask for the immunity of government ministers to be lifted if the army investigation points to political complicity. (…) Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, joined Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, in calling on the government to hang agents caught working for Israel. “Security in Lebanon is exposed and fear mounts of new assassinations that could lead the country to disaster,” Jumblatt said.
Tensions between Lebanon and Israel have also been rising because of a row over gas reserves in the Mediterranean. An Israeli-American consortium this month announced the discovery of two potentially huge offshore natural gas fields that could be worth as much as $40bn (£27bn) and turn Israel from a net importer of fossil fuels into a lucrative exporter. Lebanon says the northernmost portion of one field is in its territorial waters but international law requires both countries – which have no sea border – to negotiate the exact boundaries and come to an arrangement. Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, warned today that his organisation would use “all means to exercise Lebanon’s sovereignty and control over its natural resources”. Israel has said it would use force to protect its interests.’

Another episode which has made major headlines in Lebanon lately was the attempt of parliament to pass – without discussion – a new law on electronic communications and e-commerce which would create a new government agency with sweeping powers to monitor and confiscate any and all files on anybody’s computer. Additionnally, it would legalize the ongoing blocking of Skype and other voice communications software, which is blocked to ensure the Lebanese keep paying the extortionate rip-off rates imposed by Hariri’s Ogero (landlines), Alfa and MTC (mobile), who together monopolise the telephone networks in this corrupt country of crony capitalism. Protest from many different corners succeeded in getting the proposed law sent to a parliament committee for discussion minutes before the vote was due. Read all about it here at Qifa Nabki, who provides links to a number of other sources: ‘The only thing I can think of as a possible explanation for this move is the notion that Nahhas is trying to circumvent the likely loss of telephone revenue once Lebanon receives fiber optic upgrades in the next couple of months. The upgrades will enhance internet speeds, making it easier for people to Skype their Teta to get her recipe for koosa mi7sheh… unless Skype is banned.’

In the wider region, it has been reported that a large US and Israeli fleet of warships has passed through the Suez canal to take position off the coast of Iran, presumably to start carrying out inspections of Iranian cargo ships – a serious provocation if their intentions are not worse than that. It was recently reported that Saudi Arabia has been exercising its air force’s capabilities to ‘stand down’ while Israeli jet fighters and bombers fly over on their way to attack Iran, and even that an Iraeli air base is being set up in the country. The reports were of course vigorously denied by Saudi sources, but they were published in the Times – not in the Kuwaiti Al Syasa or similar favourites for Mossad-planted disinformation such as Debka or (occasionally) Der Spiegel.
As for the zionist colony itself, John Mearsheimer writes a good overview of the latest developments in its ongoing suicide attempt: ‘The bungled assault on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the flotilla, shows once again that Israel is addicted to using military force yet unable to do so effectively. One would think that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would improve over time from all the practice. Instead, it has become the gang that cannot shoot straight.
The IDF last scored a clear-cut victory in the Six Day War in 1967; the record since then is a litany of unsuccessful campaigns. The War of Attrition (1969-70) was at best a draw, and Israel fell victim to one of the great surprise attacks in military history in the October War of 1973. In 1982, the IDF invaded Lebanon and ended up in a protracted and bloody fight with Hezbollah. Eighteen years later, Israel conceded defeat and pulled out of the Lebanese quagmire. Israel tried to quell the First Intifada by force in the late 1980s, with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin telling his troops to break the bones of the Palestinian demonstrators. But that strategy failed and Israel was forced to join the Oslo Peace Process instead, which was another failed endeavor.
The IDF has not become more competent in recent years. By almost all accounts—including the Israeli government’s own commission of inquiry—it performed abysmally in the 2006 Lebanon war. The IDF then launched a new campaign against the people of Gaza in December 2008, in part to “restore Israel’s deterrence” but also to weaken or topple Hamas. Although the mighty IDF was free to pummel Gaza at will, Hamas survived and Israel was widely condemned for the destruction and killing it wrought on Gaza’s civilian population. Indeed, the Goldstone Report, written under UN auspices, accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Earlier this year, the Mossad murdered a Hamas leader in Dubai, but the assassins were seen on multiple security cameras and were found to have used forged passports from Australia and a handful of European countries. The result was an embarrassing diplomatic row, with Australia, Ireland, and Britain each expelling an Israeli diplomat.
Given this history, it is not surprising that the IDF mishandled the operation against the Gaza flotilla, despite having weeks to plan it. The assault forces that landed on the Mavi Marmara were unprepared for serious resistance and responded by shooting nine activists, some at point-blank range. None of the activists had their own guns. The bloody operation was condemned around the world—except in the United States, of course. Even within Israel, the IDF was roundly criticized for this latest failure.’


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