Thursday, July 27, 2006

hugely frustrating

A hugely disappointing outcome in the Rome talks yesterday, made all the more bitter because we'd been led to believe in recent days - first via Kim Howells and then via 'sources close to Blair' - that Britain may indeed be moving towards a more even-handed understanding of the Israeli-Lebanon crisis. That we should have come out of the talks having frustrated attempts at brokering a ceasefire - via a bit of semantic wrangling over the word 'immediate' - is another source of shame to add to the list of foreign-policy woes. To see Margaret Beckett, who used to be a politician of real substance and integrity, reduced to this is but a minor irritation when stacked up against the knowledge that, two weeks after the fighting began, we are standing back and watching rather than doing something about such large-scale and calamitious conflict. Minds are inevitably cast back to Sarajevo or Rwanda.

In the meantime, are Israel getting anywhere? A correspondent in today's paper - Gordon Anderson from Glasgow - runs through a list of popular movements which have survived attempts to 'destroy them' with military action - the list includes "the FLN, the Vietminh, the Vietcong, the Mujahaddin, the IRA" and points out that the West is getting no further with Hizbullah, Hamas, or the Taliban. "Resistance movements invariably arise from a sense of injustice and are neutralised only when the injustice is resolved", he points out.

In The New Statesman today Charles Glass - who was kidnapped by Hizbollah in 1987, incidentally - quotes former CIA agent Ray Close, who in a recent open email wrote that:

"One of the definitions of madness is the repetition countless times of the same action, always expecting a different result. For more than half a century, the Israelis have been applying the tactic of massively disproportionate retaliation to every provocative act of resistance attempted by the Palestinians, expecting every time that this would bring peace and security to all the people of the Holy Land. Every single time they have done this, it has backfired. Every single time."

I'm not sure that I know enought about the history of the region to endorse that without hesitation (three key things we must not forget: Israel has a right to exist, it has a right to secure its borders, and a right to defend itself), but there's little doubt that its response has been disproportionate and there's no doubt at all that its actions won't do anything to promote stability in the region. That the US neocons are once more imagining a domino effect simply beggars belief. (Sidney Blumenthal thinks they're thinking along the following lines: "Israel's attacks will demolish Hizbullah; the Lebanese will blame Hizbullah and destroy its influence; and the backlash will extend to Hamas, which will collapse. From the administration's point of view, this is a proxy war with Iran (and Syria) that will inexplicably help turn around Iraq"). Today, incidentally, Hizbollah have fired over 150 missiles at Israel - the most since the war started.

What now, then? The Guardian leader is pretty coherant. We all know that the US foreign policy of the last five years has systematically burnt almost every diplomatic bridge with the Middle East, so negotiation - the only way to bring about a peace settlement, assuming that we even convince our government and America's that that is necessary - is absurdly difficult. The US won't talk to Iran (and in fairness, would be asked impossible questions about nuclear proliferation if it did) but not all diplomatic routes to Damascus are entirely closed, and "what Ms Rice needs to do is cancel her trip to Malaysia and return to the Middle East sharpish, and not just to Israel. The US has to end its policy of blocking diplomacy".

As for Beckett, so disappointing so far, she must go to Tehran. Jack Straw did it repeatedly but so far she's shown no inclination and shows every sign of cow-towing to US policy. Time to change that for the sake of peace.

As the leader puts it,

"No country can expect to face attacks from outside, as Israel has done, without reply. But Israel's reply has been completely disproportionate. This is Olmert's war, largely about the new Israeli prime minister establishing his political credibility, needing to demonstrate he is as tough as Ariel Sharon. He may have miscalculated. Britain should not be party to Olmert's folly."

Update: This is how Israel's Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, interpreted the failure to reach agreement at Rome. He told Israel Army Radio today that "We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world ... to continue the operation, this war, until Hizbullah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

f***ing unbelievable