Friday, August 6, 2010

At the Crossroads

Below is a very well done commentary regarding the current status of the Middle East, and it is definitely worth reading. Below is the complete article:

At the crossroads to peace and war in the Middle East"

By Michael B. Oren
Friday, August 6, 2010

Rarely have the lines in the Middle East's sands been drawn so distinctly. Arrayed on one side is the peace-seeking camp that opposes militant extremism and favors direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. On the other are the organizations, many of them surrogates for Iran, that work to undermine moderate governments and violently impede any effort for peace.

Recent events have revealed the dimensions of this divide. On the same day last month that the Arab League authorized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to move from proximity talks to direct negotiations with the Israeli government, Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired a Grad rocket at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. This week, as the Obama administration joined with Egyptian and Jordanian leaders in urging Abbas to act on the Arab League's instruction, terrorists launched rockets from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula into Jordan and Israel.

Finally, in an attack this week characterized by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley as "wholly unjustified and unwarranted," Lebanese snipers shot and killed an Israeli commander, a father of four, who was overseeing routine tree-pruning maintenance on Israel's side of the northern border. A second officer was seriously wounded. Although the maintenance work was fully coordinated with the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, and the fatal shot was fired by the nominally independent Lebanese Armed Forces, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, sent a television crew to film the ambush. He applauded the murder as a "heroic confrontation" and threatened to "cut off the arm" of Lebanon's enemies, ostensibly by firing his Iranian- and Syrian-supplied arsenal of more than 42,000 rockets at Israeli cities and towns.

Israel retaliated against these attacks by striking hostile targets in Gaza and Lebanon. At the same time, however, the Israeli government reiterated its commitment to advancing swiftly to discussions on all the core issues: borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem. In an effort to "create a more comfortable climate for the start of direct talks between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority," Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan. Both Arab leaders expressed their support for the direct negotiations.

In a further effort to generate conditions conducive to peace, the Israeli government consented this week to participate in a United Nations panel on the so-called flotilla incident. On May 31, Israeli forces clashed with members of a Turkish extremist group who were trying to break the maritime blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. The panel, chaired by the former prime minister of New Zealand and the outgoing Colombian president, includes Israeli and Turkish representatives; it will review the investigations conducted in Israel and Turkey and recommend ways of avoiding such confrontations in the future.

All of these events are occurring against the backdrop of heightened sanctions against Iran. These strictures, particularly those that impede Iran's ability to import and export petroleum products, are beginning to show signs of having an impact. Many observers feel that, when confronted by the sanctions' implacability, the Iranian regime will opt to negotiate or, according to an alternative scenario, trigger a Middle East war. Such was the case in 2006 and 2008, when Iran instructed Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively, to initiate hostilities against Israel.

This is the moment that the direction of the Middle East may be determined, whether the region moves toward escalating tensions, possibly leading to further violence, or toward face-to-face negotiations and concerted efforts to reduce animosities. Much will depend on the Palestinian Authority's willingness to enter direct talks as well as on the steadfastness of pro-Western governments, in the region and beyond, to stand up to Iran and its proxies.

Summer is traditionally a time of war in the Middle East. This summer, however, might well prove the reverse -- the crucial junction toward peace. Israel stands at this intersection prepared to defend itself but also ready to make the sacrifices and hazard the risks to end the conflict definitively. The line has indeed been drawn in the Middle Eastern sand. The coming weeks may show which way it will shift.

The writer is Israel's ambassador to the United States.

Pajamas Media has another excellent commentary which describes the recent incident on the northern border, and what REALLY happened - with information surely not to be found in the MSM:

"What the World Isn't Being Told about the Israeli-Lebanese Border Incident"

Despite the careful “he said … she said” approach of the mainstream news media about the clash along the Lebanese-Israeli border this week, events are quite clear: Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were deliberately ambushed by Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).

In an outdoor press conference held at a lookout point above the Lebanese border where the incident occurred, Ilan Diksteyn, the deputy commander of the Israeli brigade, explained what happened. The IDF had notified the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) of its intentions and complied with multiple requests to delay a routine job that should have started early in the morning and didn’t get going till midday.

According to Diksteyn, he had personally walked the border with the UNIFIL commander and identified all the trees and shrubs they intended to cut down, all approved of as being located on the Israeli side of the border by the UNIFIL commander. The key tree was some 200 meters from the Blue Line, so there was not the most remote possibility that Israel trespassed on Lebanese territory. The IDF even set out the crane without a man in it, just to demonstrate their intentions beforehand.

But no sooner did they put a man in the unit and lift him over the fence than a sniper shot and killed the commanding officer of the unit who was away from the border and observing from a distance. Despite claiming they fired first in the air, and that Israel initiated the hostilities, an LAF spokesman eventually asserted their right “to defend Lebanon’s sovereignty.”

The Israelis claim this was an ambush by units of the Lebanese Armed Forces. And as such, this was an unprecedented new level of aggression. Even the normally cautious UNIFIL, which the previous day had restricted itself to calling for calm and announcing its intention to investigate, eventually — and exceptionally — sided with Israel’s claim that the tree was on their side of the border.

Even the Lebanese admit they carried out an ambush.

The articles does a great job in terms of describing what exactly happened (including the above and more information is found in the article), but below we see the conclusion:

In the end we have a grave incident which illustrates more clearly than anything that the Lebanese, and Hezbollah in particular, can begin a war any time they want. And that one of the main forces intended to hinder Hezbollah’s belligerence has been deeply compromised from below, from above, from both directions.

So Hezbollah, one of the most religious and most powerful of the factions in Lebanon, risks a war with a more powerful neighbor, in order to distract attention from embarrassing, potentially explosive, revelations about its Machiavellian deeds. They can do so because Israel, rather than explode at the slightest attack, has a high tipping point for violence.

This would, on some level, represent a fairly common initial relationship between democracies and “strong horse” political cultures: they provoke, the democracy shows restraint. What’s so unusual about this conflict is the way the media at best enable and at worst stoke the most bellicose elements by serving as the mouthpiece for their propaganda. It apparently teems with people East and West, for whom journalistic standards are sacrificed in an inexplicable rush to present the warmongers as oppressed underdogs.

The admission that Hezbollah can begin a war in the Middle East, at "any time they want" is both accurate and ominous. This also underscores the fact that Iran (who ultimately controls Hezbollah) can begin a war at any time that they want. That is the scary part of this whole pending conflict - Iran, who's leaders firmly believe that they can hasten the coming of their Mahdi - coupled with the fact that they believe the Mahdi will only return to restore order to a raging war in the Middle East - makes this scenario all too real.

Iran is pushing the buttons in the region, and war is at their fingertips. They need war in order to see their mythical Mahdi return. It's just a matter of time.

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