Thursday, October 30, 2008

Benny Morris still atoning for past sins

Book Review: Benny Morris, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli War

Morris, Benny
1948: A History of the First Arab Israeli War
Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008, 524 pages

Benny Morris is one of Israel's foremost historians. What he writes must be read, and is often considered authoritative. His writing is generally lucid and well organized, and is therefore a joy to read. It is certainly convincing. He tells a good story. Anyone interested in the history and historiography of Israel is going to have to read this book, because Morris wrote it, and because it does have a lot of useful information about the Israel war of Independence.

Regrettably, Morris tells a somewhat different good story, and tells it convincingly, every time he writes a book. Having propagated a number of indefensible myths about Israel's 1948 War of Independence in his earliest works, he can now make a career of debunking the myths that he helped to create, and he is, in part, doing so.

The war, it will be remembered, was conducted in two major phases: the civil war under the British and the war with the Arab states after May 15, 1948. As Morris now states clearly, and somewhat or completely contrary to earlier pronouncements:

* Israel had no transfer policy. The leadership of the Yishuv did not contemplate expelling the Arabs of Palestine, and Plan D of the Haganah was not a plan to expel the Arabs.

*Israel did not win the war against the invading Arab countries because of decisive military superiority or numbers.There was no Jewish Juggernaut. Morris's previous method was to cite the supposed 25,000 or 30,000 or 35,000 Haganah (the numbers keep changing) recruits that existed on paper on May 15, 1948 and to compare these with the approximately 22,000 invaders. Now he remembers to tell his readers what should have been obvious. Half of the supposedly vast numbers of Haganah troops were home guards and headquarters and logistic staff. The Arab armies also had such personnel back in their home countries. Haganah had about 16,500 men in 9 combat "brigades." The Arabs, in addition, as Morris notes, had support and air force personnel at home, and thousands of irregulars as well as the ALA ("Arab Liberation Army") of Kaukji in the field. In this book, Morris also "remembered" the 1947 CIA report that predicted that the Jewish Yishuv would lose a war against the Arabs of Palestine. It directly contradicts his earlier "authoritative" pronouncement that most authorities agreed that the Israelis would win. Perhaps in his next book, Morris will also "discover" that a large number of the Haganah "troops" were middle aged men like those sent to guard the old city, who could not fire a gun, or Gadna troops (aged 14-16) like those who helped save Notre Dame de France from the Jordan Legion and its British officers. He might also reveal that many of the Haganah "troops" had little or no training, and some were just off the boat and couldn't speak Hebrew. He tells us about some of these troops and about many failures that were due to shortages of manpower, poor equipment or no equipment and lack of training and strategic vision. Morris tries to "balance" the impact of the facts by noting that though the Arabs had tanks and airplanes, they were lousy tanks and airplanes anyhow, in poor repair. Of course, some bad aircraft and tanks are better than none at all. Overall, his treatment of the military balance is much more factual than it was in his previous presentations, or in those of fiction writers like Ilan Pappe.

But the significance doesn't alwas seem to register in Morris's summaries and conclusions: the Israelis were a bunch of amateurs who had trained underground with almost no arms, facing several organized state armies that had been trained, for better or worse, by Britain. Having a few officers who were World War II veterans is not a substitute for having an army trained as a unit by professionals, an army that could operate in the open and conduct maneuvers together. Having actual airplanes and tanks, however poorly serviced, rather than aircraft and tanks that exist only on paper in Czechoslovakia was a huge advantage. Having a few Spitfires was infinitely preferable to having 4 defective Czech Avia S-199 (Messerschmidt imitation) aircraft that, aside from being located in an airfield in Czechoslovakia when most needed, had a perverse tendency to shoot themselves down (the machine guns would shoot out the propellers) and were un-airworthy because they had the wrong engines (the Heinkel bomber engines were much too heavy). Morris tells us about the arrival of these aircraft, but he doesn't mention their wonderful aerodynamic qualities.

More: Book Review: Benny Morris, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli War

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pakistani rewarded for honor killing: Gets 3 girls as wives, 20 water buffalo

The advantages of Islamic justice....
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a man who killed his second wife for allegedly having an illicit relationship with another received impunity on the pretext of an honour killing by the 'Jirga', the illegal tribal justice system on October 20, 2008. The Jirga has also ordered the other party who allegedly had the relationship with the deceased wife to hand over three girls together with 20 buffaloes as compensation to the husband. Police arrested the killer but soon released him and have respected the decision of the Jirga.
According to the information received, Mr. Sher Dil Jatoi, 62 years old, killed his second wife in an honour killing for allegedly having an illicit relationship with a person named Mr. Shahoo Jatoi. The honour killing occurred in August this year. Based on this case, Mr. Mir Hassan Jatoi, one of the chiefs of Jatoi tribe, a powerful tribe in the area held a 'Jirga', a court which has been declared as illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, at Lucky Ghulam Shah, Shikarpur district, Sindh province on October 20, 2008 in order to make a decision on the murder case.
Several elites of the Jatoi tribe who have remained in power in both the military and civilian governments took part in the Jirga. The decision said Sher Dil Jatoi was the victim of honour and innocent in killing his second wife. It further said, "as Shahoo Jatoi developed the illicit relationship with the wife of Sher Dil Jatoi, Sher Dil had the right to murder his wife. Shahoo Jatoi was order to compensate Sher Dil by handing over his three minor daughers". Since Shahoo has only one girl, a 10-year-old daughter, the Jirga decided that the brothers Mr. Miro Jatoi and Mr. Khanan Jatoi should give their daughters of ages between 13 and 11 years to Sher Dil. Besides, it also ordered Shahoo's family to deliver 20 buffaloes, costing more than 100,000 rupees (around USD 1,400) each, as a fine for having the relationship.
When this incident took place, the people in the area were resentful and pressured the police to arrest him as he was known as a habitual killer of his wives. Due to the pressure, the police arrested and kept him in the police custody but released him after 15 days as the people's feelings settled down after his arrest. Dr. Ibrahim Jatoi, the chief of the tribe and former minister in the regime of General Zia Ul Haq helped Sher Dil to be released in 2001 when he killed his first wife also on the pretext of an honour killing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why are most Arab rulers silent on the plight of Iraq's Christians?

The Daily Star in Beirut, should rather ask why the Arab rulers and the West are silent about the plight of Lebanese Christians, Palestinian Christians, Egyptian Christians....
Iraq's ancient Christian community has seen its security situation take a sudden turn for the worse in recent weeks, especially in and around the northern city of Mosul. Deadly attacks and threats of more to come have driven thousands of people from their homes, and although the sources and motivations of the aggression remain unclear, there is no denying either the inherent injustice of innocent people being targeted solely on the basis of their faith or the awful implications for the troubled country's future.
There is another disturbing element to the latest round of ethnic cleansing to take place in Iraq since its government was overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2003: The loudest Arab voices trying to call attention to the crisis are here in tiny Lebanon, where Christian religious and political leaders have been joined by their Muslim counterparts, both Sunni and Shiite, in condemning the attacks and demanding action to stop them. That speaks well (for once) of this country's frequently divided elites, but it says something far less flattering about most of the Arab world.
It will be recalled that during the run-up to the illegal invasion that led to years of bloodletting in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Western capitals and other cities to voice their rejection of the entire project. Most of them were Christians, and there they were standing up for the rights and interests of mostly Muslim Iraqis whose fates were about to be tossed into the maelstrom of war.

Iraq's Christian community, which long predates the arrival of Islam, has always constituted a key pillar of the country's social fabric. Yet today, with its position in rapid decline, most Arab rulers seem not to care - and therefore not to recognize the damning implications for their own fitness to lead. It is not just violence that stalks Iraq's Christians: The recently promulgated election law also does away with guarantees designed to ensure their full representation in Parliament. Combined, these two factors threaten to virtually eliminate a community that has already seen its numbers drop sharply since 2003.
It is not often that Lebanon can realistically be credited with leading the way on a regional issue of global import. Usually this country's leading clerics and politicians are too wrapped up in internecine squabbles to comment intelligently (if at all) on outside developments. This time, however, they got it right. The question is whether this will be enough to shame their opposite numbers in other Arab countries into getting their heads of the sand and condemning the tragedy now unfolding.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

US arms Lebanon

Since the Lebanese army is already controlled by the Hezbollah, this might not be the best idea.
October 26, 2008

U.S. Resupplies Lebanon Military to Stabilize Ally
BEIRUT, Lebanon — For years, the Lebanese military was ridiculed as the least effective armed group in a country that was full of them. After the army splintered during the 15-year civil war, its arsenal slowly rotted into a museum of obsolete tanks and grounded aircraft.
Now that is starting to change. At the gates of a military base just north of Beirut, groups of soldiers drive new American Humvees and trucks, and some tote gleaming new American rifles and grenade launchers.
The weapons are the leading edge of a new American commitment to resupply the military of this small but pivotal Middle Eastern country, which emerged three years ago from decades of Syrian domination.
The new wave of aid, the first major American military assistance to Lebanon since the 1980s, is meant to build an armed force that could help stabilize Lebanon's fractured state, fight a rising terrorist threat and provide a legitimate alternative to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. That organization, which controls southern Lebanon, has refused to disarm, arguing that it is the only force that can defend the country against Israel.
So far, none of the deliveries of heavier weapons have been large enough to require a formal notification to Congress. Those deals are still in the early stages, administration officials said.
Some officials within the Pentagon and State Department have expressed concern about extensive military aid to a country so recently free of Syrian control and in which Hezbollah, which has close Syrian and Iranian ties, has continued to gain political power. And that has been a main concern for Israel, which has been lobbying for a lower level of support to remove the possibility that American tanks and helicopters might one day be used against it.
History also casts a shadow: the last major effort to assist the Lebanese Army, in the 1980s, ended with American troops being caught up in a civil war.
These doubts, and the contrast with the robust American military aid to Israel, have provoked some anger in Lebanon. A television comedy here this week depicted American envoys handing out socks and toy airplanes to Lebanese generals.
Still, officials at the State Department and the Pentagon say they are convinced that rebuilding Lebanon's military is essential to peace efforts in the region.
Other nations are involved, including the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Belgium, Britain and Canada. There have even been rival offers of assistance from Russia, China and Iran. But so far the United States, which has long been the Lebanese military's main source of outside support for weapons and training, says it will anchor the effort.
"United States policy is that Lebanon be sovereign and independent and the Lebanon government and its institutions govern all of Lebanon's territory and disarm militias," said Christopher C. Straub, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. "We recognize that is not going to happen overnight, but that is our policy."
The plan to rearm Lebanon was born in 2005, after the popular so-called Cedar Revolution forced Syria to withdraw and seemed to vindicate the Bush administration's efforts to spread democracy throughout the region. In 2006, the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah bolstered the notion that Lebanon needed a stronger military, to provide a national alternative to the Shiite group's militia.
The army was in terrible condition. After a brief injection of American aid during the early 1980s, it split along sectarian and political lines. The Sixth Brigade, composed of Shiites trained by the Americans, went over to the militias and won a mocking new slogan: "We serve and defect."
After the civil war, during the years of Syrian domination, the army's stocks deteriorated to the point that most soldiers fired no more than 30 rounds a year.
"It was like a police force, but undertrained and underequipped," said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general. "Even the Special Forces are very young and inexperienced now, whereas Hezbollah has lots of experience."
In fact, the army was deliberately kept weak by the country's Syrian overseers, who did not want a strong alternative force. That was part of what allowed Hezbollah to grow into such a formidable power during the 1980s and 1990s, using advanced weaponry provided by Iran and Syria.
Now, however, American officials say they have faith in the independence and professionalism of the army, which has become thoroughly integrated to include all of Lebanon's many religious and ethnic factions, and has avoided interfering in politics. American-driven audits have shown that almost nothing given to the army has ended up in Hezbollah's hands.
"They have demonstrated year after year after year that when we give them equipment, they take responsibility for it," said Mark T. Kimmitt, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs.
An important moment for the army came in the summer of 2007, when it fought and won a three-month battle with Islamists in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in the northern city of Tripoli. That struggle, in which 168 soldiers and an unknown number of militants were killed, vividly underscored the need to re-equip the army. With no combat helicopters or precision weapons, the army had to resort to dropping bombs by hand from its Vietnam-era Huey helicopters, a hopelessly inaccurate method that resulted in the near-leveling of the camp.
Although the United States rushed them 40 loads of C-17 transport planes full of ammunition and other gear, army commanders bitterly resented the failure to provide them with more sophisticated arms.
"Nahr al-Bared lasted 105 days," said one high-level Lebanese officer involved in procurement issues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If we had had attack helicopters, it would have been over in 15 days."
Another stark illustration of Lebanon's new military ambitions, and its gaping needs, is visible right now on the country's northern border with Syria. In recent weeks, after a string of bombings in Tripoli that left 20 people dead — most of them Lebanese soldiers — the military sent 8,000 soldiers to the border to monitor smuggling routes across the northern mountains.
That effort alone was a measure of Lebanon's new independence from Syria. But the border control force was too small, and it lacked necessary equipment, Lebanese military officials say.
"They have no U.A.V.'s, no night-vision equipment, none of the sensors they use in other countries to tell if what you're seeing is a threat or just an animal," the Lebanese procurement officer said, using the abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicles. "Let's say you have 50 valleys in one area, and you have soldiers posted on hilltops. They can watch during the day, but at night they can do nothing."
Lebanese commanders say they are anxious about the slow pace of American military support so far. Of the $410 million that has been committed since 2006, less than half has been delivered — mostly ammunition, communications equipment, Humvees, trucks, rifles, automatic grenade launchers and other light weapons, and spare parts, according to Lebanese and American military officials.
And it is heavier weapons that are most needed, Lebanese officials say. In particular, they want an air defense system, which would allow them to argue that they could completely replace Hezbollah as a warding force against Israel in the south.
"It's the ABC of any army to have the capacity to defend itself," the Lebanese procurement officer said. "During the 2006 war, Israeli aircraft were shooting from 300 meters up."
Mr. Straub, with the Pentagon, said the focus is still on identifying Lebanon's exact military requirements and then finding the weapons to suit them. That means that although Lebanon has requested attack helicopters, for instance, it is not yet a question of approving a specific deal.
"They have first got to define the requirement," Mr. Straub said. "Everybody wants to rush to the equipment. But we have got to define the requirement."
Yet one State Department official said that conflicts in the administration are holding up any major deal, as some at the Pentagon and State Department are more eager to rebuild the Lebanon Armed Forces while others are reluctant to move too quickly, given Israel's concerns. "There are differing points of view," the State Department official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
The Lebanese also want precision antitank missiles and a rebuilt fleet of tanks to replace their aging American and Soviet models. Specifically, they want surplus Vietnam-era M60 tanks that would be rebuilt with American parts and transferred to Lebanon from Jordan.
Even though that shopping list does not include the most advanced weaponry, it has caused serious discomfort for Israel.
"We don't want Lebanon to be run by Hezbollah," said one Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of continuing negotiations with the United States. The fear, the official said, is that the weapons might fall into the wrong hands.
For now, American officials say that they are committed to helping Lebanon get the weapons it needs to defend itself, and the acknowledge that the delays have caused anxiety in Lebanon.
"It is understandable, the frustration the Lebanese are expressing," Mr. Kimmitt of the State Department said.
Robert F. Worth reported from Beirut, and Eric Lipton from Washington.

Gen Abizaid: Israel cannot harm Iranian nukes.

How considerate of Abizaid to soothe Ahmadinejad's nerves. We wouldn't want him to worry, would we? After all, aides report that he is straining under the load...
Dan Ephron
From the magazine issue dated Sep 29, 2008

It wasn't an official military assessment, but retired Gen. John Abizaid's remarks at a Marine Corps University conference last week appeared to echo the thinking of at least some in the upper echelons of the U.S. military: Israel is incapable of seriously damaging Iran's nuclear program. Abizaid, who oversaw military operations in the Middle East as head of U.S. Central Command until 18 months ago, caused a stir last year by publicly asserting the United States could live with a nuclear-armed Iran through a strategy of cold-war-style deterrence. Last week, when asked to reflect on the possible consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, Abizaid said he doubted whether "the Israelis have the capability to make a lasting impression on the Iranian nuclear program with their military capabilities." An Israel–Iran confrontation, he said, would be "bad for the region, bad for the United States [and would] ultimately move the region into an even more unstable situation."

Israel believes Tehran might be within a year of crossing the uranium-enrichment threshold and has made clear it would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. (Iran says its program is peaceful.) A year ago, Israel sent warplanes to Syria to destroy what it believed to be a budding nuclear facility. But according to several officers and Pentagon analysts who spoke to NEWSWEEK, the U.S. military thinks Israel would face huge challenges in reaching Iran, refueling its warplanes along the way and penetrating hardened nuclear targets. Earlier this month, the United States agreed to sell Israel 1,000 small-diameter bombs known as GBU-39s, capable of piercing several feet of concrete—an arms deal that analysts believe is linked to the Iran issue. But a spokesman for Boeing, which makes the bombs, estimated that they would not be delivered before 2010. And thus far, according to a source familiar with talks between the two countries, the United States has not granted Israel's request for additional equipment. That order from the Israelis, said one Pentagon analyst who monitors the Middle East and did not want to be named discussing sensitive issues, reinforces the notion that its military does not have the means to conduct a large-scale attack.

Report: Ahmadinejad falls ill under strain

Destroying America and Israel is hard work.
Last update - 09:48 26/10/2008       
Aide says Iran's Ahmadinejad falls ill under strain of post
By Associated Press
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has fallen ill due to his
heavy workload, a close associate told the Iranian state news agency late Saturday.
Parliament member Mohammad Ismail Kowsari, a close ally of the president, told IRNA that Ahmadinejad is feeling under the weather because of the strain of his position.
"The president will eventually recover and continue his job," said Kowsari, who last September accompanied the president on his trip to the U.N. General Assembly. "Every human being can face exhaustion under such a workload."
The Iranian president reportedly works a 20 hour day and has not appeared in public since Tuesday.
State television on Saturday said he participated in the funeral ceremony for the recently discovered remains of soldiers from the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, but showed no images of him.