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Monday, July 17, 2006

US Betrays Lebanese Allies, while corrupt Arab regimes favor Israelis

Kim Murphy reports from Damascus:

The decision by President Bush not to support the Lebanese government's plea for a cease-fire, even though that government has been backed by the United States, has dealt a further blow to public feelings about the U.S. in the region.

Members of the governing bloc in the Lebanese parliament, led by Saad Hariri, "are the most pro-American Arabs in the Middle East. They have promised, 'America will protect us if we stand against Syria,' " said Joshua Landis, a Middle East expert and professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Now Israel is "blowing the hell out of them, and America isn't taking one step to protect them," Landis said. "The whole Arab world is going to look and see that Hariri has been sacrificed on the altar of Israeli power. For the Arabs, this just rips the face of democracy right off."

..."Israeli pressures have humiliated the Arab world, and when a political movement like Hezbollah confronts Israel, it quickly becomes popular," Mohammed Ali Abtahi, an Iranian Shiite cleric and frequent visitor to Lebanon, said. "This is a reason why, I dare say, Hezbollah is more popular than Lebanon itself."

...In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, governments with ties to the United States have guardedly denounced Hezbollah for the attack on Israel that triggered the fighting — even as their citizens began tacking up posters of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the cleric who heads the Shiite Muslim militant group and has vowed to bring "war on every level" to Israel's door.

The disconnect between the broad range of public support for Hezbollah and the unease felt by many Arab leaders is one of the reasons that Arab governments have been largely unable to mount an effective diplomatic response to Israel's 5-day-old bombing campaign. Over the weekend, for example, the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, was able to agree on little more than a statement urging all parties to avoid actions that might "undermine peace and security," appealed to the United Nations for intervention and unsurprisingly declared the Middle East peace process dead.

On one level, the divide pits Syria and non-Arab Iran, which are longtime backers of Hezbollah, against Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose Sunni Muslim-led governments fear the rise of Islamic militancy and the influence of Iran...Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday rallied behind Hezbollah, describing Israel as "an evil, cancerous tumor" in the midst of the Islamic world.


By contrast, the Saudis on Friday blamed the current crisis on "irresponsible adventurism" by Hezbollah — a statement echoed by Jordan and Egypt. 

The divide also separates those governments from large segments of their populations. "What has the Egyptian government done to thwart the Israeli aggressions? The government is having normal relations with Israel, sitting back and saying how much they love Palestine, while Palestinians are being shot dead every day. And then comes this very small nationalist resistance movement (Hezbollah ) which finally manages to do something that all the Arab governments with their huge armies haven't been able to do," said Iman Hamdi, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. "It very much discredits these regimes in the eyes of the people," she said.

"...Labib Kamhawi, a political scientist in Amman, the Jordanian capital... said… 'the military arrogance of Israel, the fact that Israel is bombarding a helpless country like Lebanon, destroying its infrastructure, dismantling the state, is making people more and more angry." Public support for Hezbollah has now reached far beyond the Shiite community or even the wider Islamic opposition. This week, thousands of Sunnis and secular Arabs flocked to the streets protesting the airstrikes.

...in Damascus, the predominantly Sunni Syrian capital, posters of Nasrallah are affixed to car and shop windows. "I feel a sense of pride because of this small group of people who are capable of fighting the state of Israel and all its military power," said Fayez Smet, a criminal defense lawyer. "Whether they win or not, they are heroes."

— Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, July 17, 2006 (emphasis supplied)

...whatever resentment is directed at the guerrillas pales in comparison with the helpless fury that Gazans and Lebanese feel when confronted by the fierce firepower Israel has brought to bear in their backyards...the sense of national suffering at Israel's hands may strengthen Hezbollah, at least in the short term, many analysts say.

— Laura King, Los Angeles Times, July 17, 2006 (emphasis supplied)

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