Monday, January 08, 2007

Totten Takes The Beirut Tour

Michael Totten's been wandering around Lebanon again, and is his usual articulate and informative self, relating his experiences in a way that puts you right there with him. His latest post is a continuation of his experiences in Beirut, as Hezbollah was still drawing supporters to the city center in an attempt to overturn the duly elected Lebanese government. He talked with locals, and the "Party of God" recruits. Exploring the gathering as an obvious foreigner, he couldn't blend into the crowd. (He looks much more like an Irish Catholic than an Arab Islamist.) He's had run-ins with Hezbollah before, and the testosterone tends to run pretty high when thousands of Arab men gather to overturn a government, so this time he donned a bit of Hezbollah apparel, a scarf, and found that the effect was quite remarkable. The scarf didn't completely overcome the fact he's American, but did garner him a much less hostile reception from the watchdog thuggery that had heretofore followed him with suspicion. Wearing the thing made him uncomfortable, but gave him a slightly different view into the world of Hezbollah.

I find his reports fascinating. One of the things which struck me very forcefully as I was reading this one was what Totten pointed out about the shift in Arab relations throughout the Middle East, as illustrated by regional reactions to the war this past summer between Israel and Hezbollah/Lebanon. He writes of a conversation he and his friend Noah Pollak had with a couple of Hezbollah supporters:

An older fat man in a red shirt interjected himself into our conversation. He had the wide open eyes of an agitated extremist. He got into a mildly heated political argument with Noah, who remained calm and collected throughout. I was having my own conversation with the more civil and interesting young man named Jad. I did catch two telling points from the enraged man in red, however, and they bear repeating.

“Gulf Arabs give bombs to Israel to kill my people!”

This, of course, is nonsense on stilts. Israel does not receive weapons from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or any other Arab country. Don’t write off what he said as just another Middle Eastern conspiracy theory, though. He is aware that an important geopolitical shift has occurred.

Sunni Arab regimes – most notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia – took Israel’s side during the opening of the July War. And every Arab government in the world except for Syria’s supports Lebanon’s government against Hezbollah’s “resistance.”

I remember when this happened; it was like gravity had reversed itself. That any Arab regime would take Israel's side in anything shows that there have been some radical changes in the Arab political landscape. Totten goes on to note that fellow Muslims rank higher on Arab "things to worry about" lists than does the hated nation of Israel:

Six Arab governments – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Tunisia – say they will pursue nuclear weapons programs now because Iran’s atomic bombs need to be countered. None of these Arab countries sought nuclear weapons to offset those acquired by Israel. They fear and loathe the Shia of Lebanon and Iran (and most likely Iraq, as well) more than they worry about the Zionists regardless of what they may say.
This doesn't necessarily bode well for Israel in the short term, however:

The wider Sunni-Shia war in the Middle East, whose epicenter now is in Baghdad, may supplant the Arab-Israeli conflict some time in the future. For now, though, the Arab-Israeli conflict is used by both sides of the inter-Islamic divide to score propaganda points against the other.
Oh great. Just what Israel needs, to be the ball in a game of Arab propaganda polo. Lovely. Most of Totten's post isn't about the Arab/Israeli issue, but this part did really catch my eye. Anyway, if you'd like another look into Lebanon, read the rest of what Totten has to say. It's very interesting.