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August 02, 2006

The Shifting Tide of Arab Public Opinion
Posted by Shadi Hamid

As I discussed in a previous post, when the current Mideast conflict first began, many Arab intellectuals, liberals, and even some Islamists were critical of Hezbollah's provocation along the Israeli border. Well, so much for that. If there was ever a time to try to start convincing Arab (and particularly Lebanese) moderates to distance themselves from the self-destructive posturing of Hezbollah, this was it. For a brief moment, Hezbollah could and should have been revealed for what it was - an organization which had chosen to sacrifice Lebanese prosperity and propel Lebanon into war for its own warped, perhaps even messianic ends. But the opportunity was lost. Today, three weeks into the current conflict, such is the tide of Arab public opinion that no one dares criticize Hezbollah. This from the AP:

And where [Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad] Saniora initially was critical of Hezbollah, he is now praising the militant group and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, for helping to defend Lebanon.

That pretty much sums it up. And this is not just a "Muslim thing" anymore:

Egypt's Copts have hailed the Lebanese resistance movement Hizbullah and its chief Hassan Nasrallah as a source of pride to Muslims and the Arab world... "All Arabs must be proud of Hizbullah's gallantry," Bishop Rafiq Gris, the spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, told IslamOnline.net.

And this from Youssef Chahine - Egypt's most famous film director, a liberal, and usually an outspoken opponent of Islamist radicalism:

Chahine said Nasrallah is a "source of pride to Islam." "Hizbullah is a symbol of Arab dignity," he told Reuters on Sunday, July 30.The Cannes-awarded director said he hoped to shake hands with Nasrallah in a visit to Beirut earlier this year. "Nasrallah welcomed my visit…I'm really proud of him," Chahine added.

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Comments

I agree-and frankly, I don't see any way for Israel to fulfill its objectives of destroying Hezbollah becasue of its now surging popular support across the Middle East.

Israel may be killing Hezbollah fighters and destroying rockets, but they are losing the broader strategic struggle for the hearts and minds of Arab moderates.

More of this here:Rennypolis Agora

"Disregarding the great military success accompanying use of the Luftwaffe for the immediate support of army operations, one gets the impression that our attacks on objects of little military importance, through which in most cases many women and children . . . were hit, are not a suitable means to break the resistance of the opponent. They seem far more suited to strengthening the resistance. . . . Doubtless the memory of the air attack on Guernica by the [Condor] Legion still today produces an after effect in the population and permits no friendly feelings for Germany in the population of the Basques, who earlier were thoroughly friendly to Germany and in no manner communistic."

-- OKM report, July 14, 1938


Maybe next century this lesson will sink in.

Pardon me while I ROTFL. "Israel may be killing Hezbollah fighters and destroying rockets, but they are losing the broader strategic struggle for the hearts and minds of Arab moderates."? You don't think that was lost long ago? And do you think Israel has ever hoped to win that "struggle"? If they ever did, do you think they continued to do so after two generations of no success? How many battalions have moderate Arabs deployed to fight terrorist organizations, excluding the Jordanians against the PLO in 1970? And that was just to get them out of their country.
And are you just criticizing, or do you have an alternative? UNRES 1559? The EU? Other Arab regimes?

Toles cartoon from WashPo a few days ago well sums up what the continuing Israeli barrage and civilian deaths are doing to public opinion in the Middle East.

Check it out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/opinion/ssi/images/Toles/c_08012006_520.gif

I'm going to suggest something fairly radical: That instead of tracking Arab public opinion about Hezbollah et al, or the US, or Israel, we pay some attention to the overarching notion of morale. That is, what's the general feeling among the community that they have the power to change their conditions for the better? After all, it's entirely possible that these shifting approval ratings for what amount to group pathologies are simply the varying allegiences associated with consistently poor morale, and this poor morale may well create conditions within Syria and Iran that compel those regimes to do some things that are strategically disadvantageous.

It's not clear that they could afford to ignore the plight of Hezbollah, for instance, and remain in power, should Israel begin to have some plodding success at eliminating that threat. And especially if Israel appears to be close to the limit of its capabilities, Syria might be enticed into a conflict. I'm almost reminded of the show of difficulty that Lance Armstrong used to make at barely keeping pace, staged in order to entice his rivals into an attack that was disadvantageous to their interests. Not only would Hezbollah's destruction be an enormous psychological blow to Syria (and Iran), but an economic blow as well. And from a tactical perspective Hezbollah's most obvious weakness is that it can't go on the offensive, because it lacks supply lines. An offensive to turn the tide would therefore have to be launched by someone else. And currently Syria is making those kinds of noises.

The shift in opinion noted in the above post, in other words, is working to the strategic advantage of Israel and the US even though it may seem otherwise. The key here is the morale of the opposition, not the short term allegiences of the populations... which in any case could never be stretched into any long term acceptance of Israel without some major change on the chessboard.

What would a checkmate look like?

Just a thought.

A checkmate would look like genocide.

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