|George Bush's invasion of Iraq, which was supposed to touch off a democratic tide that would sweep across the Middle East, instead contributed to the election Hezbollah MPs in Lebaonon, a Hamas government in Gaza, and a growing extremism in Iran's government. Now, with Obama in office, the opposite may be beginning to take place. Writes the Guardian's Simon Tidsall reports:
Lebanon feels the Obama effect
... It would be fanciful to claim that Obama's bridge-building speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last week, attractive though it was, crucially influenced Lebanese voters. But the calmer, unconfrontational tone adopted by Washington on Middle East issues since George Bush trudged home to Texas appears to have struck a chord in a country that was teetering on the brink of sectarian civil war one year ago.
Pre-election visits by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Joe Biden, the US vice-president, underscored the importance that Obama attached to the poll. Some resented these interventions as unwarranted interference. But many Lebanese, particularly the nearly 40% of the population that is Christian, seem to have approved of Washington's increased engagement; and to have heard its implicit message that a vote for Hezbollah and its allies would be a backwards step.
That refrain was underscored by exaggerated claims that Hezbollah and its Tehran backers, if further empowered, would turn Lebanon into a second Gaza. And if that was not enough, an eve-of-poll demarche by Boutros Sfeir, spiritual leader of the country's Maronite Christians, may have done the trick. He warned the country was in danger. It was clear from whom he believed the danger emanated.
By giving the nod to Saad Hariri and his 14 March bloc of Sunni Muslim, Druze and Christian parties, which won 71 parliamentary seats against 57 for the opposition, Lebanon has provided Obama with his first significant regional policy success. The result is a setback for Iran, which has sought enhanced influence via Hezbollah. And it confirmed Lebanon's 2005 rejection of Syria as the master manipulator of its affairs, confounding suggestions that Damascus was inching back.
Meanwhile, the results in Lebaonon could have the effect of bringing on the isolation of ... well ... Israel:
In contrast, the rightwing Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu may view the vote with ambivalence. The prospect of the non-ideological Hariri as Lebanon's prime minister, a likely though not yet certain outcome, must be welcome in Tel Aviv. But this dash to moderation robs Israel's favourite contemporary narrative – the inexorable, region-wide advance of an existentially threatening, nuclear armed Iran – of some of its power to alarm.Meanwhile, in Europe, which has often exhibited a certain coolness toward the Israelis, stories like this one don't help:
Two Israeli officers have testified that troops in the West Bank beat, bound and blindfolded Palestinian civilians as young as 14. The damaging disclosures by two sergeants of the Kfir Brigade include descriptions of abuses they say they witnessed during a search-and-detain operation involving hundreds of troops in Hares village on 26 March. The testimonies have been seen by The Independent and are expected to add fuel to the controversy over recent remarks by Colonel Itai Virob, commander of Kfir Brigade, in which he said violence against detained Palestinians was justified in order to accomplish missions.
Both the soldiers, from the Harub battalion, highlighted the tight tying of the plastic hand restraints placed on detainees. "There are people who think you need to tighten the restraints all the way, until no drop of blood will pass from here to there," one soldier said. "It doesn't take much time until the hands turn blue. There were a lot of people that you know weren't feeling anything."
He said about 150 Palestinians, some as young as 14, were bound, blindfolded and detained at the village school during the operation, which lasted from 3am to 3pm. He was told it was aimed at preventing village youths throwing stones against nearby settler roads. It was clear many of the people detained had done nothing wrong, but they were held to gather intelligence, he said.
Hang on, does Dick Cheney work for the IDF???
Meanwhile, in yet another irony of international current affairs, it seems that a particular form of right wing extremism is making a comeback due to the economic crisis: fascism.
This is a significant moment – the fascists have come in from the cold
A few weeks ago I attended a think-tank lunch held to discuss whether the rise of the left was inevitable in the wake of the banking crisis. After some discussion, Dominic Grieve, the cerebral shadow Justice minister, intervened. "I don't worry about the hard left," he said. "It is the rise of the far right that scares me."
Labels: Europe, fascism, Israel, Lebanan, Middle East