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I’m on my way to Tel Aviv now.

What do you want to read about that isn’t being covered by the media? I can’t promise to write about anything in particular, but what’s your wish list? Those of you who donate travel expenses through Pay Pal are particularly encouraged to answer in the comments.

To War

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Photo copyright Michael J. Totten

Tomorrow I’m going to Israel to get as close to this monster as I can without getting myself killed. (To friends and family who worry about me: I promise not to embed with the IDF and ride into Lebanon on a tank.)

I will stay there as long as events warrant and as long as I don’t start losing money. Please hit the PayPal button so I can stay longer.

If I can raise enough money on the blog I won’t need to subject my stories to the ever-popular editing process for paychecks. So help me out, k? You get what you pay for. If you want non-corporate writing that isn’t first scrutinized by the gatekeepers, this is the place.

If you would like to donate money for travel expenses and you don’t want to use Pay Pal, you can send a check or money order to:

Michael Totten

P.O. Box 312

Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

Hezbollahland Photo Gallery

Lebanon is a beautiful country, and Beirut is a beautiful city. (If you don’t believe me, see here and here.) Hezbollah-occupied Lebanon, though, isn’t so great — especially now.

Last year I took dozens of photos of Hezbollah’s miniature state-within-a-state, along the border with Israel and in the suburbs, the dahiyeh, south of Beirut.

The photos of Beirut’s southern suburbs are not very good quality. Taking pictures in the dahiyeh is absolutely forbidden. I did not dare raise my camera and click the shutter except through the windshield from inside a moving car. Even then I had to be careful.

Here is what Hezbollahland looked like before the war. Much of what you see here has since been destroyed.

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The portrait of a “martyr” killed in battle with Israel above the sidewalk can be seen in the upper left corner. Off-center is a portrait of the cleric Moussa Sadr, who came to Lebanon from Iran in the 1960s and brought the Shia out of political isolation. He later vanished forever in Libya.

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Another “martyr” portait above the sidewalk on the left.

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The Ayatollah Khomeini makes an appearance.

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Notice that Hezbollah does not require women to wear the hijab, the modest Islamic headscarf. They are, to an extent, “moderate” compared with the regime in Iran.

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Syria’s Bashar al-Assad makes an appearance.

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More “martyrdom” posters.

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The “martyrs” are everywhere in the dahiyeh.

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Most of the dahiyeh consists of apartment blocks, many of which have since been destroyed.

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More apartment blocks in the Hezbollahland suburbs.

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And still more…

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Beaufort castle sits at the top of a small mountain in South Lebanon where you can see into Israel. Hezbollah uses it as one of their border watch posts.

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A Hezbollah observation post on top of Beaufort.

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A few tourists did actually visit this castle before it was engulfed in a war zone. Hezbollah put up this banner for them.

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They do like to fashion themselves as media savvy.

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Further south from Beaufort…you can walk right up to Israeli houses without leaving Lebanon. This town pictured above, Metulla, is inside Israel. Look closely at the bottom of the picture and you can see the fence that demarcates the border.

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That house is inside Israel. Hezbollah controlled the territory I stood on when I snapped the picture.

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Everything you see in this picture is inside Israel, taken from a Lebanese road along the fence.

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Here’s how crazy the border is. The town in the foreground, Metulla, is inside Israel. The town in the background, Kafr Kila, is in Lebanon. You might think you would have to stand inside Israel to take a picture such as this one. How else would you get a picture of a Lebanese town behind an Israeli town? But you can, because I did. That Israeli town is inside a “penninsula,” or a finger, that juts into Lebanon. It is surrounded by Hezbollah-controlled territory on three sides.

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Iran’s dead tyrant Ayatollah Khomeini makes repeated appearances in the south.

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On the road beneath Beaufort Castle the story of suicide bomber Haitham Dbouq is told next to his portrait. “Haitham stormed into the convoy — that had 30 occupation troops in its ranks — blowing up his car amidst the vehicles that turned into fireballs and scattered bodies on the ground. Thirty Zionist casualties was the size of the material shock that hit the occupation army; the morale shock was much larger and more dangerous.”

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Portraits of “martyrs” killed in battle with Israel line the streets and the roads.

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Hezbollah says they love peace. Yet they erect billboards like this one all over the south.

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The border. Israel is on the left side. Lebanon is on the right side.

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The road pictured above is inside Lebanon. The scenery in the background is all inside Israel.

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Walking toward Fatima’s Gate, the place where tourists from all across the Middle East go and throw rocks into Israel.

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The old Israeli custom’s house at Fatima’s Gate. It was open six years ago when Israel still occupied South Lebanon. Lebanese commuted to jobs inside Israel through the gate. It has been closed since 2000.

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Israel through the fence near Fatima’s Gate.

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“Monuments” of sorts to the two Satans. The United States is the Great Satan. Israel is the Little Satan.

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Here is where you donate money to Hezbollah’s charity operations.

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Here is where you donate money to Hezbollah’s military operations.

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Near the entrance to Khiam prison. Until the year 2000, the prison was run by the South Lebanese Army, a Lebanese Christian ally of Israel, inside the occupation zone. Earlier reports from the war said the prison is now destroyed.

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Khiam was a “tourist” destination of sorts. But it was no place to go if you weren’t in a grim mood already. It wasn’t Disneyland.

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A lovely exercise yard at Khiam.

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This ought to be self-explanatory.

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The Alawite village of Al-Ghajar. This is where last November’s round of fighting erupted. The left side of the village is in Israel. The right side of the village is in Lebanon. Both sides of the village formerly belonged to Syria.

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The Israeli side of Al-Ghajar. The Lebanese side is a wreck. I mistakenly neglected to take pictures of it.

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The tomb of the disputed dead man. Lebanon says Sheik Abbad is buried there. Israel says, no, Rabbi Ashi is buried there. The border runs right down the center of his tomb. That’s an Isareli military compound just on the other side of it

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On the right side is an Israeli listening and watch post. On the left side is Hezbollah’s feeble imitation.

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This billboard was erected by Hezbollah three feet from the border. The text is in Hebrew, and it faces directly into Israel. It says: “Sharon Don’t Forget. Your Soldiers Are Still in Lebanon.”

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Look closely. That’s a severed Israeli head held up by its hair.

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Hezbollah placed military museum pieces all over the towns in the south just to show them off.

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Children play on one of the tanks.

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A blasted truck placed ten feet from the border.

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The Hezbollah logo and flag on the front of the truck.

Post-script: I am getting on a plane and heading to Tel Aviv as quickly as possible, hopefully within a few days. No more armchair blogging for me. Please hit the PayPal link and help me buy airfare. I can’t do this for free, and you deserve better than mere links and long-distance op-ed analysis.

If you would like to donate money for travel expenses and you don’t want to use Pay Pal, you can send a check or money order to:

Michael Totten

P.O. Box 312

Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

All photos copyright Michael J. Totten

Clarification of Bias

No blogger in the world can seriously claim they are “objective” in the literal sense. That includes me.

My traffic is much higher than usual lately, and there are lots of unfamiliar names in the comments. I’m getting all kinds of emails from people I’ve never heard of before who don’t seem to understand me at all.

So let me clarify something here for people who don’t know me and who misunderstand where I’m coming from: I hope Israel wins the war against Hezbollah. There is no alternate universe where I can possibly hope that a democratic country loses a war against terrorists.

My affection and concern for Lebanon is obvious, I know, but I’m rather surprised that my opposition to Hezbollah isn’t equally obvious. They threatened me personally with violence, and they scream Death to America as well as Death to Israel as part of their daily routine.

If you can’t understand how I can sympathize with both non-Hezbollah Lebanon and Israel at the same time, well, I don’t know what to tell ya. The now-forgotten Cedar Revolution has something to do with it, and I also lived there for six months. It is, or at least was, a wonderful place despite all its problems.

One thing everyone should realize by now, including my Lebanese readers: If Hezbollah wins, Israel and Lebanon are both really screwed.

Links

FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM: Lee Smith, recently of Beirut, Lebanon, is now filing dispatches from Jerusalem.

THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of Kuwait’s Arab Times says Hezbollah has found itself in a quagmire. (Hat tip: Stephen Meyer by email.)

WIDENING THE WAR AGAIN: Israel is bombing Christian and Sunni areas in Lebanon.

EVISCERATED: Al Bawaba says Hezbollah’s social network is torn to shreds. (Hat tip: Tony Badran via email.)

BELT OF DESTRUCTION: Here are aerial photographs of the “belt of misery,” Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut’s southern suburbs, before and after the war began.

INSIDE THE MIND OF THE ISRAELI LEFT: Many of those who pushed for Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 now say they were wrong.

NOT OVER SOON: Iran says it will supply Hezbollah with surface-to-air missiles. “Iranian authorities conveyed a message to the Hezbollah leadership that their forces would continue to receive a steady supply of weapons systems.”

Busy

I know you come to this site for more than just a roundup of links. Trouble is I’m working on six projects all at the same time and there’s only so much that can be accomplished in a given day.

One thing I’m doing is trying to put together a trip to Tel Aviv so I can do some actual reporting instead of just armchair blogging. So be patient, please. I’ll be a normal person again as soon as I can…

Cross-posted at Instapundit

BELIEVE IT ONLY WHEN YOU SEE IT: Syria says it kinda sorta maybe, if it’s not too much trouble and if they get something juicy for doing it, just might consider playing a “constructive role” in pressuring Hezbollah to agree to a ceasefire on Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s terms.

LEBANESE BLOGGER Josey Wales fisks the useless minister of the interior.

A PEACEKEEPING DREAM TEAM: Mustafa at Beirut Spring says the international peacekeepers Lebanese can trust most would come from Canada, Brazil, and Japan.

IRAN RATCHETS UP THE BELLICOSITY. Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei: “The American regime can expect a resounding slap and a devastating fist-blow from the Muslim nation…”

LEE SMITH challenges the conventional wisdom that everyone in Lebanon loves Hezbollah now. “There are many Lebanese imagining, fantasizing, hoping against hope that Hezbollah will be wiped from the face of the earth.”

Lee is right. He and I both lived in Lebanon, and he lived there longer than I did. (He only left a few weeks ago.) Lebanon’s “support” for Hezbollah is nothing more than an attempt at national unity during a fight. It will evaporate the instant Israel leaves. It will remain, though, as long as Israel stays and throughout cease-fire talks.

Instalinks

OOPS! OR NOT? Hezbollah hit Jenin. In the West Bank. Palestinians cheered: “Even if it fall on our heads it wouldn’t have spoiled the party.”

HEZBOLLAH THREATENS JOURNALISTS: Christopher Allbritton, reporting from Lebanon, says “To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hizbullah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.” They threatened me too, and that was during peace time.

NOT ANTI-WAR BUT ON THE OTHER SIDE: A group that calls itself the Armed Revolutionary Fascists vandalized Jewish stores in Rome and defaced them with swastikas and pro-Hezbollah propaganda.

REMEMBERING STEVEN VINCENT: Judith Weiss hosts a blogburst commemoration to the murdered journalist over at Kesher Talk.

HEZBOLLAH WOKE UP: Allison Kaplan Sommer interviews Erika Galili live from an Israeli bomb shelter in a podcast for Pajamas Media.

“LEBANON IS A FINAL COUNTRY FOR ALL ITS CHILDREN”: Robert Rabil says a fresh debate has broken out in Lebanon’s Shia community about Hezbollah’s allegiance to Iran.

WHY LEBANESE BLAME SYRIA: A timeline of events, beginning in 1976, that led up to the current crisis.

WALID JUMBLATT, Syria’s fiercest enemy in Lebanon, says Lebanon is being pushed solidly into the Syrian-Iranian axis. “Our government will be like the government of Abu Mazen (Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas) next to Hamas or maybe worse like the government of [Nouri al] Maliki in Iraq.”

Democracies and War

I forgot something when I made my list of small encouraging signs. Perhaps I left out one that isn’t so small.

This war in the Middle East nearly demolishes the theory that democracies don’t go to war with each other. Lebanon, aside from Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state, is a democracy. At least it’s an almost-democracy. Aside from my personal affection for Lebanon, the country where I recently lived, the only country other than the US where I’ve ever lived, this is what anguishes me the most: The Arab world’s only democracy is being torn to pieces by another democracy.

But it’s telling, I think, that the Lebanese army, the fighting institution that represents democratic Lebanon and not just one totalitarian-sponsored political party, has chosen to sit this one out.

Some Small Encouraging Signs

First, a huge caveat:

I don’t know what’s going to happen in Lebanon and Israel, okay? And I don’t claim to know. Just about anything could happen in the next couple of weeks. Every option I can think of is possible short of Lebanon declaring an alliance with Israel and short of Hassan Nasrallah becoming Ruler of Lebanon.

I’m already on record in opposition to Israel expanding its war against Hezbollah to the rest of the country. But that’s neither here nor there at this point. The consequences I warned about have already come to pass, more or less, so that’s that. I have no more advice. Hopefully the damage done can be rolled back somewhat in the future.

Here are a few positive nuggets:

1. Hassan Nasrallah is a free man no more. Yesterday I talked to my Lebanese friend Tony Badran (who once guest-blogged for me here and who has his own blog Across the Bay). He pointed out that “Nasrallah is stuck in his bunker — or some other undisclosed location — and may remain stuck there forever.” He’s right. Hezbollah’s secretary general is a marked man now, and if he comes out of hiding the Israelis will put one in his forehead. Short of some kind of miracle, Nasrallah will be reduced to releasing Jihad TV videos from exile or from the urban equivalent of a cave in Afghanistan. No more boozing and chasing girls in Gemmayze for him! The problem with an attempted Hezbollah coup d’etat is not that they might succeed, but that they could start another war trying.

2. While Lebanese public opinion is overwhelmingly hostile to both Israel and the United States right now (and believe me, it wasn’t this way a few weeks ago), the opinions of the political leadership are what matter most in the short run. If the leaders of the Christian, Sunni, and Druze communities can be brought around to the international consensus (which is where they already were before the war started, sigh) the view on the “street” will have little or no effect on ceasefire negotiations.

3. Threat of civil war is not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously a real civil war would be a disaster for Lebanon, for Israel, for the US, for everyone except Syria and Iran. But it is precisely this possibility that may convince Hezbollah to surrender before this is over. I’ve said before that the Christians, Sunni, and Druze cannot win a civil war against Hezbollah. But that cuts both ways. Hezbollah cannot take over the country unless they summon armies from abroad. Doesn’t mean they won’t try to take over (they just might be that crazy right now), but they will not succeed if they do.

4. Another thing Tony pointed out on the phone: Hassan Nasrallah has dragged Lebanon’s Shia community backward in time to where they were in the days before the cleric Moussa Sadr brought them into politics in the 1960s. The Shia have always been the poor and forgotten of Lebanon, cruelly neglected and shunted aside by the Sunni and Christian elite and middle classes. Hezbollah was the Shia’s revenge. Hezbollah bullied Lebanese as much as they bullied Israelis. Now the Shia are utterly, tragically, destitute once again. Their urban “belt of misery” south of Beirut has become the Belt of Destruction. They have a case against the other Lebanese sects and political parties, but they did not go about redressing their grievances in the right way. Their honor and pride may prohibit them from ever admitting Hezbollah’s latest attacks on Israel were a fatal mistake. But their all too terrible punishment may convince them to seek a healthier and more cautious approach to politics in the future.

UPDATE: Tony adds via email: “The development of moderate Shiite alternatives is necessary (there was a recent meeting of Shiite intellectuals, writers, and independents and they are starting to realize all of this and they called for the full integration of the Shiites into the state), and that Jumblat is fully aware of the dangers of the Shiites feeling disempowered again, which is why he is reaching out to them now, and stressing how they are “partners” and stressing how Berri (who now is the moderate alternative in comparison) is “a pillar of the Taef accords” (i.e. an integral part of the current republic), etc. Ghassan Tueni is calling for the same thing, even going to do away with the sectarian system, etc. So there is awareness on the part of the leadership of the dangers of the Shiites suffering the kind of disillusionment that the Christians did in the 90s under the Syrians.”

Hezbollah’s Coup d’État Continued…

I sure hope he’s wrong, but I fear he might not be: Lebanon.Profile at the Lebanese Political Journal says Hezbollah effectively mounted a coup using Israel to assassinate the government. There are a few signs it won’t turn out this way in the end, and I’ll get to them shortly.

One Fourth of Instapundit

I am going to be one fourth of Instapundit this week. Glenn Reynolds is on vacation and he asked me, Ann Althouse, Megan McArdle, and Brannon Denning to fill in for him.

So you’ll see me there as well as here.

Thanks Glenn!

Grim Days Ahead

A Hezbollah member named Ali speaks to the Guardian:

Despite Israel’s claims to have inflicted heavy losses on Hizbullah, Ali insists his side is in a strong position. “Things are going very well now, whatever happens we are winning. If they keep bombing us we will stay in the shelters, and with each bomb more people support the resistance. If they invade they will repeat the miserable fate they had in 1982, and if they hold one square foot they will give the Islamic resistance all the legitimacy. If they want to kill Hizbullah they have to kill every Shia in the south of Lebanon.”

And even when the battle with the Israelis is over, he adds menacingly, Hizbullah will have other battles to fight. “The real battle is after the end of this war. We will have to settle score with the Lebanese politicians. We also have the best security and intelligence apparatus in this country, and we can reach any of those people who are speaking against us now. Let’s finish with the Israelis and then we will settle scores later.”

Too Perfect for This World

Lebanese blogger Ramzi posts a letter from a reader and his response:

hi ramzi:

I have been in the united states for 30 years. every year i think about going to visit Lebanon. but always something happens. this year my 18 year old daughter who was born in the USA graduated from high school and I had promised her 3 years ago that I will take her to Lebanon for a visit. but circumstances were that she had to go with my 20 year old son alone.

and now she cries that she does not want to leave even though she is scheduled to evacuate tomorrow on 7-20-2006. she keeps telling me but mom I did not see the cedars yet! and that tears my heart up.

sincerely,

(the reader)

Hey (the reader),

That story made me hang my head in sadness. But also in shame. In shame because we the Lebanese have failed Lebanon and failed your daughter. I too was like your daughter, at love with a country I have seen very little of. And when I returned after the war, I was on a constant quest to see, hear, smell Lebanon. To make up for years I could never have had anyway because of the war but still felt I owed.

And now, I have lived here enough to see what I observed rebuilt slowly and day by day destroyed in a single blow. I remember every construction site, every road diversion, every ditch. I remember taking a ride on every one of those bridges when they were fist built. And the innocent children killed were not even born when I first came here.

So, what can I say to you? nothing other than to let Lebanon always be in her heart and in her imagination. Let her fall in love with a Lebanon that neither exists nor could ever exist because it is too perfect for this world. And then let her return here when things are calmer, and let her search for that Lebanon in this Lebanon. She will not find it, but she will fall in love with the next best thing.

Ramzi

Damning Photos

Here are pictures of Hezbollah setting up heavy artillery – military targets – in Christian suburbs east of Beirut.

UPDATE: Lots of people in the comments doubt the accuracy of the description of these photos. I cannot vouch for them. There could be any number of mistakes. Or not. (?)

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