Syria War Widens With Hezbollah Announcement
A round-up of what you might have missed over Memorial Day
While some of us enjoyed a leisurely three-day weekend, many others did not. Here’s some of what you may missed:
The Syria civil war officially spread into Lebanon. During a speech on Saturday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who had been pretending that his fighters had been dying of natural causes for the past several months, dropped his guard and flatly admitted that Hezbollah is fighting to keep Assad in power and will escalate the fight.
“We will continue this road until the end, we will take the responsibility and we will make all the sacrifices,” Mr. Nasrallah told his supporters Saturday. “We will be victorious.”
Dexter Filkins explained:
…Hezbollah was intervening in Syria covertly, in large part because it feared a backlash at home. Month after month, Nasrallah denied that his men were fighting for the dictator across the border. When Hezbollah fighters were killed in Syria, they were memorialized in bizarre funerals back in Lebanon, in which the causes of death were not mentioned. In public, Nasrallah maintained that Hezbollah was the same thing it always had been: an armed group dedicated to protecting Lebanon from the depredations of Israel. In a speech in October, he said: “As of now, we have not fought alongside the regime.” As more and more Hezbollah fighters died inside Syria, that lie could no longer be sustained. The truth is out.
In related news, reporters for Le Monde wrote about their months reporting in Syria, which included witnessing chemical attacks.
Yesterday, the European Union agreed to let an arms embargo for the Syria rebels expire, which could be considered good news if you aren’t worried about the Islamist factions in the Syrian rebellion and if you believe that the European Union has any idea what to do next:
Austria had been holding back a joint decision, insisting no arms should be sent abroad.
“The EU should hold the line. We are a peace movement and not a war movement,” Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said.
In the end, Austria agreed with the text which “took note” of the commitment of member states to consider at a national level sending arms to the Syrian opposition.
Whatever that means.
In other news, a poll revealed that a large number of Israelis would back the recently revived Arab Peace Initiative if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were game to promote it:
According to the poll, commissioned by the Israeli Peace Initiative organization, once the principles of the Arab Initiative were explained to them, 55% of the people interviewed said they would support it to some degree. Only 27% ”strongly oppose” the initiative, while 17.5% of them answered that they ”don’t know” once the fundamentals of the Initiative were presented to them. But in response to another question — what their position will be if Netanyahu adopts the Arab Initiative and reaches a final status agreement with the Arab states — the number of supporters soared to 69%. The interesting finding regarding this question is that only 18% continued to ”strongly oppose” the initiative (revealing that nine percent of those interviewed changed their minds in favor of the initiative between the two questions).
On the topic of elusive peace, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that peace talks would not resume unless two preconditions were met: an Israel settlement freeze and that the basis of negotiations be the 1967 borders.
Many might argue that these are not huge asks given that the ’67 borders with land swaps is generally the accepted framework for the two-state solution, but Erekat’s demands already violate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s oft-repeated call for a return to negotiations with no preconditions (as well as President Obama’s remark earlier this year that a settlement freeze was not compulsory to reignite peace talks).
Meanwhile, shortly after noon yesterday, Israelis at schools, kindergartens and work places were instructed to enter bomb shelters for ten minutes as part of a national exercise to simulate multi-front attacks on the country.
Dubbed “Turning Point 7,” the nationwide exercise was being held amid a backdrop of threats faced by Israel. During the drill, security forces were simulating missile attacks on Israel from multiple fronts.
“This year, the national exercise will focus on preparing the home front for required government, civilian and military response to an unconventional weapons scenario within the home front,” an Israeli army statement said.
A second drill took place yesterday evening so Israelis could practice mobilizing quickly and reaching shelters at their homes.