Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Middle East Crisis Wrap-up, Link Reshuffling and Public Relations

An image of Hezbollah's leader overlooks UN peacekeepers in Tyre, Lebanon. (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis) (taken from the Council on Foreign Relations website)

The Cease Fire Seems to be Holding

I’ve kept my posts regarding the Middle East Crisis between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon to a minimum simply because I’m not there and, most important, I don’t know much beyond the news reports. I certainly don’t know the languages or the cultures, and it’s best just to try to absorb as much as I can and learn. There were people much closer to it all reporting, writing and blogging on the topic and I figured yet another American mouthing off would be a waste as there were folks with more insightful stuff to say. As a result, I found some links I thought were interesting and posted those to share with everyone.

Now that we’re three days into a cease fire, I’ve decided to take down the special link section. However, the three of the links will still stay on my blog as I still want to be able to find them quickly. One link turned out to be pretty useless and I never got much information or stayed very long on the page, so buh bye. However, for the rest, I’ll note them all in this post and it will be in the archives.

Hint: all you’ll need to do is run a search for it in the “search this blog” field on this page or run a search on the internet and this post should come up. Also, once this post rolls off the main page you can always just click through the archive sections to find this post and the links.

Here is the list:

Blogging in Beirut
Live from an Iraeli bunker
Kishkushim خربطات קישקושים

Here is a good analysis of the current situation from the Council of Foreign Relations by Michael Moran: Truce Holding, Hard Part Still to Come

With the flow of blood largely staunched and the United Nations scrambling to put together a peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon (Globe and Mail), a few glimmers of hope have surfaced in the region. While the UN-mandated cease-fire continued to hold, Hezbollah’s leadership showed no signs it would commit to handing over its arms to the Lebanese government (JPost). As the Christian Science Monitor notes, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 makes no direct mention of Hezbollah disarming although it refers to a past resolution requiring all militias to give up their arms. Some, including CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon, see the possibility of creating the kind of “decommissioning” system which brought relative peace to Northern Ireland (Daily Star). (the full article, complete with links is here)

Public Relations

What has struck me during this crisis were reports where we got to see the depth of impact that Hezbollah has in the local communities in Lebanon. Hezbollah has established itself as a grassroots organization that has a social development program in which hit rolls up its sleeves and helps its people. So while most in the West only know Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the people on the ground in Lebanon don't see it this way. This program builds good-will which in turn generates loyalty, trust and votes. They've built a network that will years from now have adults who are now young children remembering that Hezbollah came to their rescue in 2006.

Since 1992 they have participated in elections and have consistently done well. This good-will is why they’ve gained inroads to the Lebanese government and hold two Lebanese cabinet seats. I can only think their hold on the government will grow rather than weaken because all you have to do is watch the news and you’ll see reports that Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is promising to rebuild areas destroyed during the short war.

Hezbollah is out with heavy duty equipment moving earth and rebuilding roads. It has also managed to keep its TV channel on the air during the war even though the Israel Defense Force (IDF) made attempts to take it out. Now, there are issues here, and the biggest one is who exactly is paying for all this heavy equipment because the Lebanese government sure isn’t. However, if you’re a someone who migrates back home with your family in tow to see your world completely destroyed and Hezbollah is rebuilding it, the emotion at having someone step in and help you put your life back together might trump any need to look any deeper than that.

In contrast to what the US Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, wrote in A Path to Lasting Peace which was published in the Washington Post, does anyone really think that the locals see the US as a helper:

Looking ahead, our most pressing challenge is to help the hundreds of thousands of displaced people within Lebanon to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. This reconstruction effort will be led by the government of Lebanon, but it will demand the generosity of the entire world.

For our part, the United States is helping to lead relief efforts for the people of Lebanon, and we will fully support them as they rebuild their country. As a first step, we have increased our immediate humanitarian assistance to $50 million. To secure the gains of peace, the Lebanese people must emerge from this conflict with more opportunities and greater prosperity.

Already, we hear Hezbollah trying to claim victory. But others, in Lebanon and across the region, are asking themselves what Hezbollah's extremism has really achieved: hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes. Houses and infrastructure destroyed. Hundreds of innocent lives lost. The blame of the world for causing this war.

Based on the reports that I've seen they see Hezbollah as their Good Samaritan guardian and blame their usual suspects, Israel and the US, for this war. We're doing a horrendous job when it comes to PR in the region.

This positive PR angle isn’t lost on Iran either. I saw on CNN that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, has launched a blog.I found the link on Kishkushim خربطات קישקושים in a post titled Israel Should Be Wiped Off My Blog. According to this post Ahmadinejad’s blog can be read Arabic, French and English, and the blog also has an RSS feed, a poll and allows for comments.

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