middle east

Gene at Harry’s Place believes that this article captures the Israeli zeitgeist:

Israel is a country held together by argument. Public culture is one long cacophony of criticism. The politicians go at each other with a fury we can’t even fathom in the U.S. At news conferences, Israeli journalists ridicule and abuse their national leaders. Subordinates in companies feel free to correct their superiors. People who move here from Britain or the States talk about going through a period of adjustment as they learn to toughen up and talk back.

Ethan Bronner, The Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, notes that Israelis don’t observe the distinction between the public and private realms. They treat strangers as if they were their brothers-in-law and feel perfectly comfortable giving them advice on how to live.

One Israeli acquaintance recounts the time he was depositing money into his savings account and everybody else behind him in line got into an argument about whether he should really be putting his money somewhere else. Another friend tells of the time he called directory assistance to get a phone number for a restaurant. The operator responded, “You don’t want to eat there,” and proceeded to give him the numbers of some other restaurants she thought were better.

I lived near and worked in New York City for years, so a place where people argue and befriend with vigor, where you have to push and shove to get into a crowded bus, where people give advice to strangers is a home away from home to me.

who the hell are you to judge the SSNP..?

Michael Totten provides a fascinating look at Sadr City after the Fall

EFPs are the most terrifying IEDs ever designed. They fire molten copper plates faster than bullets at passing vehicles which cut through Humvees and tanks as though they were Jell-O.

“Do you know who they’re buying them from in Iran?” I said. “Are they buying them from the government?”

“Who knows?” he said. “Maybe if we did know we could do something about it.”

My Spanish colleague Ramon Lobo from El País in Madrid co-interviewed Major Humphreys with me.

“I think they get them from the Revolutionary Guards,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “Which is, of course, part of the government.”

“According to Iraqi media,” Major Humphreys said, “they’re getting support from the al Quds Force.”

The Quds Force is basically the special forces branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Its commanders report to “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei. Their mission is the arming and training of guerrilla and terrorist organizations around the Middle East – especially in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories.

“One thing you’ll notice on the map,” Major Humphreys said, “is that all roads point toward the Green Zone.”

“The roads were perfect launching positions,” he said. “These guys built their launching pads, they had engineers who knew what they were doing, they knew the right angles, and they knew where they were going to launch from. They were very well-trained. Al Qaeda is mostly a bunch of thugs who are paid by people outside Iraq just to wreck havoc by dropping poorly made IEDs. They’re not very well organized. But the Shia militias are used to working in a military manner with senior commanders, and with training sponsored by international forces in Iran. They have a sense of leadership. These guys knew what they were doing. They were launching these rockets from roads that are perfectly lined up to the Green Zone every day.”

Not only did the Shia militias buy their rockets from Iran, they paid with cash extorted from businesses in the Jamilla market. So the Iraqi government had yet another reason to want them out of Jamilla.

“It’s hard to block this whole area off,” Major Humphreys said, “because there are so many nooks and crannies that people can get in and out of. So we started building the wall. And it took us about two months. It’s a three-mile wall on what we call Route Gold. And it worked. As soon as the last barrier went in, the violence in south Sadr City almost completely stopped.”

Mahdi Army senior leaders fled as soon as they lost their funding, resources, and territory in and around the market. Some went to Iran. Others went into hiding somewhere else in Iraq. They wanted to get back in, but they couldn’t. So they made a face-saving deal with the government. They “agreed” to stay out of Sadr City entirely as long as American soldiers stayed on the south side of the Gold Wall.


Michael Totten reports: “Baghdad in Fragments”:

Many third world cities look better at night than during the day. Darkness hides shabbiness. You have to imagine what the city actually looks like. If you live in a first world city yourself, you might fill in the blanks with what you’re familiar with. It’s only during the day that you can see just how run-down the place really is.

Baghdad isn’t like that. Baghdad looks worse at night because you can barely see anything. When your mind fills in the blanks, real and imagined roadside bombs, militiamen, booby traps, and snipers lurk in the shadows.

The city can be spooky at night. Millions of people live in Baghdad, but it’s dark after hours. Few lights illuminate the mostly empty sidewalks and streets. The city’s electrical grid is still offline half the time and must be replaced. Homes without generator power are dark more often than not, and almost everyone who owns a generator turns it off when they go to sleep. Baghdad after sundown is as poorly lit as a remote mountain village…

…Many of the streets in the neighborhood were unpaved. Raw sewage ran in rivulets down the center of many.

“Local contractors were hired to fix these problems,” he said, “but they took the money and ran.”..

…I was happy to get a look at Baghdad without having to worry overly much about my own safety. Many reporters who stayed away from Iraq during the surge in 2007 and 2008 but went back at the end said they could hardly recognize Baghdad any more, that it was a different city. Those reports raised my expectations too high. It didn’t look all that different to me. There were more people out on the street. The security situation had been completely transformed. But the city was otherwise as run-down and corrupt and generally dysfunctional as it was before.

We passed beneath a rat’s nest of electrical wires. A transformer sizzled and popped over my head and blue smoke curled upward…


Israel’s nanotech industry takes off *

Bionic noses used as bomb sniffers. Mini-medical submarines that deliver drugs to individual cancer cells in your body. Tiny chemical laboratories on a chip to monitor water pollution. Self-cleaning materials that mimic a bird’s feathers. Sunscreen that doesn’t soak into your skin: If you can dream it, don’t be surprised if Israeli nanotech scientists and engineers already have too, and are now building it.

Today there are about 75 Israeli nanotech companies – up from 45 three years ago, and some 325 nanotech research teams (up from 210) working in the field, with new ideas spouting up all the time. Nanotech is becoming so hot in Israel in recent years, that this year, Israel will host its very own nanotech conference in Jerusalem.

The Israeli government has made nanotech a national priority, academics are putting their teams together, and experts at the Israel National Nanotech Initiative (INNI) report a whopping 150 percent growth of Israeli nanotech compared to recent years.

With achievements already in electronics, defense, software, communications, security and life sciences, Israel is seeing a surge in nanotechnology research and applications in many of its science labs, making it a top 10 in some fields. So says Dan Vilenski, board member of the INNI, a joint venture between the Israeli government, academia, and industry to bring Israeli nanotechnology achievements to life.

* Link thanks to Yid with Lid

The SSNP and me: Christopher Hitchens talks Lebanon, louts and the Left:

Whatever one’s view on his politics, Hitchens’ talk was an astonishing performance by a combative master of the English language. He barks, and he bites. Did he regret his sharpness with one young girl, to whom he directed a purring, “don’t go pissing me off, now?” No, indeed. “She was a brat. Possibly a nasty brat – who wouldn’t take yes for an answer.”

Left wing questioners and – peaceful – SSNP protestors at the talk who presented him with a poster inscribed “You are a fascist,” were two of the many facets of Lebanese politics displayed during Hitchens’ visit. On February 14, he saw a crowd of tens of thousands massing in Martyrs’ Square in the sunshine. They commemorated the fourth anniversary of the death of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, led by the March 14 leaders who also celebrated the uprising that saw the end of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon. And on Monday he went to Dahiyeh in the dark and rain for the Hezbollah commemoration of the first anniversary of military commander Imad Mughniyah’s death. What did he take away from this? “I’m very impressed,” he said, “by what you might call the spirit, the courage and humor of [March 14’s members].

“The contrast between the rally on February 14 and the Hezbollah commemoration was as good a contrast as you could want,”


Ace, who was traveling with the group of journalists, describes “What Happened with Hitchens”

I wasn’t there. I was there, however, for the immediate after-action report, and have heard it told ten times by now, including most of it from Hitchens. Although I didn’t really bother asking much, as I’d already heard it.

Hitch and two others were out on some or such errand. One guy was just telling Hitchens that the Syrian Nazi party had little support in the country but was paid by Syria to kill people, and that he’d been told they’re the one party you don’t fuck with.

So five minutes later they come across the poster for the Syrian Nazi Party on an abandoned bagel shop — abandoned, if I had this right, after Hezballah had attacked it last year due to the overly Jewish connotations of bagelry.

So Hitchens immediately takes out a pen and writes “No, no, Fuck You” on the poster. I don’t know if he’d digested the story and decided to fuck with them anyway, or else he was just reacting to the modified swastika on the poster.

Now, the Syrian Nazis are not popular and neighborhoods have tried to get their posters taken down. But then they threaten people and cause problems.

So the state leaves them up. To avoid getting their posters defaced or torn down, they post a paid Nazi watcher to keep an eye on their posters.

Well, when this Syrian Nazi goon saw Hitch do this, he confronted him and kinda-sorta attacked him. I say kinda sorta attacked, because what his main intent was was to delay Hitchens from leaving — until the ten Nazi goons he had just texted on his cell phone could arrive…

I first saw the SSNP’s swastika-based flag when I was in Beirut photographing Hezbollah’s rally in Dec. 2006. Since I had taken a picture of every other group and flag, I was going to take a picture of theirs too, but I stopped when I noticed how all the other Lebanese reacted to this group. They moved away from them, they glared at them – they hated them. The Christians in the neighborhood openly showed their hatred, but the were even, more subtly, treated as dangerous pariahs by their fellow Syria/Hezbollah supporters.


It’s generally assumed that they are responsible for the car bombings that terrorized most of Beirut and targeted Lebanese politicians and journalists. When police found explosives in one of their lairs, one SSNP member said “we are a resistance force, and we use different methods of resisting, among which is using explosives.”

The group was banned for a while but unfortunately, Hezbollah and concurrent Syrian influence have gotten more powerful lately. The SSNP is coming out of the shadows. I was there last August and saw that their swastika emblems are painted all over West Beirut. Their flags are on display on the road to Baalbeck.


Although most Lebanese hate this group, they usually don’t paint over the symbol or tear down these flags because they know how dangerous this group is. Since Hitchens knows the area, I assume he did too. Given the way they drive, I’d guess that many Lebanese admire this kind of crazy bravery. A lot of people would probably like to buy him a beer.

Allahpundit has more

Gene at Harry’s Place says:

“Coincidentally or not, Hitchens’s old nemesis, George Galloway, addressed a 2006 celebration in Canada commemorating the 74th anniversary of the founding of– yes– the Syrian Social Nationalist Party…So once again we gaze in bewilderment upon a world in which someone who confronted and physically fought fascists is routinely accused of selling out to the Right, while someone who celebrated with their Canadian fellow fascists is viewed by some as a hero of the Left.

Charles at LGF says:

Apparently it’s not popular to say it, but I applaud Hitchens for flipping the bird to those creeps. If more people had the guts to do things like this (and a few drinks in them to loosen them up) skinhead punks like the SSNP might not have so much power.

I wrote about growing SSNP influence in Lebanon after my last visit, but the issue didn’t get much attention. I should have started a fight –

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