World Opinion: International Reaction to the Turmoil Middle East

Jefferson Morley Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2006; 1:00 PM

World Opinion Roundup Jefferson Morley was online Friday, July 14, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about his latest column, "Nasrallah's Gamble," on international reaction to the widening Middle East conflict in Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The transcript follows.

Morley has previously blogged about the events that led up to the capture (The Hostage and the Picnic) of an Israeli soldier by Hamas militants and the reaction of Israeli and Arab media (Israel's Hostage Crisis Sparks Both Joy, Anger).


Jefferson Morley: Welcome everybody, our discussion will get underway shortly.

Comments and questions that come with links to relevant commentary will get preferential treatment.


Fairfax, Va.: Many well know commentators and pundit are arguing strongly that the U.S. must place itself in some kind of mediator role in the current growing conflict. Do you agree with this premise and if you do why or why not?

Jefferson Morley: If there is going to be a mediator, it has to be the United States. There is no other country capable of playing the role. But the alignment of U.S. and Israeli policy now means that the United States cannot play that role.


Washington, D.C.: What was the Post thinking with all those pro-Israel op-ed pieces this morning? Might we hear from somebody who thinks, rightly or wrongly, that Israel has become a rogue state and should be stopped? Or is this not permitted anymore?

Jefferson Morley: I don't know what they were thinking. The Post editorial page has traditionally been pro-Israel.

The Post did run a piece from Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh the other day which represented the Hamas government's position.


Quebec, Canada: Now that Israel has been betrayed by giving land for peace, will they refuse to do it in the future?

Jefferson Morley: Israeli commentators say that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "convergence" plan for withdrawing from parts of the West Bank and annexing others is in deep freeze now.

But I doubt that the basic idea of "land for peace" is off the Israeli political agenda forever.


Elk Grove, Calif.: Can the Israelis accomplish there stated goals without military action against Syria as well? If the Israelis take military action against Syria will that increase or decrease U.S. ability to pressure Syria over helping Iraqi insurgents?

More broadly, is deposing the regime in Damascus worth the cost?

Jefferson Morley: A correspondent for The Times of London correspondent had this to say about that:

"Israel does not seem to be thinking about an exit strategy. I think Israel's calculation is that this is a sufficiently large crisis to prompt the international community to step in and get tough with Syria for its support of Hezbollah and to make the Lebanese Government accountable for actions that take place within its borders."

He went on: "I think we can expect a day or two more of the Israeli bombardment of Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon. . . Despite pressure from hawkish elements in the Israeli military establishment, there is no plan at present to take military action against Syria."

_______________________ Briefing: Israel's reasons for its armed retaliation, (Times of London, July 13)


Princeton, N.J.: 1. Will this invasion destabilize Lebanon? Is this what Israel wants? 2. If Lebanon reverts to civil war, will Syria invade again?

Jefferson Morley: It has already destabilized Lebanon. Losing your airport, your cell phone networks, 18 bridges, and at least 61 civilians will do that

The question is how lasting the political damage will be. The longer the Israeli attacks go on, the harder it will be for Lebanon to consolidate its democracy--and it was having a hard time consolidating even before this.

I don't think Israel wants to attack Syria or vice versa. Israel fears that an Islamist regime might replace the current secular government (so does the United States). Syria fears Israel's superior military.

Its premature to talk about a Lebanese civil war.


Chappell, N.C.: What is the deal with the Lebanese air defense system and Air Force? Are they non-existent or have they chosen not to engage the Israeli Air Force? It seems the Israelis have complete Air Superiority over Lebanon and can strike at will.

Jefferson Morley: The Israelis have complete control of the skies over Lebanon. The Lebanese military is staying out of the fight for reasons of self-preservation.


Anonymous: Hey Jefferson, Just how popular do you think Hezbollah has been in Lebanon? I can't get a firm read on whether they are a real part of the larger Lebanese government or some corrupting outside influence. What do you think?

Jefferson Morley: Hezbollah, the Party of God, is the dominant political party of the Shiite community in Lebanon. Nobody knows what percentage of the country is Shiite. Best estimates run between 30 and 40 percent. Outside of that community, Hezbollah has allies, but not many supporters.

Hezbollah also has 11 members of parliament (I think, let me check that figure) and two cabinet ministers in the current government.

So they are not an outside force by any means. The fact that they are a militia as well as a political party is what bother other Lebanese political forces. But the other political parties have no way to compel Hezbollah to disarm.


Arlington, Va.: Who all are the interested parties in the Lebanon conflict? Is Iran definitely a supporter of Hezbollah, or is this just rumor? Also, is there any truth to the rumors that there are Iranian troops involved in the fighting in Lebanon? Syria always has maintained influence in Lebanon, but is it a supporter of Hezbollah? If not, what is its role in the current conflict?

Jefferson Morley: Those are some good basic questions, Arlington.

Iran is definitely a supporter of Hezbollah. The group was founded in 1982 with Iranian help. Secretary General Nasrallah studied in Iran.

I know of no credible reports that Iranian troops are involved in the fighting in Lebanon.

Syria is a supporter of Hezbollah and vice versa. But when Lebanese public opinion turned on Syria during last year's so-called Cedar Revolution, Hezbollah distanced itself from Syria in favor of "independence" and deflected international demands that it disarm by forging alliances with a Christian leader Michael Aoun.


Falls Church, Va.: Where is Israeli public opinion on the Lebanon crisis? Do Israelis support Israel's military action there? Has any major Israeli party denounced it?

Jefferson Morley: Israel public opinion seems supportive of the attack.

I think the view of Alan Abbey, founding editor of YNet News, perhaps the most popular Israeli news site, is representative when he says Israel should " Crush them [meaning Hezbollah] and then make a serious effort at crushing their handlers.

But dissenting voices are not uncommon.

Former former minister Shlomo Ben-Ami told Radio Netherlands that Israel should agree to a prisoner exchange.

Here are the links


Shlomo Ben Ami calls for a prisoner exchange

Abbey: Hizbullah and Hamas play their hole cards


Washington, D.C.: Though Hezbollah attacked first, they did attack an Israeli military target. Isn't Israel's response to inflict a response on civilians borderline terrorism? Both sides here appear to have lost any sign of order.

Jefferson Morley: So far most news reports give very comparable figures on civilian casualties. Here are current figures by reputable news sources.

Civilian deaths from Israeli attacks in Lebanon: "at least 61" (Washington Post)

Lebanese civilians wounded: 110 (The Independent, London)

Hezbollah fighters killed in Israeli attacks: 1 (NaharNet, Beirut)

Israel civilians killed by Hezbollah rockets: 1 (YNet News, Israel)

Israel civilians wounded by Hezbollah rockets: 27, 2 "moderately" 25 "lightly" (Jerusalem Post)


Buffalo, N.Y.: We hear that Hezbollah is supported by Iran, but how much do they act on Iran's behalf? Would Hezbollah need Iranian permission to cross Israeli borders, as they did last week?

Jefferson Morley: Hezbollah and Iran share political goals.

I doubt that Hezbollah needed Iranian "permission" to mount its attack on Israel that killed eight soldiers and captured two more.

I do not doubt that Hezbollah consulted with its Iranian allies about the military operation, along the lines of "We're thinking about doing this? What do you think?"


Arlington, Va.: Submitting early - some of us need to work.

The statements made by most European governments and the EU in the past day or so have largely focused on what they see as Israel's overly harsh and provocative reactions, with little or no mention of the missile attacks, border attacks, and capture of Israeli soldiers. Do these one sided and biased government statements demonstrate the inherent anti-Semitic attitude found in most of Europe?

Jefferson Morley: No. Anti-Semitic political forces in Europe have no ability to influence to government statements. The Europeans issuing the statements are not anti-Semitic.

These demonstrate European sympathy, and especially French, sympathy for Lebanon.

The biggest area of agreement between France and the United States in recent years was that Hezbollah should disarm. The French believe that the Israeli attack will make that goal harder to achieve.


Washington, D.C.: I know that no matter how the Post reports on this news, many people will accuse the paper of bias. I suppose I'm one of them.

I was very disappointed with the Post's focus on the soldier captured in Gaza. Endless photos were published, and his family has been quoted by the Post many times. The Post in my opinion went a little overboard in trying to create a sympathetic readership.

At the same time, the Israelis were killing scores of civilians, innocent children, families and the like. The Post sometimes published their names, but never photos and backgrounds like it did for the soldier.

The Post's devotion of so much press to one soldier, and then briefly mentioning scores of killed civilians, in my opinion was obviously biased.

Does the Post have a board or group that is tasked with trying to present neutral stories? And if so, I'd be curious to know the make up of this group?

Jefferson Morley: A couple of thoughts.

The Post is always criticized in this regard. I think the Post tries to present all sides. That's why the editorial page, to its credit I think, ran the piece by Palestinian prime minister the other day.

On the news side, I don't believe anyone on the news side was "trying to create sympathetic readership" about Gilad Shalit, the captured soldier.

I do agree that Western news organizations tend to treat Israeli civilian casualties as more newsworthy than Palestinian civilian casualties.


Monroe, Mich.: What is the likelihood the Israeli prisoners of war will be transferred to Iran? What would be the implications of this transfer?

Jefferson Morley: I don't think its very likely. Hezbollah is confident of its ability hide and and hold the prisoners in Lebanon.


Silver Spring, Md.: What would be a best-case or worst-case scenario with this conflict? Do the recent military actions by Israel and Hezbollah have the potential to escalate into a full-scale, extended war?

Jefferson Morley: The Daily Telegraph in London today presented five options for Israel. Obviously, Israel does not hold all the cards in the conflict but the list captures the most likely possible outcomes.

1) Israel ceases attacks soon;

2) negotiates a prisoner exchange;

3) negotiates "red lines" to deter future attacks;

4) reoccupies south Lebanon and Gaza

5) regional war

I think a prisoner exchange is the most likely outcome but not before weeks, not months, of Israeli attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon. That is probably the best case scenario. Worse case: regional war.

_______________________ The five options open to Israel, (Daily Telegraph, July 14)


Monroe, Mich.: Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers and subsequent demands for a prisoner exchange should have been expected. For decades, Israeli has held Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in jails, often without charge, and has been accountable to no one. The U.S. refusal to undertake an even-handed approach when dealing with Israel means that Arab countries/entities are forced to take radical approaches to right what they perceived as Israeli wrongs. Until the U.S. holds Israel accountable for its heavy-handed and often belligerent foreign policy, we will continue to see operations such as those conducted by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Jefferson Morley:

Thanks for your comment. Your viewpoint is prevalent in the Arab media.


Bloomsburg, Pa.: Has the USA not given every nation the cover it needs to invade another country with its Iraq gambit? Why should we expect less of any nation which perceives a threat from across its border? Israel-Lebanon, Israel-Gaza, India-Pakistan, China-Taiwan, North Korea and whomever. We have just begun to see the Bush Doctrine internationalized. It is silly for the administration to encourage Israel on one hand and expect 'restraint of harm to civilians' on the other after what we have done.

Jefferson Morley: Israel resorted to a policy of pre-emptive, if not preventive war, in Lebanon in the early 1980s. So they, at least, did not get their policy from Bush.


Toronto, Canada: It is become increasingly clear that Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are acting in concert with respect to these acts of war against Israel? Hezbollah and Hamas's manifestos are clearly anti-Semitic and genocidal and nature and Hezbollah, in particular has violated Israeli territory numerous times since Israel vacated Southern Lebanon. Why isn't the world community, other than the U.S., Australia and Canada, calling the true culprits of this outbreak to task and why is Israel forced to implement Security Council Resolution 1559 to protect its own citizenry?

Jefferson Morley: The world community isn't bringing the true culprits to task because there is no agreement about who the true culprits are.

The U.S. Israel and Australia blame Hezbollah. Most of the Arab world sees Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers as legitimate retaliation for Israeli attacks in Gaza over the past month that killed dozens of civilians.

I have not seen Israel defends its actions in Lebanon as an effort to enforce U.N. resolution 1559.


New York, N.Y.: Although here in the States we seem to say that Pres. Bush has lost credibility and influence in the world (Dana Milbank recently called our government a "rotting administration") But, in the end, be it NK, Iran, or the Middle East - every country seems to engage the US in seeking our help to pressure one side or the other.

Our we not still the number one game in town as far as money, power, and influence?

Jefferson Morley: Yes.

But it is worth noting that the U.S. ability to influence these events seems very constrained. The U.S. has not been able to forge a unified position on North Korea, for example.


Toronto, Canada: If Sharon hadn't had a stroke and was the Prime Minister instead of Olmert, do you think a prisoner exchange as a pragmatic solution to this crisis would be more likely?

Jefferson Morley: Interesting question.

I think Sharon would have reacted the same way Olmert did.

There are indications that the Israelis are open to a deal for a deal with the Palestinians to obtain Shalit's release. They are much less willing to negotiate with Hezbollah.


Berkeley, Calif.: Israel and US have been discussing and toying with the idea of Bombing Iranian Nuclear facilities. US has been suggesting that Israel can go ahead and strike these facilities with full support from the US.

The Israeli rhetoric seems to be aimed at Syria and Iran as much as Hezbollah. They have even mentioned Iran's nukes in their official statements.

Will the current crisis give the Israeli's the the pretext they need to so?

Jefferson Morley: No.

Right now, they are different issues. I would be very surprised if Israeli struck Iran's nuclear facilities in the context of this crisis.

That's not to say that this crisis does not make an Israeli or U.S. military strike on those facilities more likely in the long run. It probably does.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: With the United States' overwhelming support of Israel, why has Hezbollah not attacked U.S. targets since the Marine Barracks attack in the early 1980s?

Jefferson Morley: Hezbollah knows there's no political advantage in striking out at American targets.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Why does the U.S. media assert that the Israeli soldiers have been kidnapped, when they have in fact been captured? There is always an adjective double-standard when it concerns Israel. Palestinians are labeled Islamic terrorists, Palestinian militants, or Islamic fundamentalists. Israelis are labeled Jewish hardliners or Jewish extremists. The negative attributes given to Palestinians influence the way they are perceived in America. Why the double-standard in U.S. media outlets?

Jefferson Morley: Today's Post story says the soldiers were "abducted" and describes them as "captives." In my column, I used the term "captured" because it seems more true to the context. To forcibly apprehend uniformed soldiers in a conflict zone seems more like a capture than a kidnapping to me.

When Hezbollah lured an Israeli businessman to Beirut on the pretext of a shady deal and captured him, well, that was kidnapping.


Madison, Wisc.: "I have not seen Israel defends its actions in Lebanon as an effort to enforce U.N. resolution 1559. "

Maybe you should read the newspapers?

In response to UN complaints about its actions in Lebanon, "Olmert said he will cooperate with U.N. envoys to the Middle East "only in case their aim is to return the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and implementing 1559 fully.""

Jefferson Morley: Thanks for the link.

It shows Israel is saying its wants the United Nations to implement 1559.

It is not saying that its actions are the implementation of a U.N. resolution.


Chelmsford, Mass.: It is interesting that Israel is always at fault in your mind (and the anti-Semitic European governments) no matter who launches an attack.

Lebanon launched the attack against civilian targets in Israel as a diversion for the capture of the soldiers.

This is an act of war and Israel has every right to respond.

Jefferson Morley: I didn't say that Israel is always at fault.

I don't see a factual basis for describing European governments as "anti-Semitic."


Washington, D.C.: Faced with questionable prospects for upcoming mid-term elections the occupation of Iraq was launched, effectively rallying everyone around the President and washing clean the negative feelings about his performance to that point in time. With Republicans facing even more negative predictions for the next mid-term elections, do you think the President and Rove will use the current Middle East violence spiral to justify U.S. intervention thereby turning around the Party's political prospects? And, if so what can the Democrats do about it?

Jefferson Morley: I think that the Republicans will use the current situation to justify U.S. intervention in Iraq but I don't think its a strong rallying point a la Sept. 11.

The impression of widening war in chaos in the Middle East may also serve to undermine the administration's claims that it has checked the spread of terrorism and advanced the cause of democracy in the region.

This, I suspect, will be one of the Democrats' line of counterattack.


Rockville, Md.: It is so rare that the Post gives any attention to an Israeli terrorist death that the one case it did raises attention. Israel has been under continued missile fire from Gaza, which it evacuated and turned over to a nascent Palestinian state, for months, but the media are presenting the story of overreaction to one kidnapping rather than continued assaults. More than 200,000 Israeli are sleeping in shelters due to these attacks. The Post balance on the news pages has definitely been against Israel.

Jefferson Morley: Like I said the Post is going to be criticized regardless.

You correct that Israel has been under continuous missile fire from Gaza since the Israeli's left. The Post has paid less attention to these attacks because they have been ineffectual, at least compared to Israeli actions in the same time frame.

The Palestinian missiles have not killed a single Israeli this year. In the same periods scores of civilians in Gaza have been killed in Israeli attacks.

The same proportions hold in the Lebanese theater.

Hezbollah missiles killed one civilian and wounded up to 20 more. Israeli attacks in Lebanon have killed 61 civilians and wounded up to 170.

These are figures appear in the Israeli press which presumably is not biased against Israel.


Jefferson Morley: Thanks for all the questions. We have gone a half an hour past our allotted time.

I'm sorry I couldn't get to them all.

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So long.


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