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US Congress Support For Israel.

US Jewish organisations "launched a major lobbying offensive in... [Washington] to give Israel more time to deal a decisive blow", wrote The Forward, a US Jewish newspaper. Both the US Senate and the House of Representatives have unanimously voted to give their complete support for Israel's offensive against Hizbullah. The Washington Post said this reflected "a bipartisan desire to not only defend a key US ally but also solidify long-term backing of Jewish voters and political donors in the...[US]". House Republican leader John Boehner cited Israel's "unique relationship" with the US as a reason for his colleagues to swiftly go on record supporting Israel. The resolution was similar to one the Senate had passed in the previous week. It harshly condemned Israel's enemies and said Syria and Iran should be held accountable for providing Hizbullah with money and missile technology used to attack Israel.

Some US lawmakers believe the political calculation is undermining efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. "There is no danger for the candidates", Rep. James Moran, D-Va., told reporters, adding that those politicians "will get rewarded politically and financially for getting out front in their support".

Many US lawmakers are facing re-election in November, and polls confirm that since 9/11 support for Israel has intensified among both the politicians and the public. So strong was the momentum for the resolution that it steamrolled efforts by a small group of House members who argued that Congress's pro-Israel stance went too far, they quietly expressed reservations that the resolution was too much the result of powerful lobbying and attempts to court Jewish voters.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was the only Republican to vote against the resolution. Democrats who voted against the measure of support were Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, John Conyers, Carolyn Kilpatrick and John Dingell, all from Michigan, Jim McDermott of Washington, Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Pete Stark of California.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., who is of Lebanese descent, said: "I'm just sick in the stomach, to put it mildly". Rahall joined other Arab-American lawmakers in drafting an alternative resolution that would have omitted language-holding Lebanon responsible for Hizbullah's actions and called for restraint from all sides. Rahall said that proposal was "politely swept under the rug", a political reality he and others said reflected the influence Israel had in Congress. "There's a lot [of lawmakers] that don't feel it's right...but vote yes", Rahall said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who co-sponsored the alternative resolution and also is of Lebanese descent, agreed. Issa said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby "throws in language that AIPAC wants. That isn't always the best thing for this body to endorse". Nevertheless, Issa voted in favour of the resolution, saying: "I want to show support for Israel's right to defend itself". Another lawmaker with Lebanese roots, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., voted in favour of the resolution despite holding deep reservations on its language regarding Lebanon.

The lack of momentum for alternative proposals frustrated pro Arab-American groups. "This is the usual problem with any resolution that talks about Israel - there are a lot of closet naysayer [in Congress], but they don't want to be a target of the lobby of Israel",said Eugene H. Bird, president of the Council for the National Interest, a group which harshly condemns Israel's military campaign. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and of Lebanese descent, told reporters: "These guys aren't legislating. They're politicking".

Sunni-Shi'ite Rift: As Arab satellite TV stations broadcast images of death and destruction in Lebanon around the clock, Arab leaders are warning that Israel's offensive is exacerbating anti-American sentiment and could lead to more widespread violence. Radical opposition groups are channelling public outrage at the perceived inaction of their own regimes as well as at Israel and the support it is receiving from Washington. But the role of Hizbullah has exposed divisions among Sunni jihadi groups of the Neo-Salafi order.

Website chatter suggests some are unsure how to deal with Hizbullah's success in winning Arab popular support. Hizbullah is usually viewed by Sunni purists as a heretical organisation because of its adherence to Ja'fari Shi'ism.

However, al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on July 27 warned that his Neo-Salafi group would not stand by while Israel rained shells on its "brothers" in Gaza and Lebanon. In a taped message, he called for Muslims to join forces and fight the "Zionist-Crusader" war.

Egypt's officially banned Muslim Brotherhood, which has renounced violence, has embraced Hizbullah's resistance and condemned a fatwa (religious decree) issued on July 27 by Saudi religious leaders of the Wahhabi order forbidding support for Hizbullah. The fatwa, broadcast by pan-Arab/pan-Islamic TV networks, described the Ja'fari Shi'ites as "rafadiyeen" (rejectionists, i.e., heretics).

The Brotherhood said the Wahhabi fatwa was divisive and embarrassing. Wahhabism is a Salafi religious order. Neo-Salafism, a far more radical extreme of Wahhabism, is an ideology which came into being in the 1950s. Al-Qaeda is a Neo-Salafi organisation which has become trans-national.

Initially both the Egyptian and Saudi governments blamed Hizbullah for provoking the crisis. But with mounting civilian casualties in Lebanon and growing admiration in much of the region for Hizbullah's defiance on the battlefield, Arab governments have been under pressure from public opinion to change tack. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have intensified calls for a ceasefire in recent days. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt now describes Israel's tactics as "destructive chaos" and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warns of a wider regional war. King Abdullah of Jordan, who in 2004 warned against "a Shi'ite crescent" spreading from Iran through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is among the critics of Hizbullah for its "adventurism".

Saudi King Abdullah on July 28 was quoted as saying: "Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war".

Struggling to contain their own bloody sectarian conflict, Iraqi officials are ever more alarmed at the broader impact of the crisis. The FT on July 28 quoted Iraq's Kurdish Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari as saying: "Lebanon is adversely affecting the situation in Iraq - it will lead to extremism, anti-Americanism. It is in everybody's interest to contain it".

Some moderate Arab commentators have questioned whether the destruction of Lebanon is too high a price to pay for Hizbullah's defiance of Israel. But a cross-section of Arab opinion derides the cautious diplomatic approach of Arab rulers as symptomatic of the political paralysis brought about by decades of Washington's backing for regimes which bowed to Israel's superior firepower.

Hizbullah leader Nasrallah has been addressing himself to the Islamic Ummah (all Muslims), as well as to the Arab and Muslim masses, and has been underlining the failure of Arab regimes to move on the Middle East peace process as a way of justifying the more confrontational approach adopted by his group. Demonstrators in Cairo have carried images of Nasrallah alongside Gamal Abdel-Nasser - Egypt's late nationalist president who is perceived, despite Egypt's defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, as the last regional leader to have stood up to Israel.

Muhammad Sayed el-Sa'id, an analyst at the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, was on July 28 quoted as saying: "There is a suppressed fury all over the Arab world that has never really translated into action on the part of the public except in Lebanon. [Hizbollah] is the only example of Arabs that can stand for a cause and put up a serious fight and can alarm international public opinion by showing we can answer back. The Saudis and Egyptians are not really willing to see anyone doing that because they have failed to do that themselves".

Yet the Wahhabi and Neo-Salafi appeals are drawing the Sunnis more against Ja'fari Shi'ism in a sectarian conflict which can potentially become more explosive than anti-Americanism. The Sunnis form the overwhelming majority in the 1.4 bn strong Muslim World.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jul 31, 2006
Previous Article:Hizbullah's Surprises.
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