Morning Report: October 31, 2006

Eye in the sky. A terrorist gets lucky, allies do nuke drills, and Israel keeps tabs on its enemies to the north. But there are some changes on the ground that you can't see from an airplane.

Pakistan attack yields limited results, no dead Zawahiri. Yesterday's attack on a madrassa in Pakistan probably didn't kill Zawahiri, says Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Counterterrorism Blog: 'I just spoke with a military intelligence source who confirmed that the Bajur airstrike (see Andy Cochran's post on it) was conducted by a U.S. Predator, adding that helicopters were also involved. The strike occurred around dawn, as people in the camp were preparing for their morning prayers. My source is skeptical of speculation that Zawahiri may have been killed in the strike, saying that Zawahiri sightings are a dime a dozen. He says it's possible that Matiur Rehman was killed, but is also skeptical of that.' The Pakistani government claimed responsibility for the strike, but they probably didn't do it; Stratfor's analysis figures that 'From Musharraf's standpoint, the notion that Pakistani forces carried out a strike against their fellow citizens is somewhat less damaging than the perception that he has permitted infringements of national sovereignty.' For Musharraf, this is the better of two bad options. (CTB, Stratfor)

Proliferation Security Exercise off Iranian coast. Vital Perspective: '25 nations took part in a U.S.-led naval exercise in waters not far from Iran aimed at training forces to block the transport of weapons of mass destruction and related equipment. Italy, the U.S., Australia, Britain, France and Bahrain deployed ships and personnel to the drill, part of President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Other countries, including the UAE, Qatar, Pakistan and South Korea, sent observers. About 20 miles from Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, Italian and Bahraini marines sped through the water in small inflatable bloats and boarded a British vessel, the RFA Brambleleaf, which was carrying mock nuclear detonators. Marines armed with machine guns guarded the crew as another team searched the vessel.' (Vital Perspective)

Israel overflies Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. Debka: 'Israel Air Force warplanes over-fly Hizballah’s reconstructed command centers and fortifications in S. Beirut Tuesday. According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the low Israeli air passes, about which the Lebanese government complained, recorded Hizballah’s reestablishment in Beirut’s Shiite Dahya district, two months after its military centers were flattened in the Lebanon war. It is now a closed military zone whose entry is closely guarded by Hizballah operatives. Israeli warplanes also recorded Hizballah’s revived bunker system, foundations for new rocket launchers and rebuilt intelligence and surveillance positions rising day by day along the Lebanese-Israeli border. Similarly, the tempo of Iranian-Syrian weapons consignments to Hizballah units has been stepped up. They include ground-to-ground missiles, anti-air, anti-tank and shore-to-sea missiles. DEBKAfile’s military sources confirm that Hizballah has fully re-stocked the arsenal of rockets of the type which blasted northern Israel for 33 days in July and August.' Debka identifies the benefits of UNIFIL and Resolution 1701 to Syria and Iran as follows:
1. The takeover of Beirut’s government centers in Beirut by Iran-backed Hizballah and pro-Syrian factions – if possible without bloodshed. The weapons will be used to quell possible political or armed resistance. None of these groups, joined by Gen. Michel Aoun’s pro-Syrian Maronie Christians will have no qualms about sparking a civil war or murdering prime minister Fouad Siniora and other ministers in order to achieve their aims. This information has been in American, French, German and Israeli intelligence since the start of October, prompting US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to say Monday, Oct. 30: “We too have heard that there are people who would like to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Siniora. We’ve heard that there are people who would like to intimidate or assassinate again, they’ve done it before in Lebanon.”

2. In the case of an armed clash, however limited in scope, between the US and Iranian forces massed in the Persian Gulf or in Iraq – which Israel’s high command believes unavoidable – informed Israeli sources have no doubt Hizballah will hit back on Tehran’s behalf with a fresh rocket offensive against Israeli cities.

Reuters has this: 'Israeli warplanes flew at a low altitude over Beirut, its suburbs and large areas of south Lebanon on Tuesday, witnesses and Lebanese security sources said. United Nations peacekeepers and Lebanon say Israeli overflights violate Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in August. Israel says its combat planes would continue to fly over Lebanon to ensure that weapons are not smuggled into southern Lebanon from Syria to resupply Hezbollah.' (Debka, Reuters)

Gaza op underway. Arutz Sheva: 'Though not quite the invasion that has been widely called for of late, an IDF reserves force entered Gaza overnight in an operation to ferret out terrorist cells. Four Kassams hit Negev. The objective of the IDF mission was to remove trees and brush that could be used to camouflage terrorists, and to otherwise thwart potential attacks from southern Gaza against Israel. The soldiers entered Gaza east of Khan Yunis, near the former site of Gush Katif "capital" N'vei Dekalim and north of the Sufah Crossing. They began clearing the area in an effort to make it harder for terrorists to lie in wait to carry out attacks.' (A7)

Commentary. As I've said before, I think the Bush Administration's strategy provides for regime change in Tehran and Damascus, because without it, none of the Administration's moves up to this point would make any sense. But what about the changes taking place in America and elsewhere in the Western world?

A recent (subscription) column by David Brooks in the New York Times speculated on the coming "era of what's next" when neither conservatism nor liberalism dominates. Judith's recent post explored the challenging relationships between people from different political camps. And this, I think, is the big story in its own way.

Michael Totten has some thoughts on the movie 'Syriana'. Money quote:
Part of the story revolves around powerful oil companies that dictate American foreign policy, which is cartoonish and conspiratorial. (Oil companies, in the real world, lobbied for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq rather than for regime-change in Iraq. They did not get their way.)

This is only one part of the story, however. If you can just let it go and run with it for the sake of the movie, the rest holds up reaonably well on a thematic level. Liberal and reformist Muslims are the good guys. The Islamists are not. The point of the story, as the plot unfolds, is obvious: the United States should support liberal and reformist Muslims in the Middle East for their sake as well as for ours. You could argue, if you wanted, that Syriana is a neoconservative film. The writer and the director don’t think of it that way. But that’s partly because liberalism and neoconservatism are not as far apart as they think.

It's not just that liberalism and conservatism are in flux; it's that the very notions of "conservatism" and "liberalism" have mutated almost beyond recognition. Many people still identify, and will continue to identify, as "liberals" or "conservatives"; but it will be just that, a matter of identity more than of philosophy.

Frank Warner, a liberal for liberation, has a response to Thomas Sowell's column on diversity. Warner writes: 'What unites us? I wouldn’t give up too fast on diversity, but we all have to recognize the limits of its benefits and its potential for division and destruction. We want diversity, lots of it, and we want to stir it all together.'

When the smoke clears and the dust settles from the current Mideast conflict, many basic questions will still remain. We will have to deal with one another, and we will have to exchange ideas and opinions. How do we deal with differing political opinions, religions, philosophies, cultures, worldviews? That question itself is part of the debate. And it is why some of the most important changes will not be brought about on the battlefield, but in our daily lives.