Monday, July 31, 2006

Back in Germany

Alas, some attention needs to be paid to other matters going on in the world, particularly in the European Union. For some months the Germans have been rather pleased to have a Chancellor who was not too much of an embarrassment and Angela Merkel’s popularity has remained high, as has that of the Grand Coalition.

It was, however, merely a matter of time before the long-suffering German electorate will start wondering when and how those much discussed reforms will actually take place, whom will they affect and what will be the outcome. In other words, when is Chancellor Merkel going to stop being and international figure and start being a German leader?

Deutsche Welle reports that
“The survey, conducted by the TNS Infratest institute for the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, showed that around 77 percent were unhappy with the government's work, an increase of 11 percent of unsatisfied citizens from the poll taken two months ago.

The reasons behind the faltering lack of faith in the German administration appears to stem from the increasingly public rifts between the coalition partners, unusually high tax increases and unpopular health insurance reforms.”
Chancellor Merkel’s popularity still rides high (or highish).
“In May, 64 percent of Germans were satisfied with Merkel's work. Sunday's poll put her approval rating at 54 percent. Those unhappy with the chancellor rose to 45 percent from 35 percent in the previous poll.

Merkel enjoyed a sustained early popularity rating due to a round of highly impressive performances on the international stage and a pragmatic approach to domestic governance at home. The dip in approval could be attributed to the overall
performance of her government, the survey suggested.”
It is true that international affairs attract much attention at the moment, particularly the crisis in the Middle East but, then, when is it otherwise? Despite bombastic pronouncements otherwise, however, as we have pointed out repeatedly on this blog, neither the European countries nor the EU will play much of a part in that particular imbroglio.

One reason for this powerlessness (as opposed to soft or sloshy power) is the poor economic performance of the various countries. Possibly, it is time for Chancellor Merkel and her Grand Coalition to address that problem.

Who is this man?

For an update on this post, see here.

Emoting to order?If he had been a genuine rescue worker, he would deserve a medal. Mr "Green Helmet" is everywhere at Qana, rushing around pulling children out of the rubble, carting them to ambulances and even, on the front page of the Guardian, escorting "White Tee-shirt", who also performs his own cameo role, carting round the body of another unfortunate girl, emoting freely while he does so.

That photograph is credited to Nicolas Asfouri of AFP/Getty Images and the caption reads, "A man screams for help as he carries the body of a young girl after Israeli air strikes on the southern Lebanese village of Qana".

"White Tee-shirt" is still "screaming" on the front page of The Telegraph, but in an altogether different location, this photograph attributed to Reuters. He also makes the front page of The Times and The Independent, in yet another location, with “Green Helmet” just out of shot.

The New York Times, however, has "Green Helmet" dragging the body of yet another unfortunate child from the ruins, this photograph attributed to Tyler Hicks of The New York Times. The caption reads, "Rescue workers recovered bodies at the scene of an Israeli air raid on the southern Lebanese town of Qana on Sunday".

We also get one more shot of the baby dragged from the rubble – yet another pose to add to the many already published. This time, "Blue Tee-shirt" is standing behind the baby's body, holding its head up to make a more dramatic picture.

The picture itself is in Arab News with the caption, "A dead child, a victim of Jewish terror, is taken out of a destroyed building in Qana on Sunday. The pacifier of the child is seen hanging from the vest, a mute testimony to the innocent victim's tragic end." The photograph is attributed to EPA.

A picture remarkably similar to that in The New York Times is also offered by Reuters, attributed to Zohra Bensemra. Its caption reads, "A Lebanese volunteer rescuer carries a child killed in the Israeli air raid in Qana." It looks like the same child, but "Green Helmet", seems to have swapped positions for the camera with "Grey Tee-shirt".

Gulf News, on the other hand, has "Green Helmet" carrying the body of the girl shown in the previous post, but in yet another, slightly more picturesque location. This shot carries no attribution and the caption is not related to the picture. It refers to the cessation of air strikes by the Israelis.

But the great tragedy for Qana, of which we are constantly reminded by the media, is that this is history apparently repeating itself. On 18 April 1996, the village was also visited by death and destruction. re-visiting the photographs of the time, however, who do we see at the centre of the action? Why, "Green Helmet" of course. This is a younger man, without his glasses, but recognisably the same man, in his now classic pose of handling a victim of an Israeli "atrocity".

His presence at Qana on Sunday, and his central, unchallenged role, cannot have been a coincidence. Is he a senior ranking Hezbollah official? If not, who is he?

* * * *

And here he is again!

This time, according to Reuter's Zohra Bensemra, "Green Helmet" is a Lebanese rescue worker, watching "while a bulldozers clears away the rubble of a building demolished by an Israeli air strike in Sreefa, 18 miles (30km) south east of the port-city of Tyre(Soure)". The dateline is 31 July, 2006, at 10:37 am.

Doesn't Hezbollah have anyone else the media can photograph?


Meanwhile in another part of the battlefront

While my colleague has been scooping the world media and getting admiring links from the blogosphere I had a look at that famous riot against the UN that is protesting about events in Qana. Now, I have no desire to defend the UN, given that it has allowed Hezbollah to use its posts as part of latter's grand strategy but I suggest our readers have a look (if their technology allows it) at the Deutsche Welle video. "Middle East situation escalates after airstrike on Qana" is the one to watch. Perhaps I am ultra cynical and suspicious but that looks a might peculiar riot to me. Enjoy.


Milking it?

This post has been superseded by our latest report . We have left it in place for archival purposes only.

Certainly, the photographs are distressing, and indeed they are meant to be. As this piece tells us:

Until recent years, images of civilian casualties in wars often took days to appear in newspapers, but now they can be captured and transmitted around the world to newspaper Web sites, where they are posted immediately, adding to the shock value that sketchy words by reporters often cannot capture. This happened again Sunday morning in the case of the Israeli air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana that left dozens dead, reportedly at least half of them children sleeping in their beds overnight.

The photos, taken by The Associated Press, Reuters, and others, showed bodies in the rubble, or being taken away; survivors digging or wailing…
But the photographers, it seems, are not too fussy about how they go about "adding to the shock value". These two sequences illustrate the extent to which photographers on the scene are prepared to ensure that the "shock value" is maximised.

In this first of the two sequences, we see a shot by Reuters and taken by Adnan Hajj, timed at 2:21 pm. It has the caption:

Rescuers pull the body of a toddler victim of an Israeli air raid on Qana that killed more than 60 people, the majority of them women and children, in south Lebanon, July 30, 2006.
Note the "rescue worker" in the foreground, complete with olive green military-style helmet and fluorescent jacket, with what appears to be a flack jacket underneath. His glasses, "designer stubble", blue tee-shirt and jeans make him quite a distinctive figure. Note also, he has a radio in his jacker pocket and he has bare hands, things which becomes relevant later.

The next shot in this sequence is credited to AP's Kevin Frayer. Timed at 4.09 pm, it shows the same "rescue" worker, and has this caption:

Lebanese Red Cross and Civil Defense workers carry the body of a small child covered in dust from the rubble of his home that was hit in an Israeli missile strike in the village of Qana, east of the port city of Tyre, Lebanon, Sunday. Lebanese Red Cross officials said 56 people died in the Israeli assault on the village, including 34 children. Rescuers dug through the debris to remove dozens of bodies.
This is horrific, but a scrutiny of the framing does suggest that the subject is offering the victim to the photographer.

Just in case you missed it, however, we get another view, courtesy of Reuter's Adnan Hajj, with a time given of 4:30 pm - some 20 minutes after the first shot. The caption reads:

A rescuer carries the body of a toddler victim of an Israeli air raid on Qana that killed more than 60 people, the majority of them women and children, in south Lebanon, July 30, 2006.
Interestingly, in this sequence, the pocket radio is missing. And, although the positioning of the child looks the same, the angle of the shot looks to be about ninety degrees from the first, but in each case, the "worker" is facing towards the camera. The shots are clearly posed.

But now, timed at 12:45 pm, an hour and twenty minutes before the child's body is pictured being pulled from the ruins, we get a picture from AP's Kevin Frayer of the same child's body being paraded by our ubiquitous helmeted rescue worker.

Lebanese Red Cross and Civil Defense workers carry the body of a small child covered in dust from the rubble of his home that was hit in an Israeli missile strike in the village of Qana, east of the port city of Tyre, Lebanon, Sunday, July 30, 2006. Lebanese Red Cross officials said 56 people died in the Israeli assault on the village, including 34 children. Rescuers dug through the debris to remove dozens of bodies.
At 12.53 pm, after an interval of eight minutes, Frayer photographs the child's body again, from a different angle. The caption is the same. This time, though, our helmeted worker is showing some distress, which was absent in the previous photograph.

The photographs show the characters moving down the hill, with little distance between the scenes, which suggest that they have been taken sequentially and spontaneously. But they have not. The eight minute interval has allowed a crowd to gather around "green helmet". Furthermore, "orange jacket" has switched from left to right. Note also the tee-shirted man in the centre of the picture.

Then, timed at 1:01 pm, eight minutes on, we get another picture from Frayer. Once again, the caption is the same but this time the child's body is being paraded aloft by our ubiquitous helmeted rescue worker, but the tee-shirted character had moved from centre to right and is taking his turn to displaying his emotion to the camera. The UN soldier in the background has turned away, confirming a time lapse. The scene is clearly staged, as have been those preceding it.

Next, we have the second of the two sequences, the first shot of which, timed at 7.21 am shows a dead girl in an ambulance. Taken by AP, the caption reads:

Among others, the body of a child recovered under the rubble of a demolished building that was struck by Israeli war plane missiles at the village of Qana near the southern Lebanon city of Tyre, is placed in an ambulance Sunday July 30.
In the next frame, we have the same girl, this time apparently being placed in the ambulance. Also taken by AP,this time by Mohammed Zaatari the caption here reads:

A Lebanese rescuer carries the body of a young girl recovered from under the rubble of a demolished building that was struck by Israeli warplane missiles at the village of Qana, near the southern city of Tyre, Lebanon, Sunday, July 30, 2006. Dozens of civilians, including many children, were killed Sunday in an Israeli airstrike that flattened houses in this southern Lebanon village - the deadliest attack in 19 days of fighting.
Intriguingly, though, the dateline given is 10.25 am, three hours after she has already been photographed in the ambulance.

Also from AP's Nasser Nasser, we see the same worker, showing obvious distress, carrying the same girl. But now he is wearing his fluorescent jacket and helmet and has acquired latex gloves. He has also got his radio back. The photograph is timed at 10.44 am and the caption reads:

A civil defense worker carries the body of Lebanese child recovered from the rubble of a demolished building that was struck by an Israeli airstrike at the village of Qana near the southern Lebanon city of Tyre, Sunday, July 30, 2006. Israeli missiles struck this southern Lebanese village early Sunday, flattening houses on top of sleeping residents. The Lebanese Red Cross said the airstrike, in which at least 34 children were killed, pushed the overall Lebanese death toll to more than 500.
Here we are now, same "worker" and same girl, but this time it is done for the benefit of EPA, the photographer, Mohamed Messara, the worker rushing towards a uniformed Red Cross worker. This caption (without a time) reads:

A rescue worker carries the body of a Lebanese girl after an Israeli air strike on the village of Qana, east of the southern port city of Tyre, on Sunday 30 July 2006. At least 51 people were killed, many of them children, and several others wounded in the raid Sunday, witnesses and rescue workers said.
But now, for the benefit of AFP, the photgraph taken by Nicolas Asfouri, we have the same unfortunate child being handled by another worker, the original worker showing in the background, having passed the casualty on. The timing of the photograph is 7.16 pm (now apparently corrected to 6:46 am) and the caption reads:

A rescue worker puts the body of a dead girl on a gurney after Israeli air strikes on the southern Lebanese village of Qana. Israel agreed to temporarily halt air strikes in south Lebanon a day after 52 people were killed, many of them sleeping children, when Israeli warplanes bombarded the Lebanese village of Qana, triggering global outrage and warnings of retribution for alleged "war crimes".
Remember, however, earlier in the sequence, the girl is being carried to the ambulance, by the other worker, sans jacket, helmet and gloves.

Finally, in this sequence, we get another shot from AP's Nasser Nasser, again without a timing but with this caption:

A civil defence worker carries a body of a young Lebanese child recovered from the rubble of a demolished building that was struck by Israeli war plane missiles at the village of Qana near the southern Lebanon city of Tyre, Sunday, July 30, 2006.
Whatever else, the event in Qana was a human tragedy. But the photographs do not show it honestly. Rather, they have been staged for effect, exploiting the victims in an unwholesome manner. In so doing, they are no longer news photographs - they are propaganda. And, whoever said the camera cannot lie forgot that photographers can and do. Those lies have spread throughout the world by now and will be in this morning's newspapers, accepted as real by the millions who view them.

The profession of photo-journalism thereby is sadly diminished by them, and the trust in those who took them and in those who carried them is misplaced. Truly, we are dealing with loathesome creatures.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

In whose interest?


See also Fox News which has an IDF video on its site (advert first).

The aftermath of the Israeli air strike at QanaThe BBC has gone into overdrive this morning over the news that an Israeli air strike killed at least 51 Lebanese civilians, including 23 children, in the southern village of Qana.

A more comprehensive and balanced online account comes from the Sydney Morning Herald which pulls in multiple agency reports and news from other sources.

The attack, the paper has said, has prompted the Lebanese government to cancel a planned visit to Beirut by Condoleezza Rice, with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora saying he would hold no negotiations before a ceasefire. Officials have said they had told Rice to stay away from Beirut until the fighting stopped. Siniora has denounced "Israeli war criminals" and is demanded an immediate, unconditional ceasefire and an international investigation into "Israeli massacres".

But what makes the Morning Herald's account more balanced is that it conveys details of the Israeli response, retailing the IAF stating that the air force was unaware that civilians were sheltering in a building. "We did not know of the whereabouts of civilians in the village," IAF spokesman, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz was quoted as saying by the NRG Maariv website after meeting President Moshe Katsav.

A senior air force commander said a precision-guided bomb was dropped on a home in Qana on the assumption that it was sheltering Hezbollah crews that had fired several volleys of missiles into northern Israel. "Had we known there were that many civilians inside, especially women and children, we certainly would not have attacked it," the commander told Reuters.

Asked how Israel's intelligence services could know about missile launches from Qana but not about the presence of dozens of civilians, the commander said: "We are capable of detecting missile launches because they are very dynamic."

By contrast, he said the civilians appeared to have been holed up in the building for days, and were therefore almost impossible for aerial surveillance systems to discern. According to this spokesman, Hezbollah had launched scores of missiles from Qana into Israel, including one that hit a hospital. He said several of the launched took place within a few dozens metres of the house that was bombed.

Hezbollah deploying heavy weapons in a built-up residential areaWhat we don't get from the BBC and its other left wing fellow-travellers is any sense of this. Only from the blogs and other sources (not least, last week’s superb editorial in The Business and more recently documented by the Australian Herald Sun, which supplied the photograph shown right) do we get any understanding of what is going on.

Only through these sources do we learn that Hezbollah gunmen (in civilian clothes) have been preventing civilians from evacuating, have been deliberately using civilians as "human shields" and have been employing strategies for maximising Israeli "collateral damage" in order to provide a potent propaganda weapon, a ploy which the western media so easily fall for.

But the fact is that Hizbollah have turned southern Lebanon into a war zone. They have been deliberately provoking a response from the Israelis, who must protect their own population. The civilians in the region are being used as pawns in a wicked game, the results of which we see Qana.

A thousand French civilians killed by British bombers in July 1944In the greater scheme of things, it is also fascinating in a macabre way, to see how values change. In July 1944, for instance, the RAF’s Bomber Command launched a ferocious attack on a narrow area of northern Caen in an attempt to break the German resistance, despite considerable doubts having been expressed over the utility of such an attack.

In all, 467 British Lancaster and Halifax heavy bombers dropped 2,276 tons of bombs, yet not one single dead German or any enemy equipment was found in the area that had been bombed. The French, however, were not so fortunate. Despite massive evacuations, many French civilians perished, estimated at between 3-400 to as many as 1,000. In all, French civilians killed in the Battle of Normandy are put at between 20,000 and 67,000.

A 'Red Cross' worker obligingly holding up the body of a child for photographers to recordCivilian casualties in war are always regrettable and the death toll in the Second World War is still subject to much debate. But, what is different now is that such casualties are being used actively as a weapon of war, where propaganda is as potent as bullets in achieving strategic aims. The media have been given free access to photograph the bodies of victims, many of which, conveniently, have been wrapped in transparent polythene sheeting.

Typically, the European Union has fallen for the propaganda. According to the AFX agency, the Finnish presidency of the EU has said it was shocked and dismayed by Israeli raids on the Lebanese village of Qana. "There is no justification for attacks causing casualties among innocent civilians, most of them women and children," the presidency said in a statement.

Before the outrage directed at Israel spreads too far, therefore, commentators might do well to remember the past. In this, perhaps, it is interesting to note that, on the back of Qana, the calls for a ceasefire have intensified. I wonder whose interest that serves?

* * * *

Update here, which indicates that the building sheltering the refugees was not targeted. Our own forum reports that Fox News has been showing footage of Hezbollah missiles being fired from Qana.

Also, the Security Council is meeting today, with Kofi asking it to condemn the attack.

Update at 7 pm: Olmert has issued a statement claiming that Qana has been used as a base for launching missiles against Israel, backed up by IDF video footage showing missiles being launched (broadcast on BBC News 24 on the 7pm bulletin). Blair, speaking from California, says, "these atrocities must not be allowed to continue".

Update at 8.10 pm: According to Israel National News, Senior IDF officers say there is a contradiction in the timing of the bombing of Qana and reports of the explosion. Air Force Commander Amir Eshel left open the possibility that Hizbullah terrorists blew up the building or that an unknown cause set off explosives which were stored in the structure.

He explained that recorded information shows that Israeli Air Force planes bombed the building between midnight and 1 am and that the next attack at 7:30 am was up to 500 yards away. He said reports of the killing of civilians came around 8 am. "It is not clear what happened" between 1 am and 8 am, he said.

ABC News reports that the "missiles" (their word) struck just after 1 am, while Reuters reports that police said Qana was bombed at 1:30 am (2230 GMT on Saturday).


Looking the other way

A Snatch Land Rover on fire after an IED attack"While the world remains understandably transfixed on Lebanon and Israel, one fact bears keeping in mind: more people were killed in Iraq in the past two weeks than in Israel and Lebanon combined," writes Andrew Sullivan in The Sunday Times.

The numbers tell the story: 2,669 Iraqis lost their lives to violence in May. In June the number jumped to 3,149. Almost all the deaths were deliberate targeting of civilians. The attempt after the death of insurgent Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to assert the Maliki government's control of Baghdad — a police and military offensive in the capital — has been revealed as a failure within a few weeks.

In many ways, says Sulivan, the biggest story of the past fortnight may, in other words, have been missed. It was not the moment that Israel used "disproportionate” force; it was the moment when the West's inadequate force in Iraq was revealed as finally, irredeemably, insufficient to the task."

It is rather apposite, therefore, that in the Booker column today is a picture (above) which illustrates precisely one aspect of that "inadequate force… insufficient to the task". This is a burning Snatch Land Rover, which has been hit by a roadside bomb.

Booker recalls that I have been pointing out on this blog why these hopelessly inadequate patrol vehicles, which provide no protection against mines or roadside bombs, have been responsible for the deaths of more than a quarter of the 84 British soldiers who have been killed in action in Iraq. He also reminds us that in June, when this was first raised in the Lords, the defence procurement minister, Lord Drayson, insisted that these unarmoured Land Rovers provided "the level of protection we need".

Now that the MoD is to buy 100 Cougars (rather longer and wider than the RG 31s which it had earlier claimed were too large), Fraser Nelson, in his column in The Business tells us that "it quickly became apparent that the Snatch Land Rover was easily torn apart by roadside bombs." So, he writes:

Mr Browne negotiated an extra £40m from the Treasury for 100 US-made Cougar vehicles, which can survive such attacks, for delivery in November. As defence procurement goes, it represents lightening speed and an encouraging ability to change the mission depending on what is learned.
This, however, is not exactly how it looks to us. Although the vulnerability of the Snatch Land Rover indeed did quickly become apparent, it became so as early as 2004 and it has taken the MoD over two years to respond – in the face of counting evidence and unnecessary casualties. This hardly represents an "encouraging ability" to change the mission.

Apart from this, as Booker points out, welcome though this news is, even here the tale has a nasty twist. To meet the MoD's needs, it seems, the small US firm making the Cougars must delay meeting an order for similar vehicles for the Iraqi army. So the safety of British troops is to be bought at the expense of their Iraqi comrades.

This assertion is largely speculative for MPs are now on holiday for 76 days, and the MoD – which made the announcement the day before parliament broke-up for the holidays – cannot be grilled on this. But, while Defense Industry Daily points out that BAE Systems is using its United Defense plant for some of the production, we have no doubt that there must be some delay in producing the vehicles ordered for the Iraqi Army. If we are wrong, no doubt the MoD will now be quick to tell us.

The Buffalo IED hunter - the absence of which in the British armoury indicates the lack of aggressive intentMore to the point, the purchase of what amounts to an improvement in passive protection does not indicate any change in tactics or strategic direction in southern Iraq. That would require equipment such as the Buffalo (pictured right) and a re-structuring of the Army, enabling it actively to hunt for IEDs, an increase of which would surely be the result of any attempt by the British to wrest control of Basra from the militias and bring the city under the control of Nouri al-Maliki's government.

While Andrew Sullivan does not deal with this situation, his piece does paint the bigger picture. He argues that the war in Iraq is being waged by Islamist Shi'ite militia and is, in some ways, the same war that is being fought out in Lebanon

The trouble is that, with British forces tied up in not fighting the war in Iraq, none are available for the projected "stabilisation force" on the borders of Israel, making Blair an impotent observer when it comes to really influencing events.

But, in many ways, although Lebanon is currently capturing the headlines, Sullivan argues that Iraq is much more important. The Hezbollah provocation, sponsored and armed by Iran, is dangerous in itself, he writes:

Combined with the developments in Iraq, it presages a real and new shift in power. If Tehran gains a Shi'ite mini-state with vast oil reserves in Iraq, if its nuclear programme continues unchecked, if its proxy fighters in Lebanon continue to show the tenacity and barbaric targeting of civilians that they have demonstrated so far, we have the makings of a war in the Middle East with Iran as the central player, vowing to rival Al-Qaeda as the spearhead of the new caliphate.
Sullivan adds:

The Israelis are aware of this because their survival depends on it. Their elimination as a people and a nation is a central tenet of Hezbollah’s and Tehran’s ideology. That is why their response in Lebanon, however awful the collateral civilian deaths and injuries, and however unsettling to the region, is rational from their point of view. It is disproportionate only if you ignore the existential threat that they increasingly face.
But it is to Bush that Sullivan directs his ire:

Bush's bungled, unserious Iraq occupation has given the Shi'ite Islamists an opportunity. In southern Lebanon they have opened a polarising second front. In southern Iraq they are gaining a new and potentially deadly base of operations. From that base, their true intentions will shortly become clearer. And the future darker.
However, southern Iraq is occupied and administered by the British. It is as much Blair's "unserious Iraq occupation" that is giving the Shi'ite Islamists an opportunity. And buying a 100 Cougars will not make any difference. Thus, while, rightly, we are all focused on Lebanon, it is still important that we should be looking the other way.


Fred Karno's European Army

A Belgain Hunter UAV on display in KinshasaThe comedic character of the European Army in the Congo continues – only with more tragic results this time.

According to Reuters, via The Washington Post, a Belgian UAV flying over Kinshasa has crashed, setting a house on fire and injuring five people.

This, it is reported, with not a little understatement, is a setback for the European Union military force, EUFOR, that was deployed in the central African state with great fanfare to protect civilians during today’s general election vote.

The craft was flying its first reconnaissance mission over the capital when it crashed into the house on Friday. The five injured people were suffering burns. EUFOR said it had lost contact with its remote handler. "This drone flying over Kinshasa for a first technical flight is intended to take photographs and is not armed," the force said in a statement.

Not is this the first little upset. On Thursday, two French Mirage jets had stoked already simmering political tensions by flying low at high speed over the capital. Unfortunately, their over-flight coincided with the outbreak of a big fire which destroyed part of the compound of a presidential candidate and former rebel leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The unexplained blaze killed two children and some of Bemba's bodyguards accused the jets of bombing the building, a charge EUFOR denied.

Nevertheless, angry Bemba supporters went on the rampage, looting a church and torching several buildings. Three police, two soldiers and a civilian were killed in the disturbances, raising fears that violence could disrupt voting.

Had the incidents been caused by American or Israeli forces, the betting is that the news would have been on the front page. But, since the European Union seems to be about as good at peacekeeping as it is everything else, this activity, despite the tragic results, belongs in the comic section.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Conflicting signals

Israeli artillery - 155mm shells.It may be a small point, but at least twice in the Telegraph's despatches from the Middle East, the latest being today, reference has been made to "Israeli 150mm artillery shells". The point is, of course, that there are no such things – they do not exist. The calibre, if you are using Western ordnance, is and has been for decades, 155mm, as can be seen from Reuter's "picture of the month".

If we cannot rely on the detail, however, what confidence can there be in the accuracy of the bigger picture painted by the media, or of their understanding of what is going on?

For instance, while the media have been presenting lurid pictures of the destruction wrought on Beirut by the Israeli air force, it takes Little Green Footballs to show a map illustrating how localised is the damage, the bombs targeted with considerable precision on Hizbollah strongholds.

On the other hand, it takes specialist journals like DefenseNews (and many of the blogs) to point out that Hezbollah has accumulated an arsenal of between 10-15,000 missiles, a programme which has been bankrolled by Iran to the tune of $20-50 million a year over the last 20 years.

What one must point out, also, is that these missiles have little if any military value. Their one role is to strike the civilian areas of Israel and, as we also know, the warheads have been adapted to maximise casualties. These are, therefore, "terror weapons", which point to the true intentions of Hezbollah, which likes to characterise its troops as "resistance fighters". Their weapons, however, brand them as terrorists.

An IDF 'Puma' combat engineers' vehicleMeanwhile, pictures of Israeli armour from the northern front tell their own story. Inevitably, the Merkava tanks feature prominently, but few journalists seem to be aware that these, as well as their primary function, can carry up to eight troops. Uniquely, therefore, they are a combination of tank and armoured personnel carrier.

But what is probably more significant is the profusion of vehicles characterised as APCs, of which there are photographs in abundance. They look like and are, turretless Centurion tanks, known as Pumas (pictured above).

One of the most-photographed vehicle typesInterestingly, but predictably, none of the journos seem to have understood their role. Despite being personnel carriers, they are used not by infantry formations but by combat engineers. The name "Puma" is an acronym for Poretz Mokshim Handasati (minefield breakthrough vehicle). Their role is essentially route opening, neutralising mines, booby traps and other explosives, to clear the way for the main fighting formations.

I may be reading too much into this but logic suggests that if the Israelis are committing forces to route clearing, then they must be doing this for a purpose. Logic again would suggest that the current "incursions" are something more than that. Where the spearhead leads, much else tends to follow.

The front page of DefenseNews this weekAll of this rather puts into perspective the talk of putting a cease-fire in place by next week. As long a Hezbollah has an untouched arsenal of tens of thousands of "terror weapons" – including some of the longer-range Iranian Zelal-1 missiles(see graphic: double-click to enlarge) – Israel cannot and will not waver in its determination to destroy it, along with the military structures that make the terror campaign possible.

Classically, therefore, it would seem that those who are calling for a cease-fire are misreading the situation. Typically, that is the line being taken by the EU, which is to hold "emergency" talks on 1 August, when the focus will be on a follow-up "stabilisation" force, to which EU member states have declared a willingness to join.

Israel, though, has every reason to distrust multi-national forces and would rightly be reluctant to rely on security guarantees from them, especially as Hezbollah seems to be rejecting any idea of a "robust force" in the region. The terrorists, we are told, want only an expansion of the current UNIFIL mission with the same mandate.

Thus, while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is back in the region for further talks, and the tranzies gear up for their interminable debating sessions in the expectation of an imminent cease-fire, the situation on the ground seems to offer conflicting signals, pointing towards prolonged military action.


Did we miss something?

European citizens being evacuated - by EU ships and helicopters?Tony "no choppers" Blair has agreed with Mr Bush that they wouldn't demand an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. Also, during their meeting in Washington, our Tone agreed with Mr Bush not to denounce Israel's offensive, and they also agreed to back a new UN resolution sending a multinational force to Lebanon. Tone also agreed with Mr Bush that an international deal could halt the fighting as early as next week. What an agreeable fellah our Tone is.

Meanwhile, continuing to demonstrate that the true colossus on the world stage is the European Union, the Finnish presidency yesterday issued a statement declaring that it had completed evacuating most of its 20,000 citizens who wanted to leave Lebanon. Being the generous and magnanimous organisation it is, it has said that it will now help nationals of poorer, non-EU countries with mass evacuations.

The Union said it has also answered appeals from several governments of poorer countries to help evacuate up to 200,000 people, including citizens of Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh, Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan and Iraq.

Since only 15,000 Americans have been evacuated from Lebanon since fighting began 17 days ago, and Canada has evacuated some 11,500 nationals, there is now clear evidence that the EU is bigger and better than everybody else. The funny thing is, though, I do not recall seeing a single EU flag on any ship leaving Lebanon.

Did we miss something?


Friday, July 28, 2006

What would we do without the French

This is actually a genuine question. What would we do for entertainment without them?

The question was prompted by an interesting though somewhat inadequate article in today’s International Herald Tribune, entitled “France’s Mysterious Embrace of Blogs”. The gist of it was that there are more blogs read and written in France than in Germany, Britain or, even, the United States.
“Sixty percent of French Internet users visited a blog in May, ahead of Britain with 40 percent and little more than a third in the United States, according to Comscore, an Internet ratings service.

Likewise, French bloggers spent more than an hour in June visiting France's top-rated blog site, far ahead of the 12 minutes spent by Americans doing the same and less than 3 minutes for Germans, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

More than three million Internet users, or more than 12 percent of those online in France, have created a blog, according a study released in June by the ratings agency Médiamétrie.”
I have no desire to get too involved in the mathematics of that but in true French style, prefer to look at the semiology of it all. (A character in Joan Smith’s otherwise lacklustre detective stories says that semiology sounded like the science of knowing the half of everything. How true.)

Anyway, nobody seems to know why the French insist on blogging but they do not seem to be creating a network of blogs or a blogosphere. It’s all me, me, me. Or, perhaps, moi, moi, moi.
“French blogs stands out in other measurable ways. They are noticeably longer,more critical, more negative, more egocentric and more provocative than their U.S. counterparts, said Laurent Florès, the French-born, New York-based chief executive of CRM Metrix, a company that monitors blogs and other online conversations on behalf of companies seeking feedback on their brands.

"Bloggers in the United States listen to each other and incorporate rival ideas in the discussion," he said. "French bloggers never compromise their opinions."”
Only someone who has not actually read American blogs thinks that they are not critical. The origin of those blogs was a dissatisfaction with the mostly left-leaning media. The left-wing blogs are highly and often vituperously critical of the Administration and of right-wing blogs. And why should a blogger who never compromises his or her opinion or, rather, never listens to anyone else, be more provocative than someone who engages in discussions with others remains a mystery.

The entire article is an attempt by Thomas Crampton to create an aura of superiority around French bloggers, in the process of which, all he crates is hilarity.

Some of the blogs are political, concentrating on such things as local abuses (largely financial one imagines) which bring trouble to the bloggers. Others are more personal and many of them seem to spend a great deal of time discussing “passionately” why there should be so many French blogs.

Unlike British politicians, French ones have seen the advantage of having a blog but, then again, if they are as dull as the Fragrant Margot’s it hardly seems worthwhile.

At present there seems to be some doubt as to the effect this flowering of blogs might have on traditional French politics. Some commentators hope that they will absorb the energy that would otherwise go into rioting; others point out that last autumn’s riots were often co-ordinated through the internet.

In the same way it is unclear whether the cause of blogs is the fact that it is difficult to complain in France in any organized fashion or the fact that the French are encouraged to be critical and nihilistic. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

What the article does not discuss is whether the more homogenous and tightly controlled media, both print and electronic, should be the cause of this spurt of self-publishing on the net. There is no mention, for instance, how many blogs or websites manage to break away from the French “consensus” of anti-American, anti-British, and, largely, anti-Israeli opinion. How many argue about the need to abandon the accepted model of social and economic statism? Off the top of my head I can think of two: the intermittent in posting but consistently brilliant Dissident Frogman and Liberté-Chérie. There may be others but few and far between.

The article ends with a particularly funny comment from the Director of Web Strategy for Dominique Strauss-Kahn:
“Griveaux, the director of Web strategy for Strauss-Kahn, reckons the popularity of blogs comes down to France being a nation where each and every citizen thinks he or she should be in charge.

"We had 16 presidential candidates at the last election, and we will probably have the same number next year," Griveaux said. "Every French person wants to run the country - a blog is the next best option."”
How reassuringly French and, if I may say so, smug. Is France the only country where everybody thinks he or she should be in charge? Has M Grievaux never been to an English pub? Or read a British discussion forum on the net?

16 presidential candidates, of whom only 3 matter, hardly proves anything. On the other hand, France is probably the only Western country that has allowed its politics to be taken over completely by a small, tightly-knit class, the so-called enarques. This is not a matter of party adherence. Ségolène Royal, at present the leading contender for the Socialist nomination and a blogger (well, more the hostess of an interactive website) herself, is one, as is her partner, François Holland, the leader of the Socialist Party. The one perennial outsider is Jean-Marie Le Pen and, now, Nicolas Sarkozy.

So, where does all this navel gazing leave the French? After all, they can’t be doing all this just to provide us with entertainment, can they? Will blogging lead to a political realignment as it did, to a great extent in the United States and may yet in Britain, or will it remain another outlet for French self-analysis? Watch this space.


Blair's forgotten war (2)

On the road to Al-Zubair - a Snatch convoy ambushedLess than two weeks ago, we remarked how a veil of secrecy has descended over the conduct of the British occupation of Southern Iraq.

Not least was the MoD's news blackout over an incident on 16 July when two soldiers were wounded when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, according to AFP, on the road to Al-Zubair, southwest of Basra, lightly wounding them.

The obvious and immediate question was the nature of the vehicle the soldiers were travelling in, but the MoD refused to release any further details for "reasons of operational security". The next day, therefore, Lord Astor of Hever asked the defence minister Lord Drayson in the House of Lords whether he would confirm whether the troops had been in a Snatch Land Rover but, such is the utter contempt Labour ministers have for any notion of transparency or accountability that he simply ignored the question.

Remarkably, though, we have found a photograph of the incident (above left), taken by an AP photographer and published on the Italian Yahoo news site (link now broken). As rather expected, the scene shown is a convoy of Snatch Land Rovers, amongst which is the damaged vehicle.

Particularly noteworthy is the width of the road and the wide open spaces, making a mockery of Drayson's earlier claim that the RG-31 was too big for the roads of Basra.

Another destroyed Snatch - date and location unknownAltogether now, we have collected over 100 photographs of Land Rovers on patrol in Southern Iraq – including now ten damaged or destroyed vehicles (two more of which are show here) – in none of which could the location be described as restrictive. In fact, in all the scenarios where bomb damage has occurred, an RG-31 and even the newly ordered Cougars could easily have gained access. Needless to say, though, not one photograph of a damaged Land Rover has ever appeared on an MoD website.

If these are but small examples (in the grander scheme of things) of the grip of British censorship, what are we to make of an article in Azzaman?

This is a warning from Basheer al-Najafi - one of the four main ayatollahs in the Shiite religious leadership which includes grand ayatollah Ali Sistani – that security conditions are worsening in several cities in southern Iraq amid reports of clashes between Shiite militias and the British troops in the region.

An attack on a busy dual carriageway near the port town of Umm Qasr, leading to the death of Cpl. Pritchard on 31 January 2006Says Najafi, in at least three big cities – Basra, Amara and Diwaniya – the militias are almost in full control and have clashed with foreign troop or bombed their bases. "Conditions have aggravated a great deal and reaching the climax," he added. "We are afraid that the day of a massive popular uprising is approaching that will result in grave and unpredictable consequences."

Furthermore, Shiite religious leaders in the holy city of Najaf are reported to have warned the government of Nouri al-Maliki that they may no longer be able to contain the masses and prevent a popular uprising in the absence of security.

This is from an Arab newspaper and we cannot comment on its accuracy or impartiality. But we also cannot compare it with reports from any more reliable – perhaps – UK sources. There simply are none, although this gives useful background. This is Blair's other "forgotten war".

But, even if attention is elsewhere, that doesn't mean that nothing is happening or about to happen. We may be reminded all too soon.


Another great idea from the Fluffy Fragrant Commissar

This is not a very new idea but has now had the official imprimatur of the Fluffy Fragrant Margot, so we must consider it to be on its way. Yes, from the team that has brought you “D for Dialogue, Deafness and Dysfunctionality” we now have: a Eurovision style song contest in all the member states next year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
“Communications Commissioner Margot Wallström believes that a pan-European song contest would “show the EU can dance”, as well as highlighting “the benefits that European integration has brought to its citizens”.”
The title of this great festival of highly entertaining banality will be “Europe Singing and Giving”. I wonder if the songs will have words to match that festival title. Cole Porter it ain’t.

Apart from the inevitable jokes and comparisons with the existing Eurovision Song Contest, there is the problem voiced by a Czech member of the government, who pointed out rather sourly that all of this will seem very familiar to the new member states who have been there before:
“There were all kinds of events celebrating everything, and there was one called the Spartakiada, which consisted of singing and dancing for the masses.”
Well, I hate raining on the Czech government member’s parade, what with them being our allies, partners and fellow members these days but I feel I must point out that had he or his colleagues read the Consolidated Treaties before signing up for membership, their surprise might have been avoided.

As long ago as the Treaty of Maastricht there was an Article 128, which said:
“The Community shall contribute to the flowering of cultures in the member states while respecting their national and regional diversities and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore.”
Our Czech friend and, indeed, all our East European and Baltic friends may remember something about culture in all the Soviet states and the East European satellites being “national in form and socialist in content”.


The way forward

Never mind the shells - what about the CO2 emissions?There is nothing so terrifying as the EU when it finally resolves to take action. A mere one month after its ultimatum, the commission is brooking no backsliding and is preparing to take legal action in the highest court in the Union against the defaulters. No quarter will be given in what is a battle for the survival of the whole of mankind.

This robust action is being taken against the 18 member states who have committed the ultimate crime against humanity – they have failed to submit their CO2 quota plan in time for the next phase of the EU emissions trading scheme starting in 2008.

Thus does it strike me that we have all got it all wrong in our attempts to bring peace to the Middle East. As the EU rightly demonstrates, there are far more important things than the relatively trivial issue of terrorists murdering Jews. After all, is there not a universal scientific consensus that global warming is the greatest danger ever to affect mankind?

On this basis, the way forward – where true consensus does lie - is in addressing the global warming issues raised by warfare. Never mind the fragmentation from its shells – has anyone thought of the CO2 emissions given off by an Israeli 155mm howitzer? And, while most of the Katyushas fired off by Hezbollah impact harmlessly on the countryside, every single one leaves a trail of deadly CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.

While useless at peacekeeping, this more deadly problem is something for which the EU is uniquely equipped. As a matter of urgency, it should apply its highly successful emissions trading scheme to the armies of the world. Every combat unit should be required to register with the EU commission and declare the CO2 emission potential of its weapons, in return for which the gifted bureaucrats in Brussels can issue them with individual carbon quotas.

Then, on a year-by-year programme, the quotas can be steadily reduced until – say – by the year 2020, the allocations will be so low that no country will have an allowance more than is necessary to fire a 24-gun salute to the EU, in grateful recognition of its contribution to world peace – and reducing global warming.

In the interim, of course, a modified version of the carbon trading scheme can apply. Those armies which actually plan to use their weapons – and might exceed their quotas – can buy credits from armies that are keeping their troops In their barracks. European armies should do well out of that.

EU emission monitors in trainingClearly, before mounting any offensive (or defending themselves), troops will have to ensure that they have sufficient carbon credits and they will be expected to keep accurate records of all carbon emitting activities that they undertake. A band of EU carbon monitors can be recruited, using low emission vehicles (pictured), to police the battlefields of the world. They can enforce cease-fires when the quotas have been exceeded, on pain of heavy fines if the warring parties fail to comply.

As to the more immediate problem of the Middle East, the most obvious and effective way to bring about an immediate cease fire is for the Israelis to buy up Hezbollah's carbon quotas. With vigilant EU monitors on the scene to force quota compliance, the guns would fall silent and the planet would be saved.

Can I have my Nobel Peace Prize now?


Blair's forgotten war

The aftermath of Blair's intervention in Sierra Leone. Something actually worth reading in The Spectator.


The power of the Union

Where sheep may safely graze?You must stop fighting immediately, squawks Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, speaking on behalf of the European Union, his country holding what is quaintly termed the "rotating presidency".

We learn of this from AP via Ynetnews, the Union disconcerted by Israel's view of the Rome declaration yesterday, that it indicated it should continue its offensive.

This view was "totally wrong," puffed Tuomioja and such is the huge influence of the Union on the world stage that, as you may have observed, the guns have fallen silent throughout the Middle East (not).

But that is not to say that the European Union is entirely powerless – bless me no! Summing up all its mighty authority and majesty, the EU's commission yesterday graciously indicated it would make a special concession to "Europe's farmers", allowing them graze animals on the ten percent of "set-aside" land which is normally excluded from agricultural use.

This is because the heat wave has parched the land, reducing available grazing and forcing livestock farmers to rely on silage and hay stored for winter feed.

Not only has the commission thus acted – although its concession must be approved by the governments of the 25 member states – this titan has also intervened on the administration of farm subsidy payments, demanding the return of no less than €162 million, which it claims has been misspent.

Seven member states are involved with, typically, France slated as the biggest offender, which has been told to repay about €86 million. It won't of course, but asking at least makes the commission sound tough and very fierce.

No doubt, when the word gets through to Hizbollah that the commission is really laying down the law on farm subsidies, the gallant fighters will be quaking in their boots. Whatever else you do, they will be saying, don't mess with the European Union.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rethinking our role

A Type 23 frigateMulling over the implications of the Israeli situation, our activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and following on from my post about the need for new thinking, my deliberations were given a new focus by an e-mail from a reader.

He had been to a presentation on UK Maritime Trade Operations in the Gulf/Middle East and offered a "few interesting facts".

In the Red Sea, Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf area, he was told, there are generally about fifty coalition naval vessels (mostly frigates and destroyers) dedicated to security and anti terrorist operations.

To put this into context, this is twice the number of frigates/destroyers left after the Hoon cuts and more than twice the number sent to the Falklands in 1982. They are supported by submarines, maritime patrol aircraft (including RAF Nimrods) and various shore based facilities, as well as tankers and other support vessels.

Twenty of these vessels are kept in the Persian Gulf itself, with four on station at any time of the Iraqi coast. Furthermore, there are similar operations performed by NATO warships in the Mediterranean, while vessels carrying equipment, ammunition and other stores for UK forces have to be escorted by the Royal Navy. This includes ships carrying materiel stuff to Pakistan for use by UK forces in Afghanistan.

The increased operation tempo, combined with the cuts of the last few years, means that it is not just the Army (and elements of the RAF) which are suffering from overstretch. The Navy is also suffering badly as well, particularly since the UK has other commitments. As a result, nine-month deployments are becoming common, with an adverse effect on morale.

This is not helped by the uncertainty over the future carriers and the seventh and eighth Type 45 Destroyers but, more to the point – like the Army and Royal Air Force, they are largely equipped to fight a different sort of war from that which it is present undertaking.

It is all very well having the hugely sophisticated and expensive Type 45s, geared to knocking advanced fighters and bombers out of the sky, or massively costly aircraft carriers to support the European Rapid Reaction Force, but much of the Navy's work is in low intensity tasks such MIOPS (maritime interdiction operations – i.e., challenge, board and search potential smugglers) or deterring piracy and other forms of maritime crime.

For this, we are told, there is an urgent need for a number of fast, armed patrol vessels. Such vessels need a flight deck and hangar for an embarked helicopter, plus accommodation for a number of Marines/Special Forces - perhaps an upgraded River Class offshore patrol vessel, or even this little Italian number (below).

An Italian Commandante patrol vesselIn the longer term, this might be cheaper than keeping high-tech, multi-role frigates on station, such as HMS Kent (type pictured, top left) which was recently the lead RN ship in the northern Gulf. On the other hand, additional, dedicated patrol vessels might allow the UK to take a more active role in stopping the oil smuggling which is undermining the Iraqi economy.

What all this again points to is the need to re-orientate our thinking, and address the actual tasks confronting our armed forces, rather than fantasy tasks, perhaps in pursuit of EU foreign policy objectives, some time in the unforeseeable future.

This, to some extent, was what Liam Fox was getting at when he delivered his speech on defence in June, but the real debate has yet to start. Unfortunately, it seems, the Boy King is tiptoeing away from any such thought. As always, the debate will have to start without him.


They're not even in the game

The legacy of 'soft power'"Diplomatic impotence has rarely been as evident as it was in Rome yesterday".

So says the Telegraph editorial, retailing that the "so-called core group of advisers on Lebanon spent much of the morning in the Italian foreign ministry, debating whether to attach the adjective 'immediate' to its call for a ceasefire". Eventually, we are told, it decided against, for fear of ridicule.

Ridicule, it seems to me, is not their problem, but indifference. Not one of the "players" – which includes our much-revered prime minister, is in a position to enforce any muscular decision. None of them is prepared (or even able) to put troops in place and take on the murderous Hizbolla. None of them is prepared to finance the so-called "stabilisation force" and none of them is prepared to point the finger at Syria and Iran which are financing the murder and mayhem.

Decades of "soft power" have rotted the brains of the collective. It has fallen for the belief that because "jaw-jaw" is better than "war-war", it is necessarily a substitute for it and that sweet reason and diplomacy can overcome the machinations of evil men.

As for little Tony, we are told that a YouGov survey shows that a majority of people thought he had performed badly and, says the self-important Telegraph, these findings "will increase pressure on Mr Blair to call for an immediate ceasefire when he meets President George W Bush in Washington tomorrow."

"Yo! And what then, Tony?" Bush might be tempted to say to a man who cannot even muster two additional helicopters for our forces in Afghanistan and is waiting for deliveries of US-built armoured vehicles before his troops can venture out of their Iraqi bases without getting slaughtered.

As for the EU, which seems to think that the answer to every problem is to throw other peoples' money at it, in the name of "humanitarian aid", it is rather apposite that, after its grand gesture of throwing yet more money at Lebanon, to top up its largesse to the people of Gaza, it is running short of funds.

But that doesn't stop the EU's "senior envoy" in Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, telling reporters in the capital, Kabul, that Nato "cannot fail in the south". "We are not going to tolerate any kind of haven for terrorist elements in Afghanistan," he says, "and on this we will stay here for as long as it takes to get this issue resolved."

Yeah, right, Senor Vendrell. And how many divisions have you got in southern Afghanistan?

And thus, as The Scotsman tells us, "The world condemns Israel as diplomacy fails again", the Israelis could be forgiven if they told the "world" to piss off. When these dismal excuses for the people that call themselves "leaders" can come up with something more than empty rhetoric, hand-wringing and vainglorious posturing - a few more helicopters for Afghanistan might be a good start - they might be worth listening to.

Until then, they're not even in the game.


Reaching the limits

I'm actually old enough to remember the 1967 Six Day War, and was young enough then to be enthralled by the drama, and by the sheer panache of the "plucky" Israelis as they prevailed against all the odds.

Some years later, I was able to tour the battlefields, in particular walking up the steep, winding road to the Golan Heights, seeing the burnt-out T34s and marvelling how the IDF ever succeeded in terrain which, if held by a determined foe, would have been impregnable.

Thus it is, as the summer heat grinds on, the news is dominated by yet another Israeli war, driving out the preoccupations of the EU and reminding us all how petty and irrelevant that organisation really is.

How can we possibly get excited, for instance, about news of the latest effects of the EU's recycling tax and, as for the collapse of the WTO Doha round, the sheer predictability of the failure is matched only by the tedium induced by the outcome.

But, as the news pours in from the Middle East, how different things are from those heady days of 1967. Two weeks into the battle, The Times tells us, and the IDF has had its worst day yet, with at least nine soldiers killed in fighting around the Lebanese border town of Bint Jbeil.

We are looking at is one of the finest and best-equipped armies in the world stalled by a group of Hezbollah terrorists, suffering significant casualties and loss of vehicles. Significantly, with the local Haaretz newspaper asking, "Has the army failed?", Amir Rappaport, the Ma'ariv's military analyst, is writing that intelligence was indicating that the roads had been mined with bombs that looked like rocks and contained hundreds of pounds of explosives. Israeli soldiers had been shocked by the strength of Hezbollah's resistance, and said that the biggest threat comes from Hezbollah's anti-tank landmines and missiles.

How relevant that is to the pieces we have been writing on this blog of late, but it may take some time before the lessons are fully understood.

We appear to have reached the limits of technology, tactics and firepower which have underwritten the might and the standing of the Western powers. The greatest military force on earth has so far been unable to prevail in Iraq, and now probably the most capable is on the brink of being humiliated – both by low-tech weapons in the hands of ruthless and obsessive terrorists.

In all probability, the experience or Iraq and now northern Lebanon – not forgetting Afghanistan, where the might of the Soviet Army has already been seen off – will be seen as a turning point. Pure military force, and the diplomatic clout that comes with it, is no longer enough. The nature of power and how it is projected will have to be re-examined.

As we do this, I suspect, it will dawn on us that we are breaking away from a world dominated by ideas forged during and between the last two World Wars, and the post-war settlements that arose from them. This are settlements of which the EU, the United Nations, the WTO and all the great tranzie organisations were a central part.

They, like the military thinking and technology which has dominated the 20th Century, are no longer providing the answers. We need new paradigms, new thinking and new solutions. None of the tranzies, and especially the European Union, will be part of those solutions.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mystery solved

The 6x6 Cougar destined for the Army in IraqIt is a reflection of how deeply ingrained is my distrust for government that the last place I would think of looking for information on the armed forces is the MoD website – especially since it was "improved", whence most of the archives have rather conveniently gone missing.

Anyhow, one of our readers pointed me in that direction and, lo and behold, we have a picture of the new armoured vehicle which the MoD is purchasing for our troops in Iraq. The photograph, supplied by Force Protection Inc, is of a 6x6 Cougar variant and, from the colour scheme, it is definitely one of the batch originally destined for the Iraqi Army, known as the Iraqi Light Armoured Vehicle (ILAV).

The Snatch Land Rover - essential for its 'size and mobility' - now supplemented by the 6x6 CougarThere is an extremely good article on this here (which links to some essential reading here) and the indispensable Defense Industry Daily gives a good narrative of the MoD contract here.

Just what the Iraqi Army feels about the MoD jumping the queue has not been recorded but it is more than a little rum that, at a time when the Iraqis are being asked to assume greater responsibility for internal security, the British step in and swipe their vehicles from them, leaving the people who are most at risk to ride around in unprotected or lightly armoured vehicles.

If there is a comedic aspect to this, it is Lord Drayson, the defence procurement minister, who having told us of the RG-31, as recently as 29 June, that "we judged the size and mobility of the vehicle not to be appropriate to the needs of our Armed Forces today", is now buying something a foot wider and higher, and nearly four feet longer. Incredibly, it is nearly ten feet longer than the Snatch Land Rover and three feet wider and taller.

The Pinzgauer 'coffin on wheels' - destined for mine-infested AfghanistanBut there is nothing at all comic about the choice of the Pinzgauer Vector, a picture of which is also up on the MoD website. Bought primarily for its cross-country performance – which is superb – the MoD is calling this a "Protected Patrol Vehicle". With its slab sides and lack of window in the troop compartment, it is hard to believe the MoD is serious about this being used for patrols. The soldiers inside will be sightless passengers, guarded only by an unfortunate soldier (or two) with his head stuck out the roof as "top cover", terrified that the vehicle will overturn (as top-heavy, cross-country vehicles are prone to), crushing him to death.

The German mine-protected Dingo, after a mine strike in Afghanistan - the crew were uninjuredAs for "protected", that it ain't, except against the lightest of threats. The vehicle, as we have observed before (here and here) offers no protection against anti-tank mines, which are available in abundance in Afghanistan – a fact to which the Germans and the Canadians will attest. The latter, having recently lost four men travelling in a lightly armoured G-Wagon (the Mercedes equivalent to the Land Rover) are now counting their good fortune that the next mine strike hit troops driving in an RG-31.

While there is some considerable debate about the benefits of mine protected vehicles in dealing with IEDs – which plague the coalition forces in Iraq - the situation in Afghanistan is different. In Iraq, most of the roads have metalled surfaces – which is why the insurgents resort to roadside bombs - but, in Afghanistan, huge areas are accessible only by unmade roads, which favour the use of mines.

Perhaps millions of mines are left over from the Soviet era and the accounts of the Red Army experience during their occupation show that most of their casualties came from mine strikes. In putting these Pinzgauers into Afghanistan, the MoD are out of their tiny minds… they are criminally insane.

Chinooks - the optimal As opposed to mine protected vehicles, however, often the most appropriate way of protecting troops is to use helicopters. There, of course, we bump up against reality – the cupboard is bare.

Here though, is an interesting reflection for a site named "EU Referendum". Something that has haunted me from my days in the European Union Parliament is the cohorts of preening MEPs, each of whom cost the British taxpayer £1.2 million a year. Many would tell me how vital their roles were, in increasing British influence in the EU.

When it comes down to real influence, however, in the real world this turns out to have more to do with how many helicopters the British can field. With 78 British MEPs at present, costing us over £90 million a year, that is the price of five Chinook helicopters a year with change left over. Somehow, I suspect – given a choice – most people would opt for the Chinooks.

Similarly, for the £11 billion a year we pay in "contributions" to the EU each year – nearly twice our annual defence procurement budget – I suspect we could buy a great deal more influence if we spent it on "toys" – provided, of course, we did not fritter it away on the European Rapid Reaction Force, and spent it on kit that was actually fit for purpose.