3,000th GI Killed In Iraq

According to the web site Icasualties.org, the number of U.S. servicemember casualties in Iraq has reached the 3,000 mark. The web site, which tracks American deaths in both Iraq and Afghanistan, reported the latest casualty this afternoon. He was Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas and died of small arms fire in Baghdad on December 28th. The death takes the monthly total to 111 deaths. December was the third bloodiest month since the invasion and the deadliest of the year.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Frankly, I am tired of Israel accusing Hezbollah of “using human shields.” Even if Hezbollah truly are hiding behind children, the Israelis act as if they believe this excuses their military killing well over 600 (possibly closer to 900) people in Lebanon. At best, their seeming inability to find a way to attack Hezbollah without killing civilians makes them look inept or careless. At worst, they look like cynical monsters trying to pin the blame on their victims, a charge they have made against Hezbollah.

The Israeli inquiry into the Qana “mistake” alleged that, “had the information indicated that civilians were present…the attack would not have been carried out.” At the same time, a former senior Israeli military officer stated that the IDF believed the apartment building demolished in Qana “was the residence of two Hezbollah operatives.” In other words, a couple of Hezbollah members were living in a building along with their civilian neighbors. The IDF also bombed, allegedly on purpose, the home of a Lebanese bank manager in hopes that it would scare other bank officers into rejecting Hezbollah accounts. So which is it? They don’t bomb civilian homes, or they do?

Israel’s defenders like to point out that leaflets often warn residents of an impending strike, but these same leaflets also warn Hezbollah. So if the enemy has left the building too, what’s the point of demolishing it? Even without leaflets, if the Lebanese know that rocket launchers will attract Israeli attacks, why do they remain in those buildings? They didn’t notice somebody launching a rocket from their backyard? Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, has suggested that Hezbollah force the civilians, “in a cynical and brutal way,” to remain behind as shields, but that doesn’t make any sense. The Israelis have demonstrated that they will bomb human shields. Besides, if the Israelis truly believe that those civilians are hostages, that’s one more reason to make sure they are not attacked.

That wasn’t the only time that Gillerman has called Hezbollah cynical. Last Sunday, during his speech at the UN Security Council’s emergency meeting on the Qana catastrophe, he again referred to Hezbollah’s cynicism. Earlier in the day, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres, while speaking on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” also called Hezbollah “cynical”; however, it seems more and more like a case of the pot calling the kettle “cynical.”

I suppose it could be that the Israelis are merely annoyed that Hezbollah haven’t gone to the same lengths, that the Lebanese Army has, to make themselves easy targets. On the other hand, they could be ticked off that Hezbollah also use Lebanese soldiers as human shields. Or was that base bombing, or the other base bombing, or that other base bombing a different variety of intelligence mistake? And how about those banks in Beirut? Vaults must be great places to stash rocket-launchers on the fly, huh?

I don’t recall any old Western where the heroic sheriff complains to his horse about having to kill a pioneer family in order to save them from desperados. He’d spend a good part of the movie seeking a way to bring the enemy over to his side or defeat them without harming innocents. Likewise, the Israelis should take some of their famous intelligence resources and those fancy weapons with the superior tracking and figure out a way not to slaughter children, instead of whining about how they were forced to…unless, of course, they enjoy blaming the victims.

No Temais Una Muerte Gloriosa…And Hurry Up Already

Here in Miami, it’s the third night of the Raúl Castro Ruz era. Although I wouldn’t say the euphoria (or the schadenfreude) has entirely evaporated, calm has returned just in time for everyone to rush to the supermarket to stock up on water and batteries should Tropical Storm Chris decide to spoil any weekend festivities. Only a man as evil as Fidel could pick the Monday before a weekend hurricane to drop dead. Thoughtless bastard.

All kidding aside, it’s been fairly surreal down here. Coverage of the crazy Cubans shaking their booties across several major thoroughfares in Miami has been on all the national networks. We saw hours of videos here. Yes, we’ve danced on Fidel’s grave before, but this time it’s different. It really is. The announcement that Fidel was ceding power — even if it is only temporary — was like watching a coma patient twitch his eyes after 47 years. You simply just don’t sit back and relax when something like that happens. We’re celebrating and waiting to see what twitches next.

We don’t really pretend to know what’s going on down there, but fueled on shots of high-octane Cuban coffee, everyone is speculating. Maybe for once they told the truth. Maybe he’s already embalmed. Maybe he’s just in a coma or stroked out in a hospital bed. Maybe — as my friend Robert suggested — he’s on Calle Ocho dressed as a little old lady, spying on his Miami Mafia funeral. And with Raúl missing in action too, the conspiracy theories multiply with each passing hour. Maybe it’s an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned, backroom coup d’état. The possibilities are endless, and I suspect we’ll never really know.

I’ve rolodexed through a number of emotions these last three days — mostly disbelief, grief for family and friends who didn’t live to see this, and hope that the future starts now for Cuba instead of after another couple of years of close calls — but I never expected in my wildest dreams to actually be concerned for the Castro butchers. For all the trouble those two have caused I guess I want them to have a more fitting end than gastro-intestinal trouble and some quick “demise” in a dark hallway. Just what the hell has happened to Raúl? Until this mystery surfaced everything had been going according to my schedule of how the changeover was likely to happen.

It’s almost a traitorous feeling, I suppose. My Mom and most of her family fled their adopted island home within a couple years of the glorious revolution in ’59. Then again, if it weren’t for the Castros, she wouldn’t have moved to Miami, and I would never have been born, so I guess they do deserve a smidgen of concern from me…or maybe I was just hoping for the better entertainment value of a nice, public lynching.

(I posted a bit about this on Monday night over at Crash Landing, one of my regular blathering haunts.)

Has the Second Front in the War Already Materialized?

According to the Israeli Defense Forces, an Israeli patrol heard an explosion on the Syrian side of the border late Sunday evening. Upon further investigation, they discovered an exploded mine placed inside a tire that was subsequently set on fire. This incident could be an attempt by unknown parties to draw Syria into the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, or it could be merely an accident. Israel claims the explosion injured no soldiers.

IDF officials suggested that the mine could be an attempt by Hezbollah to encourage Syria to join the fighting, but the border crossing is far from Hezbollah territory and well within a UN buffer zone. On the other hand, Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, warned on Saturday that Washington and Tel Aviv were looking for a “pretext to extend the conflict.” For their part, Syrian troops readied for any potential conflict.

The border at Al Qunaytirah is at the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The area has long been the source of disputes between Israel and Syria as to which country destroyed the now-abandoned city during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War; however, the UN eventually condemned Israel for its actions in the province. Syria has maintained mines in the area as a deterrent to further Israeli incursions, so it is possible that this was merely an older, deteriorating mine suffering a malfunction.

While repeating that they are definitely not trying to involve Syria, the Israelis also promised to target any Syrian vehicles that might be carrying weapons into Lebanon. Any accidental deaths of Syrians entering Lebanon could also be a source of increased tensions at this time.