Defending Lebanon

The Lebanese army was in seventh heaven after the war in the summer of 2006. Not only did it take control of the country, at least theoretically, and deploy its forces in new areas that it had not been previously, such as South Lebanon, but it was even promised modern American equipment. Its leaders hoped at the time that the army would be trained, equipped and modernized in such a way that Hezbollah would not be able to continue bearing arms with the excuse that it is the only military force in Lebanon that can defend against an Israeli attack.

Hezbollah apparently knew that not much would come of these promises. Their leader, Hassan Nasrallah, knew he could freely offer his best wishes at the strengthening of the Lebanese army and declare that he supports its control of the country, while at the same time continue to arm his forces and establish himself in South Lebanon and in Lebanon's Bekaa.

And in fact, for now the army has been left with just promises. For example, according to American planning, Lebanon was supposed to receive M-60 tanks and 10 Cobra helicopters.

The tanks and the helicopters are parked for the moment in Jordan - part of old equipment that the Jordanian kingdom wants to replace.

Lebanese army experts who came to examine the equipment received the impression that the tanks are in need of comprehensive mechanical work and a large number of spare parts; in short, a substantial financial outlay.

They didn't even get to the Cobras, because Israel informed the Pentagon that it is vehemently opposed to letting the Lebanese army have such helicopters.

Israel's viewpoint when it comes to arming the Lebanese army is a decisive factor in the decisions of the U.S. administration.

"We don't have a conversation on these matters without considering the concerns of Israel and Israel's qualitative military edge. That's a U.S. commitment that we take very seriously," explained Chris Straub, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs, in an U.S. Defense Department press release.

Meanwhile, the provision of the tanks is also uncertain. The U.S. administration has decided to await the results of the Lebanese elections in July in order to decide: If it turns out that Hezbollah and its supporters have a majority, or at least the ability to determine the government's decisions, the administration believes that it will be better to keep the M-60s out of the decision-making process.

Of course all these things help Hezbollah to present the Lebanese government as incapable of taking responsibility for the country's security, and therefore the government should not complain about arming the organization. Even the story of the arms deal (which ultimately was not implemented), in which Lebanon was supposed to receive 10 MiG-29 planes as a gift from Russia, helped Hezbollah.

Fuad Siniora's government made much of this transaction until it encountered a series of professional questions from Hezbollah supporters. For example, does Lebanon have airfields suitable for these planes, what about the ground radar systems that are supposed to assist them and how will Lebanon defend the airfields from an Israeli attack?

And as though that were not sufficient, Hezbollah members quoted the Russian newspaper Kommersant to the effect that that the Russian army is planning to replace about one third of its old planes, including MiG-29s, and that the army decided to ground these MiGs after two of them crashed.

Apparently at this point the Lebanese army will continue to fight against Palestinian separatists and suppress demonstrations, and Hezbollah will continue to be the country's real army.

Beyond Natanz

Although it's too early to discuss a diplomatic dialogue between the U.S. and Iran, a group of people from Hollywood, including actress Annette Bening, screenwriter Frank Pierson and Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are already paving way.

They and other Americans in the film industry attended a series of workshops last month in Tehran, met with their Iranian colleagues, visited the cinema museum that documents 107 years of Iranian film, and declared that they would be happy to cooperate with the local movie industry.

This friendly encounter was not disturbed by the fact that at exactly the same time Iran arrested American journalist Roxana Saberi. Saberi, the daughter of an Iranian-born father and a Japanese-born mother, has been living in Iran for the past six years and works as a freelancer for Western news organizations.

A year ago, Iranian authorities took away her press card, but allowed her to continue to work. About three weeks ago she was arrested, apparently because she bought a bottle of wine and the seller reported the sale to the authorities.

Arrests and executions are one thing, but art and sports are another. For example, at present the International Animation Festival is being held in Tehran, with 45 Iranian and international companies participating.

After watching the 20,000 minutes to be screened at the festival, which is held every two years, one can take a taxi to north Tehran, rent ski equipment and ascend the Alborz mountains to the Dizin site, where it's possible not only to ski along kilometers of orderly and well -equipped trails, but also to watch the final stage of the international ski competition that ended there yesterday.

The Dizin and Shemshak sites are the first in Iran to be recognized by the International Ski Federation as suitable for hosting international competitions.

Ski tourism and tourism in general could be of great help to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after plummeting oil prices have led to a change in the structure of the budget, and after the Iranian stock market lost almost 30 percent of its value in the past four months.