Sunday, January 28, 2007


On Self-Parody

Greetings to both of my regular readers! (Or to the one regular reader I have left, as the case may be.)

My apologies for the long hiatus; I've been busy with various non-blogging activities ("life", in other words). But perhaps it's time to get back in the saddle again... and where better to start than some ripe low-hanging fruit.

Or perhaps low-hanging fruit is a bit too close for comfort. It seems that an Israeli promotional event is causing widespread panic in southern Lebanon. Specifically, an Israeli local paper, called Ha'Ir, chose to use green helium balloons with their logo on them... and, after they were released, some of them blew across the border into Lebanon.

So now there are Lebanese who are being rushed to the hospital for suspicious symptoms, after inhaling the contents of these helium balloons. Lebanon's government-controlled news agency, al-Manar, is calling them "poisoned balloons" and claiming that they were dispersed by Israeli military aircraft. Some of the balloons have been exploded by the Lebanese army; others have been passed over to Italian UN troops for "examination".

(Thanks to Ha'aretz for the explanation; I don't read Arabic, I'm afraid. There is an English-language version of al-Manar, but it doesn't have the Green Balloon story yet; I'll have to check back again tomorrow.)

There's just so much wrong with this story, it's hard to know where to begin. Israel now stands accused of trying to poison innocent Lebanese... using helium balloons? (Only this past summer, remember, Israel was bombing Hizb'allah strongholds throughout southern Lebanon, and was criticized mercilessly for it. Are we to assume that the Israeli generals have started a "balloons, not bombs" campaign?)

And innocent Lebanese are now supposed to be stupid enough to pick up strange balloons, with Hebrew writing on them, and breathe them? (As my lovely wife points out, Israeli children are cautioned, practically as soon as they learn to walk, not to approach "suspicious objects". But in Lebanon we seem to have adults opening up strange balloons and inhaling the contents, just to see what would happen... and then blaming Israel for the results.)

It almost seems superfluous to point out that, if Israel ever did want to use, uh, helium balloons as an offensive weapon -- well, why on Earth would they be "dispersed" from Israeli military aircraft?

Please, just take a moment and picture this with me. We imagine a two-seater F-16, painted in Israeli colors and armed to the teeth, flying at several hundred miles per hour over the northern Galilee. The warcraft crosses the border into Lebanese airspace. Both pilot and navigator are remaining cool, prepared to react with split-second timing, ready for anything. And then, at a predetermined instant, a target is reached and the pilot says, "bombs away, Shmuel"... at which point the navigator, feeling like an idiot, releases several dozen green helium balloons. The balloons float serenely above the Lebanese landscape while the F-16 makes its getaway. Perhaps a half-hour later, a Lebanese couple, out for a stroll, look up; the woman says, "Look, Mahmoud, what do you suppose that is?" Mahmoud replies, "I don't know, it looks like some sort of strange green balloon with Hebrew writing on it. Let's pop it and take a sniff."

Unbelievable. Does the need to blame Israel know any bounds at all?

I do hope that Israelis exhibit their usual sense of humor about this. I could easily imagine an Israeli in a clown outfit, with a package of green balloons and a tank of helium and nothing better to do on his day off, driving up to the Lebanese border and having fun. ("You want helium balloons? I'll show you some helium balloons!")

UPDATE: A day later, the Green Balloons story still does not appear on the English-language al-Manar site. The original story, datelined January 27 2007, still appears on the Arabic-language site. A quick search on Google News finds 22 articles on the subject, including this Jerusalem Post article:
Balloons drifting from Israel into southern Lebanon sparked a panic among villagers over the weekend amid rumors they were filled with poison gas. The balloons were apparently part of an advertising campaign by a newspaper in northern Israel.

Results of tests conducted by UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon showed the balloons did not contain any dangerous gases, a Lebanese security official said Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give statements to the media.

. . .

After the balloons were first discovered Saturday in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh, the Lebanese army issued a statement warning residents not to touch them, pending an investigation. Pictures of the green, orange and black balloons were splashed across newspapers over the weekend and on Monday.

The state-run National News Agency and the Al-Manar TV channel of the Hizbullah guerrilla group claimed the balloons contained toxic gas and had been dropped by Israeli military aircraft, further stoking public fears.

At least five people were hospitalized in southern Lebanon complaining of nausea, dizziness and low blood pressure following contact with the balloons, Lebanese newspaper reports and hospital officials said.

Khalil Malli, a resident of Nabatiyeh, was the first to discover the balloons, finding a bunch tied together with ribbon in his backyard. He told Lebanese media that a "suspicious smell" emanated from them and when he spotted the Hebrew writing he alerted police and journalists in the area.

Not long after, Malli and other members of his family began feeling lightheaded and nauseous and were taken to a hospital for treatment.

Rana Jouni, a journalist in southern Lebanon, reported feeling the same symptoms after a visit to the Malli home during which she took pictures of the balloons. She reported the same suspicious smell.

"About a half an hour after taking the pictures I began feeling dizzy and out of breath. Soon I couldn't breathe and then I felt my arms become numb," she told The Associated Press Monday from her bed at the Najda al-Shaabiya hospital in Nabatiyeh where she was admitted Saturday.

Dr. Samer Suleiman, an intensive care doctor at the hospital, said that although Jouni and the other patients complained of symptoms that are consistent with exposure to toxic gases, blood and urine tests did not reveal exposure to such gases.

"We have no explanation for it," Suleiman said of the contradiction between the patients' symptoms and test results.
I'd suggest "paranoia" as a likely diagnosis, Doctor.

By way of contrast, this much shorter article appeared at India e-news:

Israel planes dump 'suspicious green balloons' on Lebanon

Israeli planes violated Lebanese airspace and dumped green balloons over the southern port city of Tyre, Lebanese security sources said. Lebanese troops cordoned off the area around the coast of Tyre Saturday and prevented people from touching the 'suspicious balloons' after reports indicated that some people were poisoned when they did.

According to sources, similar green balloons were dropped over the market town of Nabatiyeh, 54 km south of here.

Five people suffering from nausea and dizziness were brought into hospital after they touched the 'suspicious green balloons', said a hospital source.
Similar reports can be found at al-Jazeera and the UAE's Gulf News. The latter is an editorial, and it recommends that the UN deal "firmly" with Israel for having "dropped" balloons that were "filled with poisonous gas". (I have to wonder -- can the Lebanese take any of this seriously? They had firm evidence, not six months ago, of just how deadly the Israeli military can be when it wants to be, against the targets it considers important. And now we're supposed to believe that the IDF is playing games with balloons?)

Google News gave the al-Jazeera article top billing, by the way. (Thanks, guys.)

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