With the decision to destroy Hezbollah by military force, the Israelis are playing for a fundamental power alignment in the Middle East. More than just a regional conflict with a local terrorist organization, Israel’s fight continues to be about survival.
Yesterday, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad declared that by attacking Lebanon, Israel had pushed the button of their destruction. ”I advise them [the Israelis] to pack up and move out of the region before being caught in the fire they have started in Lebanon,” Ahmadinejad told the state news agency IRNA. ”The usurper Zionists thought attack on Lebanon would create a new atmosphere for them in the region,” Ahmadinejad charged. ”They [the Zionists] have committed a big mistake.”
Since Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2001, Hezbollah has boasted of its ability to destroy the Jewish state. Now, should Israel succeed in crushing Hezbollah with military force, Syria and Iran face the prospect of a major political setback in the world of radical Islam.
Iran created Hezbollah, dating back to the 1970s when Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadallah, the spiritual leader who created Hezbollah, and Ayatollah Khomeini, who was responsible for the 1979 Iranian revolution, were both exiled in Najaf in Iraq. Najaf remains a key holy city for Shiite Muslims since Najaf is where the Imam Ali lies buried, the brother-in-law of Prophet Muhammed who was the Prophet’s first convert. The central division between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims is that Shiites believe the rightful line of succession from Prophet Muhammed begins with Imam Ali, not the secular caliphates whom the Sunnis have traditionally accepted as rightful leaders.
Today, Iran funds Hezbollah to the tune of $250 million a year.
Syria also has much invested in supporting Hezbollah. In March 2005, after the U.N. held Syria responsible for the assassination of former prime minister Hariri, Syria began to pull out of Lebanon some 25,000 Syrian military troops that had occupied Lebanon since the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s. To appreciate Syria’s influence over Lebanon, we should recall that Lebanon’s current President Lahoud stayed in power in 2004, beyond his six-year constitutional term, because Syria insisted upon it.
If today, Iran and Syria stand by idly and allow Israel to destroy Hezbollah, both Iran and Syria will suffer major setbacks not only in the region, but worldwide in the esteem of radical Islamic political parties and terrorist organizations.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s trip to the region is being postponed for a few hours, until President Bush has a chance to meet with Saudi Arabian officials, a meeting evidently requested by Saudi Arabia. We have seen Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt – all Sunni states – state their unprecedented open objection to Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israel.
This type of Arab opposition to forces attacking Israel would have been unimaginable in the 1950s, when Egypt’s own President Nassar was leading the charge in the Islamic world to wipe Israel from the map. Today, Iran has taken up Nassar’s dream. Now the Sunni states fear that Shiite Iran is gaining too much strength in the region, an ascendance which could threaten them next, especially if Iran is somehow successful in fulfilling the threat to wipe Israel from the map. Iran hates the U.S. and Israel first, but right after that, Iran next hates Sunni Muslims, against whom they have been fighting for centuries.
The White House may well hope Saudi Arabia could intervene to get Syria to stand down in their support of Hezbollah. Yet, every day as Israel gains against Hezbollah with military force, the likelihood increases that Syria will have no choice but to enter the war in support of Hezbollah. Syria predictably will call for a cease-fire that would freeze the status quo and stop the Israelis before they gain a decisive military victory over Hezbollah.
We should also remember that Russia is a strong supporter and military supplier to both Iran and Hezbollah. Russia and China have joined in the emerging ”Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” something we also never expected to see happen thirty years ago.
Iran attended the most recent meeting of the group in June 2006, a likely first move toward gaining full membership in what is emerging to be a regional anti-American economic and military pact.
President Bush is allowing Israel some time to attack Hezbollah, fully aware that Israel is doing the ”dirty work” for us as well, in setting back a key terrorist threat. Yet, increasingly the discussion within the administration is searching for ways to identify an ”end game.” If President Bush intervenes with Secretary Rice to end this conflict before Israel completes the job of destroying Hezbollah’s military capabilities to attack Israel, we will only postpone the ultimate conflict which the Middle East cannot forever avoid.
As long as Ahmadinejad and the radical clerics who support him remain in power in Tehran, the war against Israel will continue. Ultimately, Israel cannot take the existential risk that will arise the moment Iran has the capability to finish the making of a deliverable nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that Iran will succeed enriching uranium to weapons grade by the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007.
If Syria refuses to step down to allow Hezbollah to be destroyed, a wider war in the region is inevitable, one way or the other.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that a war between Iran and Israel is inevitable, possibly only months away, unless Israel is allowed enough time and provided enough weapons to settle some key strategic survival issues right now.
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