Sunday, May 11, 2008

Iran is engaging everyone else

A few years ago I was engaged in an animated multi-way debate with American and other foreign policy analysts who insisted that Iran poses no existential danger to Israel. They reasoned that Iran could not realistically use nuclear weapons against Israel even if they got them, and they pointed out Iran has no border with Israel, and would have no way of invading Israel. Therefore, they could attack under a nuclear umbrella that prevented massive retaliation. So how, they asked could Iran constitute an existential danger to Israel?

They got the first part of their reply in the summer of 2006, when Hezbollah, with the consent of Iran and probably at its bidding, triggered the 2006 Second Lebanon war. Iran, both through Hezbollah and other means, has also been supporting the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank. Hezbollah has boasted frequently of its aid to "Palestinian resistance."

But this week Israel was given another dramatic illustration of the escalating Iranian threat, when Hezbollah, which has virtually paralyzed the Lebanese government since December 2006, almost pulled a coup in Beirut similar to the one that Hamas engineered in Gaza. As Hezbollah terrorists overran Beirut, a frightening new prospect opened up for Israel: Lebanon is on its way to being converted into a franchise Islamic republic, a second Iran, right on our northern borders. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said:

"(Egyptian) President Hosni Mubarak recently declared that Egypt already has a border with Iran with the Gaza Strip. For us it's even worse because it's not only the Gaza Strip, but also Lebanon in the north.

Actually, it would be much worse, because Lebanon is a recognized state. If Hezbollah takes over Lebanon, they will have all the resources and rights of a state at its disposal. At the very least, Lebanon would become a training and operations base for terrorism aimed at Israel, both directly over its border with Lebanon, and through infiltration into the West Bank. We can anticipate that large numbers of Iranian Nation Guard Corps troops would be stationed there, training Islamic Jihad and Hamas members in guerrilla warfare, and recruiting Palestinian terrorists from the misery of the refugee camps. Hezbollah would also control the Lebanese army even if it would not necessarily merge with it, and it might turn that army into a potent fighting force. But that is the best case scenario. Hezbollah controlled Lebanon can provide Iran with a Mediterranean naval base and forward airbases. In the worst case scenario, it could be the staging ground for an Iranian invasion of Israel.

A Lebanese Islamic republic is clearly a threat not only to Israel, but to US and French interests in the Levant, and to neighboring Turkey. The most alarming feature of last week's crisis is that nobody did much about it. The United States issued some pro-forma warnings, and France engaged in some feverish and pointless diplomatic activity. The major activities of France and Italy were to prepare for evacuation of their citizens. True to form, they were planning the retreat. Turkey was silent, at least in public. The Arab League scheduled a meeting. Israel did nothing, because Israel, given the presence of UNIFIL in Lebanon, cannot possibly do anything. In any case, any support for the government of Fouad Saniora given by Israel would most certainly doom that government.

Continued at Meeting Iran half way

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