*******Israel and Iran: No Surprise
Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Lebanon, Nuclear Weapons
By Jim O'Neill
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
“…it will not be a surprise attack. In fact, regardless of when Israel attacks Iran the element of surprise does not exist. This confrontation has been discussed for several years and everybody knows about it so there will be no surprises. Israel is ready for it. Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are ready for it. It’s just a matter of when.” —Jerry Pourcy “If Israel Attacks Iran In July 2010….”
The only questions are when—and will, Iran (et al.) attack Israel, or will Israel attack Lebanon(Hezbollah)/Iran/Syria/Gaza Strip (Hamas) first, in a preemptive strike?
If nuclear weapons come into play, we could all soon be worrying about a lot more than the economy, and the oil spill. See: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703312504575142181649202588.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/13/fidel-castro-on-cuban-tv-middle-east-iran-us [Also posted below]
As the Obama Administration continues to force-feed us its “green energy” agenda, (and coincidently destroy our oil-based economy), we may be about to get “tag-teamed” by a war in the Middle East.
See: http://www.nationalreview.com/planet-gore/231177/obamas-war-gulf-coast/chris-horner and http://www.nationalreview.com/planet-gore/231121/another-rig-leaves-gulf/greg-pollowitz
The “smart money” has it that the Middle East will explode sometime within the next couple of months. I would “guesstimate” sooner, rather than later—say within the next two weeks.
See: http://jubalbiggs.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/middle-east-about-to-explode/ [Also posted below]
Granted, it may all hinge on when Iran “goes nuclear,” but I suspect that the 12th Imam’s birthday, may trump all—and the 12th Imam’s birthday is July 26 (mid-Sha’ban on the Islamic calendar). That is, this coming Monday. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/30/world/middleeast/30imam.html?_r=1 and http://www.keepthewall.com/Mid-Shaban/index.html
Fidel Castro returns to TV with dire warning of nuclear conflict
"To do this on the basis of a calculation that the Iranians are going to come running out to ask the Yankees for forgiveness is absurd," Castro said. "They [the US] will encounter a terrible resistance that will spread the conflict that cannot end up any other way than turning nuclear."
The former Cuban president said Israel would throw the first bomb, but the risk that red buttons would also be pressed in Pakistan and India was latent.
Castro made the prediction on Cuban TV last night, in a dramatic return to public life after four years in near-seclusion.
"The US is activating the machinery to destroy Iran," he said. "But the Iranians have been building up a defensive force little by little for years."
Castro said attacking Iran would have a very different result from invading Iraq. "When Bush attacked Iraq, Iraq was a divided country," he said. "Iran is not divided."
The Cuban leader also emphasised that India, Pakistan and Israel are the three nuclear powers who have refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
"The control that Israel has over the United States is enormous."
"US foreign policy is better described as the policy of total impunity."
The leader of the 1959 Cuban Revolution who went on to become an icon of resistance to US dominance in Latin America during the Cold War, and ended up as the great survivor of the fall of communism, fell seriously ill in 2006. After emergency intestinal surgery he handed power over to his younger brother Raul, who is now 79, first temporarily and then permanently.
Castro appeared in a couple of videotaped interviews with Cuban television in 2007 and rather more frequently in photographs greeting foreign leaders visiting the island. He had not been seen in a public setting until photographs of him visiting a science centre in Havana were published in the Communist party newspaper Granma on Monday. He was shown smiling and chatting to workers, dressed in sports clothes and looking relaxed.
Still the official head of Cuba's Communist party, Castro maintains a lively presence in print, publishing regular 'Reflections' on his own nation and the world.
In recent weeks he has turned his attention to the Middle East, prompted by the Israeli raid on an aid convoy attempting to break the blockade of Gaza on 31 May. During Monday's broadcast of a special edition of a daily public affairs show called Round Table, the 82-year-old looked rather frail and his voice was somewhat weak. He shuffled papers and quoted extensively from the Arabic press, Pentagon and Noam Chomsky, among others.
Dressed casually in a tracksuit top over a checked shirt, the man once known for always wearing military fatigues, interspersed his warnings of imminent nuclear conflict with a rambling history lecture that ranged from the roots of the Korean war to the Cuban missile crisis, by way of the war in Angola.
"We have experiences of being close to it [nuclear war]," he said. "Now I believe the threat of war has greatly increased. They [the US] is playing with fire."
News that Castro would appear on TV garnered emotional responses from Havana residents. "We are so, so excited to see him. It is unbelievable," sugar ministry worker Paula Alonso told Reuters TV. "Especially for people from the same generation, we want to see our president."
Castro's reappearance comes after last week's decision by the regime to release 52 political prisoners over the next few months, following negotiations with the Vatican and Spain. They were jailed in 2003 during a crackdown on dissidence when he was still in power. The first group of freed prisoners was expected to arrive in Madrid today.
Middle East About To Explode
04 June 2010
Other than the raid by the IDF of the ships determined to open a weapon smuggling route to the Hamas brethren of the Islamist Turkish organizations that sponsored the trip, something else very significant is brewing in the Middle East.
I have outlined in other blog posts that the Middle East functions not based on a “power balancing” paradigm like Europe, but on one centered on a “bandwagon” effect. This means, in short, that being feared and powerful is far better in the region than being liked, and that aggression will gain you “allies” and followers as states decide to get onto the winning team before they become the next target.
The United States was the hegemon in the Middle East. We crept into the role after 1991, but very much more so after our second war in Iraq which saw immediate returns in the form of Libyan compliance with our wishes, Syrian malleability, gains in Lebanon (temporarily, alas), and many other tangible benefits after our invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately, the United States hates the idea of being the hegemon in the Middle East so much that we spent the last two years of Bush II trying to wiggle out of it, and now after a year and a half of Obama, we have completely convinced the Middle East that we are 100% not interested in sticking around to ensure stability there as we did in Asia. (As a side note, the Middle East has always been a cauldron of violence EXCEPT when a single, usually imperial power dominated it, in which case it would spend decades or centuries in productive peace, just FYI.)
Now, the Middle Eastern states have taken Obama’s message to heart. They will now have to have another round of major wars to sort out exactly who the new top dog is over there. Iran seems to have gotten away with everything and is the growing power that openly thumbed it’s nose at the USA and sent in support to help kill our troops in Iraq. Now, the fear of Iran engendered by it’s history and positioning is paying off. Turkey, once a stalwart American ally seems to have (with it’s backing of this blockade breaker fleet against Israel) finally peeled off and is now effectively cooperating with Iran. This is an enormous shift. Turkey is a huge state with the second most powerful military in the region (other than Israel), a big economy, and a relatively modern state apparatus. Losing Turkey gives the anti-Americans a huge boost. Not only that, but our oldest follower in the region other than Israel, Egypt, has staged war games aimed at giving it’s troops practice in they type of operations necessary to attack Israel. This is another massive red flag that has gone unnoticed in Washington. If we lose Egypt, we are almost toothless in the status game of Middle Eastern bandwagon politics.
Syria is now arming at an alarming rate, and has been doing so for several years. They are built up to a level not seen since 1973, thanks to Iran buying off their debt with Russia (dating back to 1973, incidentally) which had kept them from charging up the credit cards on new tanks and missiles. Syria is now armed to the teeth. So is Hizbullah. So is Egypt (thanks to us). So is Turkey (largely thanks to us). So is (to some extent) Iran (thanks to China). But of course, egypt would never use American technology to attack Israel, right? Just like the Taliban would never use American technology for use against the USSR against American interests? I mean, this is the Middle East here; people respect their contracts, right?
What is happening now is that the bandwagoning effect of states jumping on Iran’s bandwagon has progressed to the point where it is nearing critical mass fast. If Egypt tilts too far, the whole Middle East will explode again as it has not done since 1973. America will be standing on the sidelines as an out of (our) control major military conflict goes on just across a couple small borders from our own military conflict in Iraq. The possibilities for this going wrong are staggering in their number.
Why does the Iran bloc have to attack Israel anyway? Why can’t we have a “peaceful rise”, as China purports to be doing? Because Israel will not submit to Iran, for it is not suicidal. Israel refuses to be the sacrificial goat of the region. So long as the strongest military and economic power in the area refuses to join the wolf pack, it is not complete. If it is not complete, the Alpha wolf is not secure. If he is not secure, he, himself is dead meat in the long run, because his entire claim to authority is his ability to cow or terrify every other wolf in the pack. Iran MUST defeat Israel or Iran itself will be attacked by the Arab states who don’t particularly like the Persians, or by Suunis who don’t particularly like Shiites. The mere fact that Israel refuses to cower is what keeps the Gulf Arab states from kowtowing to Teheran. They have gone so far as to offer (reportedly) the use of Saudi airspace to Israeli warplanes on their way to Iran. That cannot be tolerated. Once too many big states jump on the bandwagon, a war is inevitable.
War is inevitable, that is, unless the USA does something about it. Of course, with a President who has been doing nothing but throwing doggy biscuits almost randomly at the wolves, we are in no position to assume the leadership mantle that is currently unoccupied. This means that Israel will be the only real resistance to Iranian hegemony. Believe me, Egypt does not risk it’s incredibly cushy position with our State Department lightly. If they are engaging in anti-Israel war games, this tank of gasoline is very likely about to go poof.
Keep that in mind as you watch upcoming events. Believe me, the Palestinians are a sideshow. The main event is Arab-Israeli War V; this time with a Persian flavoring and some American troops caught up in it from Baghdad and Falluja. In Gen X terminology; how incredibly joyful!*******
Ahmadinejad’s Apocalyptic Faith
By: Patrick Poole
Thursday, August 17, 2006
When Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes recently sat down in Tehran with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for an interview, perhaps the most important questions were the ones that went unasked. They talked about Hezbollah, nuclear weapons, Israel and President Bush, but the one question that ties all of these together in Ahmadinejad’s mind is his religious faith. It is the prism through which he views all of these other policy issues, which is why it is of singular importance to understand the ideology that drives this man. This was apparently lost on Mike Wallace.
No one can accuse Ahmadinejad of being circumspect about the religious views that shape his worldview. He speaks on those views quite frequently, but they are a taboo subject for Westerners unaccustomed to thinking that is self-consciously religious. The reactionary response is to dismiss it as mental instability or label it as “fundamentalist”, but facing the reality of a nuclear Iran, such a reaction is not only short-sighted and narrow minded, but possibly suicidal.
Ahmadinejad’s worldview is shaped by the radical Hojjatieh Shiism that is best represented by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the Iranian President’s ideological mentor and marja-e taqlid (object of emulation), of the popular Haqqani religious school located in Qom. The affection seems to be mutual: in the 2005 Iranian presidential campaign, Ayatollah Yazdi issued a fatwa calling on his supporters to vote for Ahmadinejad.
The Hojjatieh movement is considered to be so radical that it was banned in 1983 by the Ayatollah Khomeini and is still opposed by the majority of the Iranian clerics, including the Supreme Leader of the Supreme National Security Council, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. That should be telling in and of itself. That opposition notwithstanding, it is believed that several adherents of the Hojjatieh sect are in Cabinet-level positions in Ahmadinejad’s government.
Most Shiites await the return of the 12th Shiite Imam, Muhammad ibn Hasan, the last direct male descendent of the Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law Ali, who disappeared in 874AD and is believed to be in an invisible, deathless state of existene, or “occultation”, awaiting his return. Though it is discounted even by the most extremist clerics, a popular belief in Iran holds that the 12th Imam, also called the Mahdi or the sahib-e zaman (“the Ruler of Time”), lives at the bottom of a well in Jamkaran, just outside of Qom. Devotees drop written requests into the well to communicate with the Mahdi. His reappearance will usher in a new era of peace as Islam vanquishes all of its enemies. The Sunnis, who reject the successors of Ali, believe that the Mahdi has yet to be born.
But rooted in the Shiite ideology of martyrdom and violence, the Hojjatieh sect adds messianic and apocalyptic elements to an already volatile theology. They believe that chaos and bloodshed must precede the return of the 12th Imam, called the Mahdi. But unlike the biblical apocalypse, where the return of Jesus is preceded by waves of divinely decreed natural disasters, the summoning of the Mahdi through chaos and violence is wholly in the realm of human action. The Hojjatieh faith puts inordinate stress on the human ability to direct divinely appointed events. By creating the apocalyptic chaos, the Hojjatiehs believe it is entirely in the power of believers to affect the Mahdi’s reappearance, the institution of Islamic government worldwide, and the destruction of all competing faiths.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has clearly indicated that he is a true believer in this faith. It has been reported that he has told confidants that he anticipates the immanent return of the Mahdi. When he previously served as Mayor of Tehran, he advocated for widening the roads to accommodate the Mahdi’s triumphal entry into the city. One of his first acts of office as President was to dedicate approximately $20 million to the restoration and improvement of the mosque at Jamkaran, where the Mahdi is claimed to dwell.
This personal belief directs his official policies as President. He has publicly said, “Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi. We should define our economic, cultural and political policies on the policy of the Imam Mahdi’s return.”
However, Ahmadinejad’s messianism doesn’t stop with the Mahdi. In fact, he has made it clear that he believes he has personally received a divine appointment to herald the imminent arrival of the Mahdi, tacitly acknowledging his own role in setting aright the problems of the world.
His belief in a personal divine appointment was best confirmed after his speech to the United Nations last September, which was laden with references to the Mahdi. Upon his return to Iran, he met with Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli, where the two discussed an alleged paranormal occurrence while Ahmadinejad spoke wherein he related to the cleric:
On the last day when I was speaking, one of our group told me that when I started to say 'Bismillah Muhammad,' he saw a green light come from around me, and I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself. I felt that the atmosphere suddenly changed, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, all the leaders of the world did not blink. When I say they didn't move an eyelid, I'm not exaggerating. They were looking as if a hand was holding them there, and had just opened their eyes – Alhamdulillah!
As the recipient of this divine appointment, he not only a leading actor in what he believes is a divine drama taking place on the world stage, but it also feeds the Gnostic elitism inherent in Hojjatieh ideology. Not only are his acts reflective of divine inspiration, they are also above questioning. As an interview back in May with Der Spiegel, while talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this “populist” makes clear his lack of enthusiasm for popular sovereignty:
It does not make sense that a phenomenon depends on the opinions of many individuals who are free to interpret the phenomenon as they wish. You can't solve the problems of the world that way. We need a new approach. Of course we want the free will of the people to reign, but we need sustainable principles that enjoy universal acceptance - such as justice.
Another part of his divine mission is confronting infidel world leaders and inviting them to accept Islam – a necessary step in Islamic warfare before attacking an opponent. In May, Ahmadinejad sent President Bush an 18-page letter calling for a change in the Bush Administration’s foreign polices and challenging him to embrace Islam. A similar letter was sent to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Robert Spencer of JihadWatch immediately recognized Ahmadinejad’s letter as a call to accept Islam – an opinion that Ahmadinejad later confirmed – that contextualized his respective letters as a pretext for future military confrontation and escalation.
Referring to his letter in his 60 Minutes interview, Ahmadinejad made it clear that rejection of his personal invitation to Islam would invite personal destruction for President Bush:
Please give him this message, sir. Those who refuse to accept an invitation to good will not have a good ending or fate.
The confrontational approach taken by Ahmadinejad colors his official decision-making as President of the Islamic Republic. The kidnapping of the Israeli solider by Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, resulted in the conflict between Israel and the terrorist organization that has killed more than a thousand people in Lebanon and Israel and displaced more than a million citizens in both countries. This provocative act by Hezbollah had to have the approval of Ahmadinejad and reflects the belligerence that marks virtually all of his policies related to the Middle East region and Iran’s relations with the West.
But it is the apocalyptic element to Ahmadinejad’s faith combined with Iran’s nuclear ambitions that should draw the most serious attention. He believes that a great cataclysm of bloodshed anticipates the return of the 12th Imam, in particular the destruction of infidels – Jews and Christians – that will usher in a new dawn of Islamic worldwide dominance.
With Israel in range of Iranian missiles, he has promised to “wipe Israel off the map”. Here Ahmadinejad draws from what Andrew Bostom recently identified as a theological current within the broader confines of Islam that holds that the destruction of the Jews will inaugurate the appearance of the Mahdi. Other Hojjatieh ideologues, such as one of Ayatollah Yazdi’s chief students, Mohsen Ghorourian, have openly advocated the use of nuclear weapons to assert Iranian/Islamic preeminence over Israel and the West.
In recent weeks Islam scholars have noted how Ahmadinejad’s selection of August 22nd to respond to the UN’s demand to cease the Iranian uranium enrichment program has roots in Quranic mythology. On July 27th, Robert Spencer wrote for FrontPage that this date corresponds to Muhammed’s “Night Journey” and ascension into heaven recounted in Islamic lore. Two weeks later, noted Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis reitterated these same concerns about the date chosen by Ahmadinejad’s government to respond to the UN’s demands. Could a nuclear event or other terrorist attacks directed against Israel, the West, or both, by Iran deliberately timed to coincide to utilize the perceived power of Islamic myth be in store? The scenario is not far-fetched.
Some commentators have dismissed the notion that Iran might launch an attack that would precipitate a catastrophic response from Israel and the US, relying on the Cold War logic of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). But yet again, the religious ideology that permeates the mind of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is extremely important to understand.
The whole structure of Shiite belief is built around a cult of martyrdom that assumes lethal retribution by the infidels against the true believers for their righteous conduct. Ahmadinejad constantly utilizes the Shiite images and slogans relating to martyrdom, as can be seen in his comments this past February in a speech reported by the IRNA:
We are all obliged to keep alive the culture of martyrdom-seeking in the society. Culture of martyrdom-seeking is our most effective weapon and best guarantee for our national security. Ruthless enemies who have a chronic enmity against our country and our nation have not succeeded in achieving their objectives so far thanks to the existence of this culture of martyrdom-seeking among our nation. He who is ready for martyrdom is always victorious. Martyrdom is the peak of mankind's perfection and the martyrs enjoy the highest status of humanity in this world and the Hereafter. People spend tough years of strenuous work in a bid to achieve the peaks of grandeur and pride, while our dear martyrs achieved those high peaks in shortest possible time.
An attack launched by Israel or the US that would kill tens or hundreds of thousands of Iranians would only serve to confirm the self-fulfilling prophecy of Shiite martyrdom and vindicate Ahmadinejad’s suicidal policies. In his mind, an apocalyptic act of self-initiated martyrdom unparalleled in Islamic history would undoubtedly serve to jump start the arrival of the Mahdi. In his religious calculus, the use of nuclear weapons is a win-win scenario. Such actions are not only entirely appropriate, but divinely sanctioned and wholly justified by the messianic and apocalyptic elements that Ahmadinejad and his ideological allies have attached to the Shiite martyrdom mythology.
We should then seriously consider the practical consequences of Ahmadinejad’s religious worldview and ask how this knowledge should help shape our foreign policy with regards to Iran and their nuclear ambitions. The political leaders in the West should understand that the Shiite and Hojjatieh beliefs play an integral role in shaping Ahmadinejad’s understanding of reality.
When he says that Iran’s nuclear development program are peaceful, he really means it. He has in mind the universal Islamic peace that will be established with the return of the Mahdi, and if rivers of infidel blood have to be shed to accomplish it, his religious faith leads him to understand that such is part of the divine plan. That is the way that ultimate “peace” will finally be achieved. And when he states that Israel will be “wiped off the map”, he unshakably believes that as well because it has been crafted into the overall religious narrative that guides his policies.
Because of this, we should understand that there is no negotiating position acceptable to them except for the complete and unconditional submission of the non-Muslim world to the rule of shari’a. Diplomacy is a vain illusion when dealing with adherents of this apocalyptic worldview. They have constructed an ideology where the most extreme actions on their part are not only justified, but divinely sanctioned; and all retributive responses by the “infidels” accounted for.
There is a glimmer of hope, however. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stands at the fringe of Iranian politics (which should illustrate how relative a term as “fringe” can actually be). Most hard line clerics do not share his vision and he is opposed by some of the leading politicians in Iran, like former President Rafsanjani. Our response should exploit those divisions. But that can only be done if we are relentless in constantly checking every move that Ahmadinejad makes. He cannot be allowed even the slightest victory. Allowing him any breathing room or agreeing to any concessions is fraught with extreme peril. A persistent escalation of hostilities between Iran and the US may force the hard line clerics to deal with Ahmadinejad on their own out of sheer self-preservation.
In conclusion, this brief examination has been intended to demonstrate that current Iranian policy is designed to vindicate the self-fulfilling prophecy of Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic and messianic beliefs. This highlights that regardless of what West chooses to believe, we are in a religious war and we must fight it as such. At some point, we will be forced to take actions designed to shake their faith – a prospect that will not be well met by the postmodern pluralistic forces in the West. But the West and Israel is not the only one threatened: the Islamic world itself, Sunni and Shiite alike, is held hostage by this extremist religious ideology. When the day of reckoning comes for Iran, may our leaders fully understand the religious dimensions of the threat and have the nerve to do what is needed to protect our interests and security in both the short and long term. In this battle, there will be no substitute for victory.*******
The Rogues Strike Back
Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah vs. Israel
By Robert Satloff
July 24, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 42
Iran thumbs its nose at Western diplomats and continues nuclear enrichment. Hamas's chief, speaking from Damascus, boasts about kidnapping an Israeli soldier. Hezbollah launches a cross-border raid, prompting Israeli retaliation in Beirut and a return volley of rockets on northern Israel. Just another bleak week in the hopeless Middle East? Regrettably, no. This one was different. This was the week the Dark Side went on the offensive.
Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah: These are not marginal fringe groups. The first two are sovereign states, the third forms the elected government of the Palestinian Authority, and the fourth holds 25 of the 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament and, effectively, two ministerial portfolios. This was the week that the rogue regimes of the "Old Middle East"--as opposed to the shadowy, faceless terrorist groups of the "New Middle East"--reminded the world that they too have the potential to grab headlines and wreak havoc.
Here's a recap: On Monday, July 10, Khaled Meshal, head of the political bureau of Hamas, held a news conference in Damascus in which he took full responsibility for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom he called a "prisoner of war."
On Tuesday, July 11, Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, told European Union envoy Javier Solana that Tehran was in no hurry to respond to a U.S.-European offer of incentives to end its nuclear enrichment program and would not give a formal reply until late August. Larijani then flew to Damascus, where he praised Hamas for its noble resistance to Zionist occupation.
On Wednesday, July 12, militiamen belonging to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah crossed the internationally recognized Israel-Lebanon frontier and attacked an Israeli position, killing eight soldiers and capturing two. This was "an act of war," said Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who authorized airstrikes on Beirut airport and Hezbollah facilities. Later that day, the United States and other permanent members asked the U.N. Security Council to compel Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities. "We called [Iran's] bluff today," a senior State Department official told the Los Angeles Times.
On Thursday, July 13, Hezbollah rockets--supplied by Iran, via Syria--fell on major cities in northern Israel, including Haifa, Safed, Karmiel, and Nahariya, killing two, injuring dozens, and sending thousands to shelters. Israeli shelling shut down all civilian and military air access to Lebanon, as Israel continued bombing Hamas targets throughout Gaza, too. "All operations are legitimate to wipe out terror," said Israel's northern front commander Major General Udi Adam.
That's a lot of tough talk about war, face-offs, and showdowns, even for the Middle East, but what makes this train of events more worrisome than a typical week in the region is that these events--and their perpetrators--are all connected. No, this is not another Middle East conspiracy theory; to paraphrase Henry Kissinger's line about paranoids, sometimes bad guys shooting at you from all directions just might be in cahoots. In fact, the quartet of Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah constitutes a better oiled, more cohesive unit than the diplomatic quartet of the United States, the U.N., the E.U., and Russia. Indeed, the rogue foursome is linked ideologically and operationally in a much more organic way than the charter members of the Axis of Evil ever were.
The key, it is important to note, is not religion. Iran and Hezbollah are led by Shiite extremists; Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an international Sunni movement; and Syria is governed by the world's only remaining Baathist, a secular chieftan of the Alawite sect, which reviles (and is reviled by) Syria's majority Sunni community. A feverish brand of radical Islamism certainly inspires some of these actors, but what drives them together is politics.
A generation ago, before Hamas and Hezbollah ever existed, Hafez al-Assad's Syria and Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran forged an alliance born of their common fear and loathing of Saddam Hussein. When the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived Syria of its superpower patron, leaving it surrounded by NATO-ally Turkey, pro-West Jordan, and the same thug in Baghdad, Assad continued to reach out to Tehran to avoid isolation. For their part, the Iranians exploited the situation, using Syria as the staging ground from which to build Hezbollah into their instrument for exporting the Islamic revolution.
In recent years, Hamas's success has been manna from heaven to the Iranians, Syrians, and Hezbollahis. Though these Palestinian Islamists fought and won their own battles against the more secular Fatah, Hamas's partners in the rogue quartet were perfectly happy to reap the benefits of a new front in their proxy war against Israel.
Today, these four--two states, one near-state, and one state-within-a-state--are collectively motivated by opportunity, not fear. The opportunity arises partly because the hated Saddam Hussein is gone, replaced by a weak, terrorist-wracked Shiite-led Iraqi government, propped up by a bleeding America. But each of these actors has its own reasons for exultation and brinkmanship.
Through Iranian eyes, the fact that the West has imposed no price for twenty years of lying about its nuclear program, but instead is still willing to offer ever-greater incentives, must seem remarkable. Only a preening sense of self-confidence can explain Iran's insouciant attitude toward the U.S.-E.U. offer. Indeed, U.S. and other Western diplomats who were dismayed at Iran's failure to respond to the package of carrots failed to recognize that Iran did respond, through what Clausewitz would have called diplomacy by other means: upping the ante via Hezbollah. With the threat of any meaningful U.N. sanctions months away, the Iranians took the initiative. Their goal is to make Israel just another item on the nuclear bargaining table with the West.
Through Syrian eyes, the fact that the West, operating through the U.N., appears less likely today than at any point in the past year to impose a price on the Assad family for its role in murdering former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri must seem similarly stunning. Only a robust sense of optimism can explain Syria's brutal crackdown on secular reformers and liberal dissidents at home and its ongoing efforts to silence critics--like the courageous journalist Gibran Tueni, assassinated in December 2005--in Lebanon next door. Last week, Syria's accidental president, Assad's son Bashar, evidently looked at the rising price the West was willing to pay Iran to stop its objectionable behavior and decided he wants to get into the game. But, lacking significant oil revenues, he chose the poor man's blackmail of terrorism. Hence Syria's brazen decision to break the fiction of its nonsupport to terrorists by providing Khaled Meshal with a Damascus soapbox to boast of his terrorist deeds.
Through Hezbollah's eyes, the failure of the West to implement U.N. Secu rity Council Resolution 1559--which demands the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon and calls on the Lebanese government to exercise sovereignty up to the border with Israel--nicely fits its view of the Jewish state as weak, brittle, and impotent. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has likened it to a "spider web." Only an unswerving sense of ideological purpose can explain Hezbollah's willingness to ridicule its own role as a Lebanese political party serving in the Lebanese government by taking actions that rain Israeli retaliation down upon the heads of fellow Lebanese.
And through Hamas's eyes, the fact that the West, including Israel and the United States, permitted a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of the Jewish state to take over the reins of government in the Palestinian Authority--an entity whose only raison d'être is to be an instrument of peacemaking--is surely proof of divine intercession. Hamas's attack against the Israeli position at Kerem Shalom occurred just before the Europeans were set to launch a humanitarian aid program that would have dulled the impact of the U.S.-led financial quarantine on the PA, and just after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas fell into the trap of endorsing a political platform, known as the Prisoners Document, that in large respects mirrored Hamas's own "solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only a steadfast conviction in the rightness of the battle against the Zionist entity could compel Hamas leaders to forgo these advantages in exchange for the Israeli reoccupation of parts of Gaza.
Virtually overnight, an audacious Hamas raid has metastasized into a crisis that holds the greatest potential for regional conflagration in years. On a strategic level, the rogues' goal is almost surely to fuse the disparate crises into one--merging either the Hamas or Hezbollah front with Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, perhaps by the transfer of the captive soldiers to Iranian control, by direct involvement of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the rocket fire against Israel, or by some other means.
If that happens, then Hamas and its fellow quartet members may achieve what Yasser Arafat was not able to accomplish with two intifadas--to regionalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and thereby radically alter the strategic balance. And if Iran is able to exploit this crisis to show that its nuclear program earns it and its allies special treatment on the terrorism front, Tehran will have proven precisely how beneficial the decision to invest in a nuclear program really was. As the Iranian newspaper Kayhan, close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, editorialized last Thursday, "Nuclear Iran is eradicating the nuclear prestige of Israel." That's the sort of rising star to which Syria would like to be hitched.
In Gaza and Lebanon, a battle between Israel and two of its enemies has now been joined. Its spread to two other enemies--Iran and Syria--is a stark and urgent possibility. Let us not mistake this conflict for a local skirmish, a pesky diversion from more serious business, like stopping Iran's nuclear program or building a free, stable Iraq. On the contrary, it is all of a piece.
Defeat for Israel--either on the battlefield or via coerced compromises to achieve flawed cease-fires--is a defeat for U.S. interests; it will inspire radicals of every stripe, release Iran and Syria to spread more mayhem inside Iraq, and make more likely our own eventual confrontation with this emboldened alliance of extremists. Victory--in the form of Hezbollah's disarmament, the expulsion of the Iranian military presence from Lebanon, the eviction of Meshal and friends from Damascus, and the demise of the Hamas government in Gaza--is, by the same token, also a victory for U.S. (and Western) interests.
Achieving those successes--and avoiding those setbacks--will take time, persistence, and leadership. While military force is essential, nonmilitary measures are needed too. These include organizing transatlantic consensus on economic and political pressure on Syria, devising a fast-executing international mechanism to disarm Hezbollah, and expediting the Security Council process on Iran. As enervating as it must be to an administration whose policy plate already overflows with tough problems, none of this can happen without America taking the lead.*******