DEBKAfile July 17, 2006.
Since the onset of the Israel-Hizballah war on July 12, US president George W. Bush never tires of repeating that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorists and that it is up to Syria to press Hizballah to stop shooting rockets at Israel.
His secretary of state Condoleezza Rice says she doesn?t see how an immediate ceasefire can solve the Middle East crisis.
UN secretary general Kofi Annan, playing along, is in no hurry to take a hand. ?It will be a while before fighting ends,? he says calmly. And Germany?s Angela Merkel thinks the kidnapped Israeli soldiers should be returned before any talk begins.
Britain?s Tony Blair would like to put an international force into southern Lebanon, but Bush put him off none too gently according to an open mike at the G-8 summit. Anyway, south Lebanon already has an international force. It is called UNIFIL, and it has never stopped Hizballah firing a single cross-border shot.
All the world powers assembled in St. Petersburg for the G-8 summit agreed that Hizballah started the war as Tehran?s proxy terrorist arm. They picked up on the attitude of the US president, who is telling Israel: Let it run; but keep civilian casualties down and don?t kick too much Lebanese infrastructure.
Even Arab governments, which automatically fought any Israeli military action in the past, have formed a solid Sunni Muslim front, led by Saudi Arabia, which is content to watch the Shite Hizballah take a beating and the burgeoning Shiite assertiveness in the region squashed.
The Olmert government is eagerly exploiting this leisurely international climate to smash as much of Hizballah?s terror machine as he can before Washington holds up a stop sign. Monday, July 17, a clutch of would-be ceasefire brokers descended on Beirut and Jerusalem. None came with Bush?s nod, so they will not get very far.
In Tehran, the hardline supreme ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei, picked up on the prospect of the only export arm of Iran?s Shiite revolution facing a hammering in a drawn-out conflict. Sunday, July 16, four days into the hostilities, he spoke his first words in support for Hizballah. Typically, he struck out at UN Security Council resolution 1559 when he declared: No one will ever disarm the Hizballah.
On the same day, when black clouds of rockets and warplanes filled the skies of Lebanon and northern Israel, both Tehran and Damascus made a point of supporting Syria ? not Hizballah ? against a possible Israel attack.
This was seen by DEBKAfile?s Iranian sources as a jab at Bush and Rice first, Israel second.
This poker game between Tehran and Washington is going back and forth over the heads of Israel and Lebanon. It is the cause of the muddled statements coming from Israeli leaders with regard to the targets of the Lebanon campaign. They range from recovering the kidnapped soldiers, to smashing the Hizballah, breaking up its terrorist infrastructure (what about its personnel?), moving their positions back from the Israeli border to one kilometer or more (depending on the estimated range of their rockets), and forcing the Lebanese government to displace the Hizballah in the south and disarming the Shiite terrorists as ordered by the Security Council.
Meanwhile, no more than 25% of Hizballah?s arsenal has been destroyed in Israel?s six-day air blitz and cannonade, and no one is quite sure what surprises are in store in the form of long-range, heavy rockets or missiles, what hardware is being smuggled from Iran via Syria past the Israeli blockade, and whether either or both will intervene at some point ? and how.
The green light flashing in Washington may give Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert a latitude never before granted any Israeli premier. But it also tells the Islamic Republic that its rulers? meddling in Iraq carries a high price tag. By pulverizing Iran?s surrogate, Israel is articulating America?s determination to smash Iran?s strength and positions of influence around the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
This determination was sparked by an unnoticed incident in Iraq on July 4, 2006.
On that day, for the first time in the Iraq War, Nasrallah activated the three-year old sleeper terror and sabotage networks Iranian and Hizballah intelligence had established across Iraq shortly after the US invasion. He was obeying orders from Iranian supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
America?s Day of Independence 2006 was selected for this group to make its first low-key attacks against US forces in Baghdad and British units in Basra and break surface under the name of The Abu al Fadal al Abas Brigades. No one had heard of it because Tehran had kept this Iraqi arm of Hizballah dark as the ultimate weapon to spring on the Americans in Iraq at the appropriate moment.
President Bush saw that if he looked away and let Iran?s challenge burst into full-blown action without responding, America?s standing in Iraq and the rest of the region would be forfeit. He was further stirred into a response by Tehran?s developing appetite for quick gains. On July 12, believing they had got away with it in Iraq, Iran and Hizballah followed it up by opening a second front against Israel, America?s ally: the Shiite terrorists kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.
That was the last straw, but George W. Bush turned it around as a boomerang to hit Tehran. The Israeli Defense Forces, there to hand, were more than ready to punish Hizballah and had been raring to go after five years of forced restraint against the Lebanese group and Palestinian terrorists. For Bush, this course offered America the chance of a bold, efficient blow against a Shiite extremist terrorist group without a single American soldier having to step onto the battlefield.
Therefore, Israel?s Operation Just Reward, which started out as a rescue operation for its two abducted soldiers, then a campaign to push Hizballah back from its border, within six days opened Lebanon up as a major arena for the showdown building up between the United States and Tehran over a whole bagful of issues - not least Iran?s nuclear defiance. However, the unacknowledged object of Israel?s campaign is none of the highly rational goals outlined by officials. It is to satisfy Washington that Tehran has been given a bloody nose and is ready to pull back from its deepening political, military and intelligence interference in Iraq.
To this end, Bush decided to let the armed forces of the Jewish state strike out against a fundamentalist Islamic force. For Israel, this is a first, a chance awaited since the first Gulf War of 1991 to get its own back on the radical Arab assailants besetting the country. This chance was denied even when it came under attack from Saddam Hussein?s missiles in 1991. Israel was then consistently held back from ridding itself of the vicious Palestinian suicide terror launched in 2000, leaving the conflict unresolved to this day. Israel was kept on the sidelines of the US global war on terror, even though it targeted the Jewish state no less than the West.
Now, Ehud Olmert has picked up the gauntlet handed by Washington and decided to settle a long score with a Shiite terror group plaguing Israel from its northern border. He has plunged the country into a conflict that may well draw Iran and Syria in on the side of the enemy.
No one can tell how it will come out.
Israeli generals and officials asked about the objectives of this war are cagey; they can?t tell what will eventuate in the next 24 hours ? and not only because of the uncertain fortunes of war. The tricky test is to correlate Israeli and American interests from one day to the next. Hizballah keeps on threatening ?new surprises,? because its leaders are also playing their tactics by ear, dependent on the support and weapons Tehran judges it politic to release.
The conflict may only just be at the beginning. None of the main players show any eagerness to cut it short before they attain their purpose.