By Kenneth R. Timmerman
July 20, 2006
Make no mistake about the nearly month-old hot war between Hezbollah and Israel. This is the opening salvo of Iran’s global assault on the United States and its allies over Iran’s “right” to possess nuclear weapons.
The Iranian-backed attacks are aimed at deterring an Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear and missile facilities.
A secondary Iranian goal is to deter Europe from backing U.S. efforts to build a broad-based coalition to take Iran back to the United Nations Security Council for its failure to respond clearly to a Western ultimatum over its nuclear program.
French President Jacques Chirac was the first to bite on Iran’s poisoned apple. Instead of blasting Hezbollah for abducting Israeli soldiers and launching rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities, he blamed Israel for retaliating. "One could ask if today there is not sort of a will to destroy Lebanon, its equipment, its roads, its communications,” Chirac said on Sunday at the St. Petersburg summit.
The Iranians created Hezbollah in 1983. Unlike many parents, they never let their “child” alone, and have carefully nurtured it with funds, weapons, ideological guidance and military orders ever since.
When Hezbollah damaged an Israeli gunboat off the Lebanese coast last week, Iranian officers supervised the launch of the Iranian-built C-102 radar-guided missile.
"We see this as very profound fingerprint of Iranian involvement in Hezbollah," Israeli General Ido Nehushtan told the Associated Press.The C-102 appears to be an Iranian version of an anti-shipping missile provided to Iran by China initially more than a decade ago.
Just as Iran supplied its own versions of Chinese missiles to Bosnia in the mid-1990s, so Iran is providing home-grown versions of far more sophisticated missiles to Hezbollah today. And no one seems intent on making Iran – or China – pay a price for their deeds.
George W. Bush gets the global war on terror. He understands that many other nations will join the war against the Islamo-fascists if only the United States takes a firm lead. But the president got it wrong in private remarks that were reported on international television during the G8 summit in St. Petersburg.
"See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (expletive) and it's over," Bush reportedly told British Prime Minister Tony Blair as he chewed on a buttered roll over lunch on July 16. Neither leader was aware that their conversation was being picked up by a live microphone.
No one doubts that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is continuing to provide logistical assistance to Hezbollah in Lebanon, just as his father did for nearly twenty years before him.
After all, Syria had used Hezbollah repeatedly as a semi-proxy against Israel and against the United States.But Syria does not “control” Hezbollah. Iran controls Hezbollah. And President Bush’s advisors need to get that one straight.
Lebanon’s minister of telecommunications, Marwan Hamadeh, is no friend of George W. Bush or of Israel. In earlier crises, he has been quick blame Israel or the United States for Lebanon’s ills.
But in an interview with French state radio on July 17, just one day after Bush’s comments in Saint Petersburg, Hamadeh took issue with a French commentator’s analysis that Hezbollah had become an “independent” player in Lebanese politics.
Hezbollah “depends directly on Iran for its weapons and for its orders,” he said. “And it depends logistically on Syria.”
Hamadeh also swept aside accusations that Israel had somehow orchestrated the latest round of Middle East fighting. “Hezbollah is entirely responsible for the violence,” he said.
The escalation of Iranian-backed attacks against Israel has been steady, and has been aimed at demonstrating new military capabilities that Iran is hoping will eventually deter an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear and missile sites.
As several Iranian military and strategic affairs analysts explained to me in recent interviews in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the Iranians are hoping they can demonstrate Israel will face encircling attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria should Israel press forward with military strikes on Iranian nuclear targets.
Yasser Arafat’s PLO launched Soviet-built katyusha rockets into northern Israeli towns in 1982, prompting Israel’s “Peace for Galilee” operation that ultimately led to Israel‘s first-ever siege of an Arab capital that summer.
But Hezbollah’s latest rocket attacks against Israel have been far more precise. A May 23 rocket attack by Hezbollah hit an Israeli command and control position at Meron Air Force base in northern Israel. More recently, Hezbollah has launched rocket attacks against Haifa, a major industrial city in northern Israel. And Syrian leaders have warned publicly that Hezbollah also could strike against Israeli nuclear sites in the south of the country.
Some Israeli analysts believe that Iran is using Hezbollah as a classic Cold war deterrent.“Iran knows that if their nuclear sites are attacked, they will be destroyed. And they know that they will not be able to destroy Israel,” one Israeli analyst said. “So Iran is using Hezbollah to its advantage.”
Iranian arms deliveries to Hezbollah through Syria have increased during the first half of 2006, Israeli sources told me. This has occurred despite the fact that the Syrian army –, the UPS trucks who deliver the weapons to Hezbollah posts in Lebanon – has withdrawn from Lebanon.
Iran used to maintain around 1,500 Islamic Revolutionary Guards troops in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. While Iran has withdrawn most of the IRGC troops from Lebanon, it still maintains around 100 highly-specialized trainers and intelligence operatives in Lebanon, to coordinate operations with Hezbollah.
“Consider the IRGC presence in Lebanon to military attaches,” one Israeli analyst suggested. “They are terrorist attaches.”The United States and like-minded countries have a clear weapon to use against Iran (and Syria) in their effort to ignite another Arab-Israeli war in Lebanon.
They can demand that the United Nations enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which not only calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon), but recognizes Lebanon’s international border with Israel and demands the immediately disarmament of all militias, including Hezbollah, in Lebanon.
If a formerly anti-Israeli member of Lebanon’s government – Marwan Hamadeh – can demand the enforcement of UNSC resolution 1559, what’s stopping George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, or Jacques Chirac?
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Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum, New York), and Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.