Monday, July 17, 2006
As the pressure slowly began to build on Iran to stop their nuclear development program and Russia began to cave in to international pressure to sign onto the latest plan, Iran started making vague threats against Israel and the US. On the very day Iran was supposed to respond to the latest package of incentives and obligations put together by the western powers and endorsed by their Russian protector, they unleashed their bulldog, Hezbollah, onto Israel's northern border.
However, a simple incursion meant to deliver a strong message to their Western adversaries went out of control when Hezbollah took two Israeli prisoners back with them, and triggered a massive response by Israel that has all but destroyed Lebanon, once again, and brought the entire region to the brink, once again. I have little doubt that Iran did not expect this turn of events and has been scrambling to deal with the consequences.
Hezbollah cares little for Iran's larger agenda, being so focused on their own rabid hatred of Israel and their desire to jump into the fray to steal some of the limelight from their main rival, Hamas. Iran and its puppet Syria have created a monster that neither can fully control. Hezbollah is the largest and probably the most radical terrorist group in existence, more than willing to take on whatever adversary and accept whatever losses come with it. Their dominance of Lebanon, directly supported by Syria, means Lebanon is a simple pawn in the bigger game between Iran and the West.
So now what is Iran doing? After getting over the shock of Hezbollah's over-the-top raid into Israel, they quickly tried to capitalize on the international implications by suggesting they had organized all this as a warning to the west. If they hoped to enlist the support of the staunch Arab countries, they appear to have miscalculated. Most of the Arab countries have long ago accepted the reality of Israel and were well along on the path trying to finally resolve border and security issues between Israel and Palestine.
Then, with the full support of Iran (and Syria) along comes Hezbollah (and Hamas) to completely destroy the status quo and bring the entire peace process to a grinding halt (and then two giant steps backward). No one (except perhaps Iran and Syria) wants to see Lebanon once again fall into civil war and wind up once again under the "protective" wing of Syria. The Arab states had become tired of funding a corrupt Palestinian government, carrying their payrolls and various welfare programs. A stable Palestine was finally going to free them from this long-standing financial burden, and peace, finally, in the middle east would encourage more and more investors to locate industrial facilities in the region.
Now, it all starts over once again. The peace between Israel and Palestine is wrecked. Lebanon's democracy is crumbling. Worst of all, Israel has got to be rethinking its recent withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza (not to mention the impending plan to pull out of most of the West Bank). And peace and prosperity, just recently around the corner, are now once again a long way off.
Of course the Arab states have to oppose Israel, especially since Israel is going to respond by going after the terrorists who so cowardly hide behind their civilian populations. They have to go through the motions. But they can't be happy to see this all coming apart. Iran may win (temporarily), but everybody else loses. They can't be very happy to see Iran meddling in their affairs.
This may be Iran's undoing. Without the Arab governments' backing Iran will be unable to advance their agenda as they had hoped. They will first have to take on, and eventually take down, these Arab governments, and replace them with islamist theocracies subordinate to their own. Even if they do succeed in pulling down these old institutions, it is unlikely that the replacements will be any more willing to subordinate themselves as vassals of Iran. Syria's pitiful example of lap-dog-ism can not be very encouraging to these neighboring states - regardless of who's in charge.
So how should we (the US - acting alone if necessary - but preferably along with the rest of the "civilized" world) now deal with Iran?