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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.

The current crisis was triggered because the Saniora government tried to assert its authority over the Hezbollah, demanding the elimination of a private telecommunications network Hezbollah is creating in south Lebanon, and the resignation of an airport official friendly to the Hezbollah. Hezbollah showed its muscle, setting up roadblocks on all approaches to Beirut, invading the Sunni quarters of the city, shutting down Future TV which is owned by Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated Rafiq Hariri, and stationing its goons outside Hariri's house. The crisis was "resolved" by allowing the army to mediate. The army decided, in effect, to rescind the government measures, perhaps because army Chief of Staff Michel Suleiman is not unmindful of the need for Hezbollah support in his bid to become president of Lebanon. This highly irregular situation, in which the army vetoes government initiatives, is considered a return to "normalcy."

The long term crisis was triggered by Hezbollah demands that they be given sufficient representation in the government to constitute veto power over the choice of the next president of Lebanon and other decisions. Syria and Iran want to choose the next president, and they want to ensure that the government rescinds its approval of the measure supporting an international tribunal to try the murderers of Rafiq Harii, a trail that would most certainly implicate Syria, if any evidence remains to be found after so many years.

The real issue is Hezbollah's slow but relentless bid to turn Lebanon into a second Shi'a Islamic republic, perhaps a bit different from Iran and adapted to Lebanon's demographic makeup, and perhaps in partnership with "sister" Syria. The real failure in Lebanon is the failure to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for disarming of Hezbollah along with all other militias. If the Lebanese army were to undertake this task on its own, it would precipitate a civil war. Nobody has the will to take on the Hezbollah, and the Lebanese have no stomach for a civil war.

But Lebanon is only one theater in a regional war that Iran is carrying on for control of the Middle East. Iran is always willing to meet you half way. If you don't come to Iran, Iran will come to you.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000542.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 2 Comments

On BBC this morning it was reported that some Druze in the Bekaa Valley were claiming that some of Hezbollah's forces spoke Farsi and not Arabic. Perhaps we have arrived at your described destination already.

Rod Davies, Monday, May 12th

Ami, what is perplexing is the indiference, at least publicly (where it is more surprising)from various entities that I had expected to try to impede this Islamic onslaught. For example, France, Vatican, Christian communities worldwide, the US, the EC. Amazing, they just are letting Lebanon fall down into the hands of Iran's proxies. The army has been taken over by Hezbollah, the Army Chief is Hezbollah. Terrible.

Thomas Braun, Sunday, May 11th

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