Sunday, July 23, 2006

Iran Begs Off Openly Fighting For Lebanon

Israel has made it as far as Maroun al-Ras without suffering a major disaster, and now eyes the larger town of Bint Jabayl.

On CNN, they're reporting that the IDF struck a Hezbollah religious compound in Sidon, the first attack on that city. Adjacent to that report are interviews with Lebanese refugees escaping southern Lebanon, most of whom denounce Israel for destroying their peaceful lives. Frankly, I do not trust a single word from the Shias running from Hezbollah controlled Lebanon. I pity them, but I don't believe them when they say they haven't seen a single soldier, or never heard anything about Hezbollah's arsenal. If they were telling the truth, Hezbollah would be the first totalitarian regime in the history of the world to leave so light a footprint. Islam is a state religion to its core, and the Islamic state rules by fear. The citizens of states so ruled are not known for truth-telling -- there are to many risks to honesty in such places, especially when the person to whom they speak is a Western reporter with a video camera.

The New York Times reports that American diplomacy aims to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.

But officials said this week that they were at the beginning stages of a plan to encourage Saudi Arabia and Egypt to make the case to the Syrians that they must turn against Hezbollah.

Egypt has, apparently, been an honest partner in this crisis. It was the driving force in brokering a cease fire in Gaza, and though that cease fire may not be effective, it is probably as much as we can expect from the Palestinian pseudo-state.
There are several substantial hurdles to success. The effort risks seeming to encourage Syria to reclaim some of the influence on Lebanon that it lost after its troops were forced to withdraw last year. It is not clear how forcefully Arab countries would push a cause seen to benefit the United States and Israel. Many Middle Eastern analysts are skeptical that a lasting settlement can be achieved without direct talks between Syria and the United States.

The effort begins Sunday afternoon in the Oval Office, where President Bush is to meet the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, and the chief of the Saudi national security council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Prince Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to Washington until late last year and often speaks of his deep connections to the Bush family and to Vice President Dick Cheney.

President Bush has escalated the rhetoric against Syria and Iran. I interpret this as Bush commencing an argument for explicit support for Israel before that support is absolutely necessary; he is preparing the rhetorical ground should diplomacy fail.

Diplomatic efforts may not be needed to drive a wedge between Iran and Syria or Iran and Hezbollah. If this report can be trusted, Iran will not involve itself in a war between Israel and Lebanon. This may be an effort to placate Arab fears of Persian imperialism, but it inhibits explicit support for Hezbollah or the regular Lebanese army. More threatening to Iran's games is the reaction of Iranian citizens to their state's support for anti-Israeli terrorism.
"Of course I am angry," said Hamid Akbari, 30, a deliveryman. "All our income is going to Palestine and Hezbollah."

Sound familiar, America? Hamas and Hezbollah are Arab welfare queens. It's one thing for the Arab street to hate the Jews, it's another thing when a chunk of your paycheck is going to pay for someone to kill them.
"We Iranians have a saying," said Ali Reza Moradi, 35, a portrait artist who works in a small booth downtown. "We should save our own house first and then save the mosque. A lot of people think this way. The government should help its people first, and then help the people in Lebanon."

With the ouster of the Sunni-led government in Iraq, and the routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran has seen its regional influence grow stronger. As the Sunni Arab capitals of Cairo, Amman, Jordan, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, witnessed their own political influence in the region waning, Iran tried to fill the gap. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become extremely popular among many Arabs for his strong anti-Western and anti-Israeli language. And Iran's role as patron of Hezbollah and Hamas has given it unrivaled influence over two radical groups that have set the regional agenda, more so than governments.

But the picture in Iran itself is a bit more nuanced. Although Iran sits atop one of the largest known oil reserves, it cannot refine enough gasoline to meet its own needs -- and so prices are rising. Mr. Ahmadinejad may have been elected on a populist economic message, but on the streets people report more pain, more unemployment and higher prices.

Amir Tarehi reports the links between Hezbollah and Iran, and these ought to remind us that whatever the average Iranian believes, and whatever official spokesmen say, it is difficult to separate the activity of Hezbollah and the current Iranian regime:
"You are the sun of Islam, shining on the universe!" This is how Muhammad Khatami, the mullah who was president of Iran until last year, described Hezbollah last week. It would be no exaggeration to describe Hezbollah -- the Lebanese Shi'ite militia -- as Tehran's regional trump card. Each time Tehran has played it, it has won. As war rages between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Tehran policymakers think that this time, too, they can win.

"I invite the faithful to wait for good news," Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last Tuesday. "We shall soon witness the elimination of the Zionist stain of shame."

Taheri also reminds us of the distrust most Arabs feel towards Tehran, and that the war against Israel might be undone by the war amongst Muslims:
If the Israelis manage to crush Hamas and destroy Hezbollah's military machine, Iran's influence will diminish massively. Defeat could revive an internal Hezbollah debate between those who continue to support a total and exclusive alliance with Iran until the infidel, led by America, is driven out of the Middle East and those who want Hezbollah to distance itself from Tehran and emphasise its Lebanese identity. One reason why Hezbollah has found such little support among Arabs in Egypt and Saudi Arabia this time is the perception that it is fighting Israel on behalf of Iran, a Persian Shi'ite power that has been regarded by the majority of Arab Sunnis as an ancestral enemy.


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