If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were ready to precipitate the return of the Twelfth Imam, nuclear weapons would already have gone off in the sky over Tel Aviv. Obviously unprepared to commence a conclusive war, the Iranian apocalyptic chose to use Iran’s surrogate, Hizballah, to precipitate a limited war between Israel and the Lebanese democracy-cum-terrorist regime of which Hizballah is a part. Why now, and to what end? Knowing Iran’s ambition to become the hegemon of a new Islamic caliphate, following its foreign policy as closely as we can, we must conclude that this campaign is a dress rehearsal for something Iran plans for the future, near or distant. In that context, we have to view Secretary Rice’s trip to the Middle East this week with skepticism if not alarm.
Just a few months ago, Iran’s “Great Prophet” war games tested the regime’s Chinese-built command and control systems and proved Iran could launch missiles from at least two independent command centers. It proved Iranian naval forces could close the Strait of Hormuz (through which most of the West’s non-Iranian oil flows) for some time. What it didn’t prove was that the Iranian regime could survive a non-nuclear American attack. Let’s not pussyfoot around it. When Russia completes delivery to Iran of the thirty copies of its TOR M-1 antiaircraft missile system later this year, no nation that lacks stealth aircraft will be able to do much to Iran without launching nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles. That narrows it down to us and China. And the Chinese aren’t about to hit their best Middle Eastern ally.
The Hizballah attack on Israel has resulted in an Israeli response that is both highly destructive and far from conclusive. At this writing (Sunday afternoon), Israeli ground forces have not entered Lebanon in strength and Hizballah and Hamas rocket attacks continue from both Lebanon and Gaza. Even if the Israelis send a large force into Lebanon, it’s clear that they won’t go far or stay long. In past campaigns, the Israelis have wanted to establish a buffer zone to keep Hizballah’s arsenal of Katyusha rockets out of range. But now Hizballah is armed with longer-range missiles and — unless its supply from Iran through Syria is interdicted — will soon have all of Israel’s main cities within their range. No buffer zone that is south of Beirut will suffice, and Israel cannot either maintain a buffer over half of Lebanon itself or expect anyone else to do it.
The best possible result from this campaign would be for Israel to so damage Hizballah that Lebanon’s Arab neighbors could divorce Lebanon’s pseudo-democracy from Hizballah and enable a legitimate government to arise there. But to expect such help from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt is both unrealistic and unwise. The most likely result will be for Israel to continue its strikes in Lebanon for another week or two and then withdraw, giving Hizballah another victory and solidifying its control in Lebanon. Which sets the stage for Condi’s failure and Ahmadinejad’s next step.
SECRETARY RICE ARRIVES TODAY in the Middle East after meeting with the president and Saudi representatives yesterday. According to several reports, her mission is to gain Arab nations’ support to divide Syria from what the NYT characterized as Lebanon’s “alliance of convenience” with Iran. Faint hope for a foolish mission.
The Arab nations are frightened of Iran. The light is dawning in the minds of the Arab despots that Iran is a more immediate threat to them than to us. And they are right, in a sense. Like Churchill said of earlier appeasers, the Saudis are feeding the crocodile hoping it will eat them last. The Saudis always fancied themselves as the last piece of meat that might survive the appetite of Mars. But Iran’s intensifying aggression has changed the Saudis’ spot on the menu from dessert to somewhere between the soup and the salad. They, like the Jordanians and Egyptians, would like to see a multinational “peacekeeping” force in Lebanon to restore their version of “stability” which enables terrorists to operate without interrupting too many despots in mid-debauch. They will refuse to participate by sending troops to Lebanon to help slow Iran’s advance. They will, instead, sing the same tune they did in 1991. It’s an Arabic translation of “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Secretary Rice will be pressured by the Arab leaders to stop Israel’s Lebanon campaign and force a cease-fire. They want American guarantees of their own security and once they have been assured that we will defend them against Iran, their cooperation will cease. The Arabs have gotten away with that strategy for too long. And Rice will let them continue. The Saudis should be told that if they decline to send troops and aircraft to enforce a Lebanese buffer zone against Hizballah and openly campaign for a democracy in Lebanon that rejects Hizballah as a legitimate part of the Lebanese political process, we will guarantee nothing but our own access to their oil, regardless of who reigns in Riyadh, Cairo or Amman. If they make no promise to help throw Hizballah out of Lebanon and Rice succeeds only in delaying demands for Israeli withdrawal, the stage will be set for Ahmadinejad’s next act.
Anyone who thinks we can talk Syria into splitting from Iran, or that the Arab states will help us do that, is barking mad. During his meeting with the Saudis on Sunday, the president didn’t even suggest that they should. Syria knows that it can play the Saudis’ game by placating both sides, and that there is no penalty for doing so. Syria will demand a cease-fire, promise cooperation and dutifully attend more meetings of the Arab League and the UN to talk about another “peace process.”
RICE’S MISSION WILL FAIL, Israel will withdraw from Lebanon, and Hizballah — battered and bleeding — will return, regroup, and rearm with even more terrible weapons. In that, both we and the Israelis will have played into Ahmadinejad’s hands. This campaign against Israel will have proved, yet again, that we will allow the regimes that support, arm and direct Hizballah and other terrorists to survive whatever their proxies do. Iran still lacks nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them. Iranian military purchases from North Korea will soon solve the latter problem for Iran. The former won’t be resolved for another year or two. When that happens, Ahmadinejad’s regime will move ahead with the next step in its plan.
The future grows darker week by week. Ahmadinejad, encouraged by the result of the Hizballah offensive, will be only two steps away from his regime’s first major goal. The first step will be achieved by some massive Iranian attack on Israel (either directly or again using Hizballah) intended to damage Israel and goad us into a counterstrike against Iran. If the Iranian regime survives an American attack, Iran’s next attack will result in the deaths of millions and establish Iran’s caliphate in the Middle East. Will that happen later this year, next, or the one after? It needn’t happen at all. The choice is ours because no one else can make it.
Pat Buchanan is adamant in his wrong-headedness. This is our war, and the Israelis are fighting it for us as well as for themselves. We must, on this front and others, by diplomacy and by military force, fight this war in a manner calculated to win decisively, or we shall lose inevitably. We still have a few years to do it. For Israel, the time is measured in months.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here to obtain a free chapter).
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