Iran's Destabilization of the Middle East
Iran would like to see a new world order, controlling the entire Middle East region with its nuclear potential influencing moderate Arab countries and Israel alike. That's according to Dr. Guy Bechor, a leading military analyst in Israel, who has studied and taught on the Middle East for more than 25 years.
Bechor, who lived in Beirut as a reporter for Israel Radio in the 1980's during the Lebanese War, said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmanadinijad would like to see this new order directed from Iran, with a concentrated focus on Shia understanding of Islam. It would include alliances with terror groups from throughout the Middle East, the participation of Hezbollah (Shiite); Hamas (Sunni and Palestinian, but oriented and influenced by Iran); Islamic Jihad; and, the Moslem Brotherhood.
The Lebanese boiling pot
The current conflict being fought on Lebanese soil caused the nation of Iran to achieve its immediate goal of diverting world attention away from its non—compliance on the nuclear issue. It successfully prevented condemnation from international leaders meeting at the G8 summit in regard to its continued uranium enrichment program. It also temporarily distracted world powers from focusing their attention on punishing Iran with sanctions in the UN Security Council.
Now that Iran has gained a political advantage, the new Arab—Israeli war in the Middle East could simmer down, unless there are more surprises from a nation that has successfully used its proxy, Hezbollah, to step up attacks on Israel.
Iran's clever tactics have effectively won them diplomatic maneuvering room with their ability to use Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, to ambush and kill Israeli troops and kidnap three soldiers as bargaining chips for the Islamic nation's future agenda. The new Middle East war almost reached the point of escalation into a wider conflagration, which would have involved Syria, but Iranian leaders seem to have concluded that this is not the time to increase tensions to that level. Instead, it appears, Iran is refraining from engaging Israel in a wider regional war on a scale that would be too risky for all sides right now.
Speaking to foreign journalists and the diplomatic corps at Israel's Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA) in Jerusalem earlier this week, Bechor confirmed that it was in Iran's interest to abduct and kidnap Israeli soldiers and to escalate tensions in the region.
'And, it will be an Iranian decision, or discretion, how to continue this war; when, and how to end it', he said.
Bechor also explained that Iran will continue to disguise itself by hiding behind terrorist proxies in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Iranian leaders are keenly aware that a cease fire would result in a temporary respite from harsh military actions by Israel. If Hezbollah or Hamas become too weakened by Israel's defense measures, these same groups will then become ineffective for Iran's purposes, no longer able to serve the Islamic republic's interests.
In order for Iran to remain the greatest supporter of terror in the world, it must be able to continue its supply of weapons, training, and operatives to Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel is trying to cut off the supply routes so that terrorists are no longer able to smuggle weapons through underground tunnels in Gaza and the West Bank, or through vulnerable border crossings and land masses that are not guarded effectively.
A strategic cooperation agreement between Syria and Iran has allowed supplies to flow freely to Iran's revolutionary guards on the ground in Lebanon, as Iranian and Syrian made rockets and other weapons have ended up in the hands of Hezbollah. Assisting Hezbollah in the use of these rockets resulted in a strike on one of Israel's most advanced naval war ships. Iran would like to add more highly sophisticated rockets to Hezbollah's arsenal for its continued aggression against the Jewish state. An attempt to stop the flow of such weapons has been a goal of Israel's Defense Forces (IDF). If the international community insists on forcing Israel to enter into a cease—fire before the IDF is able to successfully demolish Hezbollah's infrastructure, these weapons will still have an address to go to.
Trying to find solutions
So far, it appears that the United States and its Western allies are behind Israel's request for more time, as it tries to restore its military deterrence. The nations are desperately trying to calm tensions in the region, looking for a cease fire solution that will be acceptable to both Israel and Lebanon.
The United Nations wants to deploy an international peace keeping force in the region but Israeli leaders are opposed to this idea, based on what they believe has been a less than satisfactory role played by UNIFIL already. Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni see no reason to add another force, especially one that would become problematic if it ended up in the crossfire between Hezbollah and Israel. Historically, peace keeping forces in this part of the world end up with heavy losses, as happened in Lebanon in the early 1980's. During the Lebanese Civil War in 1983, two truck bombs struck buildings in Beirut where U.S. and French Multinational Forces were stationed killing hundreds of soldiers. That led to the withdrawal of international peacekeeping forces from Lebanon. Why consider putting an additional force now in this volatile region?
Meanwhile, as diplomats begin arriving in Israel, seeking solutions and restraint, the IDF is on borrowed time to hit Hezbollah with a substantial blow that will weaken their ability to re—build their infrastructure and terrorist army. It would be more productive if international leaders would concentrate their efforts on isolating Iran, forcing the Islamic nation to comply on the nuclear issue, while explaining to the world what Iran's intentions really are...that is, world domination. The leaders of moderate Arab nations already understand that they may fall under such domination, but they are unwilling or unable to clearly explain to their own populations what this means.
Different purposes in the conflict
While diplomatic negotiations begin, Iran's leaders will look to play a significant role behind the scenes in deciding what will happen next in Lebanon through their terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. Addressing this issue, Bechor said,
'Undoubtedly, there is some kind of differentiation between Iran and Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a Lebanese organization, very much influenced by Iran. But, there are some Lebanese interests in this organization. There is some kind of gap between Iran and Hezbollah. How can we define this gap, and how does Israel intend to use it?'
There are dissimilarities between Iran and Hezbollah's objectives, and Israel can benefit from this knowledge when it comes to diplomatic and military strategies. The Shiite civil society in Lebanon gets its support from Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, finds his legitimacy and popularity through his dependence on the social struggle going on among the many minorities living in Lebanon. Until now, the majority of Lebanese supported Hezbollah, regardless of their suffering under the organization's militant stance. Through social programs, and other means, Hezbollah has been able to steal the heart of the Lebanese nation. This may change when the current war subsides.
The illusions of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah
Some Middle East observers think that Nasrallah is now asking himself 'what went wrong?' in his estimation of Israel's reactions to his military advances. As leader of the most widely connected terror network in the world, he was sure that after abducting soldiers, the Israeli government would be forced to return quickly to the old game of opening up a negotiation process. He figured there would be a significant release of Lebanese prisoners, along with thousands of Palestinian prisoners. He also thought that he would take a leadership role in the prisoner exchange. According to Bechor,
'Hezbollah said to Hamas, you tried to open up a negotiating process with Israel. You failed. We will do it better.'
To his surprise, Nasrallah read Israel wrongly.
Today, Israelis are veterans of the Intifada. Nasrallah watched as citizens pulled together under a banner of unity and strength over the kidnapping of their soldiers and the attack on their troops. The division in Israeli society over the Gaza disengagement process, the physical incapacitation of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the forming of a new and less experienced government than Sharon's under the direction of Ehud Olmert, all contributed to Nasrallah's illusions that the core of Israeli society had been undermined by such difficulties. He didn't realize that when it comes to war, Israelis unite, despite their political differences.
'Nasrallah had this foolish agenda, believing that Israel was weak; hoping to take advantage of Israeli society, and the leaders of a democratic country in the Middle East. But, he was not so happy to launch a war; a new war against Lebanon or any other counterpart,' Bechor explained.
Bechor added that Nasrallah did not think that Israel would strike Beirut. Therefore, he established his headquarters and hid his ammunition in the bustling city. He took advantage of Lebanese prosperity in order to create a country within a country; a capital of terrorism within Beirut. The Lebanese knew this, and until now, they have been afraid to change the status quo. Bechor believes that Lebanon has a big enough army to take on Hezbollah.
Living in Beirut for years, Bechor saw how the army recruited young strong men and he thinks that can happen now.
'Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora could easily deploy the Lebanese army in the south,' he said.
Today, the army has 10,000 well prepared soldiers, who could create sovereignty in Lebanon. In contrast, Hezbollah has, perhaps, 2—3,000 soldiers.
'And the Lebanese army can be strong, but they are afraid. They know who is standing before them. It is Syria, and most frighteningly, Iran,' admitted Bechor.
Keeping the Middle East burning
Several days ago, the higher security council of Iran gathered and began to consider how the confrontation in Lebanon would continue. Bechor acknowledged,
'They have a lot of successful interests here. They have a basket of fruits. The world has started to speak about Lebanon, and not about Iran's nuclear potential. This is a lab for them; a successful lab. Why? Because they are secure. Nobody has threatened Iran. Nobody messes with Iran. So, Israel pays a price. Lebanon pays a price.'
Iran has the ability to continue manipulating the Middle East stage, in Bechor's opinion, through Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran's goal is to try and break Israeli society, to control the politics of the area, to change the status quo, to create some focus on Syria, which Iran has a military alliance with. Their threat to the world, Bechor claimed, is, 'we support Syria. Don't mess with Syria.'
While threats remain, Israel is focused now on forcing the government of Lebanon to pressure Hezbollah, to cause the terrorist group to lose some of its legitimacy within Lebanese society.
'It is a harsh process. It is a difficult process. It is not positive that Israel will succeed here, because the opposite reaction may erupt, of those who support Hezbollah,' said Bechor.
He was referring to a change in attitude among some citizens on the streets of moderate Arab countries who now seem to be supporting Hezbollah, against their government's wishes.
What can we expect in the future?
It's expected that the Lebanese government will be forced to put pressure on the Shiite community in Lebanon to comply with UN Resolution 1559, which calls for Hezbollah to disarm. This weakening of the terrorist group hurts Iran's purposes. Iran would like to see Hezbollah remain an integral part of Lebanese life.
As Lebanon tries to get back on its feet, Bechor feels there will be an atmosphere created that shows some resemblance of a return to normal life, beginning in the southern and eastern parts of Lebanon. There will also be an attempt by Israeli and Western powers to influence the Lebanese government and press for real change. Meanwhile, Bechor stated,
'We are in a psychological war. In the Middle East, regardless of the facts on the ground, the question will be, 'who won the war?''
Bechor predicts that the current struggle will end with great destruction within Lebanon, while Hezbollah still declares they won the war. In a war of this kind, symbolism and understanding is everything, according to Bechor, and this will have an adverse affect on Israel's show of strength in the region.
Meanwhile, Israel's focus remains to destroy the effectiveness of Hezbollah so they will stop their rocket launchings against Israeli cities and towns. The Olmert government wants to make sure that Israel has won a clear cut military victory over Hezbollah, and only then begin the diplomatic process of a cease fire. Israel does not want Hezbollah to regain its strength in the next few months because of an aborted Israeli military mission caused by entering into negotiations too soon. Israel is wary of another war with Hezbollah in the near future.
The question remains whether this war will remain contained in Lebanon, or whether a new front with Syria will open, followed by a wider regional war with Iran. While the IDF claims that they have isolated Lebanon with its forces temporarily in control of sea, land and air, there's the possibility that the current siege may not be totally effective. Reportedly, during the last two or three days, there's been a heavy missile train from Tehran to Damascus, where new ammunition, rockets, and artillery is making its way to Syria. It is expected to then reach the Lebanese—Syrian border, and from there, go into hidden tunnels deep inside Lebanon.
'They can smuggle almost everything, and they can take it through these mountains to Beirut so, there is a problem. This is real Syrian intervention here.'
Bechor feels Syria is not just observing the war, but actually participating in it through weapons smuggling into Lebanon. He further believes that, eventually, Israeli military forces will deal with Syria in order to stop the flow of weapons and rockets to Hezbollah.
'I think there must be some message to Syria. I don't think there is an immediate interest in involving Syria in the battle. But, we cannot know,' said Bechor.
This is an open war operation, in Bechor's estimation, and there might be more surprises yet to come. Hezbollah may yet receive commands from Iran to launch long—range missiles into the heart of Tel Aviv.
'This is clearly open. And, how will Israel retaliate?' Bechor wondered.
The unpredictability of this war brings greater instability to the Middle East region, while nations wait for the fire under the Lebanese boiling pot to be turned down to a simmer. Maybe, the region will then return to the normal frustrating level of consistent uncertainty.
C. Hart is a 25—year veteran journalist in print and broadcast media, living in Israel since 1995, reporting on political, military and diplomatic issues in the Middle East.