Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Iran's First Strike

The Wall Street Journal:
The war between Hezbollah and Israel is a tragedy for its victims, but it could also be a clarifying moment if the world draws the proper lessons. To wit, this is a preview of what the Middle East will look like if Iran succeeds in going nuclear. READ MORE

The threat of a nuclear Iran isn't primarily that the mullahs might actually use such a weapon if they got one. The more immediate threat is that Iran would use the weapon as a shield to pursue its hegemonic ambitions throughout the Middle East, promoting terrorist attacks on its enemies and intimidating anyone with the nerve to fight back. The Hamas-Hezbollah double assault on Israel is a portent of things to come unless the world gets serious about Iran's radicalism.

Keep in mind that Hezbollah is not the indigenous Lebanese "resistance" organization it claims to be, but is a military creature of Tehran. Iran has used its strategic alliance with Syria to arm the group, primarily via shipments through Damascus airport. The Palestinian terrorist-political group Hamas likewise maintains close ties to both Iran and Syria. And a week ago Monday this axis of evil swung into action.

First Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal held a news conference in Damascus -- where he lives -- to boast about the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier near Gaza. The next day Iran's top nuclear negotiator rebuffed a European-American incentive package to negotiate over its nuclear program and flew to Damascus. And the next day, another more brazen cross-border attack on Israel came from the north, when Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two.

The Hezbollah operation would never have been attempted without the agreement, and probably the active encouragement, of Tehran. The attack managed to hijack the agenda of the G-8 leaders meeting in St. Petersburg, from focusing on Iran's nuclear threat to coping with the mayhem stirred up by Iran's proxies. The attack also sent a message that if the U.S., or Israel, or the U.N. attempt to block Iran's program, the mullahs can strike back with a vengeance. In short, while many elites in America and Europe have spent the past year fretting that President Bush might strike Iran, the Iranians have struck first.

But don't take our word for it. Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt recently told al-Arabiya television that "What is happening in Lebanon is part of the struggle between Syria and Iran on the one side and Israel on the other." And: "Iran is saying to the U.S.: '[If] you want to fight in the Gulf or hit our nuclear facilities, we will hurt you in your home, in Israel . . .'" This also helps explain why even some Arab governments in the region, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have publicly criticized the Hezbollah attacks. They don't want Iran to dominate the Middle East either.

The question going forward is whether the Bush Administration will acknowledge this Lebanon conflict as the strategic threat it is and fight back accordingly. That means at a minimum allowing our ally in the region, Israel, the time and diplomatic support to deal Iran's Hezbollah proxies a heavy blow. Israel has already cut off supply lines from Syria by land and air. And now it is working systematically to destroy the military force that Hezbollah has accumulated, especially its missiles, which now include radars that can hit a warship and perhaps have the range to reach Tel Aviv.

In other words, Israel is attempting to do what the world has been unable to accomplish: Enforce U.N. Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarming of all Lebanese militias and Beirut's control of its own borders. It's a shame to see Lebanon's first semi-independent government in decades caught up in this new round of violence. But Hezbollah's continued military might, backed by Iranian arms and Syrian intelligence, is the main threat to Lebanese independence. In disarming Hezbollah, Israel would be doing Lebanese patriots a favor.

In this regard, one bad idea is the international call for an immediate "cease-fire" to be monitored by a multinational peace-keeping force. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has made this suggestion, as has British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This didn't work out too well the last time, in the early 1980s, when 241 Americans and 58 French soldiers were killed in Beirut by truck bombs almost surely sent by Hezbollah. Any international force would be a terror target once again, and at this stage any cease-fire imposed from the outside would merely hand Hezbollah a victory.

The terror group will have struck first at Israel, only to have the world stop Israel from protecting itself. Hezbollah would slowly re-arm and re-group, and a year or two from now could do it all over again. Hezbollah would remain not only a threat to Israel, but a cancer on the Lebanese political process, holding an illegitimate veto in the threat of violence. Mr. Blair of all people should understand this, having watched Sinn Fein operate as the political arm of the IRA in Northern Ireland.

The better and necessary response is to let Israel's counterattacks continue until Hezbollah's military power is substantially degraded. As for the G-8 and the U.N., they can be constructive by moving swiftly to impose sanctions on Iran for rejecting the generous offer to negotiate directly with the U.S. It's clear now that Tehran perceived that offer, which was promoted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, as a show of weakness.

Iran is testing the world right now. And if there is to be any hope at all of a diplomatic solution to its nuclear program, the mullahs have to see that their military option won't be tolerated.