Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Iran's Showdown with the West

David Frum, National Post:
Here's what we don't know: We don't know whether Hezbollah anticipated the strong Israeli reaction to its kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. That means we don't know whether Hezbollah intended to trigger a major regional war -- or whether it complacently assumed it could pressure Israel into a 400-to-1 prisoner exchange like the one Hezbollah extracted in 2004.

But here's what we do know: We know that the missile that wrecked an IDF warship and killed four sailors on July 15 was manufactured in Iran to a Chinese design. We know that Hezbollah's longer-range weapons are commanded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. We know that Hezbollah's fighting forces were equipped and trained by Iranian officers. And we know above all that Hezbollah is financed, equipped, and trained by the Iranian secret service. It carries out terror missions on behalf of Iran. For all practical purposes, Hezbollah is an arm of the Iranian state. READ MORE

And when Hezbollah goaded Israel into war, the war it triggered was not a war between Israel and Lebanon.

The war Hezbollah provoked is a war between Israel and Iran, with Hezbollah as Iran's proxy -- and the people of Lebanon as Iran's victims. The Lebanese have been kidnapped by Iran as surely as those two Israeli soldiers abducted on the northern border.

Israel has recognized that tragic fact. It has fought this war on its northern border as humanely as it can. Flip the switch in Beirut and the lights come on; open the taps, and the water flows. Essential services have been spared. The runways at Beirut Airport have been bombed to stop reinforcements to Hezbollah, but the control towers and the newly built terminal have been spared because Lebanon will need them later.

Unintended civilian casualties have tragically occurred, as they do in any war. But Israel's sincere and costly attempts to minimize the loss of innocent life present a stark contrast with Hezbollah's deliberately atrocious war methods.

Hezbollah has boasted that it has tried to fire missiles into Haifa's chemical factories, in hope of releasing gases to poison the civilian population. Hezbollah rocket warheads arrive crammed with ball bearings, so as to inflict maximum death and suffering upon the civilian populations at which they are fired.

Nobody wants the war to last a minute longer than it needs to. But ironically, letting this war go to the finish would be a far more humane policy than the UN's call for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire.

If the war ends today, it ends with Hezbollah bloodied, but intact. It ends with Hezbollah still in possession of much of southern Lebanon, ready to be resupplied and reinforced by Syria and Iran. It ends with Hezbollah able to boast that it fought a war with Israel that ended with Israeli concessions. In other words: it ends with a Hezbollah, which is to say an Iranian, victory.

What would happen then? Well, such a victory would finish forever the hopes of those Lebanese, the majority of the population, who want to see their country regain its national independence.

And it would embolden the mullahs of Iran. In the early 1990s, the mullahs launched a global terror campaign. They assassinated Iranian dissident exiles in the streets of Paris and the restaurants of Berlin. In 1994, they bombed the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, killing almost 100 people, and bombed the Israeli embassy.

In 1996 they attacked the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia, killing 17 Americans. That last attack was too much even for the Clinton admininstration, which issued an ultimatum to the Iranians. Overt Iranian violence subsided. Instead, the Iranians redoubled their investment in their nuclear bomb program so that next time, they could kill with impunity.

"Next time" is now here. Intended or not, the war on Israel's northern border is Iran's showdown with the West.

Now see the stakes if Iran loses. If Hezbollah is destroyed as a military force, Iran loses its most potent weapon of attack and retaliation against the Western world.

Through the years of negotiating with Iran over its nuclear bomb program, the Iranians have repeatedly threatened: "If you should dare ever to strike our nuclear facilities, we will unleash a global Hezbollah terror campaign against oil in the Persian Gulf, against Israel, against Europe, against the United States!" No more Hezbollah means no more such terror threats.

When negotiations over the nuclear program resume, they will resume with the West powerfully strengthened and Iran visibly weakened by the failure of Iran's own reckless aggression. This will be Israel's achievement -- and Israel's latest gift to the peace of the world.

To achieve this positive result, however, Israel must be allowed to finish the job. Israel must be allowed to shatter Hezbollah as a military force and put an end to its state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon.

Once that work is done, the international community can act to rebuild and restore. There has been talk of replacing Hezbollah with an international military force. The right kind of force should be welcome. Not a UN force obviously: the UN force in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, not only stood by as Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers, but actually helped cover up for Hezbollah by concealing videotape it had recorded of the attack.

But a NATO force, perhaps led by France, which has strongly championed Lebanese independence from Syria -- such a force could open the way to peace, reconstruction, and the full democratization of Lebanon.

All that comes later. There is a war to be won first. We grieve for the innocent Lebanese victimized by Iran's terror war.

But we remember too the millions of other innocents for whom we would have to grieve unless Iran's power to wreak terror, next time with nukes, is taken away in time.