Thursday, July 27, 2006

Iran's War

Kenneth R. Timmerman,
Some have suggested that the latest round of fighting between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization in Lebanon is the beginning of World War III.

Think again.

This is more like the Spanish Civil War,” says Daniel Seaman, an Israeli government spokesman. What we are seeing is a series of conflicts that foreshadow a future world conflict, just as the Spanish Civil war prefigured the Second World War.”

Seaman’s analogy is worth exploring. READ MORE

Just as Hitler used Franco as his proxy in Spain to test new military techniques and equipment on the battlefield, so Iran is using Hezbollah as its proxy to do the same.

Hezbollah is no longer a rag-tag guerilla group, but a veritable terrorist army. They understand complex military tactics, and are pursuing combined military operations using ground forces, missiles, intelligence, and the media,” Seaman said.

Over the past six years, following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon, Iran began supplying Hezbollah with massive quantities of long-range artillery rockets of a type never before used against Israel.

These Iranian-made Fajr-3 rockets have a range of around 43 kilometers, and carry a 50 kilogram warhead packed with thousands of deadly ballbearings.

These are terrorist mass-kill weapons, designed to kill as many civilians as possible. No one standing within a 50 meter radius of one of these incoming rocket can survive, Israeli bomb experts say. The Fajr-3 was used with great success in a July 16 attack that killed eight railway workers at a repair depot in downtown Haifa.

“When they showed me the small pellets packed inside, I thought they were showing me a suicide bomber belt,” Haifa mayor Yona Yahav told me. In fact, Iran modeled the design of the Fajr-3 warhead on the suicide bomber belts, with the clear aim of maximum its lethality.

Syria supplied similar rockets to Hezbollah, packed with ball-bearings. Hezbollah purchased smaller rockets from Communist China, after they had been similarly modified.

How many terrorist groups can boast an arsenal of over 10,000 long-range rockets? Only those with the backing of a sovereign state, Iran.

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni explained Hezbollah’s aims with stark clarity here yesterday.

“While Israel is targeting Hezbollah, and during this operation, unfortunately it can lead to loss of civilian life, Hezbollah is targeting our cities in order to hit, in order to target civilians and to target Israeli population centers. This is a crucial difference.”

This is a strategy Iran is testing out for a future war. Iran is testing Israel, probing Israel’s reaction, and testing the response of the international community.

Let’s recall how this all began. On July 12, a Hezbollah commando broke through the security fence at the border and snuck into Israel. In an operation that lasted scarcely five minutes, they ambushed an Israeli army Humvee on patrol, killed three soldiers, kidnapped two others, and escaped back across the border.

Shortly afterwards, Hezbollah launched six long-range rockets into Israel, hitting Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. It was the first time Haifa had been attacked in such a manner.

How would the Israelis respond? Would they launch a massive ground assault into Lebanon? That was what the Iranians were hoping, because they believed it would catalyze the Muslim world against Israel, and position Iran as the new champion of the Muslim “resistance.”

When the Israelis didn’t bite, the Iranians ordered Hezbollah to step up the rocket attacks against Israeli cities, towns and villages. On day two, they launched 133 rockets into northern Israel, 108 on day three, and 126 on day four.

In response, Israel launched air strikes deep into Lebanon, striking the airport, cutting resupply routes into Syria, and attempting to knock out command bunkers where they believed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was hiding. But none of this deterred Hezbollah, and for good reason: the Iranians had prepared them to fight a long war, dispersing their weaponry across Lebanon.

On July 15, Iranian advisors in charge of Hezbollah’s more sophisticated weapons stunned the Israelis by launching two sophisticated C-802 anti-shipping missiles against an Israeli SAAR-5 boat cruising some 18 kilometers off the Lebanese coast.

One of the missiles was apparently deflected by Israeli counter-measures, and hit a Cambodian merchant vessel that was 60 km from the coast and 44 km down range from the Israeli ship, according to a technical analysis of the attack published by the Israel Resource News Agency on Tuesday. The second seriously damaged the Israeli corvette, the INS Ahi-Hanit.

What terrorist groups possess third-generation radar-guided anti-shipping missiles? The Chinese-built C-802s were first shipped to Iran in 1995, and at the time generated concern among U.S. naval commanders in the Persian Gulf because at the time the U.S. had no defense against them.

The Israelis had electronic countermeasures on board the Ahi-Hanit that could have deflected the missiles, the experts believe, but had turned them off for fear of friendly-fire incidents against Israeli fighters flying overhead.

More lessons learned for the Iranians.

And how did Israel respond to the rocket attacks?

Anyone who has been watching television over the past two weeks has probably heard the eerie wail of the air raid sirens that go off many times each day in Haifa and in smaller towns and settlements across northern Israel.

As many as 500,000 Israelis have fled the warzone. Most of Israel north of Haifa is deserted, while those remaining are living in underground shelters.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav estimated that the economic impact has been devastating – “in the billions of shekels” of lost business for Haifa alone. That’s roughly $500 million.

Israeli officials believe the Iranians gave the go-ahead for the kidnapping and the rocket war. They point to the unannounced arrival in Damascus the night before Hezbollah launched its attacks by the head of Iran’s National Security Council and Iran’s intelligence minister.

For Dr. Michael Oren, author of a forthcoming book on the history of the U.S. relationship to the Middle East, the current conflict is just a stage in the war against Iran.People need to realize this is not a bilateral conflict. It is part of the broad regional and international conflict between the West and Islamic fundamentalism championed by Iran,” he told me.

Dr. Oren is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem. He is also a major in the Israeli Defense Forces reserves. He was called up for active duty on July 21, but asked for a three day extension so he could finish his new book, Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present.

He believes the stakes of Israel’s effort to smash Hezbollah as an effective fighting force in Lebanon go way beyond the immediate impact on Israeli or Lebanese civilians.

If we don’t win in Lebanon, Iran will be well on the way to creating an arc of influence extending from the Indian border to the Mediterranean,” he said.

Those are the stakes.

Iran launched this war to deflect attention from the G-8 summit in Saint Petersburg from its nuclear weapons program. But at the same time, it launched this war to try out new weapons and new tactics for future conflicts.

The next step, should the West fail to step up to the plate: how about long-range Shahab-3 missiles in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, aimed at Europe? And how do you think the Europeans would respond, seeing the devastating impact far smaller rockets fired into Israel have had on Israel’s economy?

Can you imagine Parisians or Romans taking to the bomb-shelters? Sending their children to stay with relatives living overseas? Can you imagine them resisting Iran as Israel is doing?

Unchecked, Iran will continue its march toward nuclear power, and it will use terrorist proxies to conduct war against the West. In the future, those proxies will have nuclear weapons.

This is the “hurricane” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised the world earlier this week in Tehran, in yet another “mein kampf” statement.

Now is the time to draw the line.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum, New York), and Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.