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The War Comes to Us

By Robert Tracinski

If, in the face of repeated threats and provocation by an aggressive dictatorship, you refuse to go to war, the war will eventually come to you.

That's the meaning of Iran's de facto declaration of war against Israel--which is, ultimately, a new war Iran is waging against the US. Iran is so desperate for war with the West that it is bringing the war to us, openly and willfully initiating a regional conflict that may soon involve three of Iran's proxies--Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria--fighting against America's proxy, Israel.

The danger for us is that, in seeking to avoid an unavoidable war with Iran, we have allowed Iran to start the conflict on terms that it believes will be most favorable to it.

The current American strategy for dealing with Iran has been something of a conundrum--there is some question about whether we have any strategy at all--but I think it is best guessed at by Robert Kagan in yesterday's Washington Post. He describes it as "Zeno's diplomacy," after the famous ancient Greek paradox, which holds that you cannot cross a room, for example, without first crossing half that distance, then half the remaining distance, then half the remaining distance, etc., ad infinitum.

The Europeans will try to carry out a kind of Zeno's diplomacy, moving halfway toward decisive action, then another quarter of the way, then an eighth, then a sixteenth, and on and on, to avoid choosing between their two worst options: taking action against Iran, or visibly and embarrassingly retreating from taking action against Iran.

The likely failure of diplomacy would not deter Bush from pursuing it, however. If and when it failed, he would be able to choose the military course, and no fair person could accuse him of not having tried to bring the world along to do what had to be done.

Kagan premises this argument on the assumption--which he describes as "hypothetical," but which I think is realistic--that President Bush actually does intend to stop the Iranian nuclear threat before he leaves office. But Bush is clearly acting on the assumption that he has plenty of time to puzzle through diplomatic paradoxes before he takes action. Yet it is worth noting that the conclusion of Zeno's original argument was that the process of crossing the room would go on to infinity, so that you could never get there--implying that all motion is impossible. That's a pretty good description of how things work at the UN Security Council.

In practice, the danger of incremental "Zeno diplomacy" is that it gives the enemy time to take the initiative and begin the battle on terms of his choosing, not ours. That appears to be what Iran has done in Gaza and Lebanon.

It is important to grasp that Iran is deliberately, intentionally drawing Israel into a war with its proxies. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been making increasingly ominous statements warning about a "conflagration" involving Israel, then two Iranian-funded organizations run out of Syria, a close Iranian ally, launched incursion into Israel to kidnap Israeli soliders--a provocation that cannot merely be shrugged off, but which demands extended Israeli military action. Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah would have launched these attacks without Iranian permission and support.

As David Twersky in the New York Sun concludes, "The war with Iran has begun." He describes the Iranian strategy with a chess analogy:

Each one of these players--Hamas inside Gaza and in Damascus, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Assad dictatorship in Syria--are chess pieces on the Iranian board. The pawn moves, drawing in the Israeli bishop; the Lebanese rook challenges; the Syrian queen is in reserve.

Twersky adds, with ominous eloquence, "Years from now, the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit will be regarded like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand"--the event that triggered World War I.

Similarly, Michael Ledeen reminds us:

The important thing to keep in mind is that both the Gaza and northern Israel attacks were planned for quite a while, which means that Iran wanted this war, this way. It isn't just a target of opportunity or a sudden impulse; it's part of a strategic decision to expand the war.

Iran has been at war with us all along, because that's what the world's leading terror state does. The scariest thing about this moment is that the Iranians have convinced themselves that they are winning, and we are powerless to reverse the tide. As I reported here several months ago, Khamenei told his top people late last year that the Americans and Israelis are both politically paralyzed. Neither can take decisive action against Iran, neither can sustain prolonged conflict and significant casualties.

In my view, the issue is not why Iran chose to begin a shooting war now; the issue is where it chose to do so. Iran is striking at the point where it thinks it is strongest and the West is weakest.

This is an Iranian strong point because it controls a whole network of proxy forces that can attack Israel on two fronts. As for the weakness of the West, the craven Europeans, crushed by leftist self-loathing over their "colonialist" past, seek to apologize for their sins by offering a scapegoat for sacrifice: the Jews who fled Europe to establish the one outpost of Western civilization in the Middle East. As for America, Israel is the one area where we have consistently suspended every virtue of American war policy.

Worse, the Palestinian Authority is the one area where we have tolerated the creation of a new Islamist terrorist regime, on the grounds that it is "democratically elected." As I explained in "The Weapon of Democracy," in TIA's last print issue, this is how the US has been disarmed by the dangerously vague concept of "democracy": if we claim that we are fighting for liberty, and then we equate liberty with "democracy"--then how can we condemn a "democratically elected" terrorist regime?

Thus, predictably, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon split the West, with the European Union taking its usual anti-Israel stance, even as the US vetoed a proposed Security Council resolution condemning Israel.

The Iranian provocation of Israel is also calculated to roll back one of the recent achievements of US foreign policy: the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. After Syrian troops were forced to withdraw from Lebanon last year, the advocates of Lebanese independence began calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia in Southern Lebanon that has long served as a Syrian ally and proxy. But, using the "weapon of democracy," Hezbollah has long had a large representation in Lebanon's parliament.

More important, nearly every Lebanese political faction has paid lip service to an anti-Israel policy. So while they demanded that Hezbollah disarm, they also praised Hezbollah's past battles to "liberate" Southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. Now, by provoking a new Israeli incursion into Lebanon, Hezbollah seeks to justify its military power. More broadly, this is Hezbollah's bid to become the dominant power in Lebanon, a fact revealed in a Los Angeles Times analysis:

As Lebanon's largest political party and most potent armed force, Hezbollah has long been described as a "state within a state"--a Shiite Muslim minigovernment boasting close ties to Iran and Syria. But Wednesday's move across the border to capture two Israeli soldiers went a step further: Hezbollah acted as the state itself, threatening to drag Lebanon into a war.

The country's elected government was still in meetings Wednesday, arguing over what to say in public, when Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah went before television cameras with a pointed threat for the ruling elite. "Today is a time for solidarity and cooperation, and we can have discussions later. I warn you against committing any error. This is a national responsibility," the cleric said, looking every inch the head of state.

Any criticism over the capture of the two Israeli soldiers would be tantamount to colluding with Israel, Nasrallah said, making it clear that he expected citizens and officials to heed his orders. "To the Lebanese people, both officials and non-officials, nobody should behave in a way that encourages the enemy to attack Lebanon, and nobody should say anything that gives cover to attack Lebanon," he said.

Finally, all of this is a distraction from the issue of Iran's nuclear weapons program. Just at the point when the US is trying to get the UN Security Council to condemn Iran, Arab and European nations are now trying to get the Security Council to condemn Israel. More broadly, Iran is trying to make itself and its proxies into champions of Islam in its long jihad against Israel. The Iranians believe that they can head off a war with America by initiating a war with Israel.

For all of these reasons, Iran thinks it has the upper hand. It thinks it can re-assert control over Lebanon and gain the support of the Arab and Muslim nations--while Israel and the US are paralyzed and fail to do anything about it.

But the Iranian regime, blinded by fanaticism, has a tendency to miscalculate and especially to overestimate its own advantage. The situation may rapidly get beyond their control, and it may--and certainly should--hasten American action against Iran.

First, there is some doubt about whether the Arab and Muslim nations will rally around this latest conflagration. They will sympathize from the sidelines and offer "moral support." But it is doubtful that the rest of Lebanon, or Jordan, or Egypt will actually join in the fighting. The days in which Palestinian provocateurs could hope to spark a pan-Arab war to wipe out Israel are long gone. Operationally, Iran and its proxies are on their own.

Militarily, this Iranian axis is too weak to defeat even tiny Israel. All they can rely on is the assumption that Israel will remain politically paralyzed, that it will hold its fire and refuse to take decisive action against Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria.

But Israel has a history of becoming bolder when it is under attack. The only alternative, for a small nation in such a hostile neighborhood, is suicide--and the Israelis are far from being so broken as to accept such a suicide. Hence, there are signs that the recent Hamas and Hezbollah attacks are discrediting the policy of "disengagement," Israel's strategy of retreat and surrender. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the main political front man for "disengagement," has gone so far as to declare the Hezbollah attack an "act of war." Yossi Klein Halevi draws the obvious conclusion:

The ultimate threat, though, isn't Hezbollah or Hamas but Iran. And as Iran draws closer to nuclear capability--which the Israeli intelligence community believes could happen this year--an Israeli-Iranian showdown becomes increasingly likely. According to a very senior military source with whom I've spoken, Israel is still hoping that an international effort will stop a nuclear Iran; if that fails, then Israel is hoping for an American attack. But if the Bush administration is too weakened to take on Iran, then, as a last resort, Israel will have to act unilaterally. And, added the source, Israel has the operational capability to do so.

For Israelis, that is the worst scenario of all. Except, of course, the scenario of nuclear weapons in the hands of the patron state of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Similarly, Israeli military officials have been openly describing Southern Lebanon as Israel's "front line" with Iran.

And that may be the biggest impact that this conflict will have: to demonstrate, if further demonstration was needed, Michael Ledeen's point that this is a regional war. It is a not a series of isolated conflicts in Gaza and Iraq. It is all one battle, with America and its allies on one side--and Iran and its agents on the other. As Ledeen puts it:

No one should have any lingering doubts about what's going on in the Middle East. It's war, and it now runs from Gaza into Israel, through Lebanon and thence to Iraq via Syria. There are different instruments, ranging from Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon and on to the multifaceted "insurgency" in Iraq. But there is a common prime mover, and that is the Iranian mullahcracy

To demonstrate how obvious this is becoming, consider that this thesis--which folks like Ledeen and myself have been propounding for years, while no one listened--is the central thesis of an analysis of the current conflict in yesterday's New York Times. Steven Erlanger writes:

The expansion of the Gaza crisis into southern Lebanon, confronting Israel with a conflict on its northern and southern borders, has demonstrated that the central issue at stake is regional, not local.

For Israel the issue is not simply the Palestinians and their actions, including the rocket fire into Israel. It is the broader problem of radical Islam--of Hamas, as a part of the regional Muslim Brotherhood, and of Iran, a serious regional power with considerable influence on Syria, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the military wing of Hamas....

Iran is...considered to be the main sponsor of Khaled Meshal, the exiled Palestinian leader of Hamas's political bureau and the man widely considered to be in charge of Hamas's secretive military wing--which was instrumental in carrying out the seizure of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, touching off the latest explosion....

An Arab intelligence officer working in a country neighboring Israel said it appeared that Iran--through Hezbollah--had given support to Mr. Meshal to stage the seizure of Corporal Shalit.... Itamar Rabinovich, former Israeli ambassador to Washington and chief negotiator with Syria on a peace treaty that never quite materialized, sees Iran "on a roll, looking for regional hegemony."

Iran has revealed its hand, challenging the US and its allies and openly demonstrating its desire to dominate the Middle East through force and terror. While we have been trying to delay the war with Iran, it has brought the war to us, in a manner so obvious that even the mainstream media cannot evade it.

In doing so, they have made their threat to America and its interests more obvious and more urgent--providing a stronger case for war than their nuclear program could provide. There can be no question here about whether Iran really has aggressive designs in the Middle East, whether it really seeks the weapons to attack the US and its allies, and how long it might take for such a threat to materialize. The threat is here and Iran's newest war on the West has already begun.

Iran is risking everything on this new strategy, and the only hope they have of success is the expectation that, as they bring the war closer and closer to America, we won't fight back.

But that means that we have an easy way to blow their strategy to smithereens.

All we have to do is to start fighting back.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

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