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The War of 2006

By David Warren

Southern Lebanon, then Gaza, were two strips of occupied territory from which the Israelis withdrew entirely and unilaterally, removing all Jewish settlements from the latter. As I, and various other "rightwing nuts" predicted, the vacated territories were immediately used as platforms to attack Israel proper. They fell quickly into the hands of the terrorist organizations, Hezbollah, and Hamas, respectively. With direct Israeli supervision withdrawn, the smuggling of weapons increased radically. Effectively fenced in, so they could not send suicide bombers across the Israeli border, the new masters turned instead to rocket attacks and tunnelling.

When the Israelis withdrew, I wrote that they would have no choice but to return to both territories, and clean them out. We are now at that stage.

Both Hamas, in Gaza, and Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, are now proxies of Iran. Hezbollah was created directly by the ayatollahs as a terrorist organization in 1982, to attack American and Israeli targets then in Beirut. Over time, Hezbollah added various charitable operations, creating a false front behind which it could recruit Jihadis, attract and launder foreign donations, cache weapons and ammunition, etc.

Hamas, descended from the Muslim Brotherhood (which goes back to the 1920s in Egypt), got to the same destination by the other route. They began as a Muslim welfare bureau, but from the beginning with the intention of building a terrorist infrastructure into the network of schools, hospitals, and shopfronts.

Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah are organized into separate wings; in both cases, the terrorist and welfare operations are seamlessly entwined. In both cases, the do-gooding is a propaganda front, though not a derisory one. For example, it is in Hamas-funded schools that small Palestinian children are trained to be fanatic, Jew-hating psychos, who don play suicide belts and automatic rifles for school pageants. In both organizations, with Saddam Hussein's Iraq now out of the picture, and the "moderate" Arab states progressively retreating, Iran has emerged as the terror patron of first and last resort. The administrative headquarters for both are in Damascus -- Syria itself now being half-way between an Iranian ally and client.

The best illustration of this is the reaction to the Israeli incursions from across the official Arab world. Where a decade ago, one could have expected blood-curdling condemnations of Israel alone, these condemnations are now softened, and often exceeded by outrage against the irresponsible behaviour of Hamas and Hezbollah. This is an acknowledgement that revolutionary Iran, on the cusp of nuclear armament, has not only acquired the leadership of the international Jihad, but is frightening all its neighbours.

Naturally, Israel is frightened, too. The capture of reservist soldiers struck a very raw nerve in Israeli public opinion. There is unprecedented restiveness in Israel's own large Muslim community, of well over a million souls. There is the more and more plausible missile threat from Iran. And meanwhile, nearly 1,000 Katyusha rockets, and explosive shells, have been rained down on northern Israel this week, in the part of the battle that doesn't much interest the Western media.

The mood in Israel is: Do not stop until Hamas and Hezbollah are utterly destroyed. And as for the international reaction, who cares? The Israelis will be condemned for anything they do, so they might as well do anything.

While the Lebanese are understandably shocked, appalled, and even terrified by the Israeli incursions -- especially the air strikes on the transport infrastructure, designed to prevent Hezbollah from slipping away, or resupplying -- there is also a reserve of hope. Hezbollah has been operating as an extra-territorial power, and as agents of the hated Syrian presence in Lebanon over the years. It is only by disarming Hezbollah, that the Lebanese can hope to have their country back. The Lebanese state being powerless to disarm them, there is a certain amount of winking while Israel does the job.

From what I can see, the mood in the U.S. -- Israel's only reliable ally -- is, "the Israelis can take care of themselves, let's watch". The Americans are suffering from mission fatigue at the moment, but they will not let the Israelis down if the conflict spreads, and Syria gets involved, then Iran. (Syria and Iran also feed the Iraqi insurgency.)

Now here is an idea for a dark night. It might actually be in Israel's interest to risk the big confrontation with Iran now, by attacking Syria before Iran can do much about it, without triggering a reluctant American response. Israel's nerviest best hope of long-run survival might thus lie down the road to Damascus.

It is the sort of idea that would have occurred to Ariel Sharon. He is "retired hurt", however, and so the captaincy is passed to someone called Ehud Olmert, who is more likely, under rising pressure, to think small.

© Ottawa Citizen

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