July 23, 2006 - We have all the dots. All we need to do is connect them.
The war between Israel and Hezbollah is not what most people think it is. A popular picture of this war portrays it as a vindictive Israeli reaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers. This impression is not only wrong, it is dangerously naÔve.
To be sure, Hezbollah exploits this simplistic picture because it suits its purposes. It is in the interests of Hezbollah for everyone else to think this war is some overreaction to a purely local matter. We have plenty of clues demonstrating otherwise. The question is whether we have the courage to heed their implications.
Hezbollah has been very cynical, and successful, in its use of rhetoric. It claims the moral high ground, insisting it is fighting a "resistance" against an "occupation." But Israel was not occupying Lebanon. Israel withdrew from Lebanon six years ago. Is Hezbollah talking about the occupation of Palestinian land? There is no need to speculate. Hezbollah tells us in its own words.
One Hezbollah spokesman said: "If they [Israelis] go from Shebaa, we will not stop fighting them... Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine." And any Jews who remain "can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from."
And Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, said: "We all have an extraordinary historic opportunity to finish off the entire cancerous Zionist project."
That should clarify what Hezbollah means by "occupation."
Now compare those comments of Hezbollah about Israel with comments by Iran's leadership about America.
From Mohsen Rezai, Iranian Expediency Council Secretary, speaking on Iranian television just six weeks ago:
"The American empire is hovering between life and death. If America loses some of the countries it has subjugated and plundered, there will be chaos in America."
"America seems so big, but in fact is like a paper tiger - even the slightest tremor could easily make it crumple and disappear."
The implication was made more explicit in a policy document that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent to his parliament. He stated that the goal of Iran's foreign policy is "a government for the whole world" under the leadership of the Mahdi, the expected redeemer who will transform the entire world into a perfect Islamic society. He declared the United States, the greatest obstacle to this event, to be in its "last throes," a "sunset" power that will be replaced by the "sunrise" power of Iran and Islam. He also stated that it is "the incontestable right of the Iranian nation" to be the dominant power in the Middle East.
As these comments suggest, there is a parallel between Hezbollah and Israel on the one hand, and Iran and America on the other. This is no accident, since Hezbollah is Iran's proxy in the Middle East, and America Israel's greatest supporter. The war between Hezbollah and Israel is no local brushfire. It is a proxy battle much like those of earlier times, with Iran replacing the Soviet Union as the patron of Arab extremists and America's would-be challenger for superpower status.
Iran has been active in this crisis all along, supplying Hezbollah with sophisticated weapons and training. If Hezbollah wins, Iran's prestige and power will be greatly enhanced. It will be further along in its quest for regional dominance.
And we can be certain that Iran's ambitions extend beyond the Middle East. Iran has been collaborating with North Korea, and Iranian representatives observed the North Korean tests of missiles potentially capable of reaching American soil.
So what would be the result if Hezbollah not only wins the war but succeeds in its ambition to destroy Israel? Would it cease operations after completing its mission to "end the occupation"?
That is hardly likely. Consider the past reactions of Islamic extremists to territorial gains: When Israel withdrew from Gaza last year, instead of treating it as a step toward peace, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were emboldened to try for an evacuation of southern Israel as well. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah filled the vacuum and amassed thousands of rockets along Israel's northern border, which it is now firing into Israeli cities. With Israel totally gone, the pattern would be certain to continue, with an even bolder and more powerful Islamic extremist force ready to take the next step.
And the next step is obvious. Why be content with merely disposing of Little Satan when Great Satan is finally ripe for the picking? A nuclear Iran with Hezbollah sleeper cells around the world would be in a position to do America great economic and possibly even physical damage.
In their own statements the Iranian leaders have revealed the reasons for their hatred of America. Israel is one reason, but not the only one and not even the most important one. The religious extremists who rule Iran hate the United States as the aging infidel empire standing in the way of their utopian vision. With or without Israel, that empire must be destroyed.
We have seen this before. Hitler too wanted to liquidate the Jews, but he did not stop there. His goal was world conquest, with or without Jews. The Jews were a convenient wedge he exploited for his own purposes: get people to blame the Jews for all of their woes, and they may even be willing to follow you.
And so we hear comments like these from Ibrahim Mussawi, director of English-language news for Al Manar, Hezbullah's news organization in Lebanon: the Jews are "a lesion on the forehead of history." And from a Hezbullah official in the Lebanese Parliament: Jews "act as parasites in the nations that have given them shelter." And President Ahmadinejad's threats to wipe Israel off the map are by now very well known.
Ahmadinejad is using the same scapegoating strategy that worked for the Nazis. He increases his power by focusing hatred on Israel. This mobilizes support in the Muslim world. It also hopefully gets the world so exercised about the supposedly terrible things Israel does that if people don't actually forget about Iran's nuclear ambitions, they will at least leave Iran alone. It is in Iran's interest to use Hezbollah as its client, stir up a commotion in Israel, and paint Israel as the villain. Ahmadinejad is capitalizing on the hope that so many people hate Israel so much that they will not take notice that behind Hezbollah hides the shadow of Iran.
Israel is fighting Iran by proxy, and so is fighting the battle of those whom Iran would destroy. There are powerful psychological reasons for ignoring this. If we can make Israel the bad guy and pressure Israel to back down, then we can indulge the illusion that we'll be safe. If missiles continue falling, that's Israel's problem; at least those fanatics won't come after us. Fear makes us want to believe that, but it is a dangerous deception. We've been given enough clues and even outright statements of what Islamic extremists would do if they succeed in demolishing Israel. To condemn Israel for fighting this fight, a fight for its existence as well as ours, is playing into Iran's hands.
Frum, David. "Nuclear Jihad." American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, April 5, 2006.
"Iranian Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai: ĎAmerica is Like a Paper Tiger." Middle East Media Research Institute, Special Dispatch no. 1189, June 21, 2006.
Levin, Andrea. "New Yorker Bests Times on Anti-Semitism." Jerusalem Post, November 4, 2002; reprint IsraelInsider.com, November 7, 2002.
Reuters News Staff. "U.S. Says Iranians Witnessed N. Korea Missile Test." Washington Post, July 20, 2006.
Taheri, Amir. "A Clash of Civilizations." Newsweek, September 5, 2005.
Peace with Realism