The Magazine

The Rogues Strike Back

Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah vs. Israel.

Jul 24, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 42 • By ROBERT SATLOFF
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Today, these four--two states, one near-state, and one state-within-a-state--are collectively motivated by opportunity, not fear. The opportunity arises partly because the hated Saddam Hussein is gone, replaced by a weak, terrorist-wracked Shiite-led Iraqi government, propped up by a bleeding America. But each of these actors has its own reasons for exultation and brinkmanship.

Through Iranian eyes, the fact that the West has imposed no price for twenty years of lying about its nuclear program, but instead is still willing to offer ever-greater incentives, must seem remarkable. Only a preening sense of self-confidence can explain Iran's insouciant attitude toward the U.S.-E.U. offer. Indeed, U.S. and other Western diplomats who were dismayed at Iran's failure to respond to the package of carrots failed to recognize that Iran did respond, through what Clausewitz would have called diplomacy by other means: upping the ante via Hezbollah. With the threat of any meaningful U.N. sanctions months away, the Iranians took the initiative. Their goal is to make Israel just another item on the nuclear bargaining table with the West.

Through Syrian eyes, the fact that the West, operating through the U.N., appears less likely today than at any point in the past year to impose a price on the Assad family for its role in murdering former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri must seem similarly stunning. Only a robust sense of optimism can explain Syria's brutal crackdown on secular reformers and liberal dissidents at home and its ongoing efforts to silence critics--like the courageous journalist Gibran Tueni, assassinated in December 2005--in Lebanon next door. Last week, Syria's accidental president, Assad's son Bashar, evidently looked at the rising price the West was willing to pay Iran to stop its objectionable behavior and decided he wants to get into the game. But, lacking significant oil revenues, he chose the poor man's blackmail of terrorism. Hence Syria's brazen decision to break the fiction of its nonsupport to terrorists by providing Khaled Meshal with a Damascus soapbox to boast of his terrorist deeds.

Through Hezbollah's eyes, the failure of the West to implement U.N. Secu rity Council Resolution 1559--which demands the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon and calls on the Lebanese government to exercise sovereignty up to the border with Israel--nicely fits its view of the Jewish state as weak, brittle, and impotent. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has likened it to a "spider web." Only an unswerving sense of ideological purpose can explain Hezbollah's willingness to ridicule its own role as a Lebanese political party serving in the Lebanese government by taking actions that rain Israeli retaliation down upon the heads of fellow Lebanese.

And through Hamas's eyes, the fact that the West, including Israel and the United States, permitted a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of the Jewish state to take over the reins of government in the Palestinian Authority--an entity whose only raison d'être is to be an instrument of peacemaking--is surely proof of divine intercession. Hamas's attack against the Israeli position at Kerem Shalom occurred just before the Europeans were set to launch a humanitarian aid program that would have dulled the impact of the U.S.-led financial quarantine on the PA, and just after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas fell into the trap of endorsing a political platform, known as the Prisoners Document, that in large respects mirrored Hamas's own "solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only a steadfast conviction in the rightness of the battle against the Zionist entity could compel Hamas leaders to forgo these advantages in exchange for the Israeli reoccupation of parts of Gaza.

Virtually overnight, an audacious Hamas raid has metastasized into a crisis that holds the greatest potential for regional conflagration in years. On a strategic level, the rogues' goal is almost surely to fuse the disparate crises into one--merging either the Hamas or Hezbollah front with Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, perhaps by the transfer of the captive soldiers to Iranian control, by direct involvement of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the rocket fire against Israel, or by some other means.