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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If that happens, then Hamas and its fellow quartet members may achieve what Yasser Arafat was not able to accomplish with two intifadas--to regionalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and thereby radically alter the strategic balance. And if Iran is able to exploit this crisis to show that its nuclear program earns it and its allies special treatment on the terrorism front, Tehran will have proven precisely how beneficial the decision to invest in a nuclear program really was. As the Iranian newspaper Kayhan, close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, editorialized last Thursday, "Nuclear Iran is eradicating the nuclear prestige of Israel." That's the sort of rising star to which Syria would like to be hitched.

In Gaza and Lebanon, a battle between Israel and two of its enemies has now been joined. Its spread to two other enemies--Iran and Syria--is a stark and urgent possibility. Let us not mistake this conflict for a local skirmish, a pesky diversion from more serious business, like stopping Iran's nuclear program or building a free, stable Iraq. On the contrary, it is all of a piece.

Defeat for Israel--either on the battlefield or via coerced compromises to achieve flawed cease-fires--is a defeat for U.S. interests; it will inspire radicals of every stripe, release Iran and Syria to spread more mayhem inside Iraq, and make more likely our own eventual confrontation with this emboldened alliance of extremists. Victory--in the form of Hezbollah's disarmament, the expulsion of the Iranian military presence from Lebanon, the eviction of Meshal and friends from Damascus, and the demise of the Hamas government in Gaza--is, by the same token, also a victory for U.S. (and Western) interests.

Achieving those successes--and avoiding those setbacks--will take time, persistence, and leadership. While military force is essential, nonmilitary measures are needed too. These include organizing transatlantic consensus on economic and political pressure on Syria, devising a fast-executing international mechanism to disarm Hezbollah, and expediting the Security Council process on Iran. As enervating as it must be to an administration whose policy plate already overflows with tough problems, none of this can happen without America taking the lead.

Robert Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.