Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Second Lebanon War: Moshe Yaalon
Part 4
The Spread of Iranian and Syrian Regional Control

Iran's regional strategy is to project its power and assert control across the entire Middle East via proxies – including Muktada al-Sadr's Shiite Mahdi army in Iraq, Hamas in Jordan, the Alawite regime in Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Gaza, and Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza. Iran avoids getting its hands dirty by working through proxies, thereby creating maximum instability with minimum responsibility. Aside from Iran's operational support and financial sponsorship of Hizbullah and Hamas, Iran's financial backing and training of Shiite insurgency groups in Iraq has been well documented by U.S. defense and intelligence officials. Gen. Michael Hayden, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in November 2006 that "the Iranian hand is stoking violence in Iraq and supporting even competing Shia factions." This assessment was shared by Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in congressional testimony. Iran has also supplied direct support to Shiite militias in Iraq including explosives and trigger devices for roadside bombs, in addition to terror militia training in Iran conducted by the IRGC and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
Senior U.S. intelligence official shave also said that Iran's Hizbullah proxy had used bases in Lebanon to train up to 2,000 members of the Iraqi Shiite Mahdi army. Iran reportedly facilitated the link between Hizbullah and the Shiite militias in Iraq.

Iran's Syrian ally hosts terror proxies, too, who live in, and operate with impunity from, Damascus. Syria's long arm of terror has been extended via Palestinian groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, without bloodying Syrian hands, thanks to deniability. Aside from hosting Palestinian terror groups, Syria has allowed its border with neighboring Iraq to remain porous, serving as a pipeline for financing Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups, a fact noted by the Baker-Hamilton Report. Since 2003, Bashar al-Assad has sanctioned the smuggling of weapons and ammunition, and has ignored the infiltration of terror operatives from Syria to Iraq. Beginning in March 2003, eye-witnesses in Aleppo, Syria, reported seeing busloads of Mujahideen heading into neighboring Iraq as Syrian border police waved them through. Since 2003, U.S. forces have reported killing and capturing Syrian nationals and Syrian-sponsored Jihadis involved in insurgency terror actions.
Iran's use of Syria as a bridgehead to the Arab world, together with Tehran's sponsorship of terror proxies to assert regional control, is a powerful model that has succeeded in destabilizing the region without the UN or any other major international organization stopping it. As a result, Iran and Syria, as well as North Korea, are able to defy the international community without paying a steep price.

Iran's ultimate objective is to leverage its recalibrated, more muscular, regional control and, under the umbrella of a rapidly advancing nuclear program, destabilize and ultimately subvert the international state system. From a historical perspective, Ahmadinejad and his allies have reason to believe that their objective to destroy Israel and defeat the West is on track. Islamists take credit for pushing the United States out of Lebanon in 1984, the Soviets out of Afghanistan in 1989, the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2000, the Spanish out of Iraq in 2004, and the Israelis out of Gaza in 2005. Now they believe they are close to pushing the Americans out of Iraq as well. Iran has paid no price for its transgressions: the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina; the torture and imprisonment of thousands of dissidents; the continuous violation of international understandings related to its nuclear program. These "successes" have only emboldened Islamists worldwide, fueling a perception among radicals that the West is simply afraid to confront them.

Like Iran's mullahs and its apocalyptic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syria's Bashar Assad has paid no penalty for his sins, from the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Lebanon, involvement in the November 2006 assassination of Lebanese Christian Cabinet Minister Pierre Gemayel, the ruthless suppression of Syrian dissidents, the use of Syrian soil as a safe haven for terrorist operations against coalition forces in Iraq, and the sheltering of leaders of terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Despite President Bush's veiled threats against Syria and Iran following the Gemayal and Hariri murders to destabilize Lebanon, Assad's regime has been so confident of its immunity from American or Israeli attack that it allowed Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to hold a press conference in Damascus celebrating the June 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, even as local Hamas leaders in the Palestinian Authority distanced themselves from the abduction. On July 12, 2006, the day of the Hizbullah kidnapping of two more IDF soldiers in northern Israel, Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), was in Damascus to discuss strategic issues with Mashaal and officials of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist groups. According to reports, Larijani was also to have met with senior Hizbullah officials, who were unable to crossover from Lebanon that day.

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