Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Current Middle East Crisis—An Orchestrated Performance

Imad Mugniyah, head of Hezbollah's military wing

To many observers it may seem like the latest round of fighting in the Middle East came out of nowhere, but if one glances behind the scenes at recent developments in Iran and Syria, a very different picture emerges.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran in June 2005, the first leader to visit him was Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Assad stayed in Teheran for two days in August 2005 in order signal to the West that the two countries were further improving relations.

The two leaders found they had much in common, especially in terms of international isolation. The United States suspected Ahmadinejad of being involved in the 1979 kidnappings in the U.S. embassy in Iran. Assad has likely been suspected of orchestrating the February 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik El Hariri.

At the two leaders' first meeting, Ahmadinijad issued a very encouraging statement to Syria, but one that also showed the international isolation of "the leprous pact." "As countries under international pressure, we must strengthen our ties," the Iranian president said.

At the end of January 2006, Ahmadinejad reciprocated with a visit to Syria. Besides his provocative statement telling Europe to "Take the Jews back!" (which obviously caused a big stir in Israel), Ahamadinijad also dealt with more important issues.

Among these were meetings with heads of terrorist organizations from Syria and Lebanon, who operate under the patronage of Syria and Iran. Ahmadinejad likewise met with Palestinian organization leaders, such as Khaled Mash'al, chief of the Hamas Political Bureau and Ramadan Shalah, head of the Islamic Jihad.

The most important meeting, however, was between Ahamdinijad, Assad, Hezbollah's Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah, and Muktada al-Sader, the leader of Iraq's Shiite militia that is killing Sunnis and Americans in Iraq. According to American intelligence sources, Imad Mugniyah, head of Hezbollah's military wing, also attended the meeting.

During these get-togethers, the leaders formed a radical "Islamic alliance," which began to carefully plan its next move regarding Iran's nuclear weapons, as well as Syria's status vis-à-vis the United States, Lebanon and Palestine. Mugniyah's attendance lit a red light among Western intelligence analysts, who began to look for signs of increased activity among Hezbollah cells in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East.

This "Islamic alliance" increased its clout on January 26, 2006, when the Hamas won a sweeping victory in the Palestinian Authority elections. Iran and Syria thus gained a powerful new player, which strengthened their resolve to try to thwart Western pressure on Syria and sanctions on Iran for the latter's nuclear project. Bush and Europe appeared humiliated, while Iran and Syria grew confident. Assad therefore decided to gamble and turned his country's capital into a central axis between Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories.

Signs of escalated Hezbollah activities were initially few, but they increased dramatically in April and May 2006. At the beginning of April, Israeli security sources told the London Telegraph that "soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are in control of most of Hezbollah's posts alongside the Israeli-Lebanese border."

The following month, on May 22, the New York Post cited American intelligence personnel as saying that Hezbollah was planning attacks in the United States. The news was leaked in order to signal to the Iranians of U.S. awareness of their intentions and its monitoring of Hezbollah members in the United States.

A few days later the Saudi newspaper al-Wattan published an item quoting American intelligence sources as saying that Israel had passed on information about a series of terrorist attacks planned by Mugniyah for the run up to the 2006 World Cup.

Though the World Cup passed by peacefully, it was only a matter of time before the other shoe would drop. This happened on June 25, when Hamas abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The operation had been planned weeks in advance and with the full knowledge of Hamas's political bureau in Damascus, including its head Khaled Mash'al. On July 12, another long-planned operation was carried out when Hezbollah abducted two more soldiers along Israel's northern border.

A few hours later, Western intelligence sources announced that the abduction had been inspired by Iran, which wanted to divert attention from its nuclear project during the G-8 summit that was to be held three days later.

Taking the above recent developments into consideration, one could describe the "division of labor" as follows: Iran composed the music, Syria conducted the orchestra, while Hamas and Hezbollah carried out the performance.
By Dr. Yohai Sela (Sella)
Special to The Epoch Times


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