July 30, 2006


The Iranian elephant in the room: Whether or not Tehran actually ordered its Hezbollah allies to attack Israel, the Shiite regime is a major player in the conflict. Too bad Washington refuses to negotiate. (OLIVIA WARD, Jul. 30, 2006, Toronto Star)

Whatever the nature of Iran's involvement in the current crisis, says Ali Ansari, an associate professor at University of St. Andrews in Scotland, the major questions are whether it will be the winner or loser when the crisis is over and whether the shaky balance of power in the Middle East will be disturbed.

"Hezbollah was always Iran's deterrent force against Israel," says Ansari, author of Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Conflict in the Middle East.

"If Hezbollah is strengthened by the conflict, Iran will come out of it better and the Sunnis in the region will be terrified. But if Israel weakens Hezbollah, Iran could also be strategically weakened."

In spite of its public belligerence, Ansari says, Tehran wants to present itself as a peacemaker.

Holding talks with Washington might help defuse both the Lebanon crisis and the nuclear standoff, but the Bush administration has declared Iran part of the "axis of evil" and refuses all contact with its government.

"The problem with Iran goes much deeper than the current crises," says Ansari.

"It has to do with decades of suspicion and misconceptions between Washington and Tehran.

"Now, there is an absurd situation with senior diplomats saying Iran and Syria are responsible for the conflict in Lebanon, but refusing to talk to either of them.

Ansari argues that Iran's image in the region has been inflated by Western blunders rather than by Tehran's shrewdness.

"Iran's successes are the result of our incompetence," he says. " It is the elephant in the room, but not for the reasons we think."

Hezbollah can't lose this fight--it will remain the repository of Lebanese Shi'ite political aspirations. But Israel and America can still win if Syria's regime is changed and the Iranian nuclear program decimated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2006 9:15 AM

"Hezbollah was Iran's deterrent force against Israel".

The reporter's next question should have been - 'But is it a real deterrent if it can't last more than a week or two?"

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 30, 2006 9:29 AM

Of course Hezbollah can lose. Its armaments and infrastructure can be destroyed, its soldiers can be killed and its leaders can be forced into hiding like beaten dogs. The fact that the Arabs are forced to treat losers as winners due to a paucity of the real thing is besides the point. Israel doesn't care if Hezbollah remains the repository of Shi'ite political aspirations; "repository" is, after all, an euphemism for "tomb."

Posted by: David Cohen at July 30, 2006 9:30 AM

The weapons and manpower don't matter. In the next Lebanese election Hezbollah will win again. It has real power, the democratic will, behind it.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2006 9:37 AM

... can still win ... Do you really think we can lose? The war, I mean, not the PR battle with the liberal media.

Posted by: erp at July 30, 2006 9:40 AM

No, no, no - the next question should have been - "Why do you say WAS?"

Posted by: ratbert at July 30, 2006 10:06 AM

They claim defeats as victories. Is this any different than the DemoRars who lose elections over and over again and claim moral victories because it wasn't as lopsided as predicted?

Posted by: obc at July 30, 2006 10:24 AM

Yeah, maybe someday Hezbollah can control the Lebanese government. There's power for you. In the meantime, I'll take destroying them as a military force as the next best thing to victory. Of course, either Israel or the US will just have to destroy them again in a few years after our enemy Iran has rearmed them.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 30, 2006 11:19 AM

BH will be quite welcome to survive bereft of their subservience to Iran and their 10s of thousands of rockets and Iranian-trained and led troops.

If they actually become, that is, a Shia-Lebanese nationalist movement. Which is not what they were founded as, not what they are, and not what they would ever have become absent Israel's current actions.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 30, 2006 11:41 AM

You're not desroying them as a military force. They'll be the government and be entitled to field an army.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2006 12:09 PM

OJ, when that happens it's a lot less likely that they'll fire a bunch of missiles at a neighbor with air supremacy. The Lebanese constitution, acts to minimize Hez's (or any Shiite party) ability to ever control the government. That probably has to change, along with killing a lot of the Hez cadres and disarming the rest, before any 'comprehensive' solution is doable.

Posted by: JAB at July 30, 2006 12:28 PM

So, let them control the government and field an army. Nation states are generally preferable to heavily-armed tribes. Heresy hereabouts, I know.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 30, 2006 2:19 PM

Exactly. Israel and America should recognize their state.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2006 2:24 PM

They don't even claim to have a state, but any state that can't put down an armed political party that is attacking its neighbor is, in fact, no state at all.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 30, 2006 5:30 PM

Force one on the, Obviously they don't recognize the sovereignty of the Lebanese state.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2006 5:33 PM

You have an interesting take, oj, on the characteristics of the ideal nation-state. Your standards seem to be (1) the smaller the better, and (2) the more culturally homogenous the better.

I swear you'd support adjoining nation-states of Hatfield and McCoy, presumably carved out of KY and WV.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 30, 2006 5:34 PM

It has nothing to do with better and isd far from ideal. It's just reality, post-Woodrow Wilson.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2006 5:40 PM

That way lies anarchy. As with every other trend, there will be self-correcting (pun intended) forces.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 30, 2006 9:24 PM

Yes, the correcting force is monotheistic religion, which is universal.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2006 9:37 PM

Micro-states also invite world government. And, yes, widely-shared belief systems have the potential to counter that force. We shall see.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 30, 2006 10:06 PM

To the contrary, the extreme nationalism we unleashed is the best protector against world government, just not worth the price.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2006 10:11 PM

oj. Entitled to field an army? How entitled and by whom?

Posted by: erp at July 31, 2006 7:07 AM

The law of nations. States get armies.

Posted by: oj at July 31, 2006 7:26 AM

Then the solution is simple - kill every 'fighter' until they form an army.

Posted by: ratbert at July 31, 2006 11:11 AM

If it were simple the '08 Olympics would be in Baghdad.

Posted by: oj at July 31, 2006 11:24 AM

This string is odd even by bros standards.

Posted by: erp at July 31, 2006 4:35 PM

To field an army, they would first have to give up their best weapons - women and children, along with the slavish devotion of CNN/BBC/NYT.

Which is why 10,000 of them have to be killed in the next few weeks. Such deviance cannot be permitted.

Posted by: ratbert at August 1, 2006 1:04 AM

Killing ten thousand women and children seems excessive even by Islamophobic standards.

Posted by: oj at August 1, 2006 1:08 AM

Think of Hezbollah as a bunch of witches, and it all becomes clear, no?

Posted by: ratbert at August 1, 2006 8:18 AM

Magic is a lie. Islam is true.

Posted by: oj at August 1, 2006 9:23 AM

But (if I am to believe what is said here) Hezbollah isn't Islam.

Posted by: ratbert at August 1, 2006 9:47 AM

That's what the Sunni Arabs would like you to believe so that we destroy our own allies.

Posted by: oj at August 1, 2006 10:13 AM

Some Shi'a are not going to be our "allies", no matter how zealously you write about it, while some Sunni just might be. Conversely, some Sunni should just be abandoned and some Shi'a should be courted.

Hezbollah just needs killin'. But the road goes through Damascus (as you have written). I don't think anyone (except Tehran) will mourn the loss of the Syrian Ba'athists.

And if the fallout from the 8th century schisms within Islam is going to cause problems all over the globe, then the whole faith is going to suffer. Eventually, the response of the Anglosphere will be "a pox on both your houses".

Posted by: ratbert at August 1, 2006 10:55 AM

Of course not--almost no Europeans are our allies. But most Shi'a are.

Posted by: oj at August 1, 2006 12:34 PM

Too bad their most prominent leaders aren't.

Posted by: ratbert at August 1, 2006 4:09 PM