Israel Claims Iran Has Inserted Longer-Range Missiles Into Lebanon
I know that some of you disagree with me about Iran’s role in the current crisis and what should be done about it. Some of you feel that Iran and Syria will come out of this current mess in better position than they were, and that Israel made a big mistake here in its overreaction. As I said yesterday, Israel did overreact, but it is easy for me to say that from thousands of miles away when their soldiers were fired upon by Hezbollah in Israeli territory and were taken hostage by Hezbollah. But frankly, no matter how much I disagree with the Bush foreign policy, I am trying not to let that cloud my analysis of the basic facts on the ground.
Iran will have no sway with Israel or with the world community in resolving this mess if they were involved in its execution, or if they have armed Hezbollah with short-range Chinese missiles that have the capability of hitting Tel Aviv. On that first point, I will post the contents of emails I received from retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner over the weekend about Iran’s role in the Hezbollah kidnapping.
Iran has conducted a preemptive strike.
After my e-mail yesterday (Thursday of last week), I continued to receive notes and calls from press, former CIA, and overseas diplomatic sources. A major piece of what I was being told was shocking. Iran and Syria were involved in the planning for the hostage takings. I was even told where and when their planning meeting took place. An individual with former connections to the CIA told me the current situation is all is about the Iranian nuclear program. I was skeptical of that explanation until I heard Zal Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Iraq, on CNN late in the day. He said, "It is about the Iranian nuclear program."
In other words, Iran did not wait for the US preemptive strike. It conducted its own.
There is something important to keep in mind. If my sources know about the Iranian and Syrian planning meeting, the US and Israeli Governments knew about the plan. Both governments face a profound dilemma. Do they talk about the connection and make a major issue of it? Policy very often follows rhetoric. If Iran is guilty, do we take the fight to Iran? Too much talk can create pressure to act, self-induced pressure that would lead to a greater Middle East war.
The situation-defining next move is Iran's. I'm told by an individual who sometimes talks to people on the Iranian Supreme National Security Council that the hard-liners think they can gain from a limited escalation. They overestimate their negotiating power. They underestimate the dangers of confrontation.
As for Iran sneaking missiles into Lebanon through Syria, I give you this from the AP in the last hour:
Meanwhile, an Israeli airstrike in Lebanon on Monday destroyed at least one long-range Iranian missile capable of hitting Tel Aviv, military officials said.
Israeli aircraft targeted a truck carrying the weapons before they could be launched, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of military regulations. The force of the blast sent at least one missile flying into the air, but it fell nearby.
If true, there is no way Iran comes out of this in better shape diplomatically than before. And if true, then it confirms Israel's fears that Syria and Iran have taken advantage of a weak Lebanese government and military to arm Hezbollah with weapons that threaten a large part of Israel.
Update: For those among us who believe that this overreaction was hatched by the Neocons and the Israelis to regain the initiative for the PNAC solution in the aftermath of the Iraq meltdown, think again. The Bush Administration didn’t see this coming, and Hezbollah, according to Newsweek this afternoon, caught Bush’s foreign policy team (Elliot Abrams of all people) flat-footed. And if the Israelis saw it coming, why didn’t the Bush Administration know about it in advance? The administration and the Israelis are rightly concerned to make sure that Hamas and Hezbollah not link up here and cement a four-way relationship with Iran and Syria, but it may be too late for that. Also, at least Bush was able to get the Saudis, the Jordanians, and the Egyptians to come out against Hezbollah on this. The pending opportunity that Hamas and Israel had for progress must go forward if at all possible without linking Gaza with a reward of Hezbollah for what they did here.
As Michael Hirsh also notes here, one of the key problems facing the Bush Administration is that their disengagement from the region leaves them with no contacts among the main actors here. We have no ongoing contacts with Hezbollah or Hamas, by design, and we have spurned repeated efforts by both Syria and Iran for a dialogue. In this environment, and given the possible if not probable role Iran had in facilitating this, the key opportunity for Bush here would be to reach out quietly to Syria to see how interested they are in bringing about a solution and earning some points for doing so. Syria is more militarily vulnerable than Iran, and was a valuable intelligence asset for us in the months right after 9/11. And anything we can do to stop radicalizing them, buy their support here, and peel them away somewhat from Iran will also help us in Iraq. But I doubt the Bush Administration is flexible enough to do any of this.
Gee, I wonder what Karen Hughes is doing to earn her salary this week?