According to the commander of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel's raid in Syria on September 6 against what was reportedly a North Korean-supplied nuclear installation in eastern Syria restored Israel's deterrent posture which was so weakened in last summer's war in Lebanon.
Yet as the execution of anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarian Antoine Ghanem in a Christian suburb of Beirut on Wednesday indicated, Israel's successful raid did not derail Syria's and Iran's pursuit of their strategic goals. Those goals involve achieving regional domination through their proxies in Lebanon as well as in Iraq and the Palestinian Authority.
In Iraq, the Americans pursue a policy of military confrontation against Shi'ite and Sunni forces that are supported and directed by Iran and Syria. In contrast, in Lebanon and the PA, the Americans and the Israelis have avoided decisive confrontations, opting instead to advance a diplomatic course aimed at bringing about the political defeat of Iranian and Syrian proxies. In Lebanon this involves supporting Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government against Hizbullah. In the PA it involves supporting Fatah against Hamas.
It is still too early to know how the American strategy of military confrontation against Iranian and Syrian proxies in Iraq will pan out. But it is already clear that the American-Israeli strategy for contending with Lebanon and the PA has failed.
Ghanem was a member of the Christian-Phalange party. He had announced his intention to run in the presidential elections that will take place next week in the Lebanese Parliament. With his assassination, the Syrians and Iranians effectively completed their campaign of murder and intimidation aimed at anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians.
With Ghanem out of the picture, the anti-Syrian forces lost the parliamentary majority of 72 out of 128 seats that they won in the 2005 general elections. Today, the anti-Syrian coalition has only 64 sure votes. A presidential candidate needs a 65 vote majority to be elected. Now the pro-Syrian forces have the ability to force their presidential candidate on the country.
Led by Hizbullah, the pro-Syrian parliamentary bloc demands that a "compromise" candidate who will bring "national unity" be elected to the presidency next week. Their demand is openly supported by France, the UN and Saudi Arabia. The Americans have not weighed in on the issue and so it can be assumed that they, too, support it.
Although the demand for "compromise" and "unity" sounds like a call for fairness and even stability, just the opposite is the case. In the Lebanese context, "compromise" and "unity" can only serve to bring about the election of yet another Syrian and Iranian puppet to the presidency. Like outgoing President Emile Lahoud, such a leader will work to prevent Lebanon from extricating itself from Iranian and Syrian influence and control.
That the inclusion of pro-Syrian and Iranian elements in the Lebanese government renders the government, regardless of its members' actual desires, an effective tool of Syria and Iran was made clear in last summer's war. During the war, Hizbullah's membership in the Siniora government worked to transform the Siniora government into a mouthpiece of Hizbullah and, through it, of Iran and Syria.
Many had hoped that Hizbullah's entry into Lebanese politics would signal its integration into Lebanese society and force its leaders to dismantle Hizbullah's military force. But the opposite occurred. Hizbullah's entry into Lebanese politics – and into the Siniora government – consolidated its position as a Syrian-Iranian state within the state in Lebanon. Rather than distance itself from Hizbullah after Hizbullah launched its war against Israel, the Siniora government actively assisted it both diplomatically and militarily. With Hizbullah in the government, the Lebanese military openly assisted its forces in attacking Israel and IDF troops.
Hizbullah used its governmental power to increase its influence over the Lebanese military. With Shi'ites comprising 40 percent of the Lebanese army and with army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman being touted by pro-Syrian forces as a "compromise" candidate for the presidency, it is impossible to trust the Lebanese army's loyalty to the elected government. Indeed, since the war, the Lebanese army has enabled Hizbullah to reassert its control over southern Lebanon and has turned a blind eye to massive arms shipments to Hizbullah coming across the Syrian border.
During last summer's war, in a bid to protect the ostensibly pro-Western Siniora government, the US, France and the UN pressured Israel not to attack Lebanese infrastructures. By so acting, the US, France and the UN ignored the actual status of the government. While it talked the anti-Syria talk, it walked the Hizbullah walk.
Siniora's inability or unwillingness to confront Hizbullah and to end its status as an independent political and military force in Lebanon engendered a situation where, through their support for Lebanon's "unity" government, the US, France and the UN effectively protected Hizbullah and preserved its ability to maintain its independent position in Lebanon as a Syrian and Iranian proxy against Israel. Since the cease-fire went into effect last August, that protection has been maintained by UNIFIL forces stationed along the border with Israel.
Last October, Iran and Syria determined that Hizbullah had nothing more to gain from remaining in the government and so they ordered it to resign. Ever since, they have worked steadily to overthrow the government by politically paralyzing it in Parliament and, of course, by assassinating its supporters. At the same time, they have poured arms and cash on Hizbullah and ordered it to expand its territorial control north of the Litani River, while enacting an ethnic cleansing of southern Lebanon by preventing Christians who fled their villages during the war from returning home.
Commentators warn that if the Lebanese Parliament does not elect a pro-Syrian presidential candidate next week, then Lahoud is liable to call general elections. Those elections, in turn, are liable to give rise to a situation where two separate governments operate in competition. That, we are warned, will almost certainly foment a new civil war.
But given the fact that Hizbullah together with Iran and Syria already wield enormous power over the Lebanese army, it could be reasonably argued that a renewed civil war is the least bad option. The more likely option – that Iran and Syria will consolidate their domination of Lebanon – would be far more destabilizing for the region and for Lebanon itself.
The fact of the matter is that the West's unconditional support for the anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon has always been problematic. Even if Hizbullah had not entered the government, Siniora and his colleagues never had sufficient political or military will or power to fight Iran, Hizbullah and Syria effectively. Indeed, many members of the anti-Syrian coalition are anything but pro-Western.
Aside from the Siniora government's inherent inability to assert its control over the entire country by defeating Hizbullah and its sponsors, the government's regional supporters have never been interested in a confrontation with Hizbullah or Iran and Syria. Specifically, the Saudi government, which acts as the Siniora government's primary supporter in the Arab world, has consistently encouraged it to reach an accommodation with Hizbullah rather than fight it. When the Saudi view is contrasted with the consistent Iranian and Syrian goal of dominating Lebanon through Hizbullah, it is clear that the political victory of the anti-Syrian and Iranian forces in 2005 was insufficient to defeat Hizbullah or free Lebanon
from the influence of Syria and Iran. It is, after all, impossible to accommodate an opponent charged with destroying you.
The situation in the PA is strikingly similar to that in Lebanon. But it is also far more problematic. As in the case of the contest between Hizbullah and the Siniora government in Lebanon, so in the PA, the US, Israel and the West in general have decided to support Fatah in its contest against the Iranian and Syrian proxy Hamas.
Militarily, the desire to "strengthen" Fatah has led to a situation where Israel has almost completely stopped its operations against Fatah terror cells. Furthermore, it has abstained from taking action against Hamas's new army in Gaza, lest an Israeli offensive somehow weaken Fatah.
Politically, Israel and the US are bending over backwards to appease Fatah in the hope that doing so will strengthen it against Hamas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel on Wednesday to advance the peace process with Fatah. En route to Israel, Rice told reporters, "We can't simply continue to say we want a two-state solution. We've got to start to move toward one."
For its part, the Olmert-Barak-Livni government already made clear through official statements and leaks that it is ready to withdraw from Judea and Samaria and to partition Jerusalem and surrender the Temple Mount.
The reason that the situation in the PA is worse than the situation in Lebanon is because Fatah is not analogous to the Siniora government. For all its weaknesses, the Siniora government truly seeks Syrian and Iranian disengagement from the country. The same cannot be said of Fatah. As the fighting this week between Fatah terrorists and the IDF in Nablus indicates, far from objecting to terrorism and the war against Israel, Fatah fights side by side with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Consequently, the massive concessions that the Olmert-Barak-Livni government is now offering Fatah will redound directly to Hamas's (and Iranian and Syrian) benefit. This will be the case both if Israel actually implements those concessions and if they are merely offered formally at Rice's summit in November.
Since Hizbullah quit the Siniora government in October, the Lebanese leadership has rejected all of Hizbullah's demands for "unity." In contrast, both before and since Hamas took over Gaza in June, Fatah has sought to join a Hamas-dominated "unity" government. And while in Lebanon, Iran and Syria actively undermine Siniora and his colleagues, in the PA, they assist both Hamas and Fatah. Both serve Iran's and Syria's purpose of expanding and consolidating their control over Gaza, Judea and Samaria.
In their handling of the situations in Lebanon and the PA, the US and Israeli governments are implementing a strategy predicated on their refusal to acknowledge the nature and significance of regional power struggles in these theaters both for the West and for the Syrians and Iranians. As is the case in Iraq, so in the cases of Lebanon and the PA, the possibility of forming a "moderate" government will only materialize after the Lebanese and Palestinian Iranian and Syrian proxies – Hizbullah, Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad – are defeated.
Moreover, in spite of the IDF's bravado, as long as these proxy forces continue to exist and augment their powers, and as long as the Syrian and Iranian regimes remain in power, no single military operation – no matter how successful – can rebuild Israel's deterrent strength or ensure its security.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.