Thursday, July 20, 2006

Iran and the Middle East Crisis (Q&A)

Iran and the Middle East Crisis

Ali Asghar Kazemi
July 20, 2006


Just a month ago nobody could imagine that the picture of the Middle East would change so abruptly and the state of “quasi-peace” could transform so unexpectedly to the ugly state of war. Today, Lebanon which had tasted just a short while the pleasure of peace and calm after experiencing many years of civil war, succumbed once again to destruction and turmoil without being party to any dispute.
Numerous charges and queries about Iran’s involvement in this crisis have been advanced. What really happened in this short period of time to escalate an ordinary incident to a full-scale war? Who is behind this whole calamity? How it can be contained and managed before it is propagated and escalated in the wider Middle East?

Below we shall address some of the more urgent questions that come to mind and will try to briefly provide answers to them to the extent possible at this point of time.


Q: Could you describe briefly circumstances that led to this full-scale war in Lebanon and Palestinian territories?

A: All started from the Palestinian Hamas ambush on an Israeli border unit which ended with the abduction of a young soldier. Israel’s reaction to this petty incident was so harsh and disproportionate that leads one to believe that a premeditated scenario was being carried out for some wider goals and objectives. In the midst of these operations suddenly Hezbollah emerged from nowhere in the quiet South Lebanon and raided another Israeli border unit, killing some and kidnapping two more soldiers. And the tragedy started from there.

Q: What was the initial reaction of the international community and the United Nations Security Council to this crisis?

A: During the week long of fighting, killings and destructions in this cursed region, many states, important personalities and media have made various allegations, appeal, and analyses about this unfortunate crisis. The United Nations Security council was not able to pass a resolution to establish cease-fire to the parties to conflict, because of the United States veto. The G-8 Summit, which had a session in Saint-Petersburg in Russia, only requested the parties to restrain from harming the civilian population and infrastructure. EU intervention to establish a cease-fire did not succeed and Israel insisted on the release of its kidnapped soldiers and the disarmament of the Hezbollah movement in South Lebanon….

Q: There are widespread allegations that the Islamic regime of Iran is behind this whole scenario, especially at a critical time when the nuclear case was being discussed in the G-8 Summit. They charge that this incident was intended to divert attention from Iran’s nuclear aspirations to the Middle East crisis.

A: Hezbollah relations with the Islamic government are no secret and are known for their long and intimate association to Tehran. But, Iranian officials have always claimed that they only give moral support to them. However, some sources believe that there are some factions within the Iranian civil and military institutions- especially the Revolutionary Guards- that perhaps out of mere ideological and religious zeal may provide training and equipment to Hezbollah. In the past they had even physical presence in the region. But now, despite the hostile rhetoric of the hard-line Iranian president, Iranians have kept distance from the active hostilities in the region.

Q: Do you see any connection between Iran’s nuclear case and the timing of the incident in the south Lebanon?

A: Thus far no material evidences have been provided for such an eventual connection; but if any body believes on such calculated conspiracy, then Iranians should be really praised for that, disregard of the substance and ethical context of the scheme. If indeed Iranians are so clever to use that kind of stratagem and have the capacity and leverage to influence the Middle East affairs to that extent, then the U.S. and other world powers should recognize Iran as an important player in the region that merits having its fair share in the distribution of regional power.

Q: You rightly alluded in your last article on the unfortunate disproportion of Israeli military reactions; in your opinion what are the logic behind such widespread and harsh Israeli retaliation against Hamas and Hezbollah?

A: As I stated there and I can repeat here, Israel could easily manage the first incident and avoid escalation, but for some reasons preferred to seize the opportunity to set thing straight with Hamas at this juncture. However, Hezbollah intervention in this situation changed the context of the original scenario. Eventually, Israel had the intention and plan to eradicate Hezbollah as an armed entity in its border and out of Lebanese government control, but did not expect such sudden intrusion. However, when this happened, from a strategic point of view, Israel benefited as a pretext to press on Lebanon and convince the international community that it’s time for the disarmament of Hezbollah according to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.

Q: Do you think that escalation of the conflict by inflicting so much unnecessary damages to Lebanese and Palestinian people will put Israel in a better position in achieving its long-term objectives?

A: The fact of the matter is that Israel can not afford to continue a normal life in permanent insecurity and vulnerability. After so many years of peace negotiations and talks, with the emergence of Hamas to political power through a legitimate democratic process, Israel feels totally frustrated from getting any result through political or territorial quid-pro-quo. Thus, perhaps it wanted to use some muscle in order to push their contenders to the corner and dictate its terms for a lasting and comprehensive settlement. But, with the scale and type of operations Israeli commanders are carrying in Lebanon and Palestinian territories, there are serious doubts that they may be in contravention of international humanitarian law, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and related 1977 protocols.

Q: What are the prospects for a managing the crisis consequence and a comprehensive peace settlement in the region?

A: It appears that the new civilian government in power in Israel lacks strategic insight and experience in using force for the achievement of political objectives. Eventually Israelis won’t be better off in the future, since they have lost credibility among Palestinians and friendly Arab states of the region. Israel’s intransigence to halt military operations against civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza will eventually make the future peace process much more difficult and will deepen the hatred and antagonism against a Jewish state in the Middle East.

Q: What are the chances that the crisis will spillover the whole region and Syria or Iran will be dragged into this conflict, as some analysts have predicted?

A: I don’t think and I don’t wish that such thing will ever happen in the present circumstances, unless some unknown variable suddenly emerges in the crisis situation. Syria is not in a position to engage in a new conflict in the Middle East because it can not afford another war with Israel. Iran also has no political will to intervene in the current hostilities. Both of these states are on the “axis of evil” list and because the unequivocal American support of Israel may not come victorious out of any military entanglement. They both are well aware of their vulnerable situation and shall do their best to keep away from the conflict.

One last question: Considering the actual state of affairs, how the crisis should be managed, and what would be the probable outcome of the conflict?

A: It is really hard to predict. All depends on whether the United States finally decides to pressure Israel for the acceptance of a cease-fire through some sort of U.N. Security Council resolution. This eventually may not happen until the time Israel has forced Hezbollah and Hamas to release its soldiers and has succeeded to neutralize their threats to the normal life of Israeli citizens. This is indeed a difficult task to achieve, but probably Israeli fate as a viable Jewish state in the Middle East would depend on it.


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