Friday, November 17, 2006

War drums beat again

From The Australian Editorial, November 17, 2006 [emphasis added]....

Another showdown is coming with Hezbollah at centre stage

TRAGICALLY, war is once again on the horizon for the eastern Mediterranean. Barely three months after the shooting stopped in the 33-day conflict between Hezbollah and Israel earlier this year, it appears the enemies of the Jewish state are once again spoiling for a fight.

In Beirut, Hezbollah, the radical Shia terrorist organisation that serves as the international arm of Iran's mullahocracy, is working hard to undermine the Government of Fouad Siniora by forcing an expansion of his cabinet and attempting to claim veto power for itself.

In southern Lebanon, Hezbollah is as entrenched as ever and is firmly garrisoned among the local population in violation of the Geneva Conventions. And the results of the recent US mid-term elections were widely read across the Middle East as a sign that the US had lost its stomach for opposing moves by Iran and Syria in the region. Combined with Iran's increasingly bellicose rhetoric calling for Israel's destruction, it appears only a matter of time before the shooting starts again.

The sad fact is that in retreating behind its borders earlier this year under pressure from the UN and hostile elements in the global media rather than staying to root out Hezbollah, the Olmert Government in Jerusalem played straight into Iran's hands. The conflict destabilised the fledgling democratic Government brought forth in Lebanon during the Cedar Revolution of 2005 and aligned the Middle East balance of power in Tehran's direction.

Despite Israel's attacks, Hezbollah is as strong, if not stronger, than it was before the latest round of fighting. Israeli intelligence estimates that Hezbollah now has more than 20,000 missiles in its arsenal, while its chief, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, claims the number is closer to 30,000 – enough to bombard Israel for several months.

Much of the blame for this has to be sheeted home to the UN, whose UNIFIL deployment to the region is so ineffective that it has done nothing to prevent Iran and Syria from smuggling arms into the region. While UNIFIL steadfastly refuses to disarm Hezbollah, as called for in UN Resolution 1559, late last month French peacekeepers came within seconds of firing on Israeli aircraft monitoring the situation.

Hezbollah's bellicose machinations in the Middle East and beyond give the world more reason to be sceptical about allowing Iranian involvement in any Iraqi peace plan. And they make keeping nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands all the more imperative.

This week, a UN report revealed that Iran arranged for more than 700 Islamic militants to travel from Somalia to Lebanon to help battle Israel – and that in return Hezbollah provided weapons and training to Muslim fighters seeking to bring extremist Taliban-style rule to the Horn of Africa.

Meanwhile, Iranian rhetoric suggests there is little interest in Tehran for a solution to the Palestinian problem that will allow for peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jew. Iranian government newspapers have in recent weeks stepped up their calls for what one outlet termed a "great war to completely wipe out the Zionist regime, and remove this cancerous growth".

Time is running out for the world to act to prevent more death and destruction in the region. Here the Bush administration must take a lead role in demanding the UN act; misplaced humility would only further play into Iran's greater strategic vision. And the people of Lebanon must stand up and be counted, just as they did last year and resist colonisation by a terrorist state within a state. Otherwise, the next conflict in the Middle East will come soon – and wind up being far more bloody, and decisive, than the last one.

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