....The Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas alliance has acted during the last 15 years as an “axis of destabilization” in the Middle East, achieving major strategic victories at the expense of moderate Arab states, and US, European, and Israeli interests.
The Damascus regime, weakened by the withdrawal of its army from Lebanon and international pressure after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, still maintains a firm grip on the Sunni majority population at home, plays a strong hand in Lebanon, and supports radical Palestinian groups.
With Syrian support, Hizballah (Tehran’s closest ally) has become a state-within-a-state potentially able to become Lebanon’s arbiter if not actual ruler.
Syria is actively involved in the destabilization of the Palestinian arena and has a growing role in supporting the Shi’a anti-American forces in Iraq....
...The "Axis" significantly influences Israel's relations with its neighbors. The inconclusive results of the Second Lebanon War of July-August 2006 and the continuous bombing of Israeli cities and villages from Gaza have diminished Israel’s deterrence versus Hizballah, Hamas, Iran and Syria.
Similarly, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, despite the Annapolis gathering, is essentially paralyzed. Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip, threatens the Fatah-controlled West Bank, and is able to derail any negotiation in the peace process by terrorist attacks.
....This alliance works because of the strong religious ideologies that shape the strategy of three of the actors: Iran, Hizballah and Hamas.
The Tehran regime, based on the revolutionary doctrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, has implemented its creed through an aggressive strategy after silencing all internal dissent. The apocalyptical overtone of Mahdism in its leadership circles makes this ideology even more dangerous.
Hizballah, as proven by its covenant and the open declarations and deeds of its leaders, closely follows the religious ideology and the strategy of export of the Khomeini revolution.
Hamas, as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Sunni Islamist movement, sees jihad as a general duty of all Muslims and is the only MB group involved in systematic warfare against Israel and “world Zionism.”
Different from the other three, Syria is still driven by Pan-Arabism and the concept of Greater Syria....
The US, Europe and Israel Didn’t Challenge the Alliance
However, the victories of this alliance are not only the result of the robust and durable cooperation between its four members, but also in great measure the consequence of the US, European and Israeli leaderships’ lack of strategic vision and political courage.
The United States and France (the major European country challenged by the axis) did not inflict any serious damage on Iran and its operational arm Hizballah, for the long series of terrorist attacks against their citizens, soldiers and interests. Nor has Syria paid a real price for the direct and indirect support to Iranian and Hizballah anti-Western terrorism. Not only has Iran not suffered any consequences for 20 years of lying about its nuclear program, but the West is still willing to offer ever-greater incentives, strengthening Iran's leaders' sense of self-confidence that they can achieve nuclear military capability.
The West has forced Bashar al-Asad to withdraw the Syrian army from Lebanon, but it has stopped short of endangering his regime at home or curtailing his influence in Lebanon. The continuous political killings there are designed to intimidate those working courageously to end Syria's interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.
Since 1982, Israel has permitted Syria to support Hizballah attacks and Palestinian proxy against its territory. Israeli leaders did not have the courage to challenge Damascus. Even during the July-August 2006 War, when Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was running the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier from Damascus and Syria continued to provide heavy military hardware and ammunition to Hizballah, the Israeli government sent the message that it had no intention to bother Syria.
By giving Hizballah the credit for the Israeli disgraceful withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, by permitting its consolidation as a state-within-a-state and the building of a small modern guerrilla-army, the various Israeli governments have preferred tactical political gains at home to real strategic long-term interests. In the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel paid a high price not only in human lives and material damage, but also in its regional standing and its deterrent power versus its enemies....
The Threat of a Nuclear Iran
The dangerous destabilizing effect of the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas alliance on the Middle East and beyond and the leadership role of the Tehran regime in this coalition place the prevention of the Iranian nuclear military program as first priority for the international community.
The US, the international community and Israel face a daunting challenge: how to prevent a nuclear Iran. After 20 years of futile diplomatic dialogue and a year of mild international sanctions, three options remain:
- severe economic sanctions,
- military operation against the Iranian nuclear facilities, or
- laissez faire tactics that allow the Iranians to achieve their goal and devise a deterrent strategy for the future.
As a global power, the Bush Administration needs to find a grand strategic compromise with Russia to display a common front against Iran and thus considerably enhance the success of the sanctions. Russia could have a crucial role in convincing the ayatollahs of the seriousness of their situation. Russia has redefined the limits of its nuclear cooperation with Iran: it has halted Russian work on the construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor and is procrastinating in transferring the nuclear fuel required for its activation.
However, in light of the growing tension between the US and Russia on important strategic issues, such as the building of the missile defense system in Poland and the radar station in the Czech Republic or the expansion of NATO into the old Eastern Bloc on Russia’s western border, President Putin is less willing to cooperate on the Iranian file.
There is the possibility to isolate Tehran by breaking the alliance with Syria, which is key in isolating and disarming Hizballah and reducing the influence of radical Palestinians on the peace process with Israel.
Israel cannot defeat Hizballah if it does not occupy most of Lebanon, which it is reluctant to do. Therefore, the best way to change the equation in Lebanon is to challenge Syria. The carrots the European leaders proposed President Bashar al-Asad have not convinced him to join the moderate Arab camp. These incentives should perhaps be improved, but the stick should be waved higher.
....Israel’s air raid on Syria on September 6, 2007 has broken the immunity of the Damascus regime without provoking a European or Arab outcry. Israel should decide on a more forceful Syrian strategy, based on the Turkish example of 1998 (and 2007), and seek US and European support for it. Israel’s air raid also proved that if a country does act against a clear and present danger, the Muslim world will not erupt. Moreover, Iranian aspirations should be viewed in proper proportion. Iran is not an international superpower and it has its own domestic, economic and military vulnerabilities.
If the military option is the last resort, it is imperative to dissuade the Tehran regime from retaliation. ....The US, the European Union and Israel ...must stand firm against the “axis of destabilization” and the apocalyptic plans of the radicals in Tehran.
Dr. Ely Karmon is a Senior Research Scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC.