Monday, July 17, 2006

What Is Behind the Lebanon Strikes?

Israel’s policy of weakness in recent years is coming back to bite. This tiny nation surrounded by hostile enemies now finds itself in one of its worst nightmares: aggression on two sides.

In the most difficult bind it has faced for some years, Israel has quite suddenly been forced to defend itself from Islamist attack on its northern and western borders. Though it has responded with measured ferocity, the crisis exposes how tenuous Israel’s security truly is—being flanked, and even infiltrated, by enemies.

Shortly after being forced to
re-enter Gaza to protect its western border from rocket attacks and to pressure Hamas into relinquishing kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel now finds itself under fierce attack in the north, with Hezbollah having been unleashed. Wednesday morning, Hezbollah conducted a cross-border raid from Lebanon into Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and abducting two others. Five more Israeli soldiers were killed when forces entered southern Lebanon in an effort to rescue the kidnapped soldiers. Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah demanded the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel in return for the release of the Israeli soldiers. Calling the attack “an act of war,” Israel has responded using warplanes, tanks and gunboats. The military indicated it would call up thousands of reservists and instructed Israeli citizens living in towns close to the Lebanese border to seek cover in bomb shelters.

Israel now finds itself facing what pundits are saying could develop into outright war on two fronts against Islamist terrorists. “If Israel is having difficulty in deterring Hamas in Gaza, and certainly if it is unable to bring the crisis to a conclusion, indeed Hezbollah is a much more sophisticated and experienced rival than its Palestinian counterpart” (Haaretz,
July 12).

Haaretz states, “This is the most complex crisis Israel has faced since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, when Israel successfully curbed Hezbollah’s bid to spark a confrontation on the northern border in response to the idf [Israel Defense Forces] occupation of West Bank cities. … In some respects, however, the situation now is even more complicated than in 2002, because terror groups are holding three soldiers captive …” (ibid.).

But it’s not only the leverage that comes with holding Israeli hostages that the terrorists have going for them. It’s the psychological impact of an evident failure of Israeli military policy to this point: “Israeli military strategy is designed exclusively to undermine the confidence of its Arab neighbors, split Arab alliances to the best of its ability and avoid a situation in which it faces multiple conflicts and its forces are stretched in different directions. With all of the above taking place, the Israeli government is locked down in a crisis that involves a number of key players in the region” (Stratfor, July 12).

Ironically, the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies just authored a report,
announced by the media the very day of the Hezbollah raid, touting the success of Israel’s strategy in dealing with Hezbollah in Lebanon. It said that by making incursions into the Gaza Strip, Israel was trying to “replicate the model that prevails on the Israeli-Lebanese border, where the ongoing confrontation with Hezbollah proceeds according to clear rules that preclude attacks on civilians and confine operations to specified sectors.” These “clear rules” are exposed as meaningless, the “model” exposed as a sham—and Israel is the loser.

Events of recent weeks show that there is not only some level of cooperation between the Palestinian and Lebanese terror groups, but also, more importantly, strategic cooperation with and between Iran and Syria—the ideological and financial strength behind both Hamas and Hezbollah.

Haaretz explains the tactical defeat the Hezbollah attack brought the Israeli military: “The attack on Israel’s northern border was an impressive military achievement for Hezbollah and a ringing failure for the idf. Despite Israel’s intelligence analyses and despite wide operational deployment, Hezbollah has succeeded in carrying out what it has been threatening to do for more than two years—and it couldn’t have happened at a more sensitive time” (op. cit.).

Obviously—even in the midst of Israel’s large-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip—Islamist terrorists and their sponsors are not afraid of Israel’s response.

“The situation,” said Stratfor, “took a sharp turn when Tehran and Damascus made the decision to enter the fray” (op. cit.).

Indeed, when Iran—the king of terror—weighs in, it’s a different story. “[A]s time wore on,” wrote Stratfor, “the Iranian regime likely felt that it had some time and room to maneuver in the conflict with Israel.” Or perhaps Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was serious when he warned July 7 that “continued Israeli strikes against Palestinians could lead to an Islamic ‘explosion’ targeting Israel and its Western supporters” (Associated Press,
July 7).

Ultimately, the unleashing of Hezbollah represents an Iranian act of war. Tehran has made clear its intentions to eliminate Israel and
secure Jerusalem. Whether these recent moves are the opening overtures to a larger offensive remains to be seen. Even if it is not, it has shown just how quickly it can pressure Israel into survival mode.

At some point, one can be sure that it will open a third front on Jerusalem itself.

The same day as the Hezbollah attack, world powers uttered their latest hollow threat, which is probably as irritating—and as “scary”—to Tehran as a literal broken record, to
send Iran back to the UN Security Council. The deadline had passed for Tehran to give an answer on the incentives package it is being offered—which includes a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply, economic benefits and other incentives in return for Iran suspending uranium enrichment—as a precondition for entering negotiations with the United States and other powers. Iran basically told the world it would get back to them on it when it’s good and ready. “In line with its usual manipulation, Iran used the global tension over North Korea’s renewed missile crisis to evade successfully the deadline …” (Stratfor, op. cit.). Stratfor even asserts likely coordination between Iran and North Korea for this purpose. “Washington may issue statements of how ‘disappointed’ it is with the Iranian response, but the reality is that Iran is not facing any real repercussions for its attitude toward the nuclear issue” (ibid.).

In light of the U.S.’s preoccupation elsewhere and its non-response to Tehran’s defiance, Stratfor concludes that “Iran has likely assured Syria that setting Hezbollah loose will not come back to bite [Syrian President Bashar] al Assad” (ibid.). In what was certainly interesting timing, on July 11 Iran’s national security chief, Ali Larijani, met with Syria’s vice president to, according to Stratfor, “reaffirm Iran’s commitment to Syria and stress the importance of the Hezbollah attack as a way to signal Israel that Syria is not letting go of its potent militant asset. Moreover, military cooperation between Iran and Syria has been significantly bolstered in recent weeks. According to the London daily Asharq Al-Awsat, ‘Iran has agreed to finance Syrian military deals with Russia, China and Ukraine, to equip the Syrian army with cannon, warheads, army vehicles and missiles manufactured by the Iranian Defense Industries …. Syria, on its part, has renewed its previous agreements with Iran which allow Iranian ammunition trucks to pass [through Syria] into Lebanon.’”

So—if we step back a little from merely the Hamas/Hezbollah issue—what we see is a growing confidence on the part of the Islamic world, led by Iran.

Israel is trying to reverse the trend, taking relatively robust action against Hezbollah—since the alternative would only embolden Israel’s enemies all the more. But make no mistake: This present situation has exploded as it has because of the
general state of weakness to which Israel has descended.

This latest kidnapping is unlikely to be the last: Hezbollah has created a special unit for the specific purpose of abducting Israeli soldiers and citizens. Any concessions by way of a prisoner swap by Israel would only give incentive for more kidnappings.

But how many options does Israel have? This situation, should it continue to escalate, may represent the first major test of the loyalty of the U.S. to its Jewish ally in a time of war. America’s armed forced are already stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, as Stratfor says, “Washington also does not want Israeli actions to jeopardize its negotiations with Tehran over Iraq while the political process is at its break point.” President Bush says Israel has the right to defend itself—and practically speaking, if Israel is to strike in decisive fashion, it will have to do so alone.

Just as the audacity of one Islamic nation or entity perpetuates aggression by other enemies of Israel, so the limitations of one Western country weaken its allies. That leaves Israel, presumably, with the option of a drawn-out military offensive on two fronts in an effort to wear down Hezbollah and Hamas.

If Israel finds itself in over its head, it may well be forced to turn to sources besides the U.S. for help.

Meanwhile, abundant evidence is stacking up to show Israel’s policy of disengagement—concessions and retreat—has made its enemies that much bolder and more capable. And, sadly, that policy is unlikely to change.
Michael Freund, formerly a deputy director in the prime minister’s office under Benjamin Netanyahu, stated plainly: “The audacity of the terrorists, and their willingness to attack Israeli forces head-on, is a direct result of the weakness that has characterized Israeli policy in recent years” (emphasis ours).

Freund explained: “In May 2000, Israel pulled out of Lebanon like a thief in the night, and in August 2005, Israel fled Gaza in broad daylight. Preferring to buy short-term quiet at the expense of long-term strategic interests, Israel ended up paying a heavy price. These actions effectively put terrorists on notice that violence works, and that they have little to lose, and much to gain, by continuing to attack the Jewish state. …

“[W]hatever happens, let one thing finally be clear: In the long run, the wages of weakness are far more costly than the price of standing firm.”

The situation can only escalate—and escalate it will. A besieged Israel, hobbled by international pressure to use “proportional” force as well as by its own weakness, will at some point seek international military assistance. With the U.S. currently weighed down by major commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a host of other hot spots such as North Korea to keep an eye on, we can expect America to become stretched even thinner. That means Israel will be unlikely to seek assistance from the U.S. in the future (a state of affairs which, in fact, is indicated in a prophecy in
Zechariah 11:14).

From whom will Israel seek help? Bible prophecy tells us it will be Germany. Hosea 5:13 shows that Israel, recognizing its dismal state, will cry out for help from “the Assyrian. That is referring to the presently unifying power of Europe, with Germany at its head.

Look for the European Union, with a strong German voice, to become more involved in the Middle East. As the Middle East conflict intensifies, watch for Bible prophecy to be fulfilled!

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