Last weekend we discussed the significance of the drone that penetrated Israeli airspace before shot down in the southern part of the country. Though there was little doubt that the flight was the work of Hezbollah, yesterday the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group claimed credit for the incident. In a televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah bragged about the launching of the drone from Lebanon and the fact that it “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine” while referencing territory that is part of pre-1967 Israel. Nasrallah also said the drone was made in Iran, Hezbollah’s ally and sponsor. While the drone may not have got anywhere near the Dimona nuclear reactor as Nasrallah claimed, it is a reminder that Iran’s auxiliaries have the capability to hit Israeli targets. While Nasrallah spoke as if the drone increases the prestige of his organization but the flight is clearly intended as a warning to Israel, as well as the United States, about the cost of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Yet as much as it is a reminder to Israelis of their own vulnerability and the siege under which they live, it is also a reminder of the costs of inaction about Iran’s nuclear program. If there was any constituency in Israel for a wait and see attitude about Iran as opposed to Netanyahu’s focus on averting the threat, Hezbollah’s provocation cuts it off at the knees. Though an Iranian weapon constitutes a grave danger in of itself, it could also serve to provide a nuclear umbrella to its Lebanese allies as well as the tottering Assad regime in Syria.
Many in the West interpreted the unrest in the streets of Tehran last week in the wake of the collapse the rial as a sign that the Islamist regime was shaken by the sanctions that have been imposed on its economy. The assumption is that the ayatollahs are chastened by the hardships that their people labor under and that it won’t be too long before they are ready to return to the negotiating table and make the concessions needed to craft a deal that will end the standoff over their drive for nuclear capability. But the Iranians and their terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon (some of who are currently deployed in Syria defending their ally Bashar Assad) have other ideas about the outcome of this confrontation.
Iran’s leadership cannot be completely sanguine about the willingness of their people to go on putting up with Islamist extremism at home and endless conflict abroad. But they also have no intention of being influenced by domestic public opinion or intimidated by Western leaders who are still foolish enough to believe that diplomacy can solve the problem. To the contrary, they believe that it is Israel and the West that can be intimidated and it is in that context that we should interpret the puzzling appearance of the Hezbollah drone aircraft that was shot down over the Negev desert this weekend. Instead of the Iranians receiving the memo the West wants them to read about the futility of further resistance to demands to end the enrichment of uranium that will make a nuclear bomb possible, they have just sent their own message. The drone is more than an indication that Iran will seek to retaliate against any strike on their nuclear facilities with one on Israel. It’s also a sign that the terrorists in Lebanon can strike anywhere in Europe as well as the Middle East. Rather than this drone being a reason for Israel and the West to stand down from a policy of pressing Iran to give up their nuclear dream, it is a warning that ought to reinforce the imperative need to stop them.
The situation in Afghanistan is quickly deteriorating, as President Obama has confirmed that U.S. troops will depart “on schedule.” The loss of the Afghan war dates back to December 1, 2009 when President Obama announced a timeline for withdrawal. Telegraphing to enemies how long they must last before you throw in the towel is never wise. The logic that planting firm deadlines would force Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cronies to take responsibility for the war shows the arrogance of Obama’s Afghanistan team. After all, Afghanistan is not a petulant child, and there are other players in the sandbox beyond the United States and Afghanistan. Afghans are survivors, and all Obama accomplished was convincing them that it was time to pivot away from NATO and into the welcoming hands of Pakistan, Iran, or the Taliban.
Obama should have known better. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a similar mistake when he announced ahead of time, for purely political reasons, a withdrawal date to end Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon. Rather than end Hezbollah’s pretext for war, he simply enabled the terrorist group to expand its claims into the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov, if not the Galilee. What Barak saw as an honorable end to a war turned into a “Mission Accomplished” moment that empowered Hezbollah and led directly to renewed military conflict there just six years later.
Yesterday, at the urging of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which consistently lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and its nuclear program, several congressmen sent a letter to President Obama urging him to extend a sanctions waiver issued after last August’s deadly earthquake allowing Americans to send humanitarian assistance to Iran.
The congressmen may be well-meaning, but the call to extend the sanctions waiver is wrong-headed. Charities in Iran are seldom charitable. Take the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, for example. While the group may brag about its efforts to provide medical care, blankets, and food support to the poor, charity is not its primary goal. Indeed, just two years ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the group’s Lebanon branches as complicit in Hezbollah terrorism.
Two news stories from recent weeks, if true, should raise a red flag in the United States that Iran is preparing to use Hezbollah to strike at U.S. interests in Latin America, if not in the United States itself.
First, this story from the Lebanese news portal Naharnet and sourced in part to Israeli radio. The Naharnet story was taken down shortly after it appeared:
Hezbollah is using a training base established by Iran in northern Nicaragua near the border with Honduras, the Israeli radio reported on Thursday [September 6]. “The area is cordoned off and there are around 30 members of Hizbullah being trained in the camp,” the radio quoted intelligence sources as saying. According to the report, Tehran is funding and supplying the training base…
Last week, I wrote about the Israeli public’s preparation for one aspect of a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities: the vast threat of Iran’s likely response, which would begin with thousands of rockets from Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Lebanon. At this point, most of Israel is within range of rockets from either Lebanon or Gaza, though the rockets in Lebanon are more advanced and more numerous, and defended by a better-trained and more resilient terrorist organization.
Today, former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens tackles what this means in practical terms for Israeli military strategy, and concludes that Israel should attack south Lebanon before a Western attack on Iran’s nuclear installations:
What is certain is that we are facing a real and imminent danger to our civilian population. Hezbollah’s rockets are the Iranian nuclear project’s first line of defense. Is it not reasonable to attack that first line of defense before doing anything else? Should it not be made clear to one and all that Hezbollah’s armory of rockets in Lebanon must be dismantled? They are a weapon of terror, pure and simple, and they now stand guard over the preparation of the worst terror weapon of all – an Iranian nuclear bomb. If all agree that the world will not accept the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapon, will it agree to the continued existence of the first line of defense guarding that weapon?…
Here, too, as in the case of the Iranian nuclear project, it would be preferable to do this without resorting to military action. The majority of Lebanon’s citizens are almost as interested as Israel is in dismantling Hezbollah’s armory of rockets. And Hezbollah, a terrorist organization and a supporter of Bashar Assad in Syria, has few friends aside from Iran in the world. A public campaign can be launched to send them the message that they must dismantle their rocket armory. It would exert pressure on them from other quarters of the world. And if that doesn’t work, there remains the military option. It is going to take some preparation, but it can be done. It needs to be done. First things first.
In light of my recent writing on Syria, bemoaning the Obama administration’s strangely passive stance, a knowledgeable reader writes to ask: “Would you be willing to support US/NATO/UN-backed troops on the ground in Syria?” He explains:
My big concern now is that simple aid, even with a no-fly zone in place, would be too little, too late, and we wouldn’t have enough organic C4ISR assets in country to 1) effectively leverage our assets to best effect, and 2) ensure that hostile or potentially hostile elements weren’t benefiting from our efforts at aid. But Syria is untenable now. It’s a failed state, with a rogue state embedded within it, every nasty element in the wider Middle East on the ground, and desperately in need of — and I use this term with some reluctance — Western intervention.
I agree with him about the need for Western intervention. I disagree, at least based on the situation so far, on the need for Western ground troops.
An often-overlooked aspect of an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is the second stage in what officials expect to be a two-pronged response from the Islamic Republic: the unleashing of thousands of rockets and missiles from Hezbollah’s stronghold in south Lebanon. When Israeli officials speak openly about a looming conflict, it is often to prepare the public for any eventuality, especially unpleasant ones. So it is notable that former Mossad head Danny Yatom spoke frankly today about that second phase.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Yatom was trying to avoid predicting too much doom and gloom, but the reality is not a particularly sunny forecast:
While acknowledging that Iran has a few hundred missiles that can reach Israel, and that the price would be horrible if those missiles were equipped with either nuclear or chemical warheads, Yatom said the central concern are the tens of thousands of rockets in Hezbollah and Hamas storehouses in Lebanon and Gaza.
Those rockets, he said, can “cover all of Israel, and that is the main problem.”
Hezbollah terrorist mastermind and killer of American troops Ali Mussa Daqduq was in U.S. custody in Iraq and could have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay years ago. Instead, the Obama administration decided to let an Iraqi court try him. In a development that should come as a shock to no one, Daqduq has been cleared of charges, and the latest U.S. extradition request has been denied. The Associated Press reports the unrepentant terror leader might be back out on the streets before the end of Ramadan:
The U.S. believes Ali Mussa Daqduq is a top threat to Americans in the Middle East, and had asked Baghdad to extradite him even before two Iraqi courts found him not guilty of masterminding the 2007 raid on an American military base in the holy Shiite city of Karbala.
But the July 30 decision by the Iraqi central criminal court, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, ordered that Daqduq be freed immediately. It also makes it clear that Iraq believes the legal case against him is over.
Hezbollah’s alleged role in carrying out the Burgas bombing shows how dangerous the organization remains. Not for nothing did the former American defense official Rich Armitage once call it the “A-Team” of terrorism. It is not as professional as it was in the days when terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah (who was killed in 2008, almost certainly by the Mossad) was running its international operations; in fact it can be downright amateurish at times as seen in its plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. It is certainly not as good as it once was about covering its tracks, assuming that it was behind the Burgas bombing, given that the Israeli and U.S. governments immediately traced the operation to it. But the Bulgaria operation shows that Hezbollah (along with its prime backer, Iran) maintains the desire and capacity to kill Israelis in particular and Jews in general around the world, and that, when push comes to shove, it will employ suicide bombers to do so–a tactic it hasn’t used in many years because it didn’t need to.
At the same time that Hezbollah is baring its fangs, however, it is also displaying its vulnerability. It has wound up in a no-win situation with regard to its patron in Syria: either Hezbollah embraces Bashar al-Assad and thereby alienates the Arab world, which has turned against this Alawite ruler–or it abandons Assad and risks losing its major source of weapons if Assad remains in power. Hamas, a Sunni terrorist group, has chosen to abandon Assad. But Hezbollah is a Shi’ite organization and remains true to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. In fact, Hezbollah is doubling down in its support for Assad–and their mutual patrons in Tehran. As the New York Times notes:
In a televised address on Wednesday night, the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, offered eloquent condolences for the deaths of the three high-ranking Syrian officials killed earlier in the day. “These martyr leaders were comrades in arms in the conflict with the Israeli enemy, and we are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which overcame the unbearable, will be able to persist and crush the hopes of the enemies,” he said.
He credited Mr. Assad and his government with the victory that Hezbollah claimed against Israel in the 2006 war in Lebanon and with saving Gaza during the 2009 Israeli incursion. “The most valuable weapons we had in our possession were from Syria,” he said. “The missiles we used in the second Lebanon war were made in Syria. And it’s not only in Lebanon but in Gaza as well. Where did these missiles come from? The Saudi regime? The Egyptian regime? These missiles are from Syria.”
The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.
As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:
“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”
He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”
His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.
The terrorist attack on Israelis vacationing in Burgas, Bulgaria yesterday ought to change the nature of the conversation about Iran. If, as Israel is asserting, the bombing which took the lives of five Israelis and left 33 wounded, is the work of Iran’s ally Hezbollah, then those counseling further appeasement of the Islamist regime are going to have to explain why the West should believe more feckless diplomacy will restrain Tehran and its Lebanese auxiliaries from further outrages or persuade them they should give up their effort to get a nuclear weapon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear his country’s intelligence sees the long arm of Iran as being behind the slaughter.
There are those who will treat this incident as merely a tit-for-tat attack in which Iran was retaliating for the assassinations of its scientists and other Western and Israeli efforts to set back their nuclear program. But it should be remembered that Iran and its terrorist allies have a long record of targeting Jews. Tuesday was the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in which 85 persons were murdered. The role of Iran and Hezbollah in that atrocity has long been established, but both the Lebanese group and its Iranian sponsor have escaped international retribution for its crimes.
Israel just began construction of a high cement wall on its northern border between the Israeli town of Metulla and the Lebanese town of Kfar Kila. The wall will only be a kilometer long, so it’s clearly not being placed there to prevent anyone from crossing the border per se. It’s being placed there to prevent anyone from crossing the border—or shooting across the border—at that specific location.
In 2005, I drove down there from Beirut with a Lebanese woman who grew up in the area. I was thunderstruck when we arrived at Kfar Kila. Israeli houses were mere feet from the border fence. Some of those homes are so close to it that a person could walk right up to an Israeli backyard and, while remaining inside Lebanese territory, throw a hand grenade through somebody’s window. And remember, this is the part of Lebanon that’s controlled by Hezbollah.
If you’re an American, how would you feel if the Taliban set up shop a few feet from your yard? Comfy?
Earlier this month, Palestinian militants fired approximately 300 rockets and mortar shells into Israel’s southern population centers. The ensuing escalation left more than 20 Palestinian militants dead, and about the same number of Israelis wounded. The barrage ensued after Israel killed Zuhir al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, who had been planning an attack on Israeli civilians similar to that of 2011, which left eight Israelis dead. He was also one of the masterminds behind the 2006 kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. But the most important result of this exchange is that the fighting resulted in a crucial test of the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Iron Dome is an anti-missile defense system developed by Rafael, an Israeli-based military technology firm, in response to the 2006 war with Hezbollah in which almost 4,000 rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. At a unit cost of $50 million, and with pricey $50,000 missiles, Iron Dome was an expensive but necessary addition to the tiny country’s civilian defense scheme, and this March it performed remarkably well. In order to cut costs and make target acquisition more efficient, Iron Dome is designed to intercept only projectiles bound for population centers. Seventy-three out of the 300 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza fell under this category, of which Iron Dome shot down 56: an impressive 76 percent hit rate.
Of all the terror groups that pose an internal threat to the U.S., the threat from the Iran-backed Hezbollah may be the most pressing. Today House Homeland Security Committee chief Peter King is holding a hearing on the organization’s U.S.-based network. According to his findings, Hezbollah is thought to have thousands of sympathetic donors and hundreds of operatives across the country – many of them with military training:
Pinning down a reliable estimate of the number of Hezbollah operatives who now reside inside the U.S. is difficult because of their operational security expertise. But some officials estimate that, based on cases uncovered since 9/11, there are likely several thousand sympathetic donors, while operatives probably number in the hundreds. …
Many defendants were known or suspected of having military training or direct combat experience against Israeli forces. Some were quietly convicted of fraud and deported as criminal aliens without their Hezbollah background being publicly disclosed by prosecutors, the Majority’s Investigative Staff has learned
King’s hearing will no doubt be used as fodder by Iran’s sympathizers in America, who want to discourage Israel from striking the Iranian nuclear program. The New York Times has been playing up how an Israeli attack on Iran’s facilities may spark a violent backlash against the U.S. And there’s no denying that an Israeli strike could ensnare the U.S. in some form or another.
Over on Twitter, The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg and COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick have been debating whether the threat to the Jews from neo-Nazis is worse than that of Muslim Jihadists. This argument was brought up by the allegation, which may now turn out to have been a false lead, that the Toulouse massacre was perpetrated by neo-Nazis rather than Islamists. Goldberg’s point is a good one. The Nazis stand alone in history and ought not to be compared to any other genus of Jew-hater or tyrant. Goldberg is also right that Nazi analogies are almost always wrong since there really is nothing in history that compares to the Holocaust. As bad as Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, and they are deadly threats, they are not the same thing as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
However, if we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.
Yesterday, there was a flurry of attention when the Guardian reported that a member of Hamas’s Gaza political bureau said the terrorist group would stay out of any conflict between Israel and Iran. Such a stand fit in with the idea that Hamas had completely broken with its former patron and was now more interested in aligning itself with Egypt and bolstering its influence on the West Bank. If true, it would have been good news for Israel, but optimism on this score may have been, at best, premature. A more senior Hamas official is quoted today by an Iranian wire service as saying Hamas would indeed attack Israel in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran.
Ties between Hamas and Iran have become strained, especially after Hamas dropped its support for Tehran ally Bashar Assad in Syria. But it is difficult to imagine the group maintaining a cease-fire in a situation where Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are both launching missiles at Israel. Though Iran’s financial clout in Gaza has reportedly lessened in recent years, the ayatollahs probably understand the dynamic of Palestinian politics will always force Hamas to resort to violence if given the opportunity.