OK, here’s the big-ticket question. Is Lebanon a mere pawn in an Iran-Israel proxy war? Sound off, readers. Ori Nir writes for The Forward, July 14:
Israel Seeks To Eliminate Iran’s Hezbollah Option
WASHINGTON — In addition to securing the release of its captured soldiers and stopping the ongoing wave of missile attacks, a major goal of Israel’s current operation is to strengthen its hand in dealing with Iran.
Israel is fighting in Lebanon with an eye on Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsor, as the Islamic Republic is poised to become Israel’s sole existential threat by acquiring nuclear weapons.
“This is about Iran as much as it is about Hezbollah or Lebanon,” said Lieutenant Colonel (reserve) Amos Guiora, the former commander of the IDF School of Military Law and currently a professor at Western Reserve University School of Law.
Iran, which reportedly gives Hezbollah $100 million a year, has been using the Shiite Islamist group as an anti-Israel military proxy for years, mainly by equipping it with thousands of rockets and missiles that can reach deep into Israel. Most of Hezbollah’s stockpile was provided by Iran and delivered through Syria, according to Israeli and American intelligence.
Tehran’s goal in arming Hezbollah, Israeli experts say, was to deter an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Now, by destroying these missiles during its current operation in Lebanon, Israel is attempting to restore its military flexibility and shattered deterrence against terrorism.
According to Israeli press reports, Israel’s intelligence community is convinced that Iran approved Hezbollah’s July 12 cross-border attack in which two Israeli soldiers were abducted and seven killed. By igniting the Israeli-Lebanese border, Israeli diplomats said, Iran is trying to divert attention from its standoff with the West over Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Israeli security sources told reporters that hours before the Hezbollah attack, following his defiant meeting with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, stopped in Beirut and met with senior Hezbollah leaders. In that meeting with Hezbollah leaders, Israeli security officials speculate, the green light was given for the terrorist group’s raid into Israel.
Lebanese Cabinet ministers, following a stormy Thursday emergency meeting, publicly accused their two Hezbollah colleagues of staging the operation in the service of Iran and Syria.
Hezbollah is believed to posses about 10,000 projectile weapons, most of them old Soviet-made multiple-rocket Katyusha launchers of two calibers, 107mm and 122mm, which Iran used in its war with Iraq in the 1980s. They have a range of five miles. But the organization also has hundreds of Iranian-made missiles with a 20-mile range and dozens if not hundreds of Iranian Fajr missiles of several types, with longer ranges. Hezbollah reportedly has three types of such Fajr missiles, which Iran’s aircraft industry manufactures with the help of North Korean and Chinese expertise. These have a range of 25 to 45 miles, and perhaps even more.
The two missiles that hit the major Israeli port city of Haifa Thursday, 18 miles from the Lebanese border, were Iranian-made Fajr missiles, according to official Israeli reports.
About 2 million Israeli citizens, almost a quarter of the country’s population, live within the 45-mile range of the Fajr missiles. Israel’s main oil refinery, some of its chief industrial plants and several of it most sensitive military bases also sit within the target range.
Hezbollah is striving to become a dominant player in Lebanon and in the Muslim world, observers have said. Despite its Lebanese roots, the terrorist organization has for years been trying — with significant success — to play a role in the Palestinian struggle against Israel by arming, recruiting and training Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza. It has even attempted to mobilize Israeli Arab citizens to take part in terrorist attacks against their own country.
By kidnapping the two Israeli soldiers, according to the organization’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah is striving to secure the release of several of its senior leaders who are jailed in Israel. In addition, Nasrallah said, Hezbollah is trying to strengthen the hand of the Palestinian militants who are seeking the release of Palestinian prisoners in return for the Israeli soldier they kidnapped last month and took into Gaza.
Since May 2000, when Israel unilaterally ended its 22-year occupation of South Lebanon, Hezbollah has enjoyed tremendous prestige in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world as the only Arab force that has ever succeeded in pushing Israel from occupied territory by force. Its prestige also stems from its vast network of social welfare, education and health care services.
Due to its public standing and the overwhelming power of Hezbollah’s army of thousands of committed fighters, the government of Lebanon has been unwilling to confront this large, well-armed militia. Beirut has failed to enforce the 2004 United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for disbanding all militias in Lebanon and extending government control over all Lebanese territory.
Hezbollah, “in many ways is stronger than the Lebanese government,” said Hisham Melhem Washington bureau chief of Beirut’s Al-Nahar newspaper.
Israeli officials insist that the Lebanese government is responsible for the current escalation because of its failure to dismantle Hezbollah’s mini-state in the south and its political alliance with the organization.