|IS GAZA AN IRANIAN ACTION?
Our World: Iran's Gazan diversion?
Caroline Glick , THE JERUSALEM POST Jan. 5, 2009
Since the IDF commenced its ground operations in Gaza on Saturday night, I
have been hungrily eyeing my hat.
On Friday I argued that the Olmert-Livni-Barak government is following the
same defeatist strategy in Gaza today that the Olmert-Livni-Peretz
government followed in Lebanon two and a half years ago. In 2006, the
government supported a cease-fire that empowered outside actors - in that
case the UN and Europe - to enforce an arms embargo against Hizbullah and to
act as Israel's surrogate in preventing Hizbullah from reasserting control
over South Lebanon.
In the event, as government critics like myself warned at the time, these
outside actors have done nothing of the sort. The European commanded UNIFIL
force in Lebanon has instead acted as a shield defending Hizbullah from
Israel. Under UNIFIL's blind eye, Iran and Syria have tripled the size of
Hizbullah's missile arsenal. And Hizbullah has taken full control over some
130 villages along the border.
In a similar fashion, today the government is insisting on the establishment
of an international monitoring force, comprised perhaps of Egyptian,
Israeli, Fatah-affiliated Palestinian, American and European officials that
will monitor Gaza's border with Egypt and somehow prevent weapons smuggling.
Like the cease-fire deal in Lebanon, this plan does not foresee the toppling
of the Hamas regime in Gaza or the destruction of its military capacity. It
ignores the fact that similar, already existing, theoretically friendly
monitoring forces - like the US-commanded Multi-National Force Observers in
the Sinai - have done nothing to prevent or even keep tabs on weapons
transfers to Hamas.
STILL, IN spite of the government's continued diplomatic incompetence, there
are reasons to think that Israel may emerge the perceived victor in the
current campaign against Hamas (and I will be forced to eat my hat). The
first is that Gaza is relatively easier to control as a battle space than
Lebanon. Unlike the situation in Lebanon, IDF forces in Gaza have the
ability to isolate Hamas from all outside assistance. The IDF's current
siege of Gaza City, its control over northern Gaza, its naval quarantine of
the coast and its bombardment and isolation of the border zone with Egypt
could cause Hamas to sue for a cease-fire on less than victorious terms.
Indeed, this may already be happening. Hamas's leaders are reportedly hiding
in hospitals - cynically using the sick as human shields. And on Monday
morning, Hamas's leadership in Damascus sent representatives to their new
arch-enemy Egypt to begin discussing cease-fire terms. Taken together, these
moves could indicate that Hamas is collapsing. But they could also indicate
that Hamas is opting to fight another day while assuming that Israel will
agree to let it do so.
THE SECOND reason that it is possible that Hamas may be defeated is because
much to everyone's surprise, Iran may have decided to let Hamas lose.
Here it is important to note that the war today, like the war in 2006, is a
war between Israel and Iran. Like Hizbullah, Hamas is an Iranian proxy. And
just as was the case in 2006, Iran was instrumental in inciting the current
Iran prepared Hamas for this war. It used Hamas's six-month cease-fire with
Israel to double both the range and the size of Hamas's missile arsenal. It
trained Hamas's 20,000-man army for this war. And as the six months drew to
a close, Iran incited Hamas to attack.
So too, in 2006, Iran incited Hamas to attack Israel. That war, now known as
the Second Lebanon War, was actually a two-front war that began in Gaza.
Ordered by Iran, it was Hamas that started the war when its forces (together
with allied forces in Fatah), attacked the IDF position at Kerem Shalom on
June 25, 2006 and kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Schalit. Israel fought a limited war
against Iran's Palestinian proxies in Gaza for 17 days before the country's
attention moved to the North after Hizbullah attacked an IDF position along
the border and abducted Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.
Israel's leaders today warn against a possible Hizbullah attack. In the
North, municipalities are readying bomb shelters and air raid sirens ahead
of such a possibility. Most of the IDF reservists called up over the weekend
are being sent to the North ahead of a possible Hizbullah attack.
But in contrast to the situation in 2006, today Iran seems to have little
interest in expanding the war and so saving Hamas from military defeat and
humiliation. Speaking on Hizbullah's Al Manar television network on Sunday,
Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran's National Security Council, its chief
nuclear negotiator and a close advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,
essentially told Hamas that it is on its own.
In his words, "We believe that the great popular solidarity with the
Palestinian people as expressed all over the world should reflect on the
will of the Arab and Islamic countries and other countries that have an
independent will so that these will move in a concerted, cooperative, and
cohesive manner to draft a collective initiative that can achieve two main
things as an inevitable first step. These are putting an immediate end to
aggression and second breaking the siege and quickly securing humanitarian
aid to the people of Gaza."
In other words, Iran's response to its great enemy's the war against its
proxy is to suggest forming a commission.
There are many possible explanations for Iran's actions. First there is the
fact that war is an expensive proposition and Iran today is in trouble on
that score. In the summer of 2006, oil cost nearly $80 a barrel. Today it is
being traded at $46 a barrel. Iran revised its 2009 budget downward on
Monday based on the assumption that oil will average $37 a barrel in 2009.
Over the past several months, Iran has been begging OPEC to cut back supply
quotas to jack up the price of oil. But, perhaps in the interest of
weakening Iran, Saudi Arabia has consistently refused Iran's requests. To
date, OPEC's cutbacks in supply have been far too small to offset the
decrease in demand. And the loss of billions in oil revenues may simply have
priced Iran out of running a two-front terror war.
Then too, Washington-based Iran expert Michael Ledeen from the Foundation
for Defense of Democracies argued on Monday in his blog at Pajamas Media
website that Iran's apparent decision to sit this war out may well be the
result of the regime's weakness. Its recent crackdown on dissidents - with
the execution of nine people on Christmas Day - and the unleashing of regime
supporters in riots against the Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi, Turkish and
French embassies as well as the home of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin
Ebadi lends to the conclusion that the regime is worried about its own
survival. As Ledeen notes Teheran may view another expensive terror war as a
spark which could incite a popular revolution or simply destabilize the
country ahead of June's scheduled presidential elections.
THERE IS also the possibility that Iran simply miscalculated. It believed
that ahead of Israel's February 10 elections, the lame-duck
Olmert-Livni-Barak government, which was already traumatized by the 2006
war, would opt not to fight. This would have been a reasonable assumption.
After all, in spite of Israel's sure knowledge last summer that Hamas and
Iran would use a cease-fire with Israel to increase the size of Hamas's
missile arsenal and expand the range of its projectiles while building up
its forces, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government agreed to the cease-fire. And
then, when Hamas announced that it would not extend the cease-fire past its
December 19 deadline, Defense Minister Ehud Barak sent emissaries to Egypt
to conduct "indirect" negotiations with Hamas in which Israel essentially
begged the terror group to reconsider.
But then Israel responded with great force and Iran was left to make a
decision. And for the moment at least, it appears that Iran has decided to
let Hamas go down. As far as Iran is concerned, even a Hamas defeat is not a
terrible option. This view is likely encouraged by Israel's current
suggested cease-fire. After all, international monitors stationed along
Gaza's borders will not serve as an impediment to future Iranian moves to
ALAS, THERE is another possible explanation for Iran's apparent decision to
abandon a vassal it incited to open a war. On Sunday, Iranian analyst Amir
Taheri reported the conclusions of a bipartisan French parliamentary report
on the status of Iran's nuclear program in Asharq Alawsat. The report which
was submitted to French President Nicolas Sarkozy late last month concluded
that unless something changes, Iran will have passed the nuclear threshold
by the end of 2009 and will become a nuclear power no later than 2011. The
report is notable because it is based entirely on open-sourced material
whose accuracy has been acknowledged by the Iranian regime.
The report asserts that this year will be the world's final opportunity to
prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And, as Taheri hints strongly,
the only way of doing that effectively is by attacking Iran's nuclear
In light of this new report, which contradicts earlier US intelligence
assessments that claimed it would be years before Iran is able to build
nuclear weapons, it is possible that Iran ordered the current war in Gaza
for the same reason it launched its war in 2006: to divert international
attention away from its nuclear program.
It is possible that Iran prefers to run down US President George W. Bush's
last two weeks in office with the White House and the rest of the world
focused on Gaza, than risk the chance that during these two weeks, the White
House (or Israel) might read the French parliament's report and decide to do
something about it.
So too, its apparent decision not to have Hizbullah join in this round of
fighting might have more to do with Iran's desire to preserve its Lebanese
delivery systems for any nuclear devices than its desire to save pennies in
a tight economy.
And if this is the case, then even if Israel beats Hamas (and I eat my hat),
we could still lose the larger war by again having allowed Iran to get us to
take our eyes away from the prize.