Saturday, July 30, 2016

Another Simmering Kettle in the Middle East

Iran continues to sabre-rattle; hardliners are calling for a reinstatement of that country’s nuclear program. American right wingers are calling for an abrogation of the nuclear accord with Iran, reinstating the sanctions that decimated Iran’s economy for years. There is no love lost between the parties. But one of the greatest forces aligned against ISIS – an ultra-fundamentalist Sunni jihadist force – is the ultra-fundamentalist Shiite nation of Iran. ISIS appears to despise the mystical side of Islam represented by Shiism even more than ‘apostate’ Christians and Jews. Their actions tell us that they believe the only good Shiite is a dead Shiite. For a more detailed explanation of the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam, see my October 20th blog.
Shiites constitute between 15% and 20% of all of Islam, but they are heavily concentrated in the traditional Middle East, particularly Iran and Iraq (where Shiites are by far the clear majority) with major political constituencies in Lebanon and Syria, where the political leadership is Shiite.  ISIS gained traction in the region as Sunni farmers, who lost their farms to desertification from global warming, were ignored by the Shiite leadership in Iraq and Syria. Claiming the noble cause of representing disenfranchised Sunnis in these regions against the “evil” Shiites, ISIS imposed its unforgiving brutality, implemented its genocidal vectors and its determination to march unflinchingly towards global domination across its conquered lands… and into the heart of its declared enemies.
Iran is engaged in and preparing for an expansion of regional sectarian wars. Note the plural: wars. Its top military commanders have actively trained (and even led) Iraqi forces in the war against ISIS. It has also armed Yemeni irregulars (Houthis) against local Sunni forces, including Saudi Arabia. Iran has provided combat forces to Iraq in the fight against ISIS. And its malevolent equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, its political and military surrogate, Hezbollah (a small Hezbollah military unit is pictured above), has morphed from a ragtag catch-as-catch-can force into a “tested” and well organized military force, with a particularly well-trained force in Lebanon. Massive Hezbollah forces have fought side-by-side with Assad’s Syrian army.
Given Iran’s extreme hatred of Israel, having a massive concentration of Hezbollah in a neighboring country is deeply discomfiting to Israel… and rising to intolerable. Sooner or later, Israel has pledged to eradicate that open sore, that direct and immediately threat to its existence.
“Ten years after Israel and Hezbollah fought a bloody but inconclusive 34-day war that left more than 1,000 soldiers and civilians dead in July and August of 2006, the Lebanese Shiite militant group has been transformed… Hezbollah is now a regional military power, a cross-border strike force, with thousands of soldiers hardened by four years of fighting on Syrian battlefields on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. There are 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria, Israeli commanders say.
“Hezbollah troops have been schooled by Iranian commanders, funded by Tehran and have learned to use, in combat, some of the most sophisticated armaments available, such as fourth-generation Kornet guided anti-tank missiles. They pilot unmanned aircraft and fight alongside artillery and tanks. They have taken rebel-held villages with Russian air support… More than 1,000 Hezbollah fighters have died, the Israelis say; they do not describe Hezbollah as ‘demoralized’ but ‘tested.’
“‘In 2006, Hezbollah fought a guerrilla war. Today, Hezbollah is like a conventional army,’ said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese army general who teaches at the American University of Beirut.” Washington Post, July 23rd. The fuse is lit… and burning down to an explosion that could impose a level of death and destruction on Lebanon not seen even during the long-lasting civil war that ripped that country to shreds.
When Israeli army commanders describe how the next war against Hezbollah could unfold, they often search for words not used in military manuals. The future conflict, they warn, will be ‘ferocious’ and ‘terrible.’… For both sides, the Israelis fear… Yet far worse for Hezbollah and the civilians of Lebanon, they promise…
“Ten years ago, Hezbollah fired 4,000 short-range, relatively crude rockets at Israel, about 100 a day, killing some 50 Israeli civilians. Today, the group has 100,000 rockets, including thousands of more accurate mid-range weapons with larger warheads capable of striking anywhere in Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, according to Israeli army commanders and military analysts in Israel and Lebanon.
“Hezbollah poses a far greater threat to Israel than it did 10 years ago. The challenges posed by Islamist militant movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip are almost trivial by comparison, Israeli senior commanders say… Earlier this year, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called Hezbollah Israel’s “main enemy” now that Iran’s nuclear ambitions may have been delayed by a decade or more.
“Whether Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets and the overwhelming retaliatory response promised by Israel serves as a dual deterrent is one of those questions that can never be answered — but probably keeps commanders on both sides awake at night…
“Speaking publicly, the Israeli generals promise that if Hezbollah launches mass strikes against Israeli cities, Israel will be compelled to respond, similarly, with 10 times as much force. The commanders say they cannot allow Israeli cities to face 1,000 Hezbollah rockets a day.
“Historians say the 2006 war came as a surprise for both sides. Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers at the border, which sparked a sustained aerial and ground war by Israeli forces — and tough resistance by Hezbollah.
“Both claimed victory, but neither won. In Israel, the 2006 Lebanon war is widely viewed by Israelis as a military failure. Hezbollah boasted that it had stood toe-to-toe with the most powerful army in the Middle East, but the widespread destruction and civilian deaths were unpopular…
“As the 10-year anniversary approached, both Hezbollah and Israel stressed that they do not want another war — even as both declared themselves ready for one… ‘Israel knows Hezbollah has missiles and rockets that can strike anywhere in its territory,’ the group’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, said in a speech delivered by video in February.
“Nasrallah warned that Hezbollah rockets could strike ammonia plants at the port in Haifa in any future fight, saying that the damage would be equivalent to an atomic bomb and could lead to the deaths of 800,000 people.” Washington Post. But both sides sit on a hair trigger, where one or more incidents could result in a massive retaliatory response, crossing the point of no return and inflicting unparalleled decimation to both sides. But the big winner in such a regional conflict would indeed by ISIS, watching two of its enemies in mortal combat.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wonder how a diplomatically untrained, slogan-driven president would move to deny ISIS this rather clear regional triumph.

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