Everyone in the Middle East knows that the serious component of the Battle of Gaza is all about Iran. The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, recently warned that Iran is trying to “devour” the Arab world. Mohammed Abdallah Al Zulfa, of the Saudi Arabian Shura Council, reminded Alhurra’s viewers that “Iran is the big threat in today’s world, supporting all the terrorists from Hamas to Hezbollah to some other terrorists that we don’t know their names yet,” and that “Iran destabilized the region by supporting all the illegal activities and activists such as Hamas.” Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, in a press conference in Anakara, ranted against Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, saying that the Iranian-run terror organization had “practically declared war on Egypt.”
So it is not totally surprising that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman reportedly told the Israelis that Egypt wouldn’t oppose a quick strike designed to bring down Hamas, or that Palestinian Authority chief Abu Mazen blames Hamas, which is largely an Iranian proxy, for the fighting. Israeli opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu called for “toppling the Hamas rule over the [Gaza] Strip and uprooting the Iranian base there,” which is probably what most Arab leaders want, even as they prepare to denounce Israel at the upcoming Wednesday meeting of the Arab League (the best portrayal of which can be seen in David Lean’s magisterial film Lawrence of Arabia). It is also what the United States should want, instead of pursuing the mirage of a Middle Eastern peace that cannot possibly be accomplished so long as the mullahs rule in Tehran. They will continue their 30-year proxy war against the infidels until they either win or lose, and Israel will always be one of their prime targets. David Horvitz implores us to remember the Iranian connection, and he rightly says that at least some countries might support an action that defeats a major Iranian initiative.
The less serious component of the war has to do with domestic Israeli politics. The current crowd, Olmert/Livni/Barak, is facing an election in a couple of months and has no chance of being returned to office if mortars, missiles and rockets continue to fly into Israeli towns and cities from the Gaza Strip. Ergo, the air attack. There are those who believe that the Israeli Army will soon move into Gaza as well. As the 2006 war against the Iranians’ Hezbollah demonstrated, you can’t destroy a terrorist organization from the air alone, and Olmert/Livni/Barak lost a great deal of public support when they failed to eliminate Hezbollah. They certainly don’t want a repeat of that political debacle.
I would be surprised if the army does invade. These Israeli leaders have been minimalists, and an invasion of Gaza would require both a kind of nerve they have not shown before and the courage to challenge the global community of negotiators (a/k/a appeasers) and thereby risk losing their seat at the big dining-room tables of world capitals. Still, life is full of surprises, and if the air war fails to stop the missile, mortar, and rocket attacks from Gaza (and as of Monday evening, Washington time, they were still flying and still killing Israeli civilians), Olmert/Livni/Barak may feel compelled to take further risks.
Meanwhile, what of the terrorists? Some may be surprised that most of the pictures Hamas has provided to the international media have shown dead fighters, officials, and police, rather than civilians. True, very few civilians have been killed, but that has never stopped Hamas and its ilk from providing photographic “evidence” that later turned out to be phony. The presentation of their own dead is of a piece with their ideology; it is a glorification of martyrdom, part of a broader call to arms, a hymn to the cult of death that inspires the jihad. And the high priest of that cult is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has often spoken of martyrdom as the highest calling (for others, mind you, certainly not for himself). Please do not tell me that this cannot be, since the Iranians are Shiites and Hamas is Sunni; radical Shiites and Palestinian terrorists have been in cahoots for at least 37 years. Hamas gets weapons, training, intelligence, and money from the mullahs in return for doing their bidding. It’s all about Iran, you see.
And please don’t tell me that this only proves the urgency of diplomacy. It proves the opposite. There cannot be peace in the Middle East so long as the mullahs wage war and think they’re winning. All those martyrs are viewed as signs of progress in Tehran.
The Israelis know all this, just as they know that the mullahs are building an atomic bomb destined for Israeli territory. But Israel is a small country, despite the paranoid visions of some Western ideologues who think the Israelis run the world through espionage and lobbying. Iran is more than ten times the size of Israel, and even the most feisty Israeli shrinks from the thought of an open war with Tehran. So they are left to contend with the tentacles of the terrorist hydra, while the main body remains untouched. They may chop off a piece of Hamas or Hezbollah, but it will regenerate and grab them again.
Not that the defeat of Iranian proxies is a small matter. The United States thrashed their proxy, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and in so doing rounded up a considerable number of Iranian military and intelligence officers who were playing their usual role of consiglieri to the jihadis. Some senior Iranians have defected to the West, and the mullahs have still not managed to break the will of the pro-democracy dissidents in their own country, despite a record pace of killing that puts Iran in the running for the world’s leading executioner (they are currently running second only to China, whose population is about 20 times Iran’s).
This bespeaks a profound insecurity. It is the behavior of a regime that knows its people despise it, and, like all such tyrannies, it combines domestic terror with foreign adventure in order to preserve its position. For extras, the Iranian zealots at the top of the oppressive pyramid embrace an apocalyptic vision according to which the Last Days are upon us and the hoped-for coming of the Twelfth Imam will be best catalyzed by global bloodshed and chaos.
Thus, the best Israel can hope to accomplish is to buy time, praying that somehow or other the Iranian regime will fall before the mullahs launch their promised genocidal attack, or that the Israelis will find a way to destroy the atomic weapon before it is used against them, or that the West will, at the eleventh hour, recognize that Iran is a global threat and find a way to thwart it.
It’s a hell of a position to be in, and discussions of tactics and methods in Gaza address only a small part of the problem. The real problem isn’t even being discussed.
—Michael Ledeen is Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.