While events make it seem like an age ago, it was in fact exactly one month ago that TCS published a column whose prescience and eerie timing surprised even to us, its authors.
In The Hezbollah Nexus?, we reminded readers that the world seemed to have forgotten about this Iranian client and its central role in the drama of the contemporary Middle East (which at that moment in time centered on the Iraqi insurgency and the looming confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program). We introduced our essay as follows:
"The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has enjoyed a respite in Western news of late, even though it continues to augment its considerable weapons stockpile despite being required to disarm by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 and by anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon. The United States, the driving force (along with France) behind 1559, is preoccupied with Iraq and with Iran's nuclear program. Israel, whose northern border remains vulnerable to Hezbollah "kill an Israeli soldier" incursions, has its hands full dealing with the elected Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and with its own political debate about the determination of borders. But there is reason to believe that all these issues -- the insurgency in Iraq (which is certainly being fanned by Iranian meddling), Iran's nuclear ambitions, Palestinian terrorism, and Israeli security -- are interrelated, and that their nexus is in fact Hezbollah.
Last year, Hezbollah's "spiritual" leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, computed for the first time the scope of his group's arsenal: "They say [we have] 12,000 rockets...I say more than 12,000 rockets." Most of these fire 107mm and 122mm Katyusha missiles supplied directly from Iranian army stocks. These devices have small payloads and short effective ranges. But an increasing number of Hezbollah's rockets are of a more lethal variety. Intelligence analysts report that Iran has made large scale deliveries of Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets to its Lebanese clients, shipping them via passenger and cargo flights to Damascus International Airport where, with the approval of Bashar al-Assad's Ba'athist regime, they are collected by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and delivered to Hezbollah installations in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
Iran builds the Fajr missiles with Chinese and North Korean assistance. Fajrs are fired from hard-to-destroy mobile launchers, and can carry up to 200 pounds of explosives from 25 (for the Fajr-3) to 45 miles (for the Fajr-5). Israeli intelligence estimates that several hundred Fajr rockets have been delivered so far. Most are aimed at Israel's third largest city, Haifa, home to one of the Jewish state's two oil refineries and to Matam Park, the hub of its high-tech industry. To help with targeting, Hezbollah has access to Iranian-controlled Mirsad-1 unmanned aerial vehicles which can transmit live video footage."
Everything that we feared has come to pass. Iran, with Syrian connivance, coordinated a small-scale Hezbollah invasion of Israel, accompanied by the killing of four Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others, as an act of war designed to probe its enemy. Israel responded much more aggressively than Iran had predicted, availing itself of this casus belli to attempt to destroy its terrorist adversary before it became even more menacing. Alas, Israel's initial efforts at self-defense proved less stellar than usual. As Charles Krauthammer argued in his Washington Post column this past weekend, Prime Minister Olmert has provided uninspiring leadership. Initially relying on only air power, he rejected his generals' arguments for a ground offensive. Worse, he allowed his cabinet meetings to become public spectacles with internal divisions leaking to friend and foe alike.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah propagandists successfully have exploited the Western press. They have employed both outright anti-Semitic lies about "war crimes" (as in this incredible Reuters photo fabrication of bombing in Beirut -- although the press agency evidently learned from Dan Rather's experience, and quickly killed the photo after the fabrication was exposed by the Little Green Footballs blog) and more subtle intimidation of the members of the Fourth Estate. Time magazine stringer Christopher Allbritton, writing on his blog while reporting from southern Lebanon, casually illustrated this latter technique: "To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I'm loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist's passport, and they've already hassled a number of us and threatened one."
Despite these setbacks, now in the fourth week of this imposed war, the tide has begun to turn decisively in Israel's favor. Hezbollah supply routes have been cut, and as a result the terrorist group's commanders have pulled their men out of most combat sectors in southern Lebanon and concentrated them in a half-dozen pockets of fierce resistance. From one of these enclaves near Sidon, last Friday night, August 4, Hezbollah fired long-range Khaibar-1 missiles at Hadera, 25 miles north of Tel Aviv. Saturday morning, Israel humanely dropped leaflets warning Sidon's 200,000 inhabitants to leave their homes and head north to escape the coming Israeli elimination of this launching zone. One by one, each Hezbollah bastion may become the object of "attrition," to use the euphemistical term.
Debka.com reported a very dangerous but potentially promising development on Sunday. Realizing that it overplayed its hand by waging war on Israel before being fully prepared, Iran has apparently now dispatched the world's most fearsome remaining terrorist (after Osama Bin Laden) to supervise Hezbollah operations. Imad Mughniyeh has been wanted for 25 years by the FBI for the suicide bomb attacks he orchestrated against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and against American and French peacekeepers (to say nothing of a spate of "lesser" hijackings and murders). Mughiyeh is so important in the hierarchy of international terror that he answers directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Prime Minister Olmert is now directly opposed not by the relatively parochial Lebanese cleric Hassan Nasrallah, but by an extremely seasoned terrorist who comes as the chief paladin of Iranian mullahs and their ambitions to hasten of the apocalyptic return of the Hidden Imam.
Accordingly, even more than when we wrote our pre-war apologia for the elimination of Hezbollah's missile threat, Israel's fight is America's fight. If the United States government insists on a ceasefire at this point (as Secretary of State Rice appears to be doing by supporting a flawed United Nations resolution), it will not only undermine Israel's security, but will betray the principles of the civilized world in general and our own national interests in particular. The Security Council deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear program is less than a month away. Does any sane person really think that if the mullahs and their proxies emerge unscathed from their current adventure -- recall that Hassan Nasrallah has asserted that Hezbollah "needs only to survive to win" -- they will be more amenable to diplomatic efforts on an issue of even greater importance to them? Tehran has let loose its "dog of war," Imad Mughniyeh. Can even the mullahs leash him again short of the Shi'a eschaton which he and Iran's genocidal president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad want to hasten? Iran has, with impunity, been fanning sectarian tensions in neighboring Iraq for months, costing America both lives and treasure. If no consequences follow from the far more direct aggression of Iran's Hezbollah proxy far from home, will the Tehran regime suddenly relent from meddling in Baghdad?
Both America's mind as well as its heart should dictate that the administration lend even greater support for Israel's belatedly vigorous self-defense against Hezbollah. The IDF's lines in Lebanon have become the pivotal front of the global war on terrorism.
Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Both are adjunct fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.