Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Disengagement of Syria and Iran | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

The region has entered into a superficial calm this summer; prisoners were officially exchanged between Hezbollah and Israel while Iran received new hint “A freeze for a freeze”. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana verbally offered Tehran the following: Tehran must freeze any expansion of its nuclear program in return for the UN Security Council halting further sanctions measures.

Meanwhile, the Europeans and the Iranians are negotiating over an agreement for a full freeze [on further developing nuclear program] after which the US can officially join the negotiation table. This way, Iran can say that it did not halt its nuclear activities as a precondition for negotiations but rather as the outcome of negotiations while the US can say that it only joined the negotiation table after Iran suspended all uranium enrichment-related activities.

Will this suffice to limit Iran’s threat on the region? If we can surpass the nuclear threat and overlook what took place in Lebanon and the statements issued by Hezbollah’s officials in which they stated that the decision to go to war in July 2006 was made following consultation with the Supreme Guide [Iran’s Ali Khamenei], this was stated by Naim Qasim to AlKawthar TV and later confirmed by the party’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, we would find that the party had undertaken a double action. Moreover, it may also be observed that among Hezbollah that the Iran loyalists outnumber the Lebanon loyalists.

Iran is using Lebanon as a launch pad to fire thousands of missiles on Israel based on the unshakable idea among Iranian officials that Israel is plotting to attack it and destroy the revolution, which is why they must deter it and brace themselves for retaliation. Since Israel is able to conduct air raids on Iran using its air force, something Iran is can’t do; it [Iran] has chosen and transformed Lebanon into a strategic point for counterstrikes.

Following Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Iran was able to build its lines of deterrence and defense in Lebanon. This plan was exposed in July 2006 during the war when Israel destroyed approximately 80 percent of the medium- and long- range missiles in a day.

A well-informed Western military expert who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity said, “There is no relation between the existence of these missiles and the issue of the Shebaa farms, the seven villages or Kafr Shuba or even the resistance. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General [Hassan Nasrallah] committed a gross mistake during the last war because he revealed the Iranian plan in Lebanon. In Tehran’s view, he was not supposed to divulge that and the plan has yet to be realized.”

In the aftermath of the war, Hassan Nasrallah said, “Had I known the nature of Israeli retaliation, I would not have given orders to kidnap the two soldiers.” This was interpreted as a double apology from the Lebanese and the Iranians as well.

Regarding the gravity of the Iranian threat, aside from the nuclear dimension, it lies in the Iranian officials’ dream to transform their republic into an empire and if it succeeded in dominating over the Gulf then it would be able to control the world economy.

The military expert added, “Try to imagine what would happen if Iran seized control of the Strait of Hormuz and decreed the passage of a specific number of oil tankers. If that were to happen, a new issue would emerge; the Arab Muslims would end up in a confrontation with the non-Muslim Arabs and we would regress back to the centuries past. The question would then be: Who is the rightful caliph after the Prophet, should he be exclusively Arab or will it be like the Ottoman Empire – will we have an Iranian caliph this time? This would mean a showdown would break out between the Sunnis and the Shia, so what would the situation be in the Gulf States in that scenario? If we were to consider Africa, we would find that the Shia in the Islamic Maghreb are connected with the Al-Qaeda route, reaching to Iraq where the Iranian intervention leads to the death of Iraqis and British and American soldiers.”

Iran’s approach in dealing with the international community has become common knowledge; when pressure on it rises, it releases a statement that lacks any real content but that is capable of drawing various interpretations worldwide. Then, two days later, it contradicts those statements or initial position.

This is also what Hezbollah did with regards to the issue of the Shebaa farms. According to my source, the international community agreed to help Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to resolve this issue by disarming Hezbollah. Once the topic was broached, the party’s response was: “there is no connection between the resistance’s arms and Israel’s withdrawal from the Shebaa farms because the party has its own agenda that includes the ‘third force’ and the ‘seven villages’.”

When the UN drew the Blue Line in 2000, Israel annexed a Lebanese village into its land that came to be known as Kibbutz Aram. Thus the Blue Line extended 10 meters into Lebanese territory and encroached upon three areas beyond the Blue Line. Those informed about the borders are familiar with this fact, including Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah links its arms with the liberation of the seven villages and the return to the 1949 borders.

At that time, according to the military expert, the areas surrounding the Marjayoun district were given to Lebanon while Israel was given the seven villages. So how did the land surrounding the Marjayoun district end up with the farmers? The expert said: “The Lebanese owners sold the land to the farmers and all of it is registered.”

So, is there no deal for the Shebaa farms? There appears to be no problem with them within the framework of what the international resolutions have stipulated with regards to the necessity of demarcating the Lebanese-Syrian borders, particularly since there are approximately 40 disputed areas between the two states, including the Shebaa farms. There seems to be an understanding between Syria and Israel that stretches from the north to the south where the Shebaa farms are located.

The military expert resumed talking about Iran describing the Iranians as brilliant because of their knowledge of the weak points and because they know perfectly well where their interests lay. Europe cannot reach the Security Council without China and Russia – even if the US was the first to issue any decision or impose a sanction. However, he still questions: If Iran only wanted to launch a missile strike on Israel alone then it would need rockets with a 1,500 kilometer range, so why is it now developing missiles with a 4,000 kilometer range? Europe is the reason behind this because Europe is Iran’s backyard.

Focusing on Iran leads to pondering what could take place in the negotiations between Israel and Syria. Syria wants an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights; the negotiations are presently revolving around points of intersection after which they may advance on to the next stage. They [the Syrians] insisted on declaring the negotiation to gain the ‘respect’ of the US following the Doha Agreement. However; “If Damascus wants to reach Washington, it will have to pay the price,” he said.

Regarding Iran, the Western expert said: “It is a simple matter, Syria wants Lebanon and Iran and Syria are like a tiger and lion; they walk alongside one another but if you tempt the lion with a victim it would immediately pounce on it and seize it. And it seems that the victim has been, and will remain to be, Lebanon.”

Syria has committed mistakes in Lebanon; however, it has learned from its mistakes and France appears to be the first that is convinced of that. Syria promised it [France] that it would facilitate the election of the new president [Michel Suleiman] and in return for that, French-Syrian communication was resumed and Syria was brought back into the international arena.

But will French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is close to both Washington and Tel Aviv, play this role without having covertly coordinated with these two capitals first? Has the time come for the key (Syria) to be drawn form the lock (Iran)? If that process is being undertaken by a number of states, to which Turkey has recently joined, requires a relatively low price, namely Lebanon, who would hesitate to pay for it?

The tragedy is that Lebanon is immersed in the ‘snatching’ of ministries and alliances completely oblivious to the fact that Syria and Iran and lurking and lying in wait so that it will be swallowed up by one of them – with regional and international blessing.

The question is: Are we headed towards a Syrian-Iranian showdown in which the world will stand by Syria?