By Mark Mellman - 08/02/06 12:00 AM EDT
To paraphrase the title of a popular self-help book: All I really needed to know about the Middle East I learned from one meeting.
Openly reported, it took place July 27, in Damascus and brought together four key figures: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, the leader of Hamas and Syria’s vice president. One subject of the discussions was Iranian use of Syrian land routes to resupply Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon.
The guest list reveals the unholy, but wholly natural, alliance now wreaking havoc in the Middle East.
Hezbollah takes its orders primarily from the Iranian government, which has trained and supplied the group responsible for more American deaths than any other, except al Qaeda. Iran is also the chief backer of the Iraqi militias, whose increased bombings have forced the United States to commit more troops to securing Baghdad. Syria is the prime sponsor of Hamas, the perpetrator of terrorist attacks against Israel from Gaza and the West Bank. Iran and Syria developed a strong alliance, having signed a military cooperation treaty a month before Hezbollah began raining down missiles on Israel.
With that background in mind, let’s connect the dots:
• Iran’s nuclear weapons program was supposed to be a prime topic at the G-8 summit and the major agenda item for international diplomacy this month. No more. Hezbollah’s war against Israel has taken center stage, conveniently shunting Iranian nukes off to the sidelines. Instead of working together to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the G-8 nations are quarrelling over how to handle the fighting instigated by Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s attacks create breathing space for its sponsor’s nuclear-weapons R&D.
• All four of these players have a clear interest in preventing movement toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians. If peace should ever break out, Hamas and Hezbollah lose their reason to be. Syria, long the most recalcitrant of the states bordering Israel, would be further isolated. And Iran? Well President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced that a key personal goal is to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Just a year ago, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert subsequently won election on a platform of unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. With Israeli troops out of the Palestinian Authority, peace would have appeared to be closer.
Olmert’s plans were derailed when Hamas won control of the Palestinian Authority, in elections pushed by President Bush. Hamas celebrated its victory by beginning nonstop missile attacks from Gaza into southern Israel. This setback to the cause of peace brought joy to Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.
But then, just three weeks before Hezbollah opened warfare on Israel’s northern front, Jordan’s King Abdullah brought Olmert together with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the two announced they would again begin talks that had been frozen since the Hamas victory.
Hezbollah’s latest attacks ended hopes for those talks. Starting a war is the surest way to block the path to peace, and that is just what the Damascus confreres want.
• Syria, of course, has its own special interest in Lebanon, which it occupied militarily for 29 years. When Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri began to display a modicum of independence, Syria assassinated him. Just a year ago, the pro-Syrian forces in the Lebanese parliament were defeated and the Syrian troops sent packing, though Syria’s intelligence agency continued attempts to exert control. Today, Syria’s alliance with Iran and Hezbollah puts Damascus back in a position of influence over Lebanon.
This unholy alliance is taking advantage of an America overextended and pinned down in Iraq — too weak to intercede effectively, either diplomatically or militarily.
Connecting the dots paints an ugly picture.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.