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How did we get into this mess? The prospect of a regional war in the Middle East underscores the lethal futility of our interventionist foreign policy.

The Israeli military campaign against Hezbollah-infested sites in Lebanon has been carried out "according to a plan finalized more than a year ago," reported the July 21 San Francisco Chronicle.

"More than a year ago, a senior Israeli military officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail."

All that was needed was a triggering event, and one materialized on June 25 when Gilad Shalit, a corporal in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), was kidnapped by guerrillas linked to the Hamas terrorist group (which controls the elected Palestinian government) in a cross-border raid. Seven Palestinians sneaked into southern Israel from Gaza by way of a tunnel and attacked an Israeli tank crew and a lookout tower, killing two soldiers. With Shalit as a hostage, Hamas demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Shortly thereafter, southern Israel came under attack by a barrage of homemade rockets fired from Gaza.

This provoked Israel to send the IDF back into the Gaza Strip, which it had abandoned less than a year earlier. Roughly two weeks later, Hezbollah terror ists--acting in "solidarity" with Hamas--captured two more Israeli soldiers while they were reportedly on the Lebanese side of the border, and then launched a series of deadly missile attacks against cities in Israel. This provoked the Israeli assault on southern Lebanon--following the plan worked out over a year ago.

Because Hamas and Hezbollah received funding and materiel aid from Iran and Syria, the conflict threatens to expand into a broader regional war. After visiting the Middle East and conferring with prominent leaders, including a "senior Jordanian intelligence official," former ABC Nightline host Ted Koppel opined in the New York Times: "The United States is already at war with Iran; but for the time being the battle is being fought through surrogates."

As if to reinforce Koppel's point, Bush administration officials leaked the news to the New York Times that Washington was arranging for "expedited delivery" of precision-guided bombs to Israel--even as the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly swatted away talk of an immediate cease-fire.

It is tempting to see the June 25, 2006 abduction of Gilad Shalit as in some ways a replay of the June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by Serbian terrorists: a seemingly minor incident magnified into a world-historic tragedy (WWI) through the logic of entangling alliances and the opportunism of ambitious world leaders. And a report on the June 25 incident compiled by retired Israeli Brigadier General Giora Eiland suggests that the capture of Cpl. Shalit was in a sense arranged by the Israeli military as a pretext for war.

In his report, Gen. Eiland described Shalit's abduction as the result of an "operational failure" by IDF commanders on the scene. "There was a warning [of the impending Hamas attack], I say this clearly, the best there could be under the circumstances," concluded Gen. Eiland. "There was definitely a warning, and I would even say a sound warning." Yet despite the culpable incompetence displayed by Shalit's on-scene commanders, Gen. Eiland insisted that he didn't think "any of the commanders needs to be dismissed, especially since these officers are now participating in fighting in the Gaza Strip."

Why would demonstrably incompetent field commanders be left in charge of military operations described as vital to Israel's national interests--unless something other than incompetence was behind the border incident that led to the conflict?

Though such a betrayal seems incomprehensible to most people, it would fit comfortably into the recent history of the Middle East, a region in which powerful interests have worked diligently--and, unfortunately, with great success--to prevent any significant progress toward peace.

My Enemy, My Ally

In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon following the attempted murder of an Israeli diplomat in London by agents of the Abu Nidal Organization. As with the current campaign, the earlier Israeli invasion was carried out in accordance with an existing plan. In the earlier case, the incursion was advertised as a campaign to uproot the so-called Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon, which had been an unwilling host to the terrorist group for more than a decade.

At one point shortly after the 1982 invasion, Israeli forces had PLO chief Yasser Arafat surrounded, only to allow him to escape to Cyprus on orders from Washington. A little more than a decade later, Arafat was sufficiently "rehabilitated" to become the first political leader of an embryonic Palestinian state, where--with immense amounts of foreign aid, most of it provided by U.S. taxpayers--he ruled over a kingdom of corruption and violence, protected by no fewer than a half-dozen secret police organs.

The invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon also "ultimately led to the radicalization of parts of Lebanon's Shi'ite community and the creation of Hezbollah," notes Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute. After an 18-year occupation, Israel withdrew from Lebanon. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah (or "Party of God"), battle-hardened from its conflict with Israel, remained deeply entrenched in Lebanese politics.

Meanwhile, a third terrorist group--the Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), better known as Hamas, coalesced in the Occupied Territories around the figure of Sheik Ahmed Yassin in 1988. Although the group's founding charter explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel, the group was actually funded and cultivated by the Mossad, Israel's chief intelligence agency, as a counterweight to Yasser Arafat's PLO.

Skeptics of such a conclusion might justly say, "But Hamas has killed more than 500 people in more than 350 separate terrorist attacks since 1993 and propagated a cult of suicide bombing, and in January the group won a legislative majority in the Palestinian Authority's (PA) general elections. Thus the PA now has a president, Mahmoud Abbas, who leads Arafat's Fatah Party, and a legislature led by Hamas. Israel and the Mossad wouldn't seem to benefit from creating a new terrorist organization."

But they do benefit. This arrangement reflects the fact that the Israeli government--acting in tandem with Washington--has actually cultivated both the PLO and Hamas as part of a brutal and cynical charade.

Arafat "kept his chair with a mixture of patronage and thuggery" while bringing "the Palestinian people nothing but deeper misery," wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Ben Cramer in his book How Israel Lost. On the basis of extensive reporting throughout Israel and Palestine, Cramer reported that the "really dirty secret" behind the Israel-PLO conflict was that Arafat and the Israeli political establishment were partners.

"The PA's slimy business intersects with Israeli business at the highest levels of Israeli political life," wrote Cramer. "Things are not as they seem."

By way of illustration, Cramer pointed to the relationship between Israeli-owned Dor Energy and the PLO-operated Palestinian fuel monopoly. Despite the fact that Dor's petroleum depot was a large, conspicuous target on the border with Gaza, it "has never been hit," he points out, and the same is true of the large, slow-moving fuel tankers operating on both sides of the border.

But the most lucrative--and treacherous--symbiosis described by Cramer is the conflict itself.

Prior to his death in November 2004, Ararat was propped up politically by fortuitously timed Israeli counterterrorist strikes. His popularity "in opinion polls [would often] teeter near nowhere--invisibility--until his rescue by Israeli action against him," wrote Cramer. The same was true of Sharon: "If his polls dropped, something terrible happened--dead Jews all over the TV," and his political prospects would brighten. And the conflict was similarly beneficial to elites on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Why is there no peace?" Cramer wearily asks. "Who wants one?"

"Democratic Revolution" at Work

The Bush administration's design to remake the Middle East is succeeding, albeit not in the fashion some of the president's defenders may have expected. By removing Saddam's admittedly horrible regime, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was an immense strategic blessing to Iran.

The administration's policies "have helped to shift the balance of power in the region in the direction of Iran and Shi'ite and Sunni radicals," observes Cato Institute analyst Leon Hadar (who was born in Haifa, one of the Israeli cities hit by Hezbollah missiles). Rather than exporting "democracy" to the region, Hadar points out, what "Iraq seems to be exporting to the Middle East is war and instability, a lot of it."

"In Baghdad, the secular regime of Saddam has been replaced through an open election by a coalition of Shi'ite religious parties (with links to the ruling Shi'ites in Iran) that have taken steps to limit the rights of women and religious minorities," comments Hadar. Tehran is also "encouraging radical Shi'ite groups in the so-called Shi'ite Triangle stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Levant--including Hezbollah in Lebanon--to reassert their power and challenge the ruling (pro-American) Arab-Sunni governments there."

Once again, the stage appears to be set for a regional war. This is a disastrous prospect for the 150,000 U.S. servicemen deployed to Iraq. But it could also result in an economic crisis as the price of oil heads skyward. And the war may be brought home in a violent and terrifying fashion.

"Unlike Al Qaeda, Hezbollah has a real and substantial international network," warns former CIA analyst Larry Johnson. "They have personnel and supporters scattered in countries around the world who have the training and resources to mount attacks. Hezbollah has no qualms about using terrorist attacks as part of a broader strategy to achieve its objectives. The last major Hezbollah attack against the United States was the June 1996 attack on the U.S. military apartment complex in Dharan, Saudi Arabia.... The ten year hiatus in major mass casualty attacks [by Hezbollah] could come to a shattering end in the coming months, and American citizens are likely to pay some of that price with their own blood."

If a regional war erupts, Americans should "get the body bags ready and take out a home equity loan," Johnson grimly warns. "Americans will die and gas prices will soar. We will reap our failure to learn anything from the last forty years in the Middle East."

Our chief delinquency is the failure to heed the Founding Fathers' admonition not to intervene in the affairs of other nations, and to eschew entangling alliances. That lesson remained unlearned after the 9/11 attacks five years ago. We may soon be offered a refresher course.
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Title Annotation:MIDDLE EAST
Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 21, 2006
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