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Iran's Proxy War.

"This is our war", wrote Tehran's conservative Kayhan daily in reference to the fighting between Hizbullah and Israel in Lebanon. Such proclamations, emanating from Iran's most ideological paper, should have come as no surprise, considering the Shi'ite links between the Lebanese party and the Tehran theocracy. The statement spoke to the contention that it was none other than Hizbullah's patron Iran that gave its blessing for the war to advance Iranian regional gains.

"In Iran", wrote Sanam Wakil in Beirut's Daily Star of Aug. 4, "this war represents another facet of the country's forthcoming battle with the West, and within the Middle East. ...Bush's administration has implicated Iran for allegedly promoting the Lebanese conflict. The battle originating with the Iranian nuclear issue has now extended to Iran's role in the Levant. The view of many in Tehran is that it's just a matter of time for the fallout of that conflict to extend their way. I just returned from a visit to Tehran, where the dynamics of the Lebanese conflict were playing out within the concentric circles of the regime's efforts to balance its domestic and foreign ambitions".

Ms Wakil, an assistant professor of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, added: "Whether...[Tehran] orchestrated the conflict is no longer important as Iran has already been indicted. Indeed, this war is the regime's war - its struggle for survival - the survival of the fittest. The struggle is also wrapped up in Tehran's decade-long endeavor to expand the regime's power and to enhance its regional security. Within the confines of this conflict Iran's nuclear dilemma is also being played out.

"The Lebanon war has also revived regional atavisms dating back to the 1979 Islamic revolution, its firebrand ideology, and Iranian regional expansionism. Ultimately, the Islamic Republic will be struggling to preserve for itself an advantageous domestic and regional balance of power".

However, Ms Wakil also highlighted the vulnerability of the theocracy, saying: "Today, more than ever, Iran's regime is under siege. Surrounded on all sides, Tehran has implemented campaigns to ward off the regional and domestic crises at hand. The war in neighboring Iraq has trickled into the country, affecting ethnic groups that have rioted at various times this year. A disaffected majority of the population is made up of youths, and they are desperate for an economic revival as the economy slumps along. Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, might or might not have received a stamp of approval from Iran's top guard for his abduction of Israeli soldiers on July 12, but there is unanimous agreement in Tehran that it is Iran that has reaped the benefits of the short-term gains of the confrontation.

"This war of distraction has provided cover as Iran analyzes its nuclear options. At the Group of Eight summit last month, Iran was no longer the main topic of discussion, as Lebanon conveniently eclipsed debate over a Security Council resolution on the nuclear issue. Since then, however, the Security Council has set a deadline of August 31 for Tehran to freeze uranium enrichment or face sanctions. The latter are a looming possibility as the regime contends that under the shadow of continued American threats, it is impossible to make any concessions.

"I was repeatedly told that sanctions and isolation were endurable, as the regime overcame a similar situation during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. The brunt of this choice, however, will be borne by the Iranian people, as the economic impact of sanctions will feed into the political crackdowns that the regime considers necessary for maintaining political security. Lebanon's war is also...[Ahmadi-Nejad's] war. Its scope has enabled the president to strengthen his hand internally. Hizbullah's tenacious resistance demonstrates the triumph of Iran's exported ideology...[Ahmadi-Nejad] has championed the Hizbullah cause and called on his Muslim brethren to stand by Lebanon against Israeli aggression. He was the first to publicly challenge the carnage wrought by Israel. And striving to lead the Muslim world against the United States and Israel, [he]...also confronted Arab states for their cautious reaction to the crisis".

Ms Wakil referred to the recent visit to Beirut by Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who was welcomed while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was rebuffed, following the Qana massacre on July 30. She wrote that the consistent calls for ceasefire and diplomacy amid the violence had yet again "bolstered Tehran's position in the region as a bulwark against the 'Great Satan'".

Interestingly, she noted, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy described Iran's position as "an important stabilizing role in the region", thereby providing Tehran with the "legitimacy it had sought as a regional power broker".

With the nuclear challenge looming on the horizon, the Lebanon war enhances Tehran's regional role. And Tehran has long sought to increase its participation in promoting Middle East security and stability.

Ms Wakil concluded: "Tehran will continue to manipulate the outcome of the war in order to protect its interests. It will attempt to exploit the Lebanese situation in order to deter, deflect, and draw out further confrontation with regards to its nuclear ambitions. Perhaps this two-front war is one only martyrs can hope to win".
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Aug 7, 2006
Words:864
Previous Article:Lebanon's Hizbullah War Strategy Gives The US An Idea Of What It May Face In Iran.
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