Iran takes Beirut. Next, the world

By Barry Rubin, May 16, 2008

Why does the West do nothing while Iranian proxies conquer Lebanon?

After seeing how Western leaders are handling — or not handling — Lebanon, said an Israeli official privately, “Hizbollah could only laugh. We have to take it into consideration that nobody will ever help us.”

Of course, Israel is not alone because there are so many others becoming victims of a combination of Western dithering and Iranian / Iranian-directed radical aggressiveness.

Whether or not the West figures it out, the other side knows well what is going on. “There are only two sides — Iran and the United States,” said the Iranian newspaper Kayhan. Another leading Tehran daily, Jomhouri-e Islamia, explained that as a result of Hizbollah’s victory in Lebanon, “The US’s influence in the region will stop, and the regimes identified with it will be replaced.”

From Tehran’s viewpoint, that’s about 20 countries — all but Syria, maybe Sudan, and the Gaza Strip. Today, Lebanon (or at least west Beirut); tomorrow the world. For those countries, the choice is stark: ally with either the US or Iran.

These people know they are at war, with the two fronts right now being Lebanon and Iraq. A Gulf Arab journalist, in an article tellingly entitled, Iran is Enemy Number One, wrote a few days ago: “The true feeling of the Saudis, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis and Qataris is that Iran is the enemy and it must be brought down and weakened.”

The conflict between Israel and the wider Arab world still exists but has become more of an Israel-Palestinian, Syrian and Iranian conflict in practice. For most Arab regimes, it is useful for making propaganda and proving their militant nationalist-Islamic credentials but things have changed a great deal from past decades.

Of course, this does not mean they will cooperate or make peace with Israel. Moderation not only threatens to expose them to radical subversion but also to weaken their own dictatorships’ structure, which rests heavily on demagogically blaming Israel for all their shortcomings.

As one Gulf ruler put it privately, “We can use Israel and bash Israel simultaneously.” In other words, Israelis must oppose Iranian ambitions for their own reasons anyway. So why should Arab regimes give them anything for doing so, even if it means protecting their own sovereignty and systems as well?

In this context, the idea that solving the Palestinian issue will bring peace and stability in the region, ensure good Arab-Western relations, and quiet radical Islamism becomes especially laughable.

Consider the possibility of Iran getting nuclear weapons. It is a certainty that no Western country will stand against it, Arab regimes will rush to appease it, and hundreds of thousands of Muslims will join radical Islamist groups to replace all those regimes Iran says must go.

For the moment, however, Lebanon resembles Spain during its civil war, just before the main conflict. A democratic majority, a united front of Christians, Druze, and Sunni Muslims, defies terrorist attacks sponsored by Syria, Iran’s ally. They simply don’t want to live under an Iran-style Islamist regime. Government supporters are angry that Hizbollah can launch war on Israel whenever it pleases at great cost to their nation. They remember decades of Syrian domination, repression and looting.

A Fascist-free Spain, of course, became progressive humanity’s cause of the 1930s. Such people were horrified that the Western democracies would not help the Republicans while the Germans and Italians poured troops, weapons and money into the Fascist side.

But why didn’t Britain and the others act? Their motives were precisely the same as inhibits determination today. They feared war and the resulting cost and casualties. They profited from trade with the other side. They disliked the great power that was more involved in the war (in those days the USSR, today America). Since the Catholic Church backed General Francisco Franco’s cause they didn’t want to be labelled what today would be called “Catholophobic”. They lacked confidence in their own society, which Ezra Pound called a “botched civilisation”. Pound eventually preferred the Fascists, as too many intellectuals and artists now find the Islamists the lesser of the two evils.

All rather similar to what happened in 2006, when the UN decided that troops would be sent to southern Lebanon, Hizbollah would be kept out and disarmed, and weapons smuggling would be blocked. Hizbollah disagreed and did what it wanted. The world gave in: Hizbollah (Syria and Iran), 1; World, 0. If the world won’t even help Arab, Muslim-led, democratic, Lebanon, why should Israel give credence to such promises?

Ah, but Israel can defend itself. It is the toughest of all Iran’s intended targets.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled in December 1941, speaking to Canada’s parliament, that collaborationist French generals warned him that if Britain, too, didn’t surrender to Hitler, “In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.” Churchill wryly told his cheering audience: “Some chicken; some neck!”

A few years later, Hitler lay dead and defeated.

Mr Ahmadinejad, take note.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book is The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin)

Last updated: 9:41am, May 19 2008