Thursday, July 13, 2006

Everything *is* exploding

I'm finding it truly bizarre that two days after I leave Israel, where it was not exactly peaceful but on the other hand there was not a full-scale war being waged - Hizbollah just killed 8 Israeli soldiers, kidnapped two others, and rained down over 100 missiles on northern Israel, including a longer-range one that hit Haifa this evening. I had no idea that the northern border was so volatile. But I should have, since I read Michael J. Totten's two prescient articles on the dangers of Hizbollah and Iran, which he published on his blog in late April/early May.

In the end of April, Totten wrote "Everything Could Explode at Any Moment" and "On the Rim of a Volcano." I remember reading the two articles and finding them incredible, since I hadn't read anything else that pointed out how dangerous the border was. During Totten's trip to Israel, he traveled with blogger Lisa Goldman on a visit to the northern border. Before they went, he said to her, "Something is wrong on the border. Something bad is going to happen.” And he was right. When they went up, they had a conversation with an IDF spokesman, Zvika Golan. Golan told them they weren't safe, because "Hezbollah is planning an operation." An IDF lieutenant said to them, "Any minute now something huge could break out....I am afraid to go home and leave my soldiers. When Hezbollah decides to do something, they do it. And they’re pretty good at it.” When Totten asked him what that could be, he said - "Kidnapping. Sniper."

The lieutenant also said to them: “I say this to my guys every morning: Everything could explode at any moment. Just after I said it this morning a bus load of pensioners showed up on a field trip. An old woman brought us some food. It’s crazy. They shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be here.”

Totten then pointed to an article published in the Daily Telegraph on April 4, 2006. This article spells out how Iran has entered directly into southern Lebanon.
Iran has set up a sophisticated intelligence gathering operation in southern Lebanon to identify targets in northern Israel in the event of a military confrontation over its controversial nuclear programme. Senior Israeli military commanders say Iran has spent tens of millions of pounds helping its close ally, Hizbollah, the Shia Muslim militant group that controls southern Lebanon, to set up a network of control towers and monitoring stations along the entire length of Israel's border with south Lebanon. Some of the new control towers, which are made of reinforced concrete and fitted with bullet-proof reflective glass, are less than 100 yards from Israeli army positions and are clearly visible for long stretches along Israel's border. "This is now Iran's front line with Israel," a senior Israeli military commander said. "The Iranians are using Hizbollah to spy on us so that they can collect information for future attacks. And there is very little we can do about it."

Israeli military officers report that teams of Iran's Revolutionary Guards travel regularly to southern Lebanon to help train local Hizbollah fighters in terrorist tactics. Tensions between Iran and Israel have intensified dramatically since the election last summer of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's new leader. Israel has repeatedly threatened to take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and the new Iranian government has responded by calling for Israel's destruction. Senior Israeli military officers believe Iran is deliberately exploiting the power vacuum caused by Syria's withdrawal to intensify pressure on Israel's northern border.

Although the Lebanese government technically controls the border area, its military is not considered strong enough to control Hizbollah, which takes its orders directly from Teheran. "Iran is playing a very dangerous game of cat and mouse on our northern border and it could easily spiral out of control at any moment," said the officer.

In recent weeks Hizbollah sent unmanned aircraft on reconnaissance missions over the border to photograph sensitive Israeli military installations. The spy planes returned to base before being detected by air defence systems. In addition to providing intelligence-gathering and communications equipment, Iran has also equipped Hizbollah with improved weapons and ammunition to launch attacks against Israel, including heavy mortars and rockets with a range of up to 30 miles.
I suspect it is one of these Iran-provided missiles that hit Haifa tonight. Ynet quotes the Hizbollah television station as saying that they fired a Raad 1 missile at Israel: "That's the missile used by Hizbullah to respond to Israeli attack and to hit military strongholds of the Zionist enemy. The rocket is of 333 mm in diameter and has a warhead of 100 kilograms. Our fighters used it today when they attacked the military base in Har Meron which was severely damaged and set on fire." There was an attack on Mt. Meron (in northern Israel, near Safed) in May.

So now it seems that Iran is getting the confrontation it wants. What's going to happen next? Will everything continue to spiral out of control? Will Iran actually get involved in the fighting? Ahmehdinejad just said: “'If the Zionist regime commits another stupid move and attacks Syria, this will be considered like attacking the whole Islamic world and this regime will receive a very fierce response,' Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying in a telephone conversation with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The president made the comments after Israel struck Beirut airport and military airbases and blockaded Lebanese ports in reprisals that have killed 55 civilians in Lebanon since Hizbullah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers a day earlier. 'He (Ahmadinejad) also said it was a must for the Organization of the Islamic Conference to become more active regarding the new crisis created by the Zionist regime,' State television reported."

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