The growing tension along the Israeli-Lebanese border, from Mount Hermon in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, is caused by the powerful Lebanese organization and militia – Hezbollah – Party of God, and is directly linked to the dangerous verbal and political game played by the president of Iran.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s incitements, which are creating an international crisis, have many facets. It is not only for the sake of angering the U.S. and to intimidate Israel that the Iranian president is using a language of threats and racism.
Iran of 2006 is not as strong as the government in Tehran would like to demonstrate. The country is plagued by sectarian rivalry, which in some areas such as along the Iranian-Turkish border, the northern Gulf and the southern Balochistan region bordering Pakistan, has reached an insurgency level costing the ayatollahs prestige and even a sense of anxiety. Kurdish insurgents operating from bases in Iranian Kurdistan and supported by their brethren in Turkey, initiate daily attacks on the Revolutionary Guard and against the Iranian military.
Dozens are killed every month close to the Pakistani border and spectacular attacks continue in the northern Gulf district of Khuzistan where Iranian Arabs, predominantly Sunnis, are striving to create an independent region to be called Arabistan. This grim reality is motivating the Iranian president’s high-pitched propaganda speeches while the real leader of Iran, the Supreme Leader and Chief of State Ayatollah Ali Husseini Khamenei remains for the time being mostly silent.
Against this backdrop, as Ahmadinejad is preparing for talks with the European community and probably also with the U.S., he needs to use all of his so-called strategic cards. One of his Aces is the Lebanese Hezbollah. When the head of the Shiite militant group, Sheikh Nassarallah, authorizes attacks on Israel, knowing the IDF will react with artillery or air raids, he also knows that the situation will be part of Ahmadinejad’s bargaining chips since the overall Iranian political strategy is to include in any negotiation a large variety of topics. For example, the situation in Iraq, oil supplies, security in the Persian Gulf and the oldest card held by the Iranians namely, the Hezbollah and its future.
Israel is apparently reacting with caution. The Israelis and the government in Jerusalem are not impressed anymore by Iranian propaganda or Hezbollah threats. They know the risks of tolerating more frequent rocket attacks, and even infiltration raids, but at the same time they are certain that if necessary the IDF can destroy all of Hezbollah’s infrastructures in Lebanon from their TV studios to their leaders’ homes, and they might even go as far as killing them in a fashion similar to the target killings in the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah leaders certainly remember very well that such killings were initially used in Lebanon in the 80s and the 90s.
Of major concern to Israel are not occasional rocket attacks from Lebanon but rather Hezbollah’s attempts to coordinate their moves with Hamas – The Islamic Movement, with The Islamic Jihad and with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, in Gaza or a new ad hoc alliance between Hezbollah and the small but murderous Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command of Ahmad Jibril (PFLP), one of the last remnants of Palestinian dissident groups supported by Syria with small bases in Lebanon.
As Ahmadinejad is preparing for almost certain negotiations he will continue to use his Hezbollah allies whenever needed and in any way he chooses. Israel will undoubtedly find a way to prove to the Iranian leader that anything he can do Israel can do a lot better.