19 July 2006 – Herald-Sun
IN the world of Middle Eastern politics, natural coincidences are few and far between.
And it’s not happenstance that Iran is staring down the barrel of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear weapons program when all hell breaks loose in Gaza and Lebanon.
The fingerprints of Iran are all over the crisis. Tehran founded, funds and equips Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The arsenal of 13,000 rockets that the jihadists are firing into northern Israel all arrived, special delivery, from Iran.
There is also a growing body of evidence indicating that Iranian technical expertise is behind the epidemic of Palestinian Qassam rockets that are slamming into southern Israel from Gaza.
And there is no question about the origins of the C802 anti-ship missile that hit an Israeli missile boat off the coast of Beirut.
The C802 is a Chinese weapon that is manufactured under licence in Iran.
But beyond speculation about the hidden hand of Iran in this conflict, there are a few factual certainties, as well.
It is fact that Australia, America and the European Union formally classify Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organisations.
And with good reason. Both groups have long, bloody records of deliberately slaughtering innocent civilians. For instance, Hezbollah was responsible for blowing up the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, killing 86 innocent civilians.
It is also fact that there is absolutely no justification, either in law or in ethics, for the blatant violation of sovereign Israeli territory to kill and kidnap Israeli soldiers, triggering this conflict.
In May 2000, Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon behind a demarcated international border that was recognised by the community of nations.
This put to rest any territorial quarrel between Lebanon and Israel.
And last August, the Israelis did the same in Gaza, unilaterally withdrawing troops and citizens in the hope of fostering a responsible Palestinian Authority government and promising substantial territorial concessions on the West Bank.
And what did Israel get in return? More than 1000 Qassam rockets fired into Israel and hundreds of sniper attacks and failed attempts to infiltrate Israel’s borders with both Gaza and Lebanon.
And now Hamas and Hezbollah have finally got lucky and abducted three Israeli soldiers.
As an acquaintance of mine, a retired Israeli army intelligence lieutenant-colonel, put it: “The conflict has been building for months and the match was struck on direct orders from Tehran.”
The Israelis are trying to defend themselves by striking at their enemies while sparing the civilian populations in Gaza and Lebanon.
And while such a task is difficult in the clearest wartime circumstances, it is almost impossible when your armed enemy operates and hides himself and his missiles among his own civilian population.
The calculation is both simple and cynical: if Israel doesn’t strike back for fear of hitting innocent Lebanese, Hezbollah earns a “get out of jail free card” that allows it to plan further terrorist operations at its leisure.
But if Israel does retaliate and civilians are injured or killed, the Jewish state can be pilloried for its brutality.
But in the final equation, the protection of its citizens is the primary responsibility of any government.
While the Israeli military will do what it can to spare non-combatant lives on the other side, it has every right to attack those who try to kill its own civilians.
As part of this effort, Israel has to prevent the resupply of missiles and weaponry to Hezbollah, which entails shutting off road, sea and air routes.
The way out for Lebanon, of course, is for Hezbollah to be disarmed and the Lebanese Army deployed in southern Lebanon, as several recent UN Security Council resolutions (Resolutions 1559 in 2004 and 1680 in 2006) have demanded.
This will protect both Lebanese and Israeli civilians from bloody conflict, precipitated whenever convenient for Hezbollah’s masters in Tehran and its patrons in Damascus.
The rising tide of Islamist radicalism that has hijacked Lebanon and Gaza puts Israel on the front line of the war against the global jihadist movement.
The self-same Iranian meddlers, who are fomenting open conflict with the Jewish state, have their toxic fingers in other pies as well.
For months, Coalition troops in Iraq have taken note of the sophisticated “shaped-charge” explosives that have begun to turn up in the hands of the insurgents.
The conventional wisdom is that these hi-tech IEDs have been supplied by the Iranian revolutionary guard.
GAZA, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan are all part of the same war.
Democracies are under the same threat from jihadists, who wish to drag civilisation kicking and screaming back to the 7th century by waging war against civilian populations.
Beyond any moral values and sentimental considerations, Israel’s battle is one that deserves support out of a sense of Australian self-interest as well.
The Israelis are in the front line in confronting Islamo-fascist aggression and terrorism.
It is critical for regional stability, as even Israel’s Arab neighbours have recognised by condemning Hezbollah’s adventurism, that Iran and its radical Islamist proxies fail in their grandiose and dangerous objectives.
Dr COLIN RUBENSTEIN is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and taught Middle Eastern politics at Monash University.