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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Expert: Iran Poised To Be 'Mother of All World Threats'

WASHINGTON -- For anyone who still thinks the Israeli-Lebanon war is just a border scuffle, one Middle East expert shouts a dire warning:

"As soon as a cease fire occurs, the ‘Hezbollah Blitzkrieg' will crumble the ‘Lebanese Republic of Weimar' and install its own ‘Khumeinist Republic' on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean. The consequences of such a development are far beyond imagination for the region and the world. Hezbollah would have paved the way for Iran to create the mother of all world threats since Hitler."

So cautions Professor Walid Phares, author of "Future Jihad," a visiting fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels, and a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.

In an exclusive interview with NewsMax, the Lebanese-born Phares likens the current Hezbollah offensive in Lebanon to a "putsch" -- with the convoluted aims of reestablishing a pro-Syrian-Iranian regime in Lebanon, reconstructing a third wing to the Tehran-Damascus axis, reanimating the Arab-Israeli conflict, rejuvenating Syrian dominance, isolating Jordan, reaching out to Hamas, crumbling Iraq, and unleashing Iran's nuclear programs.

The author also sees half-measures and premature truces as catalysts to even bloodier future conflicts:

"If Israel takes 40 kilometers [into the southern belly of Lebanon] and sits, Hezbollah and its allies will take the rest of the country and eliminate the Cedars Revolution [the Lebanese Democracy movement]. That is a certainty. Then the two camps will clash in a wider war in few more months."

As a corollary, however, the expert advises that if Israel gets even more aggressive and moves instead through the Bekaa (a fertile valley in Lebanon and Syria, located about 19 miles east of Beirut), it would shut down the Syrian-Lebanese borders (a major supply line for war materials flowing to Hezbollah).

But such a definitive move, says the author, would bring Syria to the conflict, and Israel will have to engage the Assad regime [Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria].

Meanwhile, Phares suggests, under the scenario outlined above, Iran would not sit still but would intervene in a more covert way than has been thus far seen.

However, he advises, Iran doesn't have a land passage to Syria, so it would strike back by igniting an "intifada" in Iraq.

"But this will put Iran on the path of the U.S. coalition, leading the region to global confrontations," Phares predicts. "Israel could also reach the Syrian borders, but instead of a war with Damascus, Assad would accept a MNF [Multi-National Force] at this time to save his regime, which sounds the most realistic."

Phares then projects that a MNF in control of the borders would isolate Hezbollah from Syria and Iran -- enabling a new Lebanese Army to slowly take back the control of the country, leading Israel to withdraw behind the borders.

Neighboring Jordan will try to remain neutral -- unless Iranian forces try to link up with Syria via Iraq, says Phares. Jordan, he adds, will in the end most likely side with NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

For its part, Egypt will face increasing domestic Jihadism but will refrain from cross-border activities, he predicts.

The Risk of an Explosion

The author forecasts some bad outcomes.

If the Lebanon conflict persists too long or if Hezbollah takes over, Jihadi forces in Jordan and Egypt will explode, he predicts.

"In short, if Lebanon falls to Jihadism, all Arab countries will experience similar moves. If the free-Lebanese regain control, democracy forces will move forward in the region. It is a geopolitical cross road," Phares says.

Phares emphasizes that the old parameters of a "buffer zone" don't work anymore.

He sees as the key for everyone in the region finding security, stability, freedom and eventually peace -- the stopping of the flow of weapons and support from Iran to Hezbollah.

"Israel can establish all the security-zones," Phares instructs, "the U.S. and the U.N. can issue all the resolutions, and the Lebanese army can be sent to any area -- as long as the Lebanese-Syrian borders are open between the Assad regime and Nasrallah's [Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the current Secretary General of the Lebanese Islamist party Hezbollah] militia, the war will go on."

The Issue of the Lebanese Army

Along with reciting the reams of regional history necessary to understand the origins of the quagmire, Phares tells NewsMax of what he sees as intriguing sub-plots, including a draconian one to rid Hezbollah of the Lebanese army.

The author argues that no changes were made inside the Lebanese Army to bring it in harmony with the Cedars Revolution (discussed below).

"So what you have there is an army of which 80 percent of its officer corps and about 65 percent of its ranks dislike the Baathists, Iranians and Hezbollah -- but it is still chained to a Pro-Syrian President and paralyzed by Seniora's [Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora] unwillingness to disarm Hezbollah."

But despite the mixed allegiances of the Lebanese army, Hezballoh still wants it out of the way.

Phares opines that Nasrallah wants to move units of the Lebanese army southbound. Hezbollah would then trigger yet more violence with Israel, leading to the latter having to take on the whole Lebanese army.

"Nasrallah is pushing Seniora to send the army to southern Lebanon to be slaughtered," says Phares. "He wants Israel to destroy the Lebanese army – the institution, which in the long term could dismantle the deep terror roots of Hezbollah, once a multinational force deploys and all borders are secured."

Phares pauses for a moment in his analysis of what could come to pass in the near term and looks out to a distant and perhaps hopeful future:

"If democracies allow Jihadism to crush the civil societies of the region, it would take at least two generations to begin another democratic revolution in the Middle East," the author opines. "So by the end of this century, in this case, you have two scenarios: either bloody war in the region with greater genocide than ever -- and also possibly a number of nuclear blast spots...

"However, if the international community focuses on assisting the peoples of the region to get rid of the Jihadi-fascism and the remnants of Baathism, in one hundred years you'll be able to ski in Lebanon, enjoy pastries in Damascus, and watch the clever female Prime Minister of Iran discussing environment issues with her colleague in Afghanistan.

"Jihadists would be looked at as the weird small fractions in the secular multiparty Parliaments of the region who are still arguing how they lost the opportunity to reestablish a Caliphate in the early century..."

Lost Horizons

But whether the international community rises to its finest hour remains to be seen, says Phares.

Look back at the Cedar Revolution, he suggests.

The so-called "Cedar Revolution" is the chain of demonstrations and popular civic action in Lebanon triggered by the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005.

Following the demonstrations, the Syrian troops completely withdrew from Lebanon on April 27, 2005. The Pro-Syrian government was also disbanded. History in the region since that time has been mostly defined by Hezbolloh wanting to undo the progress towards democracy.

Since the Cedars Revolution, says Phares, no single event has shown the international community greater expression from Lebanon. And that is what Hassan Nasrallah wants to destroy, he maintains.

"His [Nasrallah] real war waged at his own timing against Israel aims in fact at destroying the Cedars Revolution, the single most dangerous popular resistance against Terrorism in the history of Lebanon and the region," argues the scholar.

Continuing, the author says, "The U.S. and Europe loved the images of youth and women chanting freedom in Beirut for many days and thought this was Eastern Europe all over again. They were right but they missed the point.

"These masses were desperately calling on the international community for help. ‘We showed you that we want freedom despite the threats of the most oppressive regimes (Syria and Iran) and of a terrorist organization; we've displayed all the courage of the world, alone and without weapons, responding to the calls of spreading democracy,' said the leaders of the Cedars Revolution's NGOs [Non-governmental organizations]."

Poignantly, Phares says that the people of Lebanon were begging in fact: "Now come and protect us -- at least as you did for the Afghan and Iraqi voters."

Meanwhile, the author says, Hezbollah and its masters were watching the Western response: "Lots of celebrations and powerful speeches on both sides of the Atlantic. But inside Lebanon, the old wolves were back to work."

The long story short, says the expert: Syria, Iran and Hezbollah outmaneuvered the Lebanese politicians, as well as the West, by among other things keeping pro-Syrian Emile Jamil Lahoud, president of the Republic of Lebanon at the helm.

"It was terrible how the Lebanese politicians lost all the opportunities provided by the Cedars Revolution," laments Phares, "but it is worse that the bureaucrats in the U.S. and Europe didn't understand what Hezbollah was doing."

Phares says he regrets that no one policy regarding the Cedars Revolution was ever put forth. Billions of dollars were spent on the War of Ideas and Iraq while requests by Lebanese NGOs, small media and civil society groups ready to resume the Cedars Revolution were left unheard, he adds.

Roots of Crisis

Phares argues that Washington and Brussels relied too much on a Lebanese cabinet which had been penetrated by Hezbollah.

"How can you have U.S. officials sitting with the Lebanese Cabinet in the presence of Hezbollah ministers and talk about the Lebanese Army disarming this organization? The naiveté' with which Hezbollah's offensive was dealt with is stunning."

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