Paris is truly liberated ! While I understand the joy of celebrity worshipers everywhere, perhaps it's time to pay attention to some less-interesting matters. Joshua Muravchik wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesteday about the possibility of a big war in the Middle East "growing more likely every day." Lets go fishing and see what we find.
First, Lebanon. Five UN peacekeepers (three Colombian, two Spanish) were killed by a car bomb in south Lebanon on Sunday. (New York Times, 25 June at A-10). This incident was in south Lebanon, south of the Litani -- a zone patrolled by "peacekeepers" but effectively under Hezbollah control. Hezbollah for its part, for all intents and purposes, is a foreign corps of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran), and takes its orders from Tehran and to a lesser degree, Syria.
The Syrians are tightening the squeeze on the pro-US Lebanese cabinet. The government in Beirut has accused Damacus of smuggling weapons and terrorists into Lebanon. The Lebanese Daily Star reports that the Syrians have closed a border crossing in the northeast of Lebanon. Lebanon's economic barons are worried that Syria will close the whole border, thus throttling Lebanese agricultural exports. In the north, fighting continues between the Lebanese Army and the militant group Fatah al-Islam (friendly with Syria) in and around the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp and the town of Tripoli.
Speaking of Damascus, a story in the Jamestown Foundation's "Eurasia Daily Monitor," by Pavel Falgenhauer, repeated in Asia Times, (citing the Russian business journal Kommersant) reports that Russia has begun deliveries of some MiG31E Foxhound interceptors to the Syrians. (Hat tip: 1913intel.com). The Russians have denied the whole thing. At any rate, Kommersant said that the aircraft, produced between 1981-94, are going to be refurbished by the Russians before being transferred.
This is an interesting purchase -- if it's real. The MiG 31 is not really as much a true fighter as it is a high-altitude-capable bomber/cruise missile interceptor, derived from the MiG 25 Foxbat. As Mr. Felgenhauer's Asia Times/Jamestown piece says: the MiG 31 ". . .is a purely defensive aircraft, designed to be used over friendly territory to defend against massive air assaults." That's why it's interesting that Kommersant thinks that "Iran is partially or even fully covering the purchase bill." So is the end-user in Damascus, or are the MiG's really for our sanctioned friends in Teheran ? I wonder if the Iranians might have some things they want to defend against massive air assaults ?
Meanwhile, the British are reporting that units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been spotted moving into southern Iraq. According to AFP, quoting the British tab The Sun "It is an extremely alarming development and raises the stakes considerably. In effect, it means we are in a full on war with Iran -- but nobody has officially declared it." The Iranians are also supplying arms and explosives to the rebels in Iraq, and the training to use them. It seems that the Iranians have responded to our surge with a surge of their own, as Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top ground commander in Iraq, puts it. (Hat tip: Belmont Club).
Allies are dropping away. Tony Blair leaves 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, to be replaced by Gordon Brown...who is much less supportive of our effort in Iraq.
Iran's first nuclear plant will be operational in October, despite issues over payment with the Russians, says the Jerusalem Post (25 June). Also in the J-Post, Friday, it became publicly known that the Israeli Air Force is training for possible long range strikes. A new package of possible sanctions against Iran have been put together by the US and Israel. . .any bets on how the Euros will feel about them with Blair gone and Sarkozy and Merkel having shaky majorities in their parliaments ?
The Jordanians, Fatah-Palestinians, Egyptians and Israelis are meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt, in the southern Sinai) to set up an anti Hamas-Palestinian/anti-Syrian/anti-Iranian alliance (with American and Israeli backing). Quite aside from the interesting question of how wise it is, in these times, for the Arab principals to be seen in public with Olmert, it sounds like sort of a last gasp summit of the Nasserist nationalist establishment against the Koran-thumpers.
The Iranian press is screaming that Fatah is in bed with the US and the Zionists. Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Majlis, (the Iranian Parliament), says that the Queen's knighting of the author Salman Rushdie (who some people really think is talented) is an act of "blind hostility and mere irrationality of the British government, stressing that the world Muslims would not leave the measure unanswered." I'm very pro-British and pro-Monarchy, but this was a monumental blunder -- a red rag to the bull -- the Muslim mobs are upset from London to Pakistan.
While all of this kaka is hitting the air compressor, Haaretz reports that N, the Deputy Director of Mossad, (the major Israeli foreign intelligence organization) and a candidate to be the Director, next year, has chosen this moment to quit. Pretty lousy time to have a personnel kerfuffle.
The Iranians have coverage on their flanks. Chavez of Venezuela is buying weapons, warning of a "resistance war" against the US. Dictator Hugo leaves Tuesday for Russia, Belarus and Iran. Chavez is supposedly getting himself some Russian submarines.
Besides all this stuff, we have the Hamas coup in Gaza; a politically weak president, hamstrung by an opposition that will impeach him given the chance; and, we're in a totally open election year where the Left is likely to be put in the saddle. The business community just took a look at the future and appears to be betting Left.
Finally there's Mahmoud "Mad Jad" Ahmadinejad, the Iranian nutbar president who keeps raving about destroying Israel and the need to build a nuke. It's not just the Israelis the mullahs want on the block: as Mr. Muravchik observed "the Tehran regime takes its slogan, 'death to America,' quite seriously, even if we do not."
Big wars start when one side looks weak, and the other side consequently misjudges where the red line is. I think the Mullahs are wrong to adjudge us, or at least, our leader as weak. I just don't think that Bush will back away from trouble. Friends, it looks to me like the Iranians, Syrians and friends are flirting around with something really awful. I wonder if we're much closer to the brink of a blow up then we think ?