- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

HAIFA, Israel. — Some have suggested the latest round of fighting between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization in Lebanon is the beginning of World War III. But a better analogy may be the 1936 Spanish Civil War.

Just as Adolf Hitler used Francisco Franco as his proxy in Spain to test new military techniques and equipment on the battlefield, so Iran is using Hezbollah as its proxy to do the same.

Israeli ground troops have been finding Hezbollah is no longer a rag-tag guerrilla group, but a veritable terrorist army, trained and equipped by Iran.

“Hezbollah understands complex military tactics. They are pursuing combined military operations using ground forces, missiles, intelligence and the media,” said Daniel Seaman, an Israeli government spokesman.

Over the last six years, following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon, Iran began supplying Hezbollah with massive quantities of long-range artillery rockets of a type never before used against Israel. These Iranian-made Fajr-3 rockets have a range of 43 kilometers, and carry a 50-kilogram warhead packed with thousands of deadly ballbearings. These are terrorist mass-kill weapons, designed to kill as many civilians as possible. No one standing within a 50-meter radius of one of these incoming rocket can survive, Israeli bomb experts say. The Fajr-3 was used with great success in a July 16 attack that killed eight railway workers at a repair depot in downtown Haifa.

Israeli military intelligence estimates that at the start of the current onslaught. Hezbollah possessed more than 10,000 of Fajr-3 and similar long-range rockets. How many terrorist groups can boast of such an arsenal?

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni explained Hezbollah’s aims with stark clarity here last week. “While Israel is targeting Hezbollah, and during this operation, unfortunately it can lead to loss of civilian life, Hezbollah is targeting our cities in order to hit, in order to target civilians and to target Israeli population centers. This is a crucial difference.”

Iran is testing Israel, probing Israel’s reaction to the rocket attacks. Iran also is testing international community’s response, as it prepares for a future war.

Anyone who has watched television over the last two weeks has probably heard the eerie wail of the air raid sirens that go off many times each day in Haifa and in smaller towns and settlements across northern Israel.

As many as 500,000 Israelis have fled the war zone. Most of Israel north of Haifa is deserted, while those remaining live in underground shelters.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav estimated the economic effect has been devastating — “in the billions of shekels” of lost business for Haifa alone. That’s roughly $500 million.

For Dr. Michael Oren, author of a forthcoming book on the history of the U.S. relationship to the Middle East, the current conflict is just a stage in the war against Iran. “People need to realize this is not a bilateral conflict. It is part of the broad regional and international conflict between the West and Islamic fundamentalism championed by Iran,” he told me.

He believes the stakes of Israel’s effort to smash Hezbollah as an effective fighting force in Lebanon go way beyond the immediate impact on Israeli or Lebanese civilians: “If we don’t win in Lebanon, Iran will be well on the way to creating an arc of influence extending from the Indian border to the Mediterranean.”

Iran launched this war to deflect attention from the July 15 G-8 summit in Saint Petersburg from its nuclear weapons program. But at the same time, it launched this war to try out new weapons and new tactics for future conflicts.

The next step, if the West fails to step up to the plate, could very well be deployment in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley by Iran of long-range Shahab-3 missiles aimed at Europe. Now that the Europeans have seen the devastating impact far smaller rockets fired into Israel have had on Israel’s economy, how will they respond to the prospect of much larger missiles hitting their capitals?

Can you imagine Parisians or Romans taking to the bomb-shelters? Sending their children to stay with relatives living overseas? Can you imagine them resisting Iran as Israelis are doing?

Unchecked, Iran will continue its march toward nuclear weapons, and it will use terrorist proxies to fight the West. In the future, those proxies will have nuclear weapons. This is the “hurricane” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised the world last week in Tehran, in yet another “Mein Kampf” statement.

Now is the time to draw the line, as the Free World failed to do against fascism in 1936. Israel must be allowed to finish the job of smashing Hezbollah in Lebanon. And the Free World needs to step up to its responsibilities by actually carrying out decisions it has declared so forcefully at the United Nations and at the G-8 that call for disarming Hezbollah and asserting Lebanese sovereignty over its own territory.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is president of Middle East Data Project Inc., author of “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran” and has reported from northern Israel for Newsmax.com.

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