- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Former senior U.S. and Israeli officials called yesterday for the United States to rally the international community to impose sanctions on Iran and push Arab allies to work against Hezbollah and Hamas.

Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Middle East envoy who brokered cease-fires in Lebanon in 1993 and 1996, said at a Washington Institute press briefing, “I’ve done this before, and I know what it takes. America is key to ending this conflict.”

Mr. Ross blamed Iran for recent Hamas and Hezbollah attacks and said encouraging political and economic sanctions against Iran and Syria “should be our objective right now.”

Moshe Yaalon, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces from 2002 to 2005, said, “These attacks were masterminded by Iran and facilitated by Syria.”

He pointed out that Hezbollah’s initial attack on Israeli forces coincided with a deadline for Iran to respond to a U.S.-led coalition offer regarding its nuclear program.

“Iran guaranteed that the world’s attention would be directed elsewhere,” Mr. Ross said, noting that the nuclear issue was pushed off center stage at the weekend Group of Eight summit in Russia.

Gen. Yaalon also said Iranian officials “prodded” Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus shortly before the Hamas kidnapping that triggered Israel’s offensive in Gaza in June.

He added that Israel “strongly suspected” that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon fired an Iranian C-802 radar-guided missile that hit an Israeli vessel Friday, killing four seamen.

Mr. Ross said, “The Iranians already transported things to Hezbollah that we didn’t know about. They clearly can’t be trusted. And if they’re acting this confidently without nukes, do we want to know what they’ll do if they have them?”

The United States suspects Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Gen. Yaalon said Iran had escaped the consequences of orchestrating other terrorist attacks and could not be allowed to emerge from this conflict without paying a price.

Mr. Ross urged the United States to “work intensely behind the scenes” with Iran’s enemies in the Arab world to broker a peace deal.

“I watch for changes in behavior. And one thing that makes this situation different from past ones is that some Arab states are acting very uncharacteristically by criticizing Hezbollah and not letting up, especially Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Mr. Ross suggested that the United States encourage the development of an “Arab plan,” which would include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others interested in undermining Iran’s regional influence.

He said the plan would include political, economic and military support for the Lebanese government and military, which is still relatively weak and unable to rein in Hezbollah.

“For the first time, Arab states may be interested in developing alternatives to Hezbollah and Hamas. We can move this forward with Arab financial backing to help the Palestinian Authority and Lebanese government finally provide the social and economic support for its people that Hezbollah and Hamas usually get credit for,” Mr. Ross said.

David Schenker, former Lebanese military contact for the Pentagon and a Washington Institute fellow, said the conflict exposed the true loyalties of Hamas and Hezbollah.

“It’s very clear now to Palestinians and Lebanese that Hezbollah is not a Lebanese group, but serves the interests of others. They really don’t care about the Palestinians or the Lebanese people,” he said.

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