Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The law of unintended consequences continues to throw up more consequences that were not intended. Israel is now boxed in between three pro-Iran entities (Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas) and two pro-al Qaeda terrorist groups — Hezbollah that is dominant in Lebanon to the north and Hamas that now controls Gaza, the size of Washington, D.C., to the south.

Both are sworn enemies of the Jewish state. Hamas, a radical offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, first rose to prominence by planning and executing the first intifada against Israeli occupation in 1987. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas also runs welfare services for the poor, which in Gaza is almost the entire population of 1.5 million.

In 2006, Hamas startled the world and frightened Israel by winning legislative elections and seizing control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its ministries. It refuses to deal with Israel and shares the conviction of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel’s demise is preordained.

It is often said that Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. But they have a lot of company. Several opportunities to create a moderate Palestinian state were treated with what diplomats call benign neglect by both Israel and the Bush administration.

In March 2002, when Saudi Arabia got the entire Arab world of 22 nation-states to agree to normal diplomatic and economic relations with Israel in return for a Palestinian state east of the pre-1967 war borders, there was nary a diplomatic peep out of either Washington or Jerusalem. President Bush’s road map for a Palestinian state was published and promptly ignored — by both the U.S. and Israel. A liberated democratic Iraq, it was thought, would prove contagious throughout the Middle East.

Now the chances for a Palestinian settlement remain stuck at minus zero. Extremists have displaced pragmatists. Moderation doesn’t pay in today’s Middle East; violence does. And the Bush administration’s campaign for democratic reform in the region has petered out.

Hamas-controlled Gaza is under a tight Israeli blockade. Israel also controls its power and water supplies. But Hamas has all the automatic weapons, RPGs, rockets and ammo it needs, presumably smuggled in and captured from the defeated Fatah militia. Hamas also collected arms supplied by the United States to the PA’s presidential guard.

Now relegated to seven towns in the West Bank, what’s left of a much-weakened Fatah-dominated government is in no position to bargain with Israel over the return of what was once Palestinian territory. A U.N. map published earlier this month showed 40 percent of the West Bank occupied by Jewish settlements and their numerous interconnecting roads. Under tight military control, these are forbidden to Palestinian traffic.

Before flying to Washington to confer with President Bush and congressional leaders, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel was now prepared to hand over to the Fatah government in the West Bank $562 million in withheld tax and customs duties. He thought this would help Fatah turn the West Bank into a Palestinian model of good government. But to make this possible, Mr. Olmert would have to relinquish most of the territory to the Palestinians. With his single digit approval ratings, Mr. Olmert cannot afford bold initiatives. And Hamas is still present throughout the West Bank.

In Iraq’s Anbar Province, the U.S. is arming Sunnis to fight al Qaeda’s jihadi fighters while Iran’s clandestine services are also supplying some Sunni groups, presumably to sabotage American peacemaking efforts in that same province. So the U.S. and Iran are each arming both Shia and Sunni, a recipe for a future civil war pitting Iranian proxies against Saudi and Jordanian surrogates. The current surge then becomes irrelevant. Unencumbered by time constraints, Iran is confident its Shia allies will prevail.

But for the U.S. Congress, the spotlight is clearly on “surge” operations in Baghdad where measurable progress has to be registered by September and reported to president Bush and Capitol Hill by overall commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker — or Democrats will ratchet up the pressure to throttle funding. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the ground forces commander, wasn’t too helpful when he admitted 60 percent of Baghdad is still insecure, ranging from “a high level of violence” to “no control.”

So far Operation Iraqi Freedom has inadvertently dealt winning hands to Iran. The al-Maliki government in Baghdad and the mullahs in Tehran have weaved a web of mutual interests below the U.S. radar screen. Iraqi ministers are regular travelers to Tehran (via Amman and Beirut) to confer with their Iranian opposite numbers. After U.S. troops leave, Baghdad will still have a 900-mile porous frontier with the region’s now dominant power.

In January, millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Iranians journey to Karbala and Najaf for the religious observance of Ashura, where they march, chant and flagellate themselves to mourn the seventh century killing of their revered martyr, Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad. Weeding out Iranian agents among the pilgrims is impossible.

The five Iranian “diplomats” captured by U.S. forces in Irbil last January were Revolutionary Guard operatives. Their computer hard drives also shed light on the extent of Iranian’s clandestine operations from Mosul to Basra and from Kut near the Iranian border, to desert villages near the Jordanian border. Iranian agents have also recruited from the ranks of Iraq’s security services.

The pro-Iran SCIRI (the Shi’ite Supreme Council for Islamic Resistance in Iraq) is the largest Shia party in Iraq and a member of the coalition government as the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq. Its armed wing, the Badr Brigade, is made up of 12,000 Shi’ite militia, many of whom were trained in Iran by the Revolutionary Guards before the U.S. invasion. Muqtada al-Sadr’s pro-Iran, anti-U.S. Mahdi army was ordered to stash its weapons and lie low pending the end of Gen. Petraeus’ Baghdad surge.

Iran’s radical assets in Iraq are biding their time. Benchmarks and timelines are not part of their vocabulary. Iranian parliamentarians are not threatening funding cuts for the mullahs’ Iraqi operations — or for their nuclear ambitions.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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