Saturday, March 1, 2008

US flexes its muscles in Lebanon

The USS Cole is on its way to the Lebanese coast.

The move is being read as a military threat to Hezballah, Syria and Iran, signaling Washington's intent to fight for the control of Lebanon to the end.

"The presence is important. It isn't meant to send any stronger signals than that but in fact it does signal that we're engaged, we're going to be in the vicinity," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Hezballah slammed the move as a "failing attempt by the U.S. administration to support its [Lebanese] allies with its military apparel."

The military maneuver comes in addition to an expansion of US sanctions against Syria, the withdrawal of the Saudi ambassador from Damascus, and the assassination of Hezballah's Mughniyeh. The US is obviously trying to tighten the screws on Syria, but to what end?

Is this all a bluff? Syria analyst Joshua Landis seems to think so:

"Washington is in no position to pluck even the "low hanging fruit" of Damascus. It has had its one chance at regime change. There is no well thought out endgame to these threats. Bush is bluffing; the administration is full of sound a furry. It will do what additional harm it can to Damascus through further sanctions and perhaps even by launching a further military strike or two, aimed at a mujahidiin safe-house or some other target of opportunity, but it will be bluster," Landis wrote on his blog, SyriaComment.

I concur with Landis that Bush wouldn't be willing to go any further, or engage in any real military confrontation with Syria over Lebanon, but let's not discount Israel's involvement. The US coerced Israel into a war with Hezballah in 2006, who is to say the US won't use this arm in the near future?

The Daily Star from Lebanon, through the AFP, has reported increased Israeli military training on Lebanon's border.

It's wise to count that it was the Israeli air force that carried out strikes against an unknown military site in Syria in September 2007, and not the US air force. Washington is comfortable in using Israel as its military conduit in the region, particularly where it concerns Lebanon and Syria.

Arabs helped Mossad in Mughniyeh murder

As I suspected, and stated, the pro-American Arab nations are alleged to have assisted the Mossad in its assassination of Hezballah's Mughniyeh in Damascus in February.

Syrian investigators in the assassination claim to have made progress in the inquiry, and will present its findings at the Arab summit due to be held in Damascus in March.

The summit is heating up as an 'angry Arab summit', with the Lebanon row, Iraq and Iran entrenching a deep wedge between Syria and the American proxy states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Hezballah and Syria's President Bashar al Assad openly accused the pro-American trio of assisting Israel in its war against Lebanon in 2006. The discovery of Mossad-Arab co-operation in the Mughniyeh assassination is the latest major accusation surely to inflame already tense inter-Arab relations.

The US and Israel may have not succeeded in weakening either Hezballah, Syria or Iran, but they have been greatly successful in dividing the Arab camp to the extent where certain Arab states are willing to work with Israel to undermine its rivals.

Whilst the current tension is focused on Lebanon, the real balance of power in the Arab world will be decided in Iraq, where Iran and the US are entrenched in a similar impasse. The weakening of Lebanon is required to secure Israel's borders from an Iranian-backed menace and strangle Syria. The road to Damascus has always been through Beirut. However, not much greater can be guaranteed beyond that.

The real battle lies in Iraq. Iraq, when on its feet, has always been the nation to take charge in the Arab world. Its oil leverage gives it enough power to force other Arab powers such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to yield. Winning Lebanon is vital to the battle for Iraq.

Lebanon is a precedent to the struggle in Iraq. If the West and its proxy Arab states can't fend off Syria in Lebanon, it will have little hope against an Iraqi Shia majority backed by Iran, and an Iraqi Sunni minority backed by Syria, particularly now that Turkey has demonstrated its will to prevent the only American ally in Iraq - the Kurds - from breathing.

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