WWIV or WWI?

A new war has begun. This is how Yossi Klein Halevi in TNR describes it:

The next Middle East war — Israel against genocidal Islamism — has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah’s latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel’s antagonists won’t be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites.

The goals of the war should be the destruction of the Hamas regime and the dismantling of the Hezbollah infrastructure in southern Lebanon. Israel cannot coexist with Iranian proxies pressing in on its borders. In particular, allowing Hamas to remain in power — and to run the Palestinian educational system — will mean the end of hopes for Arab-Israeli reconciliation not only in this generation but in the next one too….

The ultimate threat, though, isn’t Hezbollah or Hamas but Iran. And as Iran draws closer to nuclear capability — which the Israeli intelligence community believes could happen this year — an Israeli-Iranian showdown becomes increasingly likely. According to a very senior military source with whom I’ve spoken, Israel is still hoping that an international effort will stop a nuclear Iran; if that fails, then Israel is hoping for an American attack. But if the Bush administration is too weakened to take on Iran, then, as a last resort, Israel will have to act unilaterally. And, added the source, Israel has the operational capability to do so.

For Israelis, that is the worst scenario of all. Except, of course, the scenario of nuclear weapons in the hands of the patron state of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Perhaps this little war can be kept contained. Perhaps it can go on for several years with various peaks and lulls, as TNR describes. Perhaps. But if the Islamist aggressors choose to, they can cause a new WWI to break out, with treaty alliances coming into play to escalate matters beyond a point of no return, as happened in WWI. The always entertaining and somtimes accurate Debka describes the Syrian and Iranian elements in this burgeoning war that could drive the conflict into something much larger than it started out.

Iran’s national security adviser Ali Larijani flies to Damascus aboad special military plane Wednesday night as war tension builds up around Hizballah kidnap of 2 Israeli soldiers. Larijani is also Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator. He will remain in Damascus for the duration of the crisis in line with the recently Iranian-Syrian mutual defense pact. His presence affirms that an Israeli attack on Syria will be deemed an assault on Iran.

It also links the Israeli hostage crisis to Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. The White House released a statement holding Syria and Iran responsible for Hizballah abduction and demanding their immediate and unconditional release. The Syrian army has been put on a state of preparedness. DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Iranian air force, missile units and navy are also on high alert. DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report Hizballah acted on orders from Tehran to open a second front against Israel…

Hizballah’s leaders went into hiding, their bases were evacuated and their fighting strength transferred to pre-planned places of concealment. Ahead of the abduction, Hizballah ordnance and missile stocks were transferred to the Palestinian Ahmed Jibril’s tunnel system at Naama, 30 km south of Beirut, which was built in the 1980s by East German engineers. The Israel navy has long tried to smash this coastal underground fortress from the sea without success. Israel began calling up an armored division, air crews and technicians from the reserves Wednesday night.

Is it impossible to believe that things could spin out of control between Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah and involve Syria and Iran in a regional war? Is is impossible to believe that a regional war with Iran as a belligerent might not suck in oil-producing and oil-consuming nations? Is it impossible to believe that Cpl. Gilad Shalit might be this century’s Archduke Ferdinand? Time will tell.

UPDATE

We note that the conflict has just escalated to an air and sea blockade of Lebanon by Israel; Israel has already bombed Beirut’s airport. Meanwhile, the NYT weighs in with its typical helpful perspective from the enemy’s foxhole in an article entitled “Once Again, Gazans Are Displaced by Israeli Occupiers.”

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