Saturday, December 15, 2007

Iran replaces its general in Lebanon 

Everybody has their leadership problems. Iran has apparently decided to switch out its commander in the Lebanon theater:

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, perhaps the most admired figure in the Arab world, has been stripped by Iran of his control of the Lebanese organisation's military wing, according to a report yesterday in Asharq Alawsat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London.

A similar report, in the Tel Aviv daily Ma'ariv, attributed the move to his role in involving Hezbollah last year in a war against Israel.

The ability of Hezbollah to stand up to Israel despite air and ground attacks had won Mr Nasrallah plaudits from populations throughout the Middle East. However, according to Western sources cited by Ma'ariv, Tehran's unhappiness with Mr Nasrallah stems from the war itself, although no details were given.

The war exposed the strategic force Iran had built up in southern Lebanon as a deterrent against an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, not for a local, cross-border clash.

In the first hour of the war, Israeli planes destroyed the bulk of the long-range rockets supplied by Iran to Hezbollah capable of striking Tel Aviv and other targets deep inside Israel.

The extent to which Iran, and also Syria, had armed Hezbollah became evident during the war when 4000 rockets were fired into Israel. About 10,000 more remained in Hezbollah's arsenals at war's end.

The war not only revealed the extent of Iran's strategic presence in Lebanon but also diminished its effectiveness.

Commentary and speculation

Supposing for a moment that the story is true -- Hez denies it, but that is barely probative -- what have we learned, or re-learned?

First, that Hezbollah does what Iran asks, but is not entirely under Iran's control. We have known this for a long time -- remember, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami summoned Hezbollah's leaders to Tehran after September 11 to ask them whether they were behind the attack, which proved both that Hezbollah would come to Tehran when called and also that the Iranian leadership had less than perfect confidence that Hez would not go rogue. Unfortunately, both left and right try to recharacterize the relationship into something quite different than this middle ground. The left refuses -- disingenuously, in my opinion -- to accept any link between Tehran and Hezbollah. It is worried that Hezbollah's actions create casus belli between its targets and Iran, which they do. The right, on the other hand, wants to hold Tehran responsible for every bad act of Hezbollah, a principle of culpability that they would not want applied to the United States and its proxies.

Second, this story, if true, suggests strongly that Israel in fact improved its strategic position in last year's war with Hezbollah, notwithstanding received wisdom to the contrary (see one of our many posts to that effect).

Third -- here is the rank speculation -- it is possible that at least one of Iran's motivations in the removal of Nasrallah is to send a signal in the on-going non-negotiation negotiations between Iran and the various power confronting it. Iran wants the United States out of Iraq, and it may have decided that the best way to bring that about is to allow the United States to withdraw with honor and at least a plausible claim to having achieved geopolitical victory. That may explain why Iran seems to have reduced the support it has given to insurgents in Iraq. It also becomes easier if Israel and the Sunni Arabs feel more secure. The removal of Nasrallah might be a gesture toward that objective.

Take your shots in the comments.


By Blogger SR, at Sat Dec 15, 02:08:00 PM:

I heard a replay this morning featuring a WaPo reporter who is reporting on developing negotiations between the US and Iran that have actually been going on since before the Iraq invasion. Anybody know about this? If it is true, then a grand settlement may be in the works explaining the NIE and the Hezbollah change.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Dec 15, 08:25:00 PM:

"The right, on the other hand, wants to hold Tehran responsible for every bad act of Hezbollah, a principle of culpability that they would not want applied to the United States and its proxies"

So we should be worried about playing fair with Hezbollah and Iran? We should have paid back Hezbollah in spades for the 83 bombing.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Dec 15, 08:29:00 PM:

Yes, iowa_john, we certainly should have. With the benefit of hindsight it was one of Ronald Reagan's worst mistakes.  

By Blogger Yishai, at Sat Dec 15, 08:41:00 PM:

But why would removing Nasrallah show less of an Iraq-resistance support?

It may be that Nasrallah was supposed to attack Israel already (Iran definitely needed a diversion, and indications were that an attack was imminent this past summer), yet didn't attack, and remains in hiding like a chicken-$hit (btw, he should be chicken. if he shows his pretty little face, Israel will take him out before he can say humus). So it may be that Iran is pissed that Nasrallah didn't use Hezballah well enough and is making Hezballah look like the sorry pansy-asses they are...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Dec 15, 09:09:00 PM:

No slight intended-the cowards of Hezbollah are a sore spot given some unpleasant family history  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Dec 15, 11:21:00 PM:

I passed the information about Nasrallah to a couple that is staying in our home this week. They are long-time Beirut natives and Lebanese by birth.

The gentleman doubts the provenance of this report. Since this is only being reported in London and Tel-Aviv and not a word in any Lebanese media outlets, it looks dubious. That's a shame. If anyone ever so richly deserved to be humiliated (actually killed) it is Nasrallah.

Sorry to throw cold water on this. We all hope that we are wrong and that tomorrow will bring confirmation that Nasrallah is indeed out of power.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 16, 12:14:00 AM:

IF Nasrallah is being removed for having started the 2006 summer war with Israel, it appears odd that Iran would wait over a year to remove him.

If, on the other hand, he is being removed for NOT having started a war in the summer of 2007, at least the timing seems a little more appropriate.
Who knows?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 16, 02:41:00 AM:

I am doubtful about both the report and the idea of "negotiations" with Iran

Iran tends to use truckbombs (see Beirut 83, Khobar Towers 96, Buenos Aires 94) when they want something. Their "negotiation" is to tell you how many people they blew apart, promise more, and demand you do what they want.

For the most part this has been very, very successful.

To the extent that Iran regards the "gun-type" Uranium bombs as "super-atomic truck bombs" this is worrisome. It's worthy to note that Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea did not bother with Uranium, HEU, and centrifuges since they were useless for nukes that could be fit on ICBMs. Instead they went the Plutonium route and the implosion bomb (Fat Man bomb). The only power to use HEU, "Little Boy" bombs was South Africa.

The "gun-type" uranium bombs are simple but fragile, suffer decay and must have the uranium elements replaced every six months or so, and won't fit on missiles. They do fit nicely on trucks though. [South Africa had air superiority and could drop nukes from the Air ala Paul Tibbetts and Enola Gay.]

Interesting things to ponder.  

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