Saturday, July 15, 2006

Escalation In The Middle East 

I would like to thank King for inviting me to guest blog at his place, it is much larger than mine. For my first post I was hoping to do something about civil liberties on campus. However, given my background and that I lived in Jerusalem for a year, I just have to comment on the escalation in the Middle East.

As always the situation in the Middle East gives new meaning to the saying "being fluid is to rigged." Since last night there have been several major developments, all of which point to a widening war:

1. The attack on the Israeli ship was by an Iranian anti-ship missile, believed to be a Chinese C-802, not a Hezbollah UAV packed with explosives as initially reported.

2. Israeli intelligence reports that there are approximately 100 Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighting with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

3. Israel reportedly gave Syria 72 hours to reign in Hezbollah and release the two Israeli soldiers.

Anyone of these development is significant in-and-of-itself, taken together they point towards a major escalation.

The C-802 Missile
Hezbollah reportedly used a C-802 missile to attack the Israeli ship. The C-802 is a turbojet powered, radar guided anti-ship missile that China exported to a number of countries, including Iran until 1996. Iran may now be producing a version of the missile too. It is unknown whether the C-802 used was Iranian made or one Iran obtained from China.

The C-802 is effective against ships, especially those without a point defense system such as Phalanx. It is radar guided, has a 363 lbs warhead, weighs over 1,600 pounds and has a range of up to 120km. The C-802 can be fired from stationary launchers or trucks (there is also an air and sea version). However, it is not something that is easy to hide. Therefore, it took more then a little planning and time to get these weapons into Lebanon without Israel's knowledge. So much for the Cedar Revolution ridding Lebanon of foreign control.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The C-802 that was launched against the Israeli ship was reportedly manned by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. This makes tactical sense, but shows a lack of common sense. It allows Iran to retain operational control of the missiles and does away with the requirement to train Hezbollah crews. However, an attack by an Iranian missile unit on an Israeli warship substantially increases the likelihood that Israel will return the favor and donate a substantial amount of munitions to Iran.

The presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon is disturbing but not surprising. The Revolutionary Guard was formed by, and are loyal to, the mad mullahs. Combine this with the fact that Iran is one of Hezbollah's two puppet masters and it should come as no surprise to find Revolutionary Guard units in Lebanon. Though not unexpected, it is a major escalation of the conflict and does away with any pretense that Iran is not involved in the continuing terror attacks on Israel.

Israeli Ultimatum
If the reports are correct and Israel gave Syria 72 hours to reign in Hezbollah, then things that did not make sense begin too. So far Israel has limited its Lebanon operations to air, naval and artillery attacks on Hezbollah positions and infrastructure that could be used by Hezbollah. This tactic makes sense if Israel was contemplating that military action against Syria might be necessary - it sends a very strong message to Syria that getting involved is a bad idea while allowing Israel time to deploy the necessary ground units.

Second, the ultimatum would explain the recent statements by Iran and Syria. Iran stated that it would come to Syria's aid and Syria that it would come to Hezbollah's aid. Taken in a vacuum, these statements seemed to be nothing more then rhetoric for the Arab street. Taken in the context of an ultimatum, they seem to be last ditch attempts to put off the day of reckoning.

Bottom line. Iran and Syria's support of Hezbollah has always been an issue that demanded resolution. The arming of Hezbollah with Silkworm missiles manned by Iranian crews moves that date closer. Now it is up to Syria and Iran to decide whether they want to continue to hold onto the tail and hope the tiger does not bite. I think the Assad needs to make sure he has new glasses so he can see clearly before making a decision.

Some back ground on the conflict at Lamplighter (full disclosure, it is my blog). For an extensive round up see Blogs of War.