Connecting the booms in the Middle East.
Explosions, generally of a mysterious kind, have been rocking the Middle East lately. On Monday night residents of the Western Galilee were awoken by some of them when someone—it’s not clear who—fired four Katyusha rockets from just over the Lebanese border. The rockets damaged a chicken coop and a gas tank.
Israel responded with artillery fire into southern Lebanon. Although Hizbullah has amassed tens of thousand of missiles there—making a mockery of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 (2006) that was supposed to prohibit that from happening—the IDF didn’t think Hizbullah had fired the Katyushas.
The Shiite organization has been in a tough bind. One of its patrons, the Assad regime in Syria, is tottering, and Lebanon’s anti-Hizbullah March 14 coalition is accordingly getting bolder. And last week a Hizbullah arms depot was hit by one of those unexplained explosions, with some accounts saying Israel was behind it. Hizbullah, then, is not seen as itching for a clash at this point.
Instead the IDF assessed that a small Al Qaeda-linked or Palestinian group had fired the rockets—as has happened before from Lebanon, the last time in October 2009. By late afternoon on Tuesday an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group indeed claimed it was responsible.
The attack came hard on the heels of a reportedly much larger explosion in Esfahan, Iran, home of a major nuclear facility. Are the various Middle Eastern booms connected to each other?
One who thinks they are is security professional Daniel Nisman, who argued in an op-ed on Tuesday that Monday night’s Katyusha attack was
in no way a fluke…. It is no coincidence that the relative calm in the [Israeli] north was shattered just hours after another mysterious explosion rocked a strategically important Iranian city. The reported blast in Esfahan…was the latest in what is perceived to be an enhanced sabotage campaign by Western spy agencies following the latest critical report by the IAEA.
While sharing the view that Hizbullah was not a likely culprit, Nisman said the
Syrians and Iranians…still need an outlet from which to send a warning message to the Israelis. Palestinian and Sunni militant groups provide the most convenient option…. The fact that the attack was small…signals that the Iranians and Syrians seek to warn…Israel that its operations to undermine Iranian or Syrian aspirations will not go unchecked.
In a warning of another kind on Sunday, Iranian defense minister Ahmad Vahidi had already talked of “150,000 missiles” hitting Israel if it attacks Iran.
Whether or not Nisman is right about Monday night’s rockets, there is no doubt that the Iranian-led Middle Eastern axis of evil has been under serious pressure of late. With Iran increasingly subject to both sanctions and sabotage, the Assad regime’s existence on the line, and terror proxies Hizbullah and Hamas—particularly the former—in a precarious position, the threats and bluster coming especially from Tehran have a shrill and even desperate ring to them.
The question is whether the West can muster the resolve to keep turning up the heat on these actors. To be sure, cornered tigers can be particularly dangerous, especially when having a nuclear program. And with Sunni Islamist regimes sprouting from the soil of the “Arab spring,” Iran’s axis is hardly the only cloud on the horizon.
Still, in the ever-volatile Middle East, Iran and its allies pose the central threat at the moment. Israel, whose residents know all about booms in the night, is trying hard to make that clear and point the way to neutralizing that threat.
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