Syria, Iran and Lebanon

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Syria, Iran and Lebanon

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This week saw the emergence of a new twist in the riddle of the Middle East "great game". Syria and Iran have announced an alliance to counter American influence in the region. Iran has already been fingered as part of the "axis of evil" while Syria was understood to be the same, but remained unnamed. While both nations are a bit unnerved over the developments in Iraq they are playing the next card in this ever changing region.

On Monday in Lebanon a bomb killed the former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Syria is the prime suspect behind the killing since it has had a controlling interest in the nation for more than twenty years. The civil war that wrecked this country in the 1980's came to an uneasy close in the 1990's and Syria was a key to the settlement. Not much of significance happens in Lebanon without Syrian support. Now the U.S. has withdrawn its Ambassador from Damascus.

The concern with Iran is it nuclear capability. Most believe it is some months away from having an operational nuclear device. While diplomatic pressure is currently underway to persuade the mullahs from continuing this course, many believe it likely that a military strike from America or Israel will take out any nuclear deployment. America will not stand by and allow Iran to develop nuclear arms. It simply won't happen.

The killing of an unknown former prime minister has drawn attention to a forgotten corner of the Arab world. A new chain of events seems to be forming. Where it will lead is yet to be seen. Stratfor had an analysis that focuses on a new terror threat that could rise out of these events:

The American weak spot is not nuclear weapons. It is terrorism. The United States is simply not good at coping with sparse, global, covert networks. It has focused its attention on al Qaeda and has gotten somewhere, but it has been a long, hard, uncertain road.

Al Qaeda, a Sunni Wahhabi organization, is not the only competent covert force in the world. The other is Hezbollah -- al Qaeda's Shiite equivalent. Hezbollah rose to prominence in the 1980s as an Iranian-sponsored, Syrian-supported force operating out of Lebanon. It took part in Lebanon's civil war and has been active in campaigns against Israel. Hezbollah has been relatively quiet on a global scale, but it continues to exist and continues to operate in Lebanon.

Al-Hariri's murder and the resurrection of the Syrian-Iranian alliance have meaning only if Damascus and Tehran plan to unleash Hezbollah. At the very least, they are threatening to do so, in the hope of using it as a bargaining chip with the United States. However, if Washington bargains on those grounds, it will get rolled on a range of issues. The United States cannot afford to negotiate on those terms, and Hezbollah is the only card Syria and Iran can play effectively.

In other words, it may well be that another trained, experienced and dedicated organization is now being ramped up -- and it isn't al Qaeda. Hezbollah is a capable and deadly force. It is to be taken very seriously. (Middle East: A New Coalition Forms?; George Friedman;

The American action in Iraq continues to stir unintended reaction from those who fiercely oppose any radical change.

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