"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

Is Iran preparing for war?

Iran is expected to give its answer to western incentive packages in return freezing its nuclear development on 22 Aug 06.

Farid Ghadry points to the night of 21-22 Aug 06 as being significant in that 21 Aug 06 (Rajab 27, 1427) is known in the Islamic calendar as the Night of the Sira’a and Miira'aj, the night Prophet Mohammed (saas) ascended to heaven from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on a Bourak (Half animal, half man), while a great light lit-up the night sky, and visited Heaven and Hell also Beit al-Saada and Beit al-Shaqaa (House of Happiness and House of Misery) and then descended back to Mecca.

Others have also suggested that Iran will attack Israel on this day. Some suggest that the significance of this day also coincide with the rise of the Hidden Imam or the 12th Grandson of Mohammad.

Other interesting reports are starting to come out of Iran.

Radio Free Europe reported that army deputy commander General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani briefed Iran will launch a large-scale military maneuvers called the "The Blow of Zolfaghar" involving 12 Iranian Regiments in West and East Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Baluchestan va Sistan, and Khorasan provinces. In addition, border security patrols would also reinforced. It is interesting to note that these provinces border Turkey, Northern Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Iran just finished extensive naval maneuvers in the Striat of Hormuz in April of this year.

Vital Perspective is reporting that Tehran Police have begun to dismantle satellite dishes from rooftops in Iran and questions what is Iran trying to hide from the public. While long outlawed, the satellite dishes have until now been tolerated.

It is interesting to note that General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani is also responsible for Iran's production of its own main battle tank (Zulfiqar) and tracked armored personnel carrier (Boragh) beginning in 1996 of which Iran is now expected to have over 500 of each. That is about enough new tanks anf APCs to outfit 12 regiments.

Iran-Daily is reporting that 28 new airports will be coming online within the next few weeks. Concurrently, Iran-Daily points out that the first phase of gasoline rationing is now almost complete and soon the second phase will begin and occur over the next six months.

Combining all this together, it appears Iran is preparing for war.

Who are the winners-losers of the Israeli-Hazbollah war?

As the dust settles, it is time to look at the outcome of the Israeli-Hezbollah war. While there is little doubt that Israel failed to achieve its strategic objectives of destroying Hezbollah, there is also little doubt that Hezbollah, Syria, or Iran were clear victors.

Nasrallah: A clear victor in the Israeli-Hezbollah war was Nasrallah. He has gained popularity in not only the Middle East, but also in westerns countries by share virtue of name recognition. People who did not know him before do now. This popularity will benefit him in the Middle East, but will also pose a threat to him from the west.

Olmert: Olmert is a clear loser. He has been weakened through his indecision and inconsistent use of military force. He failed to accomplish his strategic objectives as outlined at the onset of war.

Israel: The state of Israel is neither a winner nor a loser.

Israel was given the latitude, both internally and internationally, to pursue an immense strategic victory. The state failed to capitalize on this historic opportunity. However, its failure to accomplish its strategic objectives is not seen as a defeat for the state, but for Olmert, his cabinet, and IDF leadership, but not for the IDF in general.

While not scoring the strategic victory, Hamas and Hezbollah will undoubtedly think twice before kidnapping Israeli Soldiers or firing rockets into Israel again given the destruction brought upon their members and their territories in starting these wars. They both expected to be able to kidnap Israeli Soldiers and use them as bargaining chips for prisoner exchanges without suffering under the might of the Israeli military. Olmert, to his credit, counter-attacked violently in both Gaza and Lebanon bringing untold destruction to both groups. While a prisoner exchange may happen in the future, the destruction caused by the kidnappings limits the ability of Hamas and Hezbollah to use this tactic in the future. For this reason, Israel is a winner. Unilateral disengagement from the West Bank will now also be hotly contested in Israel as it has failed in Gaza and Lebanon to prevent war. This fact will hinder Palestinian Authority in the future.

The fact that Israel's invincibility is now in question, it may well see more terrorist aggression. However, it must be understood that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah were able to go on the offensive after kidnapping of Soldiers. They both fought purely defensive wars. Other than launching rockets into Israeli territory to kill noncombatants, no offensive action was taken by either of these groups. Hezbollah was especially well dug-in in an urban environment. The shear fact that Israel was able to kill 600 dug-in and bunkered Hezbollah Soldiers across Southern Lebanon in a little over 30 days while only losing a little over 100 Soldiers is quite a feat.

Hamas: Hamas is a loser.

For Hamas, many of its ministers and members have been captured or killed. Its ability to govern, degraded by international sanctions, has been totally destroyed as its members have gone into hiding. International support for Palestinians prior to Hamas' election is now completely eroded. While democratically elected, it is seen in many quarters now for what it really is, a terrorist group. Hamas' goal was to prevent adoption of the prisoner document and to weaken Fatah. These objectives are now further away as ever as Hamas and Fatah are looking to form a unity government. Hamas failed to form a unity government after the elections on its terms, now it is forced to form a unity government with Fatah on its terms. If Hamas wants to remain in power, the organization will have to give Fatah more power in the unity government.

The rebuilding of Hamas infrastructure destroyed during Gaza battles coupled with the loss of several millions of dollars a month from international and Israeli sources will significantly limit its ability to mount terrorist acts against Israel. Terrorism takes money. To keep power, Hamas will have to direct limited funds to rebuilding its infrastructure first.

Hezbollah: Hezbollah is a winner and a loser.

For Hezbollah, 600 of its elite fighters have been confirmed killed by the IDF. An additional 800-1200 Hezbollah are estimated to have died in air or artillery strikes for a total of 1400-1800 dead Hezbollah Soldiers. It is reasonable to assume the same number (or more likely more than the same number) of Hezbollah fighters have been wounded for a total of 2800-3600 Hezbollah killed or wounded during the 34 day war. This figure does not take into account the number of captured Hezbollah by the IDF. Hezbollah strength prior to the war is estimated between 5000-8000 core fighters.

Its core force was decimated. Its prepared defenses have been shattered; its infrastructure, like Hamas, that it has come to rely on over the last decade to promote its cause is in shambles. Its banks have been bombed. Its headquarters destroyed. While it will gain momentum with Shi'ites in the south in the coming months as it has promised to pay to rebuild, this is money that must now be spent on re-establishing its infrastructure vice upgrading its army. Lebanese are now seriously discussing how a non-governmental group was able to unleash Israeli vengeance on Lebanon. Many more Lebanese now want Hezbollah to be disarmed, but recognize they do not have the power to do it. It is no wonder that Nasrallah has only publicly stated that 48 Hezbollah have been killed. If the true numbers were known, it is quite possible that the Lebanese Army could disarm them.

Holding only 14 of 27 possible seats out of 128 total brings to light that the overwhelming number of Lebanese do not support Hezbollah or its allies. It is a bully that has brought destruction into Lebanon. This fact is not lost on the vast majority of Lebanese. Its support will continue among its supporters, but its opponents have even more reason to fear Hezbollah. For these reasons, it is a loser. However, Hezbollah was able to stand toe-to-toe against the Middle East's greatest army and was not apparently obliterated. Its method of warfare may very well be used by other terrorist elements in other countries. For that, it is a winner.

Syria: Syria is seen to have provided Hezbollah with the means to attack Israel. An overwhelmingly number of Lebanese supported and continue to support the Cedar Revolution and March 14 movement. They see Hezbollah's actions as another attempt by Syria to regain a foothold into Lebanon. While gaining international prestige after being restrained by Hariri’s murder, Syria will now have to redouble its efforts to regain control of Lebanon. This constitutes a zero sum gain for Syria unless it is able to regain control of Lebanon in the near future. However, the UN resolution specifically rules this possibility out. This fact may well be one of the good aspects of the UN resolution.

Iran: On the prestige side, it is a winner.

However, one of its major deterrents, Hezbollah, has now been exposed. While able to slow an IDF invasion and launch rockets unabated into Israel, it does not have the capability to execute major ground offensive actions into Israel. While launching an estimated 4000 rockets into Israel, it showed these rockets to be extremely ineffective at causing significant casualties despite their modification with deadly shrapnel. Causing mass destruction of Israel at the hands of Hezbollah is no longer a deterrent for the Mullahs of Tehran to use. Their only deterrent now preventing strikes against their country by the US over the nuclear issue is the Strait of Hormuz and cut off of oil production. A large US naval operation can effectively secure shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and ensure appropriate counter-attacks to any Iranian attack. The only card Iran can now play is oil production which will also cause gasoline imports to suffer. For this it is the loser.

So where does this leave us. It leaves us where we started. The Iranian, Syrian, Hezbollah, and Hamas coalition that met in December 2005 to declare decisive operations against Israel and the US failed to win decisively despite a well thought out and coordinated plan of attack. While gaining some international prestige, they did not win this battle decisively. Much planning and money went into this coordinated attack. The coalition does not have a whole lot to show for it accept more support among it supports and less support for itself among other opponent Arab governments.

Israel had a unique opportunity to decisively defeat Hezbollah. It failed to do that. The Iranian coalition came out ahead, but not by the amount it needed to change the dynamics in the Middle East. Once again, Amir Taheri has an excellent analysis of the winners and losers. I, like him, agree, the biggest losers are the Lebanese people that Hezbollah brought into this war.