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William Rivers Pitt: The Pin in the Grenade

The Pin in the Grenade

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 24 July 2006

There is no way to tell exactly how this Middle East upheaval is going to unfold, and making any sort of prediction is a dangerous game. There are, however, a number of disparate factors threaded through this situation that, if allowed to coalesce, will create an unspeakably dangerous convulsion that will be felt all across the globe.

Any first step toward this dangerous convulsion would involve other Middle East nations besides Israel and Lebanon actively becoming involved in the conflict. Syria, which shares a border with both Israel and Lebanon, is a prime candidate for this possible entry.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Israeli ground forces have pushed deeper into Lebanon as they press their fight against Hezbollah guerrillas. Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz said, "The army's ground operation in Lebanon is focused on limited entrances, and we are not talking about an invasion of Lebanon."

Also on Sunday, Syrian information minister Moshen Bilal told the Spanish newspaper ABC, "If Israel makes a land entry into Lebanon, they can get to within 20 kilometers of Damascus. What will we do? Stand by with our arms folded? Absolutely not. Without any doubt Syria will intervene in the conflict. I repeat, if Israel makes a land invasion of Lebanon and gets near us, Syria will not stand by with arms folded. It will enter the conflict."

This warning was leveled within the context of a cease-fire discussion proffered by Syria by way of Spain. The discussion would require direct talks between Syria and the United States, something the Bush administration has thus far dismissed, and would further require Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria, something Israel would almost certainly balk at. The offer, in short, appears to be a non-starter, even as Israeli forces push deeper into Lebanon despite Syrian threats of open involvement.

If conflict between Israel and Syria breaks out, the fighting will in all likelihood not stay between them alone. Syria and Iran signed a mutual defense pact not so long ago, which means fighting one could be tantamount to fighting both. While Israel's military capabilities are undeniably substantial, a war against Syria or Iran, or both, would be no simple task.

Beyond the dangers involved in such a clash lies the potential for a widened conflict that draws the United States in. Iran's batteries of Sunburn missiles, if unleashed from their mountainous shoreline overlooking the Persian Gulf, could attack heavy American warships patrolling those waters. The Sunburn has the capability of defeating Aegis radar systems, so damage to the American fleet could be severe. Iran likewise has the ability to, overnight, bring their fight against Israel to the American soldiers in Iraq; Iran's Shiite allies all across Iraq can introduce a whole new front in that struggle.

There are also economic ramifications to consider. If Iran is attacked, or if their government chooses to squeeze the Western world, they could decide to turn off the petroleum spigot. Gas prices in America climbed again through the middle of July, but a disruption of petroleum distribution on this level would send those prices skyrocketing and badly shake the global economy.

Syria, if pressed into a corner by Israel's effective attacks, could choose to break the seal on the final and most dangerous option: their stockpile of chemical weaponry. If gas bombs are used against Israeli troops, and explode within Israel's borders, the situation will spiral completely out of control. Israel would erupt in rage and visit a terrible retribution on both Syria and Iran.

Today, across the Middle East, anger at Israel's military actions in Lebanon and America's unconditional support for this seethes in every capital city. The San Jose Mercury News has reported, "Even in the Christian sections of Beirut, which are largely immune to the violence, anger at Israel is growing. 'If they keep targeting civilians like this, they're only hurting themselves,' said Riad Khattar, the Christian owner of an Internet cafe in Beirut. 'Even the Christians are now starting to support Hezbollah. This was not the fact before the war. By killing civilians, they are making Hezbollah stronger and stronger.'"

Should Israel envelop Iran and Syria in a massive retaliatory attack, that seething anger could boil over. Even the Arab governments who chastised Hezbollah would be forced to choose between opposing Israel or being themselves toppled by the swell.

Here, then, we reach one of the most frightening possibilities in all this. If such an eruption of anger reaches Pakistan, , whose hard-core fundamentalists are umbilically and spiritually tied to their Taliban neighbors in Afghanistan, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf could be faced with a sudden revolution. Such a revolt would come both from his population and from within the ranks of his Taliban-friendly military. If his government is toppled, the world will be faced with the fact that a nuclear power has been overthrown by Islamic extremists.

There is today in Pakistan an American special forces unit whose sole purpose is to secure and remove that nation's nuclear arsenal in the event of revolt. If that unit loses the race to get hold of the weapons, Pakistan's nuclear weapons will be loose amid a hellbroth of anti-Israeli and anti-American rage all across the region.

If this last bit involving Pakistan seems too farfetched, someone should let the editors of the Los Angeles Times know. The following appeared in the Opinion section of their Sunday edition: "Al Qaeda has had Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in its sights for years, and the organization finally gets its man. Pakistan descends into chaos as militants roam the streets and the army struggles to restore order. India decides to exploit the vacuum and punish the Kashmir-based militants it blames for the recent Mumbai railway bombings. Meanwhile, U.S. special operations forces sent to secure Pakistani nuclear facilities face off against an angry mob."

At this point, the scenario becomes unutterably grim for the Americans who think this fight does not involve them. It was, after all, the violence between Israel, Palestine and Lebanon back in the 1980s that inspired men like Ramsi Yousef to attack the World Trade Center in the first place. The Bush administration would be largely powerless to stop these attacks, because anti-terror funding has been redirected to bean festivals in Indiana instead of major capitols and seats of infrastructure, and because our first-warning intelligence services have been savaged in an ideological purge.

The exact kind of violence taking place today is what brought terrorism to our shores. If it is allowed to continue or expand, there is no guarantee that it will not return here again. If the scenario involving the fall of Pakistan becomes a reality, everyone between Portland ME and Portland OR will be hiding under their beds.

The Bush administration has proven to be allergic to any negotiations or cease-fire talks that would come close to returning matters in the Middle East to what they call the "status quo." While it is true that a cessation of violence at this point would amount to little more than putting the pin back in the grenade, this is far more preferable course than allowing the grenade to go off.

This isn't just about them, over there. This is about us, over here, as well. The nightmare scenarios here must be avoided at all costs.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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