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This article was published 1/3/2010 (3611 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Upon the appointment of an American ambassador, after an absence of five years, many wanted to believe that Assad would cool his relationship with Iran and would block Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah. That was naive. Assad has no incentive to weaken his ties to Tehran. On the contrary, he believed his continued ties to Tehran would only increase his value and would increase the American incentives.
Thus, Assad mocked publicly U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call to weaken his ties to Tehran and he intensified the Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah.
"It's a bizarre anomaly," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told American officials in Washington last Friday. "Lebanon is a member of the UN and is also now a member of the UN Security Council. But Lebanon has also a "private" army, not subordinated to the state and this militia has an arsenal of 45,000 missiles and rockets that can hit targets anywhere in Israel. We cannot accept this. We consider the government of Lebanon and the country's infrastructure as part of the equation with which Israel is confronted."
Barak told his interlocutors that not only have the Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah increased, but there has also been significant upgrades in the quality of the weapons.
The intensive American and Israeli diplomacy and the counter consultations between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are all related to the American-European-Israeli effort to impose sanctions on Iran, because of its nuclear ambitions.
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought recently in Moscow a support for sanctions, the former Israeli chief of general staff and minister for strategic affairs, Bugui Yaalon, undertook an unusual trip to Beijing, in an effort to seek Chinese support for the sanctions. He failed. China remains opposed to any sanctions and believes that there is still room for diplomacy.
This diplomatic effort is accompanied by noisy threats and counter-threats.
Israel, Syria and Iran know quite well that none of them wants war. But each of them fears miscalculations and surprise attack. Thus, while the "winds of war" continue to blow intensely, in reality Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are more concerned about the penetration of their security systems by Israel and other intelligence services. To their shock, a former Israeli intelligence source revealed this past weekend that the Nassrallah trip to Damascus was "totally monitored."
He said that Nassrallah advanced his trip by one day, out of fear that his original date was already known. In order not to draw attention, Nassrallah used an old car and he was picked up at the Syrian border by a Syrian intelligence officer who drove him to Assad's palace in Damascus. Nassrallah stayed in the palace for two days. "Israel could have eliminated Nassrallah on his way to Damascus, but it didn't want to," the Israeli former intelligence source said.
No less embarrassing to Syria, Iran and Hezbollah was the sudden revelation that the former Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh's sudden death in a car bomb in Damascus in June, 2008, was done with Jordanian intelligence assistance.
In a posthumous video message, posted on an al-Qaida website last weekend, a Jordanian-Palestinian double agent who killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan a few months ago revealed that Jordan provided the intelligence for Mughniyeh's killing. Until now it was assumed by the international media that the Israeli Mossad was behind Mugniyah's killing and Nassrallah kept promising "revenge" against Israel.
Thus, pending a final decision on the nature of sanctions against Iran, Israel and the radical Arab nations will continue to fan the winds of war and to seek each other's secrets.
Unless, of course, the "war of words" gets out of control and a miscalculated step leads to a war no one wants.
Samuel Segev is the Free Press Middle East correspondent.