Iran and Israel, Assad and America

Published in The Express Tribune

A while back, Israel bulldozed Beirut. Arafat’s P.L.O. had taken refuge in Lebanon and Israel had gone after it. It pounded the P.L.O., it pounded its Syrian supporters, and it pounded Lebanese children. A younger, leaner Ariel Sharon was asked by a journalist whether he felt contempt for human life, bombing civilians ‘more ferociously’ than what she’d ever seen while covering Hanoi.

The general replied, ‘I was feeling the words of the Bible: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.” Even if they were killers, and they are; even if they were rapists, and they are; even if they were bloodthirsty terrorists, and they are; they were human beings. And I didn’t rejoice.’ Good thing too: Sharon would’ve been celebrating the birth of Hezbollah, born in the ashes of Beirut. Fed by Iran and Assad senior, Hezbollah soon pledged itself to Khomeini.

Twenty years and a comatose Sharon later, Israel went after Lebanon again. It murdered civilians again. It wrecked airports and bombed in clusters. But this time round, it lost.

The Army of David was felled by the Party of God. Hezbollah had just turned 21, and unlike Sharon, it rejoiced. Hezbollah supremo Nasrallah, a name that literally means ‘Victory of Allah’, declared as much: victory with God’s help. An Iranian proxy had fought where Lebanon’s own army had fled. Hezbollah’s courage was hailed. A party best known for blowing up embassies was embraced by the mainstream. The world had tilted just a bit — in Iran’s favour.

Today, Iran’s boys are out on a limb again, but this time, the West (with Sharon’s Likud Party in its ear) isn’t taking any chances. War drums beat for Assad’s head, but Robert Fisk’s words ring truer: Iran, not Syria, is the West’s real target. Mr. Fisk was brisk about it: ‘Iran is Israel’s enemy. Iran is therefore, naturally, America’s enemy. So fire the missiles at Iran’s only Arab ally.’

He’s right. Hitting Syria isn’t about House Assad anymore — Iran’s success is defying gravity, and the West wants to bring it back to earth. The ayatollahs are setting up franchises: godfathering Hezbollah in Lebanon, befriending Hamas in Palestine, and bailing out Assad in Damascus. A freshly Shia Iraq, wrapped in a bow by Dick and George, hasn’t hurt either. Iraq’s P.M. even heads the same Dawa Party Iran funded during the lonely Saddam years … largely to blow things up.

Yes, attacking Syria smells of hypocrisy. Bashar became a problem only when he started winning, breaking the rebels with guns from Russia and fighters from Hezbollah. But nerve gas, we are told, bucks ‘the norm’ of First World warfare, with its clean nails and predator drones. Yet, even when Assad was ‘only’ using bullets against his people, Obama was busy polishing his Nobel Peace Prize. Not that Reagan and Rumsfeld were any testier with Saddam, for gassing Iranians.

And the words ‘humanitarian intervention’, repeated by such peaceniks as Blair and Binyamin, sound hollow. That is something of a tragedy; the case for humanitarian intervention is real and immediate in Syria. Yes, violent militants have sprung up in the region; yes, a strike might replace ‘secular’ killers with reactionary ones. None of that changes the fact that Bashar’s men have been hacking away at Syrian children for two whole years now. Even before sarin gas hit the headlines, it was clear the Assads were a special kind of depraved. The First Lady continues to Instagram herself hugging high schoolers, while the rape of minors is given as an army directive. 100,000 lie dead. Iran continues to applaud.

Only the U.N. can lend legitimacy to an anti-Assad strike, coupled with an actual peacekeeping plan. But as Vladimir Putin grows more and more Soviet by the day, Russia’s veto just won’t allow action — a hangover from the days when Moscow was Hafez Assad’s one true friend.

As is often with the Middle East, all choices are awful. A slightly cleaner idea is what Ban Ki-moon pushed the G20 to listen to this past week: vigorous peace talks, with all involved parties to stop supplying weapons to either side. Rather than throw its considerable weight behind brokering such a deal, it seems the US prefers going in with guns blazing.

But the U.S. may not even have its Special Friend by its side for this one. Ed Miliband’s recent fit in the House of Commons slapped the Tories out of their smugness and, as yet, has kept a pro-strike consensus from developing in Britain. All to the misery of ‘Middle Eastern Peace Envoy’ Tony Blair, cheerleading yet more death and destruction in the exact same place.

And so the U.S. seeks to strike a country that poses it no threat (again), that is a powder keg of sectarian darkness (again), and that Tel Aviv has urged to ‘contain’ (again, and always). And this president will go around the UN and over Congress to do it, informed less by the safety of the Syrian people than by Iran and Israel.

The Arab League meanwhile smirks over the impending strike, desiring not necessarily a better Syria than a less Shia one. There perhaps, lies the crisis of the Muslim world today. A full-blown Shia-Sunni narrative has been foisted over the war by Assad’s Alawi regime, with Nasrallah screaming to his supporters that Hezbollah will destroy Sunni enemies. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s resident saviours promise to stream into Syria to fight off the ‘Shia devil’, as Iraq isolates its Sunnis from government.

And it’s a brand that’s made its way to Pakistan: ugly, unnatural, and stinking of petrodollars. We are less in the grips of an ageless Shia-Sunni war than a post-’79 power tussle. Imported hate is taking over a Pakistan that doesn’t, and will never, have a horse in this race, Arab or Persian. Its D.N.A. rejects it. As an 80-year-old from Qila Bhattia Wala told an A.F.P. reporter, ‘I’ve witnessed Shia-Sunni brotherhood from my childhood.’ It’s high time we bring that back at home, if only to hope for it abroad.