TEL AVIV, Israel — The war with Iran has begun.
Just last Friday, Iranian President Ahmadinejad warned that Israel's return to Gaza could lead to an "explosion" in the Islamic world that would target Israel and its supporters in the West. "They should not let things reach a point where an explosion occurs in the Islamic world," he said.
"If an explosion occurs, then it won't be limited to geographical boundaries. It will also burn all those who created [Israel] over the past 60 years," he said, implicitly referring to America and other Western nations who support Israel.
Years from now, the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit will be regarded like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Against the backdrop of Kassam rocket fire on Israelis living within range of the Gaza Strip, it was the fate of Corporal Shalit that triggered the Israeli return to Gaza, which in turn brought the Hezbollah forces into the game.
Israel is fighting two Iranian proxies on two fronts. It may, or may not, open a third front against a third Iranian proxy, Syria. It is from the Syrian capital that Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, has been laying down Palestinian Arab negotiating conditions. Why listen to Mr. Meshaal? Because the Hamas troops are loyal to him, rather than to their erstwhile leader, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah, let alone the increasingly (as if that were possible) hapless Palestinian Arab leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
As one senior Palestinian Arab close to Mr. Abbas told me Mr. Meshaal believes that any resolution of this crisis, and of the wider crisis brought on by the surprising Hamas election win last January and the ensuing isolation of the Palestinian Authority from its European and American funding sources, must await the outcome of the discussions between Iran and the West over its nuclear enrichment program.
Perhaps a grand bargain is in the works, in which Tehran will forgo its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for Washington's recognition of its emergence as the new regional power. Every day, Iran grows more powerful; any deal should reflect Iran's growing importance. For example: forcing Israel to bargain for prisoner swaps, cutting the Israeli military advantage down to size, and scuttling both the possibility of unilateral disengagement in the West Bank (the preferred Israeli option) and renewed negotiations with weakened Palestinian Arab moderates (the option preferred by the Europeans).
Even more loyal to Tehran is the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, whose forces yesterday kidnapped two more Israeli soldiers, opening up the second front. Sheik Nasrallah is warning Israelis that they must not think Lebanon is unprotected as it was in 1981 and 1982 when Israeli forces came pouring across the border to silence Palestinian Arab guns. Sheik Nasrallah's men are the recipients of tens of thousands of rockets — longer range and presumably more deadly than their roughly engineered younger Kassam cousins — that put central Israel in their range.
Each one of these players — Hamas inside Gaza and in Damascus, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Assad dictatorship in Syria — are chess pieces on the Iranian board. The pawn moves, drawing in the Israeli bishop; the Lebanese rook challenges; the Syrian queen is in reserve.
Just listen: A few weeks ago, the Swedish government announced that it would label Golan Heights wine as a product from "Israeli Occupied Syria."
The Swedes were oblivious to the little dance played out around a request by the United Nations that Syria demarcate its view of the 1967 border. Turtle Bay was aiming to push Syria to claim the Sheeba farms, a small tract held by Israel and claimed by Hezbollah for Lebanon. The United Nations recognizes Sheeba Farms as belonging to Syria; should Israel and Syria ever negotiate a peace treaty, it is clear the Security Council would expect Sheeba Farms to be returned to Syrian control.
The United Nations wanted Syria to assert its claim, in order to deny Hezbollah its basic raison d'etre — "liberating" all Lebanese soil from "the Israeli occupation forces."
Passed in 2004, Security Council resolution 1559 requires the dismantling of all Lebanese militias and their replacement by a Lebanese state army. Thus far, this has been as successful as the requirement by the Quartet (America, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations) that all independent Palestinian Arab terrorist groups and militias be disarmed.
Guess what? The Syrians refused. Just turned the United Nations down flat. Apparently Sweden is more passionate about asserting Syrian territorial rights than Syria itself.
The reason is simple: Iran does not want to deny Hezbollah the justification for maintaining its armed presence in southern Lebanon, along northern Israel, and Syria does Iran's bidding.
Ephraim Sneh, a former general and Labor Party leader who is the Israeli longest drawing attention to the approaching conflict with Iran, is saying that the current moment reminds him of the Spanish Civil War. The broader global forces are aligned; local actors are committed. It is a bloody test, a macabre dress rehearsal, for what lies over the horizon.
The war with Iran has begun.