By George E. Irani (for Safe Democracy)

George Irani discusses the impotence of the United States and Israel before the growing threat of a more powerful Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. In Irani‘s opinion, Iran and Syria have set out to prove their power by urging Hezbollah into open war with Israel. As the cycle of vengeance, violence, and misunderstanding continues, Iran‘s power grows, and the IsraeliUS alliance finds itself incapable of handling its war against what it calls the Axis of Evil. A difficult time lies ahead for the Middle East.

George Emile Irani is the Lebanese-born director of the Africa and Middle East Program of the Toledo International Center for Peace in Madrid. He is the author of “The Papacy and the Middle East: The Role of the Holy See in the Arab-Israeli Conflict”.

IT HAS BEEN SEVERAL DAYS SINCE THE HEZBOLLAH ATTACK IN NORTHERN ISRAEL killed eight and took two soldiers hostage, and already Israel has begun to act. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) responded almost immediately by staging an invasion of Lebanon with ground troops in order to encumber Hezbollah’s capacity to strike Israeli cities.

Hezbollah (the Party of God) was created as a result of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Led by Ariel Sharon, this invasion, dubbed Operation Peace for the Galilee, had three aims: to destroy the PLO’s infrastructure in Lebanon, to kick out all Syrian troops, and to install a democratic regime favorable to Israel.

The operation ended with the successful routing of the PLO out of Lebanon. Yet, Syria remained firmly rooted, and Lebanon had by no means turned friendly to Israel.

Since its creation in 1982 Hezbollah has grown from a small cell of fundamentalists, into a powerful political and military organization bent on fighting the Israeli occupation of the security zone in Southern Lebanon.

At the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1989, Hezbollah won over 12 seats in the Lebanese parliament with the support and maneuvering of Iran and Syria, thus beginning its political presence.

Since then they have continued to gain power, acting in the interest of Iran and Syria rather than defending the rights of their own people.

They have also refused to disarm, claiming that they must keep their militia in order to fight the danger of Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms on the Lebanese border with Syria. Hezbollah’s militia is almost twice as powerful as the actual army of Lebanon, making it hard to tell who is in control of the country: the Lebanese, or the Syrians and Iranians.

Hezbollah named their attack on Northern Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers Operation Al Waad al Saadek, which in Arabic means Operation Kept Promise.

The name comes from the vow of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, made almost a year ago following the incomplete swap of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah.

Nasrallah swore to kidnap Israeli soldiers and force the release of the remaining Lebanese prisoners, and years later it seems that he has kept his promise, hence the name, which is in itself reveals the role that memory plays in continuing vengeance conflicts in the Middle East.

The Bush Administration is on the defensive in the Middle East. The fight against the Axis of Evil (the favorite slogan of Neocons in Washington) has proved impossible. Although Saddam Hussein was captured, no weapons of mass destruction have yet been discovered, and the current civil war in Iraq has caused countless deaths and thrown the country into chaos.

North Korea has also left the United States powerless. With the support of the Chinese, Kim Jong Il continues to develop nuclear weapons regardless of US pleas for negotiation.

Iran is currently in a very powerful position. It has great influence over the Shiites of Iraq and could play a pivotal role in bringing peace to the region.

By starting this new war with Israel, both Iran and Syria seem to have set out on a mission to prove that they too are powerful nations not to be taken lightly.

Hamas and Hezbollah are doing the same, making a statement in their war that they should be allowed to decide their own fates, rather than submit themselves to domination by greater powers. The tragedy is that innocent people have to die in order for these organizations to make their voices heard.

Both Olmert and Nasrallah have misread each other’s intentions. It is going to be a long and hot summer in the Levant.

Safe Democracy would like to invite you to subscribe to the weekly electronic newsletter, with analysis and commentaries from our international experts (click here).