A number of experts at the Sixth Annual International Conference on Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya said Monday that Israel's war with Hizbullah
was a new kind of confrontation with an emerging Islamist revolutionary axis.
The conference, organized by the Interdisciplinary Center's (IDC) Institute for Counter-Terrorism, brought together leading military figures and analysts from Israel and abroad to dissect terrorism's global impact, and the implications of the recent clash with Hizbullah. While much of the first day saw domestic Israeli soul-seeking by military figures over the management and outcome of the war, attention was also given to the radical Shiite and Sunni Islamist ambitions threatening the State of Israel.
Professor Uriel Reichman,
founding President of the IDC, launched the four-day conference with an analysis of the causes and aftermath of the second Lebanon war.
"Around 20 years ago, on February 16, 1985, Hizbullah's platform was published. The organization wrote that the struggle with Israel would end only when 'this entity is torn to shreds,'" Reichman said. "We do not recognize any kind of understanding with Israel, neither a ceasefire nor a peace agreement," Reichman added, quoting the Hizbullah document. "In 2005, Nasrallah stood in front of an excited crowd. I quote: 'Israel is our enemy. This is an aggressive, illegal, illegitimate state that has no future on our lands… death to Israel.' The crowd proceeded to chant: death to Israel." The IDC president said Hizbullah was an organization with a religious ideology, whose goal was to "eventually destroy an entire country."
He added that Hizbullah's ongoing confrontation with Israel served to strengthen it and "foreign interests," and moved on to address "the Iranian element."
"Hizbullah's charter included a clause saying Hizbullah would obey only one leader, and that is (former Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah) Khomeini. The control by the Iranian leadership, the religious and operational, of Hizbullah, goes on today. The Iranians built up the Hizbullah force, invested around a billion dollars in it, trained its fighters, and gave them the most advanced intelligence gathering tools," Reichman said.
He outlined Tehran's aspiration to "realize the vision of an Iranian empire, through which the Lebanese Shiite base is supposed to connect through Syria with Iraq, and then to Iran."
In the past, the Iranians viewed Israel as a sponge to absorb Sunni Muslim hatred, taking the heat off Shiite Iran, and Tehran encouraged the Arab Israeli conflict in order to continue distract attention away from itself, Reichman said. He added, however, that today it was "doubtful whether Iran is not interested in Israel's destruction, following its nuclear arms program. The things have been said clearly more than once by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and they are a part of the religious fanaticism of the civilian leadership of this state, with the indoctrination of the masses with hatred of Israel."
"Iran's imperial ambitions, and its perception of Israel as an arrowhead and a regional power, could interfere with its attempt to realize its aspirations. Iran's hostile activity is expressed not only through the building up of Hizbullah's power, but also by providing millions of dollars in funds to the Islamic Jihad, and of a series of covert activities," he added. Reichman predicted that an Iranian nuclear empire would change the balance of power, as well as threaten Sunni Muslim countries.
Yossi Kuperwasser, former Head of IDF Intelligence Research Division, identified Hizbullah as a "prominent part of the campaign of radical sources in the Middle East. It operates through Iranian instructions and monitoring, and Syrian aid… in order to advance the agenda of radicals in the region, which is: The prevention of Western influence in the Middle East, and the destruction of the State of Israel."
Kuperwasser said radicals hoped to "restore Islam to its days of glory, and take up its defense position against the whole world. It does this through the acceptable ways to radicals, in other words, terror."
He described Lebanon as a "microcosm of the battle between radicals and moderate reformists in the Arab world."
Israel was not alone in being targeted by radicals, according to Kuperwasser, as moderate opponents to radical Islamist forces were also in the crosshairs.
Kuperwasser said Hizbullah's original role as instructed by Iran was to return fire on Israel if Iran was attacked, but it ended up using the "silver bullets prepared by Iran for different reasons." He concluded that Hizbullah was a "Shiite strategic component in Lebanon," which could enforce its will on the country, but also had to come up with excuses to justify its existence. Knowing that most justifications would be temporary, Nasrallah cited Israel's existence as a cause to continue the war.
Ephraim Sneh, Chairman of the Labor faction, said Israel's mistake in the past was not responding to Hizbullah's clear and mounting threat. "On a missile parade in Iran, there were two slogans: 'Israel must be wiped out,' and 'the US can do nothing,' he said. Sneh added that Iran was serious about Israel being wiped out, and said that those who claimed that the international community would deal with Iran did not believe their own comments. "Who believes this? Those that say it know the truth. We must be ready, for the sake of our existence. If we do that, the painful awakening by (Hassan) Nasrallah won't be for nothing," Sneh said.
Jonathan S. Paris, an analyst of Islamic movements, and a specialist on radical Islam in Britain, addressed the problem of European Sunni terrorism, and argued that British extremist Muslims could form some of the most implacable ideological breeding grounds for jihadists.
Speaking to Ynetnews, Paris said: "The farther you are from the Middle East, the less perspective and less reality you have. An Islamist living in Hebron knows about the IDF. He knows what an Israeli soldier looks like. He knows that an Israeli soldier can kill him. He knows that Israel is not about to disappear. A British Muslim of Pakistani descent in Leeds can easily say, 'well according to Koran, there shouldn't be any Israel, therefore Israel's illegitimate, therefore it should not exist, therefore it soon will not exist.' So they tend to be far more radical. They're more Palestinian than the Palestinians," Paris said.
"They're not grounded in reality. So I conclude from that, that in the future, the last radicals to compromise, the most dangerous in the long-term future, are not going to be Islamists in the region, they're going to be Islamists in places like Pakistan, Indonesia, but especially in Europe."