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The rise of the Islamist Axis

Not meant to scare, rather to serve as a wake-up call.

The author, surpassing her usual brilliance as a political analyst, connects the dots others seem unable to or simply won't

This Monday Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported that part of Ukraine's Soviet-era nuclear arsenal may well have found its way to Iran. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainians agreed to transfer the Soviet nuclear arsenal that remained in Ukraine after independence to Russia. According to Novaya Gazeta, some 250 nuclear warheads never made it to Russia and are thought to have been sent to Iran instead. The report further noted that the warheads in question will remain operational until 2010.



Responding to the report, General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russia's deputy defense minister and the chief of the Russian military's general staff said, "Russia's General Staff has no information about whether Ukraine has given 250 nuclear warheads to Iran or not."

It is impossible to assess the accuracy of the newspaper report. The Ukrainian government has dismissed the allegations. Russia may well have invented the story to shift media attention away from the growing awareness that Russian support for Tehran, Damascus and Hamas effectively places it in the enemy camp in the US-led war against global jihad.

But whether this particular report is true or false, there is no doubt that the danger to Israel and the rest of the Western world emanating from Iran and its allies is growing by the day. In recent testimony before the US Congress, John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence said that the danger that Tehran "will acquire a nuclear weapon and the ability to integrate it with ballistic missiles that Iran already possesses" is a cause "for immediate concern."

Also this week, as the Web site "Regimechangeiran" noted, the American Foreign Policy Council published a report quoting Western intelligence sources asserting that Iran is in the process of assembling intermediate range ballistic missiles with a range of 4,500 km. The extended range will enable Iran to hit almost all of Western Europe with nuclear warheads. The sources further maintained that Iran is already in possession of at least one nuclear bomb.

Even if both Negroponte's testimony and the council's report are perceived by some as alarmist, this week Iran itself continued to make every effort to convince the world that assessments like these are grossly understated. Iran conducted an enormous naval exercise called "Great Prophet" in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman this week. Almost every day of the exercise Iranian forces demonstrated new radar evading ballistic missile systems. While Western defense establishments have had tepid responses to Iran's show of force, the regime built on its provocations Wednesday when the supreme commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Units, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi issued a thinly veiled threat to close the Straits of Hormuz — the narrow waterway through which forty percent of the world's oil passes.

Iran's recent financial maneuverings also indicate general preparations for global war. The Swiss newspaper Der Bund reported the Iranian regime recently withdrew $31 billion of its gold reserves and foreign exchange from European financial institutions. Additionally, this week Iran renewed its gasoline rationing for the general public.

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's poisonous and apocalyptic rhetoric has caused the Western world to step away from him, Tehran is far from isolated. Indeed today Tehran perceives itself and is perceived as others as the leader of a regional Islamist axis.

In February Canada's Globe and Mail published a report where Lebanese parliament member for Hizbullah terror group Hussein Hajj Hassan declared that on January 20 the Islamist axis was formally cemented in Damascus. The parley which brought about the entente was led by Ahmadinejad and attended by axis members, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas chief Khaled Mashal, Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Abdullah Shalah and the commanders of PLO breakaway front groups. Iraqi Shiite terror chief Muqtada al-Sadr also pledged his allegiance to the axis. The jihad summit took place five days before the Palestinian elections and on the same day a suicide bomb exploded in Tel Aviv.

Damascus's response to the establishment of the axis and to Hamas's electoral victory has been dramatic and disturbing. Damascus has harshly curbed all liberal political opposition to the Ba'athist regime. Voices of such dissent were empowered by the firm international position taken against Damascus during the UN investigation of the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafiq Hariri last year. Today many opponents of the regime are in prison. At the same time, Assad's Alewite minority regime, that has been radically secular since its establishment in the 1960s is beginning to open up to Islamist forces.

Michael Slackman, The New York Times correspondent in Damascus reported the change in the general atmosphere on Wednesday. He explained that current situation reflects "at least in part a growing sense of confidence because of shifts in the Middle East in recent months, especially the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections, political paralysis in Lebanon and the intense difficulties facing the United States in trying to stabilize Iraq and stymie Iran's drive toward nuclear power."

So in a nutshell, members of the Islamic axis believe that they are on the march and that America and Israel are on the retreat.

Although not present at the January jihad pow-wow in Damascus, al Qaida is intimately engaged in this Iran-led Islamist alliance. Britain's Sunday Mirror reported that today al Qaida forces operate within Iran's Revolutionary Guards units in Iraq. Both the IDF and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas admitted last month that al Qaida units are operating in Gaza. Also last month, Israel announced the arrest of two Palestinians from Judea and Samaria who were planning to carry out attacks on Israel for al Qaida. Lebanon's government has also acknowledged a growing al Qaida presence in largely Palestinian enclaves. al Qaida has carried out attacks against both Jordan and Israel from Jordan and against both Israel and Egypt from its entrenched bases in the Sinai Peninsula. Al Qaida commander in Iraq, Iranian ally Abu Musab Zarkawi has made it clear that al Qaida has now made attacking Israel one of its top priorities.

This week, the Daily Telegraph reported that that Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces now control Hizbullah's posts along the border with northern Israel and are developing an advanced intelligence gathering network for spying on Israel. A senior IDF commander told the paper that Hizbullah posts built and fortified by the Iranians just meters away from the international border are "now Iran's frontline with Israel. The Iranians are using Hizbullah to spy on us so that they can collect information for future attacks. And there is very little we can do about it."

No doubt in an attempt to do something about it, this week the Northern Command conducted an enormous exercise which, according to the IDF Spokesman's Unit, tested "deployment of regular and reserve forces to the front, establishment of bridgeheads, airlift of forces and supplies from the rear to the front, deployment of forces on various missions, the operation of logistics centers in the field and the provision of varied operational responses to the activities of terrorist organizations on the Lebanese front." By prominently posting a detailed report of the exercise on its official Web site, the IDF was clearly attempting to signal to Iran that Israel is prepared for whatever awaits us.

With all due respect to the IDF, our enemies, who know that the IDF is wholly subordinate to Israel's political leadership, no longer take IDF signals seriously. From Gaza to Tehran our enemies are acutely aware of the weakness of Israel's political leadership and its unwillingness to contend with them. Today the policy of the Israeli government is to take no account of any events occurring beyond Israel's indefensible pre-Six Day War boundaries and to defame anyone who suggests they bear examination.

For more than two years, the Israeli government and media have told the Israeli public that no matter how our enemies threaten us, they can do us no harm because America is protecting us. Protected by America, Israelis are told that we have no reason to fear the consequences of IDF retreats and the transfer of vacated lands to Hamas.

Sadly, this promise is largely untrue. The Bush administration today is bogged down in a swamp of strategic paralysis and political distress that prevent it from designing clear policies regarding the war against global jihad.

American policy towards the Palestinians is case in point: One day the Bush administration announces that it is cutting its ties with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and the next day it demands that Israel keep the borders with Gaza open and promises to find a way to give direct aid to the Palestinians that somehow will not strengthen Hamas.

As to Syria, the stubborn stance the administration maintained towards Damascus during the months of Detlev Mehlis's investigation of Hariri's murder last year has been replaced by no stance. Aside from finger pointing at Damascus, Washington offers no plan for ending Syrian support for terrorists in Lebanon, the PA and Iraq. On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal noted that during her weekend pit stop in Baghdad, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came down publicly against Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's bid to maintain his position in the next government. Rice and her British counterpart Jack Straw announced their governments' support for Iraq's current Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Mahdi serves as the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) which is known to have strong relations with Tehran.

Rice's heavy-handed interference with Iraq's democratic processes goes hand in hand with the administration's decision to open direct negotiations with Iran for the first time since the Khomeini revolution in 1979. On Saturday, direct US-Iranian negotiations on the stabilization of Iraq are scheduled to begin. And as if the Bush administration's decision to legitimize Iran's destabilizing position as a power broker in Iraq weren't enough, on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with Rice in Washington and urged her to open a direct US-Iranian dialogue on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

All of these recent developments demonstrate that the members of the Iran-led Islamist axis are actively pursuing and indeed progressing in their quest to encircle Israel and entrap the US. This they accomplish - both separately and together — while Israel and the US insist on doing everything they can to prevent any possibility of effectively meeting the rising threats. There is no doubt that the political leadership of at least one of these states has to snap out of its policy fog immediately. Our enemies have no consideration for our desire to ignore them.

Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.

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