The Lebanon-Iraq Nexus

Just as the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others closer to home will tell you, the futures of Lebanon and Iraq, and the desires of Israel and the United States for meaningful peace there are entwined.

Their claim, yet again, is the United States' support for Israel runs counter to its goals elsewhere in the region, notably Iraq.

Unlike Ahmadinejad, who can't help but bray about things he can't quite pull off, like his plan to destroy Israel, al-Sistani, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, usually avoids headlines on political matters. But on Sunday al-Sistani spoke up for a cease-fire in Lebanon, warning that "Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire."

He warned that "if an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region."

Al-Sistani, who has played a role in preventing the escalation of violence in Iraq in the past, is a voice to listen to. However, he and others who call for a cease-fire in Lebanon and decry the U.S. role in supporting Israel ignore some demonstrated realities. Let us set aside his misplaced declaration of responsibility when he says "Israel's aggression" and move on to "dire consequences."

Beyond the periodic, highly orchestrated flag-and-effigy-burning demonstrations and limited covert support, the Muslim street and Muslim nations have shown little interest in rising up in support of occupied Iraqis. The Arab street doesn't give a damn about the Palestinians, nor has it much demonstrable interest in the plight of Lebanese Arabs, beyond half-hearted words and passive support anyone who cares to go die there.

The Palestinians have been a convenient stick to beat the West with, amid all the domestic frustrations of the Arab world and the perceived injuries it suffers at the hands of the West. The Arab street and Muslim nations ultimately know who will win, and while the Arab street may cheer on a loser, the Arab street and Muslim nations, with a couple of notable exceptions, will not commit more than lip service in that loser's support.

American support for Israel did not stop cheering Iraqis from greeting them as liberators in April 2003. American support for Israel did not stop millions of Iraqis from risking death repeatedly to vote in American-sponsored elections. American support for Israel as a root cause of Al Qaeda's terrorism has always be a false dodge, an excuse.

American support for Israel has not been a hindrance in its relations with the more rational governments of the Middle East since the oil embargoes of the 1970s. Since then, the momentum of Arab international relations has been toward accommodation with Israel.

Arab nations in fact had no objection to Israel's operations against Hezbollah, and it is only the embarrassment of civilian deaths caused by Hezbollah's use of human shields that is now making those governments uncomfortable. But a cease-fire in Lebanon, if enough pressure is brought to bear on Israel, is a grave threat to efforts to solidify democracy and bring stability to Iraq.

A cease-fire in Lebanon, short of the destruction of Hezbollah, is a Hezbollah victory, which is a victory for its patron, the would-be Islamic superpower Iran. Iran is already meddling in Iraq, with its support for Shiite militias and an interest in establishing a Shiite-dominated Islamic state there.

A cease-fire in Lebanon will represent a defeat for Israel and the United States, with dire consequences throughout the region. Expect an emboldened Iran to step up its efforts in Iraq and dig in its heels in the ongoing nuclear dispute. Expect a gleefuly emboldened Iran to see what else it can get away with. Expect more American soldiers and Iraqi civilians to die in Iraq.

Al-Sistani is right when he says the war in Lebanon poses a threat to the region, and more particularlhy to efforts to bring stability to Iraq. But it is the defeat in Lebanon of Hezbollah and its patron Iran, not their appeasement, that will help stabilize the region.