Iran and Syria's Role in Mideast Crisis

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," July 14, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: You don't have to be an expert to realize the Iranians and Syrians are playing a key role in this particular Mideast crisis. Could this backfire on them and on Hezbollah?

Let's ask Victor Davis Hanson, "National Review" online contributor, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of many books including the latest, "A War Like No Other."

So the Iranians and the Syrians seem to be transparently behind this and seem to feel they can get away with it. Why?

VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, SR. FELLOW: HOOVER INSTITUTE: Two reasons. I think tactically in the short-term, they want to encourage terrorism up to the point where Israel does not hold states responsible and the long-term strategic view, they feel that right now the West is being blackmailed by high oil prices, were restricted by this idea of building democracy in Iraq where we don't want to be distracted.

We have the Chinese and the Russians who have dreams of imperial grandeur again and do not want to help us with Iran so all of these put together think — makes them think that Israel in particular won't act against Syria and Iran and we in the United States went be more balanced than we otherwise should if it was just an ethical or moral decision.

GIBSON: Are you saying they believe we have our hands tied and can't respond?

HANSON: They think that we can respond if we are pushed to it. But they think that they're going to unloose Hezbollah and Hamas up to the point where we think that we can talk, we can use diplomacy and we can handle it.

They don't want to let them turn this thing into a conventional war where a frustrated Israel or the United States thinks we have nothing to lose and we're in World War IV, clash of civilizations. So they are betting that they can finesse this enough to turn it into some type of terrorist operation.

GIBSON: Can they?

HANSON: I think they can. I think that the United States population is not ready for a conventional war with Syria or Iran. I think that we are afraid of oil. We don't want the democratic experiment to collapse in Iraq. And we don't know what China and Russia are going to do and the president's polls are down so does everybody want to disrupt the American summer holiday to go to war over what we feel is a terrorist incident?

GIBSON: Is there some kind of half measure like bombing Damascus?

HANSON: I think Israel could do that. I think if we were wise we would start the United States right now with a series of sanctions against Iran. Don't be distracted.

We could start galvanizing our allies to make Iran pay a high price for our nuclear terrorism and antics and we could also begin sanctions against Syria and we could tell the Israelis to do what they have to do against Damascus. They should give a whole list to the government of Syria of steady escalations that are going to ensue if they don't stop it including power, water, transportation, air and then let the Syrians make their decision on how far they want to escalate this.

GIBSON: You know, from our point of view, we blame Hezbollah and Hamas for starting this. Is that the way the rest of the world would see it?

HANSON: Privately yes. But officially or diplomatically no, because they're worried about terrorism, they're worried about oil prices. They are worried about the stability in Iraq. They are worried about everything from another bombing in London or Madrid bombing or plot against the Canadians, so this is the 1930s again. It's going to take some leader in the United States to galvanize the people of this country and explain to them, whether we like it or not, we are headed for some pretty tough times and we can solve them now or let them get — grow and be much worse later on.

GIBSON: Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Mr. Hanson, always good to see you, thanks.

The man leading Hezbollah in its current offensive is just a mid-level Islamic cleric, but Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is head of a militant group responsible for numerous deadly terror attacks, including the 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut, which killed 241 U.S. servicemen.

For more on Nasrallah, we are joined by Michael Rubin. He's editor of the "Middle East Quarterly" and a former assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

So, Michael, this guy, Nasrallah, before we get into his background, who he is, has he made a misjudgment here? Has he gone too far? Is he going to get in more trouble than he bargained for?

MICHAEL RUBIN, EDITOR, MIDDLE EAST QUARTERLY: I think he has misjudged. He thought very much that he could get away with this. But if you poke a lion long enough, eventually it's going to bite back.

GIBSON: Is — the Israelis have evidently used the last few years to do a lot of aerial reconnaissance and they think they know where Hezbollah is all along that border. Can they effectively finish Hezbollah off in the few days of a campaign?

RUBIN: They can try but it's going to be really, really rough. Hezbollah is pretty much the creation of the Islamic revolutionary guard core. And love them or hate them, they're professionals. They know what to do, they're constantly innovating and if Israel could finish them off that quickly, they would have done so a long time ago. That said, in 1982, there is some precedent because Israel forced the PLO out. Israel has the United Nations Security Council resolution 15-59 on its side this time if the countries choose to implement it. It calls for the disbandment of the Hezbollah militia.

GIBSON: If — Michael, who is this guy Nasrallah?

RUBIN: OK, well Hassan Nasrallah was born in 1960 in the suburbs of Beirut and then when everyone else was playing soccer, he was studying religion.

During the Lebanon civil war in 1975, he went with his family into southern Lebanon, near the city of Tyre, then he studied Islam both in Iraq and the holy city of Najaf and then later on he went to Qom. But what he really gets his prestige from is after the Hezbollah, he became a military commander and he did very, very well in some of the inter-Shia fighting. But then what happened is around rMD+IN_rMDNM_1992, the leader of Hezbollah was killed and while Hassan Nasrallah was the number — he wasn't number two — the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, interceded and said this is the new leader.

GIBSON: Michael Rubin, editor of the "Middle East ..."

RUBIN: "Middle East Quarterly."

GIBSON: Excuse me, Michael — the "Middle East Quarterly." Michael, thank you very much.

RUBIN: Thank you.

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