Condoleezza Rice Leaves the Middle East Empty-Handed

A cursory glance at the composition of this week’s most significant official talks in the Middle East leaves the strong impression that Tehran has picked up the ball and is running with it.

It started Sunday, March 2, when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was seen lapping up his welcome in Baghdad.

This epic visit has been the subject of much analysis, but how exactly Tehran set it up is revealed here for the first time.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources in Iraq report that, a week earlier, a new terrorist group raised its head in Baghdad calling itself Hizballah-Iraq. From Feb 24 until Ahmadinejad’s arrival, this group managed to carry out 25 attacks, all of them against US forces and in and round Baghdad.

The attacks were intensively taped and photographed. They were then circulated on several Internet sites and leaflets which were disseminated across the Iraqi capital.

This documentation showed two significant facts:

1. The Websites carrying the images belonged to the Lebanese Hizballah which is headed by Hassan Nasrallah.

2. All the publications laid stress on Hizballah-Iraq being the brother organization of Hizballah-Lebanon, which also supplied the weapons and explosives for the 25 attacks in Iraq.

Tehran’s control of Hizballah is absolute. Had Iran ordered Nasrallah to refrain from creating an Iraqi offshoot and attacking Americans, it would have been obeyed without demur. Therefore, Hizballah-Iraqi came into being because that is what Iran wanted. Its purpose was to demonstrate to the Americans, the Iraqis and the entire Middle East, who is master of the region and who calls the shots.


Meshaal refuses to stop Hamas missiles


Thursday, Feb. 28, the United States posted a warning to Hizballah. The guided missile destroyer USS Cole and the USS Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group of six warships took up positions opposite Lebanese shores in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Tuesday, March 4, they were relieved by another guided missile cruiser, the USS Ross, and the USS Philippine Sea cruiser.

On the same day, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid visits to Cairo, Ramallah and Jerusalem.

The night before, Arab League Secretary Amr Mussa was in Damascus to pave the way for her talks. He spent five hours with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal trying to persuade him to stop the missile fire against Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Meshaal’s flat refusal spelled the futility of Rice’s Middle East trip and the demise of the Bush administration’s efforts to secure Palestinian statehood by the end of 2008. No more than 40 percent of projected Palestinian land is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and its chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and 60 by Hamas, which is squarely within the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah orbit.

The news Mussa’ brought back with him from Damascus was unfavorable for Washington.

For one, Syrian president Bashar Assad is determined to hold the next Arab League summit in his capital as scheduled later this month. He is also adamant about inviting the Iranian president as a guest of honor, thus strengthening Tehran’s position as the senior regional power which defends Arab interests.

Second, the Arab League Secretary received the impression that neither Assad nor any other Syrian official intends reaching a compromise to break the Lebanon deadlock. Either the other Arab rulers accept the solution dictated by Damascus, Tehran and Hizballah, or the crisis will be allowed to deteriorate – even if it comes to factional bloodshed.


Tehran calls the shots


This solution would permit the election of a consensual president, provided a national unity government is formed in Beirut with Hizballah ministers holding veto power over its decisions.

To make sure the Syrian president stayed in line, Iran kept First Vice President Parviz Davoudi in Damascus the whole week, armed with tempting promises of financial assistance.

At her first stop in Cairo, Rice received most of the Arab League foreign ministers to discuss preparations for the summit, as well as Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Syria’s dogged refusal to give any slack made any breakthroughs impossible.

Then, three hours after she had flown out on her way home, an unannounced meeting took place at Cairo airport. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki flew in from Geneva and was received in the VIP lounge by Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. They conversed one on one before parting.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources reveal that the two ministers discussed three key issues in the following order of importance:

1. The forthcoming Arab summit and Iran’s participation.

2. The crisis in Lebanon.

3. The Gaza Strip.

The next day, Saud al-Faisal made his report to King Abdullah and Hosni Mubarak. It was his impression that as long as the Saudis and Egyptians refused to make the Damascus Arab summit a fully-attended top-level event, nothing would budge in Lebanon or the Gaza Strip. The tension in Beirut would remain high and the fighting in Gaza persist.

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