Like Ezra, I think that Ze’ev Schiff’s assessment of the Iranian role in the Hezbollah attacks is plausible, with some caveats. The employment of a relatively modern surface to surface missile against an Israeli warship is a dead giveaway; while it’s possible that Hezbollah could have come up with the missiles and the training necessary to use them independently, it doesn’t seem very likely. But this leaves open the exact nature of the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah, and on this point I think there’s a lot of room for misstep.
First, even if we were to assume that Iran and Hezbollah are both unitary rational actors that have a close relationship with one another, it simply isn’t true that Iran “controls” Hezbollah to the degree that all Hezbollah activities can be laid at the feet of Iran. Hezbollah, whatever its connections with Iran, has its own set of interests and undoubtedly plays a regular game with its various sponsors. I don’t doubt that Iran has influence, but influence is much different than control. The United States has a lot of influence over its clients, but those clients nevertheless often act in ways we don’t care for, and embroil us in conflicts we don’t want. This isn’t an effort to excuse Iran, but it should make us hesitant about drawing neat, solid lines between Tehran and southern Lebanon.
Of course, a second problem is that Iran doesn’t really qualify as a unitary rational actor. No country does, but the military and foreign policy apparati of the Iranian state are byzantine, and do not act under the control of one entity. Rather, you have bureaucratic actors competing with one another, often with ends that are at odds. My guess is that someone in Iran thinks that attacking Israel through this method was a good idea, and a selection of other governmental officials think it was a terrible idea. Again, this hardly excuses Iran, but it does make the situation more complicated. It is extremely unlikely that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is sitting in Tehran carefully assessing whether the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers will take the heat off of the Iranian nuclear program. This is the big problem with Schiff’s claim about Iran’s purpose in manufacturing a crisis; I very much doubt that the decision-making process was anything like what he suggests. Indeed, it seems problematic to me on its face, as the conflict with Lebanon would appear just as likely to refocus attention on Iran as it would to deflect it. As many have noted, the vultures are already clamoring for blood.
… Matt has more.