(photo credit: AP [file])
The second week into the recent war in Lebanon, a memo was sent to senior decision-makers in the defense establishment outlining a change in Israel's media strategy. The authors' idea was to shift the emphasis of the national PR effort away from Hizbullah, instead placing the spotlight on Iran.
The reasoning was that if Israel's leaders and representatives repeatedly termed Hassan Nasrallah's fighters not as members of a Lebanese organization, but rather as Iran's advance battalion, the international community would cut Israel more slack in fighting them, and that it would draw more attention to Iran's other plans, especially its nuclear program. Putting Iran in the hot-seat might also force it to rein in Hizbullah.
Israeli public opinion was also at stake. By that time it was becoming evident that the war against Hizbullah wasn't going to be as easy as most Israelis thought. Treating them as Iran's soldiers rather than another Lebanese guerrilla group would also create more realistic expectations of the IDF.
Like many other useful suggestions, this memo lost its way somewhere on the bridge between the General Staff and Defense Ministry towers. Though the Iranian connection was occasionally mentioned, usually by opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, it remained largely in the background, while the official line remained to blame Hizbullah and hold the Lebanese government responsible. The Iranians and their dastardly plans became a cause celebre only after the war was over.
The Americans, who naturally observed the Lebanon war closely, aren't planning on making the same mistake. The briefing they held in Baghdad on Sunday - where evidence that Shi'ite terrorists operating against US forces in Iraq were using Iranian-supplied weaponry - was another major step in the new US strategy of revealing Iran's involvement in destabilizing other countries throughout the region. Despite possessing intelligence that pointed to Iran's supplying of advanced explosive devices - especially the deadly "explosively formed penetrators" that have killed 170 US soldiers and wounded 620 since June 2004 - for more than two years, they've only come out with the information now.
One reason for keeping quiet is the reluctance of any intelligence service to publish what it knows about the enemy's plans. Another qualm would have been the fact that the Shi'ites are still regarded as the Americans' mainstay in Iraq, as opposed to the Sunni groups, many of whom remain loyal to Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party, and who are blamed for most of the violence rocking the country.
What has changed all this is the realization that the extremist Shi'ite elements are much more of a danger than previously believed, and are being armed and directed to a growing degree by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards - the same arrangement that exists in Lebanon with Hizbullah. But it's not only that.
The Bush administration sincerely believes that Iran is now its main enemy in the world - aiming to challenge not only US goals in the Middle East, but to form an anti-US alliance with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and Kim Jong Il's North Korea, with backing from newly ambitious Russia and China.
An open confrontation with Iran is still some way off. US forces are badly overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, and public support, both within the US and internationally, is sorely lacking. That's why the administration is now trying to prove that the war with Iran is already taking place on a hidden level.
That this tactic already seems to be effective is evident from the hurried response of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an interview with ABC. Ahmadinejad has a lot to lose, not only abroad but at home, if the country's real leaders, the members of the Supreme Council, who are already displeased with his conduct, feel that he is wantonly inviting American's wrath.
If US President George W. Bush actually plans to bomb Iran's nuclear installations before the end of his term, as many politicians in Europe believe, and in Israel hope, then Sunday's briefing was another attempt at preparing the public for this. But even if these plans are far from final, blaming the Iranians for arms supplies is still useful for the administration to justify its continued military presence in Iraq and lay the groundwork for possible cross-border raids on Shi'ite targets within Iran.
Above all, it's a sign the Americans have learned the lessons of Israel in Lebanon, and that they don't plan on making the same mistakes.