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After Lebanon, there's Iran

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When the war in Lebanon ends, the US will have to piece together a whole new strategy for dealing with Iran – especially its nuclear program. The Israeli- Hizbullah war has boldly ratcheted up Iran's regional stature at the same time it has depleted US influence and prestige.

From the outset, the Lebanese conflict was about more than just Hizbullah. Jerusalem and Washington were quick to point the finger of blame for the conflict at Iran, and it was with Iran in mind that Israel unleashed the full force of its air power in Lebanon. The US, too, saw shock and awe in Beirut as an opportunity to convince Tehran of the West's determination to bring it into compliance on the nuclear issue.

Tehran cleary received the message and viewed the US-backed Israeli war on Hizbullah as the first stage of a war on Iran. But Tehran also used the occasion to send a message of its own to Washington. While dutifully denying a direct role in the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Tehran nevertheless heaped praise on Hizbullah, hoping that its engagement with Israel might dampen enthusiasm for a military attack on Iran. To further drive this point home, Hizbullah surprised Israel and the US by successfully testing a number of Iranian-made advanced weapons systems.

Iran's ties to Hizbullah run deep. It was Iranian clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders who first organized Hizbullah in the 1980s. Since then, Tehran has bankrolled and armed Hizbullah's war machine. Many among the current leadership of Iran's Revolutionary Guards have served tours of duty at Hizbullah's headquarters in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Over the past two decades, Hizbullah has evolved into a Lebanese political force, but it continues to rely on Iranian support to sustain its military capabilities.

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