French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's remarks about preparing for war with Iran, combined with Israel's air strike against Syria, have really put the cat among the pigeons in Tehran and Damascus.
Via The Jerusalem Post:
Six hundred Iranian Shihab-3 missiles are pointed at targets throughout Israel, and will be launched if either Iran or Syria are attacked, an Iranian website affiliated with the regime reported on Monday.
"Iran will shoot at Israel 600 missiles if it is attacked," the Iranian news website, Assar Iran, reported. "600 missiles will only be the first reaction."
According to the report, dozens of locations throughout Iraq which are being used by the United States army have also been targeted.
The Shihab missile has a range of 1,300 km, and can reach anywhere in Israel.
Hang on a tick... Syria was attacked, last week, by Israel. Where's the firestorm of Iranian retribution? Or is Tehran saying "Okay, we're going to let you have that one, but if you try it again we're really going to get mad?"
Meanwhile, Iran's state-owned IRNA news agency has responded to Kouchner's remarks by accusing Paris of pandering to the United States.
"The new occupants of the Elysee want to copy the White House," the IRNA news agency said. It also accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of taking on "an American skin", adding: "the French people will never forget the era when a non-European moved into the Elysee".
In a not-unconnected development, JPost reports that a top Israeli intelligence commander has told Israeli MPs that Israel's deterrence against Syria and Iran has been reestablished since last year's Lebanon War.
"[Israeli deterrence] is having an impact on the whole region, including on Iran and Syria," Major General Amos Yadlin said during his intelligence briefing to the legislature's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Sunday.
Not surprisingly, the General didn't refer to the recent strike on Syria, which Israel will neither confirm nor deny (the Israeli media, incidentally, is still barred from revealing details of the operation by the military censor, which is why they're in the odd position of quoting US and European media reports that quote Israeli sources), but the implication was clear.
You don't need a master's degree in international relations to see what's going on here. Both Damascus and Tehran are very, very rattled by recent developments, and don't seem to know how to respond. The Syrians are maintaining an embarrassed silence, while Iran is making rhetorical threats on the one hand, and mocking the French for getting too close to the US on the other.
There's a lesson here for those who think the two biggest troublemakers in the Middle East can be contained by diplomacy and sanctions. While Western countries have persisted with the softly-softly approach Iran and Syria have continued to meddle in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, and have continued with their respective weapons programmes. Recent events demonstrate that only language they understand is force - and it doesn't necessarily have to lead to an uncontrollable escalation of hostilities.
Now that they've experienced real live military action, with the prospect of more to follow, they're caught between a rock and a hard place: do nothing, and lose influence and credibility; or respond, and face an overwhelming US, Israeli and perhaps even French, onslaught.
Tehran and Syria have been getting away with murder, quite literally, for too long. But in the latest round of hostilities they've yet to claim a single victim with their tanks, their aircraft or their long-rang missiles. They love all that asymmetric warfare stuff. The real thing? Not so much.
Related analysis here.
Update: Thanks to Ace of Spades and Pajamas for linking, and welcome all. While you're here do check out my latest post, on the Greenspan affair. You might like this post from yesterday, on how the inability of MoveOn and the Dems to resist a good insult caused them to shoot themselves in the foot.