A thousand years before Islam the Persian army was battling Alexander the Great, he won but after his death his empire fell apart. Jump forward to the year 650, Muhammad who founded a new religion called Islam has been dead for almost twenty years. After his death, like so often happens with new formed empires, succession disagreements started to occur. The Shi'a's & The Sunni's (which out of context could have been a great name for a Bebop ensemble, but I digress) are two different doctrines of Islam who don't agree which one are the rightful successor to Muhammad. The Persian empire was overrun by the Arab Caliphate who at the time won succession from Muhammad and was Sunni. For almost 800 years this continued, and then came the Turks for another two centuries. They were followed by Genghis Khan. Finally, by 1500 the Persian empire was ready to be over thrown again, another change of guard. This time it was to be ceased by the Safavid Dynasty who were Shi'a.
By the early 20th century it lost it's power and was reduced to being a tool and battleground for other countries during WWI because of its strategic location and recent discovery of oil. 70 years ago it's name was changed to be Iran. Iranians for the most part are not Arabs at all, in fact Arabs are a minority in Iran constituting only %3 of the country. Most people in Iran are Persians, and most are Muslims. 90% are Shi'a (which is the official state religion), and 9% are Sunni. A statistic which is inversed to most of the Muslim world. In the rest of the Muslim world Sunni make for %90, while Shi'a are the minority. Iran is the largest Shi'a country in the world, and there is a Shi'a minority in most Arab countries.
So in case your lost: Iran was once called Persia and was an empire predating Islam by thousands of years, most Iranians are not Arabs, and Iran is home to an Islam branch which is a minority in Arab countries. Shi'a's and Sunni's are not on the best of terms, in fact there have been more then once wars between these two sects. So what does it all mean, other then being a very interesting bit of history? Well up to 1979 Iran was a monarchy with a king (or rather, the term was Emperor I believe, feel free to correct me), until a revolution occurred and religion started playing the dominant role in Irans new so called republic. One Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was put into power and held the office of 'Supreme Leader' until his death. In my opinion Iran exchanged a totalitarian monarchy for a totalitarian religious regime as there is little tolerance for other religions and persecutions even.
Shortly after Irans internal revolution a war broke out between Iran and Iraq. The US (under Jimmy Carter) and Saudi Arabia (which for obvious reasons was against Irans new regime) encouraged Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) to invade Iran. It lasted 8 years and cost 1 million casualties and more then a trillion dollars. It was a power struggle, a (oil rich) territory disagreement and a bid for dominance.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Irans president is a veteran of this war. I think it explains in part why he hates the US so much.
So during these troubled times, the Hezbollah was founded in Lebanon by Iran. It wanted to gain influence over Lebanon for various strategic reasons in its war against Iraq. The PLO (under Yasser Arafat) was gone by 1983, Hezbollah was a way in. During the war Hezbollah kidnapped more than 200 foreign nationals in Lebanon, hijacking civilian aircraft and suicide bombing American and French targets, killing almost 1,000 people, including 241 US marines in Beirut and 58 French soldiers. And it worked, France stopped supporting Saddam Hussein. America even supplied Iran with anti-tank missiles which shipped thru here (Israel) and helped Iran win the war. I believe, the fact that terror worked was taken as a sign of weakness by Iran.
That war was over but Hezbollah remained, becoming a state within a state. Gaining political power in Lebanon and controlling a quarter of it's territory, bringing 1/10 of the population under its reign. It took over much of the traditional roles of government by having its own schools and hospitals and even collecting its own taxes.
But how does Syria, and even Israel come into the picture?
By 1975, after Israel was created in 1948 and the 1967 war, 300,000 Palestinian refugees accumulated in Lebanon. What happened was what I'd describe as a Lebanese Civil War between the Palestinian refugees, and Sunni Muslims and the Christian and other Lebanese. Syria sent 40,000 troops in 1976 to drive the Palestinian refuges out of Beirut and into the south of Lebanon. After a few years Syrias switched its allegiance and allied with the Palestinian refugees. Some of the Lebanese allied with Israel. The Syrians however stayed in Lebanon until last year (2005), dominating the country, until they got kicked out. Do you see the complexity and many intertwining connections of the situation here?
In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon with the objective of evicting the PLO, it was bad, it lost focus, but it did kick the PLO out, only to be replaced by the Hezbollah which was setup by the newly revolutionized Iranians.
The Hezbollah costs Iran about $100 million dollars a year in funding. Since this conflict started the price of an oil barrel has risen enough that Iran (the flow of oil out of it uninterrupted) has made its "investment" back and then some.
This is a power play by Iran to be the dominant force in Islam and the middle east. Now that Iraq is out of the picture as far as they are concerned.
But Iran is Shi’ite and most Arabs are Sunni. Even in Lebanon the Shi'ites are only %40, the minority, and yet have come close to dominating the whole country. This is why you don't hear widespread condemnations in the Arab world of Israel, they are terrified that the same thing will occur in their own countries, and rightly so. So he is trying to sell them on the idea that Israel is their common enemy.
If Hezbollah is not uprooted, if the UN will start to pressure for a ceasefire before enough was achieved against it, the Arab world will perceive Hezbollah and Iran by proxy to be victorious. Lebanon will further loss control over its own country to Hezbollah and the Hamas in Gaza will assume much the same role in the south of Israel. (Iran has been supporting them as well)
Remember that I started out talking about the Persian Empire? Persia's (by any other name) influence has not reached so far into the west for over 1300 years. The Lebanese don't want it (if they know whats good for them), we don't want it, and the Arab world doesn't want it (the tie to them via Islam prevents them speaking out). And if you have any doubt about Irans involvement, 13 dead Iranian soldiers were sent from Lebanon to Syria on their way back to Iran, this is confirmed.
So far 2500 rockets have been fired into Israel, today we had two false alarms (they seem to be running out of steam), and 13 of our soldiers were injured. 2 dead yesterday and 93 civilians injured. The death and injury numbers in Lebanon are even higher. Don't forget why, what, and who is causing this.
Update: two helicopter pilots dead, reason for crash unknown.