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An eyewitness view of the new world war

Anyone who doubts that the Cold War has quickly given way to a hot war - World War III - would have their doubts sorely tested should they pay a visit to the Israel-Lebanon border. Last week I visited border mark 105, the nondescript gully where the 2006 Lebanese war began. Only scorch marks on the ground remain from the death and violence that took place there.

The build-up took months to plan and execute. On or about July 5, a group of between 20 and 30 Hezbollah fighters infiltrated the Israeli border near the village of Aita Al-Shaab, barely 800 metres from the border fences. They set up camp on a thickly wooded slope above the Israeli patrol road. They pitched a small tent. They set up firing positions for two rocket-propelled grenade launchers. And then they waited.

It was not the first time Hezbollah had attempted to infiltrate a team into Israel this year. At least four other attempts had been thwarted. This was the first to succeed, because this section of the border was both densely wooded and in a blind spot between the Israel Defence Forces observation posts, where teams of soldiers, mostly young women on national service, monitor cameras day and night.

The site was also within range of rocket and mortar positions Hezbollah had set up around Aita Al-Shaab, part of a porcupine of minefields, gun emplacements, tunnels and bunkers it had secretly built along the border since Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000. Most of this military build-up was funded by Iran.

On the morning of July 12, 2006, the infiltrators received the "go" signal. They touched the security fence at several points, triggering several Israeli patrols. Two Israeli Humvees were sent to border point 105.

At 9.05am, as the first Humvee slowed to negotiate a turn in the road just below the firing positions, it was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades.

The Humvee was destroyed. All three soldiers on board died. The second Humvee was hit, but was disabled rather than destroyed. The driver was killed but two other Israeli soldiers, believed to have been wounded based on bloodstains left at the scene, were dragged from the Humvee and carried towards the border.

The firing of the grenades was the signal for a co-ordinated response by Hezbollah along the border. Waves of rocket and mortar fire were sent across into Israel to confuse their defence and buy time for the infiltrators. When the Israelis realised where its patrol had been attacked, the Hezbollah team had already left the scene. A heavy tank was dispatched to border post 105. It crossed the border to occupy the high point and begin laying fire into the valley where the Hezbollah team was fleeing towards the nearby village. What the Israelis did not know, one of many unpleasant surprises to come, was that this response had been anticipated by Hezbollah.

"There was a huge mine," an Israeli major told me, pointing to the spot. "The tank only got 200 metres. Everybody was killed." Four tank crew died, along with four soldiers in the Humvees. The Hezbollah infiltrators escaped without casualties. The Israel Defence Forces were humiliated.

"They mined everything along the border," the Israeli major, who cannot be named, told me. "The extent of the tunnels, bunkers, mines was much greater than we had expected. One Hezbollah bunker was built within 15 metres of a UN observation post. What were they observing?"

The ambush and abduction, so long in the making, had been executed to perfection.

It was an act of war, yet no border disputes existed between Israel and Lebanon. (The disputed Shebaa Farms are claimed by Syria, a claim recognised by Lebanon, Israel and the United Nations.) The relationship between the governments of Jerusalem and Beirut were cordial. The Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, was a moderate, pro-Western reformer. The Lebanese economy had been rehabilitated, Beirut rebuilt, and tourism had begun to flourish again. This was not an of act of war between states but an act of jihad. It was driven by the Islamic theocracy in Iran, through its proxies in the Shiite Muslim state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon. Iran has been at war against the West for some time. It is at war with the United States in Iraq via its proxies in the Shiite militias. It is at war against Israel via Hezbollah in Lebanon, and via Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank.

"Iran is pushing Hamas to a more hardline position," says Walid Sadi, Jordan`s former ambassador to Turkey and formerly chief editor of The Jordan Times. "The Palestinian internal disputes are increasingly resembling those between Hezbollah and the [moderate] camp in Lebanon. In both cases, the footprints of Iran are wide and clear and fit perfectly with Iran`s designs for the region."

Those designs include nuclear weapons. This, in turn, has led the Sunni Muslim states in the region, led by Saudi Arabia, to consider a nuclear response. On December 10 the Gulf Cooperation Council, representing the six oil-rich Gulf states, met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and issued a statement that began: "The leaders commissioned a study to set up a common program in the area of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

Like Iran`s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Long before the attack on border post 105, the military commander of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, speaking at a mosque in Damascus, where he is based and protected, an address broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, warning not just Israel but the West of militant Islam`s intent. It went far beyond the Palestinian cause: "We say this to the West, which does not act reasonably, and does not learn lessons: by Allah, you will be defeated. Tomorrow our nation [Islam] will sit on the throne of the world. This is not a figment of the imagination, but a fact. Tomorrow we will lead the world? Today, you are fighting the army of Allah. You are fighting against people for whom death for the sake of Allah, and for the sake of honour and glory, is preferable to life."

This is the language of "shahada". A "shahid" is to worship God and the Prophet Muhammad through a violent death in the cause of Islam. "A suicide bombing is not an act of desperation but a religious act," says Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, during a briefing in Jerusalem. "When suicide bombers make videos they will sometimes talk about their 'weddings,' referring to their suicide. Violence is put on a pedestal, even in preschool education. The videos talk about the sweetness of shahada."

During the past week the latest call to jihad and holy death has led to carnage and full-scale war between Islamic Somalia and Christian Ethiopia.

More than 1000 Islamist fighters, most of them teenagers, have died since they attacked Baidoa, the seat of the Somali provisional government, and Islamist leaders declared that Somalia was open to any Muslim around the world who wanted to wage a holy war against Ethiopia. The Ethiopians responded with invasion. Yesterday, its army had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu.

Next week the war will flare somewhere else. The primary targets of al-Qaeda, now a virtual state within the Muslim diaspora, are the key moderate Muslim regimes in the Middle East, which are constantly being tested for weakness.

In the Jordanian capital, Amman, last weekend, I had to go through three security checks just to get back into my hotel, measures put in place since three Western hotels were bombed in a co-ordinated terrorism attack last year that killed 60 civilians.

In Sudan, genocide and mass rape have been used by Muslims to obliterate Christian and animist blacks in the south of the country around Darfur. Iraq and Afghanistan are engulfed in religious civil war and foreign occupation.

Hundreds of innocent civilians have been butchered as far afield as London, Madrid, Bali and Mumbai.

This is a hot war, fought on three continents. Its evolution has largely been funded by Saudi Arabia.

"The Saudis have spent $US70 billion ($93 billion) over the past 20 years funding Wahhabism," Yael Shahar told me last week. Shahar is on the faculty at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Tel Aviv, the world`s leading academic institute for counter-terrorism. Given that Wahhabism is the most rigid, and most aggressive form of Islam, it means that the West`s appetite for oil and motor cars has fuelled not just global warming, but global jihad.

Jihad and shahada have been the common denominators of the otherwise unrelated bloodshed in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and the violent arc of a dozen Islamic states from Pakistan to Morocco. It is the common denominator of bloodshed in Britain, France, Spain, Holland and the United States, all the scenes of terrorist attacks, and Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Italy, where growing Muslim threats and violence are part of what is now a global confrontation between Western values and medievalism.

World War III. Every indicator we have says that we should get used to the concept.