No end in sight

July 21, 2006

After nine days of fighting between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, an accounting must be made.

As of yesterday:

Two Israeli soldiers kidnapped.

More than 1,100 Hezbollah rockets fired into northern Israel.

At least 1,000 Lebanese targets - including roads, bridges, buildings, missile sites, the airport - bombed by Israel.

At least 306 people killed in Lebanon; 29 in Israel.

A half-million people displaced in Lebanon.

About 13,000 foreign nationals evacuated from Lebanon.

But what's been accomplished? Hezbollah's strongholds have been destroyed, and its strength diminished. But its rockets continue to fall on Israel, its guerrillas are battling Israeli troops in the south and its leadership remains in charge. Areas of Lebanese cities, on the other hand, have been reduced to rubble. The country's prime minister is pleading for a cease-fire to spare his people more degradation and death. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding.

By refusing to consider a cease-fire, by pressing on with its punishing airstrikes, Israel - and its chief backer, the United States - are alienating friends and supporters. Israel's right to defend itself and the 750,000 Israelis within reach of Hezbollah rockets doesn't extend to destroying Lebanon. That's what's occurring as Israeli forces push to defeat Hezbollah. A guerrilla militia can't be wiped out by a conventional army, even one of the best in the world. Wasn't that a lesson of Israel's nearly 20-year occupation of southern Lebanon?

Hezbollah won't be destroyed just by this campaign, because many Lebanese embrace its ideology and politics of resistance. Enmity for Israel is sure to increase among the other Lebanese factions that comprise this religiously diverse society as more of the country is destroyed. They are the Lebanese who must deal with Hezbollah, but their weakened state grows weaker still with each Israeli bombing sortie. The international consensus has been to disarm Hezbollah and denounce its Iranian and Syrian backers. But condemnation now is directed against Israel and its use of force.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for an immediate cease-fire, while acknowledging that an escalation of the violence will make it more difficult to negotiate one. The Bush administration prefers to let Israel finish what Hezbollah started, but it isn't doing Israel - or its Arab allies in the region - any favors in the long run.

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