Ms. Rice needs to deliver

July 25, 2006

Israel has dangerously miscalculated at least one aspect of its precision airstrikes to end Hezbollah's hegemony in south Lebanon: It can't encourage residents to evacuate the area, bomb their fleeing cars and not expect outrage over the maimed and dead. This phase of Israel's campaign to defend its northern cities from a daily barrage of Hezbollah rockets and rout Hezbollah's fighters from south Lebanon at once illustrates the difficulty of its mission - Hezbollah embeds itself among civilians - and reinforces the view that Israel has used excessive force to defeat the Iranian-backed guerrillas. As in any war, civilians should neither be targeted nor their deaths excused as collateral damage.

That imperative should be reinforced with Israel as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins the United States' belated effort to end the violence overwhelming Lebanon and resolve the ongoing threat to American interests posed by Hezbollah. Ms. Rice's pledge of $30 million in U.S. aid to relieve Lebanon's humanitarian crisis doesn't absolve the Bush administration from addressing the more intractable problem - Hezbollah's military prowess.

Israeli firepower won't defeat Hezbollah; the Islamic militant group and its supporters are entrenched in Lebanon's political and social life. The higher the Lebanese death toll, the more Israel will be blamed and the fewer people will recall that it was Hezbollah that provoked the fighting in the first place.

Ms. Rice should be advancing a serious diplomatic initiative that would bring about a cease-fire, end the bombardment of Lebanon and lead to a disarmament of Hezbollah. A cease-fire would ensure the arrival of needed supplies to the battered Lebanese and help return half a million or more of them to their homes. But any cease-fire has to be discussed along with a U.S.-led, multi-phased strategy to end Hezbollah's ability to cause havoc in the region.

Deploying an international force of French, German, Jordanian and Turkish soldiers in south Lebanon would be a start, but it must have the power to police the area. Syria, a transit point for Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah, should be brought into the discussion. It may take more than Egypt or France to get Syria's attention. President Bush seems to think Syria can put an end to Hezbollah's mayhem just like that, but Damascus has no incentive to help, and it won't simply on America's say-so. Ms. Rice wants a cease-fire that endures, but a comprehensive solution that doesn't address Syria's involvement stands little chance of doing so.

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