An imperfect cease-fire

August 15, 2006

The fighting in the hours leading up to a United Nations-sanctioned cease-fire in Lebanon was no less intense than in the weeks preceding it. Hezbollah guerrillas and the Israeli military were intent on leaving each other bloodied and battered. But neither can claim victory; each side has suffered more deaths and destruction. The pummeling underscored the reality of this otherwise welcome cease-fire - there is much unfinished business to be addressed before anyone can claim a true resolution of this latest Middle East war.

At its most immediate, the cease-fire resolution should end the daily barrage of bombings and rocket attacks that victimized Lebanese and Israeli civilians. As of yesterday, thousands of south Lebanese who had been displaced from their villages began heading home, and convoys of humanitarian aid were under way. Key to ending the violence long-term is the U.N. mandate for a deployment of 15,000 Lebanese soldiers and 15,000 international troops in south Lebanon. That will take a few weeks to establish, and until then, Hezbollah and Israel must refrain from any provocations.

At its most critical, the U.N. resolution calls for an end to Hezbollah's standing as a state within a state, a militia prone to act at will to provoke Israel (as it did in this conflict with its kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers).

But the resolution puts off any decision about disarming Hezbollah - a directive of a previous U.N. resolution - to a future negotiation. That may have been the only way to reach consensus on the resolution and thus effect a reprieve in the fighting. But Hezbollah must be dealt with once and for all. The Lebanese government should not delay in settling this matter, despite Hezbollah's popularity and prowess in confounding Israel's military. It has to recognize Hezbollah for what it is: a rogue group interested in perpetuating its own agenda with scant regard for the Lebanese civilians in its midst.

Israel was dragged into this war by Hezbollah in early July. The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has learned acutely the vulnerability of its military when it collides with a guerrilla force that embeds itself among citizens, as well as its inability to secure its borders against a seemingly endless supply of Iranian-financed rockets.

The backers of the U.N. resolution, beginning with the United States, must ensure that all aspects of the cease-fire be carried out. They also should direct new resources toward rebuilding Lebanon's infrastructure and curtailing Iran's influence in the region to avert a resumption of hostilities.

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