Monday, August 07, 2006

Out flank the flankers

This war rages on militarily, politically and diplomatically.

The latest looks like this. (Based on CNN TV reporting in the States now.) Israel has isolated Tyre, perhaps for a military assault. Lebanese officials believe 20,000 civilians remain in the city. Lebanon has said that they will send a force of 15,000 "peacekeepers" to the region if Israel will withdraw.

TIME (online) questions the draft resolution before the U.N. Security Council:
All of which begs the question, what's the purpose of pressing for the adoption of a cease-fire plan that's dead on arrival?

On Sunday, in response to Arab complaints about the cease fire proposal, Secretary Rice said "We'll see who is for peace and who isn't," making clear that part of the plan is to put diplomatic pressure on those who disagree with the U.S.-French version of an acceptable outcome. More likely, however, the coming weeks of diplomacy and warfare are going to settle the question of whether Israeli troops remain in Lebanon once the guns go silent. The U.S. may be calculating that the Lebanese government's desperation to end the fighting that threatens to destroy the country will force it to accept Israeli forces remaining in southern Lebanon, thereby isolating Hizballah. Israel has the country in an ever-tightening choke-hold, having cut transport links and leaving the county with less than a week's energy supplies to maintain electricity and essential services. The desperation of Lebanon's government is palpable, and Washington appears to be betting that this will drive a wedge between it and Hizballah.

But the fighting has actually boosted Hizballah's standing in Lebanon and raised the level of hostility throughout the population towards Israel and the U.S. Even if Siniora wanted to back Washington's plan to keep Israeli forces in the country, he'd be restrained by the massive political risk involved. Lebanese politicians fear that if decisions are taken without a national consensus, the result could be a new civil war.

At the same time, by adopting the language of "cease-fire" — the rallying cry of U.S. critics in recent weeks — Washington may simply be hoping to deflect some of the pressure from European and Arab allies over its efforts to buy the Israeli military more time to finish the job.

Hizballah's calculations, of course, are different: It sees the U.S.-French proposal as handing Israel a victory it has not won on the battlefield. Israeli commanders have certainly been shocked by the resilience of Hizballah: Almost a month after the fighting began, the small guerrilla force has not only continued to fight doggedly — and remarkably effectively — to hold its positions in southern Lebanon, it also remains able to rain down scores of rockets every day on Israel's civilian population centers despite Israel's control of Lebanon's skies. Hizballah defined victory simply as survival as a military force, and so far, it seems right to believe it is winning. It may see Israeli uncertainty over how to pursue the campaign and the mounting pressure on the U.S. to press for a truce as signs that continuing to fight can only strengthen its position at the bargaining table.

In the end, the standoff over the cease-fire will eventually be settled by the answer to a simple question: Who needs the truce more? For now, each side believes the other does, and that's precisely why Israel and Hizballah will continue trying to wear each other down, both in the chambers of diplomacy and in the killing fields of southern Lebanon and northern Israel.


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