NY Times: Testing How Long the Truce Can Last


Richard Moore


In commenting on recent postings, I've noted that the cease-fire appears to be 
phony, a way to suppress the Lebanese resistance while leaving Israel free to 
make 'selective' air strikes against alleged 'terrorist' targets. In the NY 
Times piece, we see an anticipation of failure of the cease-fire, and a 
propaganda line blaming such an outcome in advance on the Lebanese.


Original source URL:

August 15, 2006
Testing How Long the Truce Can Last

JERUSALEM, Aug. 14 ‹ Standing before flattened buildings in the shattered 
southern suburbs of Beirut, one of Hezbollah¹s two ministers in the Lebanese 
cabinet, Hassan Fadlallah, asserted Monday that Hezbollah had scored ³a divine 
victory² in its conflict with Israel.

One of the key questions to be answered by that conflict was neatly reflected in
the ruined setting Mr. Fadlallah chose.

Will ordinary Lebanese come to agree with him, or will they ultimately blame 
Hezbollah for attacking Israel and thus bringing about the destruction of so 
many buildings, roads, bridges and lives?

In the answer, some suggest, lies the fate of the cease-fire ‹ and of a weak 
Lebanese government.

For the moment, Hezbollah is bathed in a heroic light, not just in Lebanon but 
throughout the Muslim world. Lebanon¹s prime minister, Fouad Siniora, appears 
unable or unwilling to force the issue of Hezbollah¹s disarmament, at least in 
the south, as called for in the United Nations Security Council resolution that 
halted the combat.

Hezbollah¹s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said in a television speech that his
fighters would accept the cease-fire. Yet he insisted that Hezbollah would 
continue to fight in violation of it so long as Israeli troops remained on 
Lebanese soil.

And whether Hezbollah intends to let its fighters be banned from the kingdom it 
built for itself in southern Lebanon, with the lavish help of Iran and Syria, is
another open question.

The Security Council appears to have done its best to promote the interests of 
Lebanon and to diminish Hezbollah¹s hold over the slice of the country between 
the Litani River and the Israeli border.

But the Council has passed far-reaching resolutions on Lebanon before ‹ 
especially Resolution 1559, in September 2004, which called for the disbanding 
of Hezbollah¹s fighting force and all other militias and the extension of 
Lebanese government control over the entire country.

That resolution had no enforcement mechanism and was largely ignored.

After 34 days of warfare, the latest resolution, 1701, repeats the goals of 1559
but provides more teeth, including a more robust United Nations force of up to 
15,000 soldiers that is supposed to patrol a specific southern demilitarized 
zone and help the government monitor its borders, ensuring that Iran and Syria 
do not resupply Hezbollah with rockets, missiles and ammunition.

But will it be effective? And what soldiers will be in it? When will they 
arrive? And will the force be willing to confront Hezbollah? Or, as many 
Israelis expect, will it allow Hezbollah to remain in southern Lebanon unimpeded
so long as the border appears quiet?

As always, the real test is not in the resolution but in its fulfillment, and 
there are reasons for skepticism. If the skepticism turns out to be correct, how
long will Israel stand by and watch the rearmament of Hezbollah in violation of 
the resolution?

For Israel, its second line of defense is, bluntly, the effect of the damage it 
has done to Lebanon and to Hezbollah itself in the last month. Hezbollah is 
still standing and was able to fire more than 200 missiles on the last day 
before the cease-fire, and Sheik Nasrallah has survived.

But Hezbollah has been secretive about its losses, and though it denies Israeli 
claims that 500 of its fighters were killed and 80 percent of its medium-range 
and longer-range rockets destroyed, it has almost certainly been hurt more badly
than it is willing to admit.

So it is unlikely to want to test Israel again for some time, and Lebanon¹s 
government and a majority of its people, who are not Shiites, are not likely to 
be eager to rebuild the country just to see it destroyed.

But if Hezbollah is down, it is not out, and this may not be an end to the war 
but a respite, even if lasts for a number of years.

Israel¹s vaunted military invincibility, which has been a big part of its 
defense strategy, has taken a serious knock. Israel was not even able, in the 
cease-fire resolution, to get the immediate return of its two captured soldiers,
meaning an extended negotiation with Hezbollah over prisoners, prisoners of war 
and the bodies of dead fighters.

Israeli officials are quietly concerned about how the war looked to the Syrian 
president, Bashar al-Assad, whom they regard as less shrewd and less stable than
his father. The Syrians have a wellequipped and well-trained army much larger 
than Hezbollah¹s militia, and an air force, too, and Mr. Assad is committed to 
obtaining the eventual return of the Golan Heights.

Showing the Syrians that the Israeli Army is still capable was one major reason,
Israeli officials say, that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert authorized the wider 
Israeli offensive just before the cease-fire.

But the main Israeli worry is Iran, which invested millions of dollars in 
Hezbollah and which the West accuses of harboring a secret program to build 
nuclear weapons. What judgments the Iranians take from this little war is among 
the most important of the unanswered questions.

For Israel the war also raises serious questions about another unilateral 
withdrawal of settlers, this time from the West Bank. Former Prime Minister 
Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party, spoke for many 
Israelis on Monday in saying that the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 produced 
this war, and that the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip a year ago 
produced a Hamas electoral victory and continued instability and rocket fire.

While Mr. Olmert was elected on a platform of another withdrawal, opinion polls 
indicate that Israelis are almost evenly divided on the plan, which is probably 
enough to kill it.

The Lebanese war also raises even more serious questions, suggests Shai Feldman,
director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis, about the 
establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Israel respected the international border with Lebanon as verified by the United
Nations, and it was Hezbollah that violated the border. ³If international 
borders mean nothing,² Mr. Feldman asked, ³why should the Israeli public support
a withdrawal from the West Bank to create a Palestinian state?²

Preserving the idea of a two-state solution is one reason Mr. Olmert went to 
war, Mr. Feldman said. And it is one reason the Security Council acted as 
strongly as it did to defend the integrity of the international border and 
mandate an expanded United Nations force to protect it. But whether Israelis 
will trust those guarantees is yet another open question.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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