- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

President Bush said yesterday that Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon had suffered a defeat in their monthlong war with Israel, and he again lashed out at Syria and Iran for sponsoring the terrorist group.

Mr. Bush was emphatic about whom he held responsible for the war, which prompted the U.N. Security Council to pass a cease-fire resolution Friday.

“Hezbollah attacked Israel, Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis,” he said, just hours after the shaky cease-fire took effect. “This was Hezbollah’s activities, this was Hezbollah’s choice to make.”

As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the strategic balance in the region was transformed by the war and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said his guerrillas achieved a “strategic, historic victory,” Mr. Bush called the cease-fire resolution “an important step forward that will help bring an end to the violence.”

The president also said responsibility “for the suffering of the Lebanese people also lies with Hezbollah’s state sponsors, Iran and Syria.” The fighting left nearly 1,000 people dead, most of them Lebanese.

“The regime in Iran provides Hezbollah with financial support, weapons and training. Iran has made clear that it seeks the destruction of Israel. We can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks,” Mr. Bush said.

“Hezbollah has been emboldened because of its state sponsors. I know they claim they didn’t have anything to do with it, but sophisticated weaponry ended up in the hands of Hezbollah fighters, and many assume and many believe that that weaponry came from Iran through Syria.”

The president also said that the conflict in Lebanon “is part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region.”

Criticized for allowing the war to continue as he demanded a long-term solution, Mr. Bush said the U.N. resolution that calls for a cessation of violence was worth the wait. “We certainly hope the cease-fire holds. … Lebanon can’t be a strong democracy when there is a state within a state, and that’s Hezbollah.”

He also said Israel retains the right to self-defense, notwithstanding the resolution.

“We don’t advise Israel on its military options,” Mr. Bush said. “As far as I’m concerned, if somebody shoots at an Israeli soldier … Israel has a right to defend herself.”

With Congress set to debate Bush administration efforts to secure Americans, including detention of terrorists and monitoring terror suspects’ bank records and phone calls, Mr. Bush said he wants to ensure that the “people who are trying to disrupt terrorist cells in the United States have the tools necessary to do so within the Constitution of the United States.”

“There’s still a war on terror going on, and there’s still individuals that would like to kill innocent Americans to achieve political objectives. That’s the lesson. And the lesson for those of us in Washington, D.C., is to set aside politics and give our people the tools necessary to protect the American people,” he said.

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