- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s necessary decisions to launch military campaigns against Hezbollah and Hamas have created an opportunity to change the balance of forces between Israel and the terror networks that have plagued the Middle East since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The most important thing that Israel needs — particularly in Lebanon, where Hezbollah had been permitted to stockpile upwards of 10,000-12,000 rockets and missiles to target Israel — is time: time to root out the weapons caches stockpiled in private homes; time to hit the rocket and missile-launching sites and terrorist training camps Hezbollah has established throughout Lebanon; and time to hunt down the jihadists in the Bekaa Valley and elsewhere whose life’s work is to destroy the Jewish state. As missiles continue to rain down on northern Israel (and the Israeli government warns residents of Tel Aviv, its largest city, located nearly 70 miles from the Lebanon border, that Hezbollah may have missiles that can reach them), it is apparent that Israel will need significantly more time to degrade Hezbollah’s ability to wage war.

In Lebanon and Gaza, Israel has at least five key goals in addition to freeing the soldiers kidnapped by terrorists: 1) forcing Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza to prevent terrorists from operating out of their territory; 2) crippling the military capabilities of Hezbollah and Hamas; 3) re-establishing the credibility of the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) deterrence against terrorist groups; 4) deterring state sponsors of terror like Iran and Syria; and 5) reminding the international community of the indispensable roles that Tehran and Damascus have played in forcing Israel into several wars that may soon envelop other parts of the Middle East. All of these strike us as legitimate goals that are broadly consistent with U.S. foreign policy interests and merit Washington’s support.

President Bush has made clear that he is sympathetic with Israel’s plight and understands that Israel is acting in self-defense. The most important thing Washington can do in the coming days will be to fend off the efforts of powerful countries, like Russia and China and many in the European Union, who will attempt to mobilize pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire in Lebanon before it cuts Hezbollah down to size. And Washington should support Jerusalem’s demand for the unconditional return of the three IDF soldiers kidnapped from Israeli soil in the past 22 days — without yielding to Hezbollah and Hamas demands that Israel free imprisoned terrorists in exchange.

The worst possible outcome of all would be an empty, feel-good ceasefire agreement that leaves a large chunk of Hezbollah’s Lebanese terrorist infrastructure in place and fails to address the root cause of the current problem in Lebanon: the failure of the Lebanese government and the international community to create a binding, enforceable mechanism for compelling Beirut and Hezbollah to meet the requirements of U. N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which requires every militia operating in Lebanon to disarm (all except for Hezbollah did so years ago).

The Israeli government wants (and many Lebanese quietly agree) the Lebanese Army to extend its authority to the border with Israel. Israel expected this to happen when it unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000. The problem until now has been that everyone has shied away from doing this because that would have meant forcing a confrontation with Hezbollah. Israel hopes that if it is successful in cutting Hezbollah down to size, it can end the stranglehold that Hezbollah (and, by extension, Iran and Syria) have had on Lebanon for a generation. It is no exaggeration to say that, if Hezbollah is severely weakened, the biggest long-term beneficiaries will be the great majority of Lebanese — Muslim and Christian alike — who have seen their nation dragged into a war with Israel which they want no part of in order to serve the malevolent purposes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Indeed, there is some evidence that, in the wake of the devastation in Lebanon triggered by Hezbollah’s actions over the past five days, people who are not generally known as Israeli sympathizers are growing weary of Hezbollah’s thuggery. Ordinary Lebanese are bitterly complaining that Hezbollah has had too much freedom of action, and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is considering a plan to move the Lebanese Army to the border with Israel. On Friday, the Saudi Press Agency quoted an unnamed Saudi official as blaming Hezbollah for starting the crisis. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Saturday that Hezbollah should “stop resorting to any terrorist methods, including attacking neighboring states.”

For Israel, one of the most important developments of the past three weeks has been the restoration of its deterrent capability against terrorism, which had recently eroded despite Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s successes in the Operation Defensive Shield (Israel’s 2002 operation against West Bank terrorists). For nearly 10 months after Israel completely withdrew from Gaza, Palestinian terrorists fired hundreds of missiles into Israel without provoking a substantial IDF military operation in response. For more than six years after Israel withdrew from every inch of Lebanese territory, Hezbollah staged numerous provocations — the worst of which was the abduction and killing of three IDF soldiers near the border six years ago without any substantial response from Prime Minister Ehud Barak. In the wake of Mr. Olmert’s decisive actions, terrorists have more reason than ever to worry about the consequences of provoking Israel.

But the central problem remains: the fact that for, Iran and Syria, terror remains a largely cost-free exercise. Both regimes have been largely spared any of the consequences for their roles in sponsoring the terrorist groups responsible for igniting the current fighting in Gaza and Lebanon. Until the leaders of Iran and Syria lose the ability to fight to the last Lebanese and last Palestinian at no cost to themselves, look for the terror to continue — with the risk that, at some point in the future, Israel will finally decide to target the rogue regimes themselves.

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