- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

While Israel continues fighting to secure its northern border, the Iranian government barely makes an effort to hide its support for Hezbollah. Yesterday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the United States and Britain “accomplices of the Zionist regime in its crimes in Lebanon and Palestine” and declared that, by going to war against Hezbollah, Israel “pushed the button of its own destruction.” In Tehran, the government, which provides Hezbollah upwards of $100 million a year, has put up billboards paying tribute to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and declaring that it is the duty of Muslims to “wipe out” the Jewish state. And, over the weekend, in a display worthy of Hitler or Stalin (or Saddam Hussein in happier times), the Associated Press reported that Iranian officials in the city of Shiraz organized a demonstration by Iran’s tiny Jewish community praising Hezbollah and calling for Israel’s destruction.

With this ugliness as a backdrop, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in the Middle East today for meetings aimed at ending the violence in the region, with the primary focus on finding a viable plan for Lebanon’s future. Thus far, the administration has performed admirably in fending off well-intentioned but utterly misguided calls for a premature ceasefire that would leave Hezbollah’s military capabilities in place. Over the weekend, unconfirmed reports in the Israeli press suggested that Washington wants Israel to end its military campaign in Lebanon within one week. We trust that this is disinformation, and that Miss Rice and President Bush will quickly knock down such foolishness.

Some object to the Bush administration’s approach, arguing that America should instead be an “honest broker” between Arabs and Israelis. But we need to be intellectually honest. The United States is not a neutral party; we are Israel’s friend and ally in the war against radical Islam. That doesn’t mean we agree with Israel all the time. But we cannot be neutral when Israel is fighting on our side against Islamofascism.

Any ceasefire that leaves Sheikh Nasrallah and his confederates in place as a serious fighting force capable of targeting Israel would be a defeat — not only for Israel, but for the United States as well — and Hezbollah would emerge emboldened and more dangerous. At a minimum, the war must end with Hezbollah and the government of Lebanon being forced to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which requires that Hezbollah disarm. Hezbollah’s army must be removed from southern Lebanon.

A senior American official briefing reporters on Friday described American policy goals in Lebanon as follows: Achieving a ceasefire is a part of an eventual diplomatic package. But it is unclear whether such a plan would include a request that Hezbollah leave southern Lebanon and agree to a ceasefire, or whether Israeli military strikes would make Hezbollah’s acquiescence irrelevant.

We strongly prefer the latter option.

If Israel is given the time it needs to bring the Lebanon operation to a successful conclusion, it will deal a severe blow to Hezbollah, and, by extension, its state sponsors in Tehran and Damascus. But such a favorable outcome will require American perseverance and maturity — the most important aspect of which is the realization that civilians die in war. Despite the Israeli military’s efforts to confine its strikes so as to avoid civilian casualties, it is impossible to wage all-out war against terrorist groups operating in densely populated neighborhoods, concealing legitimate military targets like rockets in private homes, while ensuring civilians’ safety. But the blame for civilian casualties in these circumstances belongs squarely with Hezbollah — which foments violence, targets Israeli civilians and uses Lebanese civilians as human shields.

As Israel expands its ground operations to root out Hezbollah, we are certain to learn much more about the grim reality of the military arsenal that Hezbollah has managed to amass in in Lebanon since its founding in 1982. A substantial (but unknown) percentage of this has been transferred to southern Lebanon in the wake of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal on May 24, 2000: Thanks to Iran and Syria, Hezbollah was estimated to have a force that included unmanned aerial vehicles that have previously penetrated Israeli airspace, as well as approximately 13,000 rockets and missiles on July 12, when it crossed the border and kidnapped two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, triggering the current fighting. The overwhelming majority of this arsenal consisted of relatively short-range Katyusha rockets, but several hundred were longer-range weapons, including an undetermined number of Zelzal missiles, which can reach southern Israel.

While Hezbollah has fired upwards of several thousand missiles and rockets at Israel in the past 12 days, it would be a serious mistake to expect the group to run out of weapons anytime soon: For one thing, Israeli intelligence says that Iran and Syria continue working to resupply Hezbollah; the efforts are said to be coordinated by the Iranian embassy in Beirut. Iran is also believed to have several hundred members of its Revolutionary Guard stationed in Lebanon (most likely in the south or in the Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold near the Syrian border).

In addition, Arab-language newspapers have reported that a secret 20-member Revolutionary Guard unit is monitoring IDF movements and deciding which targets to hit inside Israel. Ten days ago, Hezbollah fired a C802 missile which struck an Israeli ship, killing four sailors. Israel had been unaware that Hezbollah possessed such weapons. We should be prepared for the possibility of more such surprises, and expect that the war could turn out to be a long, protracted one.

The Bush administration needs to continue to fend off ill-considered plans to bring the Israeli operation in Lebanon to a premature conclusion.

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