4 August 2006


Hizbullah fires dozens of rockets into northern Israel, randomly killing civilians, then kidnaps Israeli soldiers and demands the release of prisoners held by Israel. Israel responds by air strikes on what it thinks are Hizbullah positions, killing civilians. Hizbullah continues to fire rockets. Israel responds with more air strikes, killing more civilians and creating a massive refugee crisis … OK, we all know the story.

Of course, it would be great if both sides just stopped. But both sides need to be persuaded to stop, because both have interests in prolonging the action. Hizbullah gains kudos with every rocket it fires; the Israeli government needs to be able to boast of success to frightened Israelis. The upshot is that pious expressions of the desirability of an immediate ceasefire have no chance of effecting one.

To complicate matters, although the Israelis have undoubtedly killed more civilians and caused more suffering in the past three weeks, Hizbullah is the greater long-term threat to peace. Supplied by Iran and Syria, it acts as a state within a state in Lebanon and is committed to elimination of the “Zionist entity”. Unless it is disarmed and the areas it controls are brought under the control of the Lebanese government, there will soon be another crisis like the current one.

This, roughly speaking, is the position taken by Blair and the British government, which have argued for a ceasefire accompanied by the disarmament of Hizbullah and introduction of an international force in southern Lebanon to oversee the process. The Lebanese government seems to agree, and there’s at least a hope that the Israelis can be persuaded to accept such a deal. Is there any credible alternative?

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