The time bomb
Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 9:28 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 9:28 a.m.
In responding to the kidnapping of two soldiers with air strikes and a ground invasion of Lebanon, Israel wagered that, given time, it could destroy or disarm Hezbollah. But 20 days later more than 750 people are dead — most of them Lebanese civilians — and Hezbollah continues to fire missiles into Israel. Meanwhile, Israeli bombing mistakes that have killed United Nations observers and, just this weekend, 55 Lebanese civilians in an apartment building in Qana, are eliciting outrage and condemnation around the world.
Almost alone among world leaders, President Bush has refused to call for an immediate cease fire, ostensibly to give Israel the necessary time to destroy or weaken Hezbollah. But what if Israel cannot achieve that goal? At what point does time to fight back turn into a political and strategic time bomb for both the U.S. and Israel? Perhaps it already has.
Southern Lebanon is being reduced to rubble. Some 800,000 refugees are on the move. Casualties have been overwhelmingly one-sided, with Israel suffering few losses. And yet, neither the Lebanese army nor its people seem inclined to turn against Hezbollah, as Israel and President Bush had hoped.
"Time is working against us, not with us," Augustus Richard Norton, a Boston University professor who specializes in Lebanon, told the New York Times last week. "The options stink."
The Bush administration has been contemptuous of past efforts by U.S. presidents to broker peace agreements between Israel and its enemies, pointing out that such agreements have, at best, led to temporary cease fires. But it is difficult to see how the current gamble of giving Israel enough time to destroy Hezbollah — destroying much of southern Lebanon in the process — can lead to anything resembling a lasting peace.
Time and overwhelming military might hasn't stopped the insurgency in Iraq and it isn't likely to achieve anything resembling "victory" in Lebanon. Time is working against both Israeli and U.S. interests in the region. The United Nations must step in and stop the killing, and the sooner the better. If that means an international peace-keeping force with a mandate to establish a buffer zone between Israel and Hezbollah, then so be it.
Time for victory is a ticking time bomb that threatens to touch off an even wider conflict. The world cannot wait for it to explode.
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