United States to Israel: You Have One More Week to Blast Hizbullah
By Ewen MacAskill, Simon Tisdall and Patrick Wintour
The Guardian UK
Wednesday 19 July 2006
Bush "gave green light" for limited attack, say Israeli and UK sources.
The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on Hizbullah before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according to British, European and Israeli sources.
The Bush administration, backed by Britain, has blocked efforts for an immediate halt to the fighting initiated at the UN security council, the G8 summit in St Petersburg and the European foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.
"It's clear the Americans have given the Israelis the green light. They [the Israeli attacks] will be allowed to go on longer, perhaps for another week," a senior European official said yesterday. Diplomatic sources said there was a clear time limit, partly dictated by fears that a prolonged conflict could spin out of control.
US strategy in allowing Israel this freedom for a limited period has several objectives, one of which is delivering a slap to Iran and Syria, who Washington claims are directing Hizbullah and Hamas militants from behind the scenes.
George Bush last night said that he suspected Syria was trying to reassert its influence in Lebanon. Speaking in Washington, he said: "It's in our interest for Syria to stay out of Lebanon and for this government in Lebanon to succeed and survive. The root cause of the problem is Hizbullah and that problem needs to be addressed."
Tony Blair yesterday swung behind the US position that Israel need not end the bombing until Hizbullah hands over captured prisoners and ends its rocket attacks. During a Commons statement, he resisted backbench demands that he call for a ceasefire.
Echoing the US position, he told MPs: "Of course we all want violence to stop and stop immediately, but we recognise the only realistic way to achieve such a ceasefire is to address the underlying reasons why this violence has broken out."
He also indicated it might take many months to agree the terms of a UN stabilisation force on the Lebanese border.
After Mr Blair spoke, British officials privately acknowledged the US had given Israel a green light to continue bombing Lebanon until it believes Hizbullah's infrastructure has been destroyed.
Washington's hands-off approach was underlined yesterday when it was confirmed that Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, is delaying a visit to the region until she has met a special UN team. She is expected in the region on Friday, according to Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the UN.
The US is publicly denying any role in setting a timeframe for Israeli strikes. When asked whether the US was holding back diplomatically, Tony Snow, the White House's press spokesman, said yesterday: "No, no; the insinuation there is that there is active military planning, collaboration or collusion, between the United States and Israel - and there isn't ... the US has been in the lead of the diplomatic efforts, issuing repeated calls for restrain,t but at the same time putting together an international consensus. You've got to remember who was responsible for this: Hizbullah ... It would be misleading to say the United States hasn't been engaged. We've been deeply engaged."
Steven Cook, a specialist in US-Middle East policy at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, said: "It's abundantly clear [that US policy is] to give the Israelis the opportunity to strike a blow at Hizbullah ...
"They have global reach, and prior to 9/11 they killed more Americans than any other group. But the Israelis are overplaying their hand."
Israel is already laying the ground for negotiations. "We are beginning a diplomatic process alongside the military operation that will continue," said Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, yesterday. "The diplomatic process is not meant to shorten the window of time of the army's operation, but rather is meant to be an extension of it and to prevent a need for future military operations," she added.
Moshe Kaplinsky, Israel's deputy army chief, said the offensive could end within a few weeks, adding that Israel needed time to complete "clear goals". Israeli officials said fighting could begin to wind down after the weekend, if Hizbullah stops firing rockets.
A peace formula is also beginning to emerge: it includes an understanding on a future prisoner exchange, a deployment of the Lebanese army up to the Israeli border, a Hizbullah pullback, and the beefing up of an international monitoring force. For the first time, Ms Livni suggested Israel might accept such a force on a temporary basis.
There were signs of differences of emphasis between the Foreign Office and Downing Street over the conflict.
Kim Howells, a Foreign Office minister, explicitly called for the US to rein in Israel. "I very much hope the Americans will be putting pressure on the Israelis to stop as quickly as possible." he told the BBC. "We understand the pressure the Israeli government is under, but we call on them to look very carefully at the pressure ordinary people are under in southern Lebanon and other parts of Lebanon too ... We want to stop this as quickly as possible".
Israeli airstrikes killed 31 yesterday, including a family of nine in Aitaroun. More than 230 civilians in Lebanon have been killed in the past week.
An Israeli man was killed by a Hizbullah rocket in Nahariya in northern Israel, bringing the total of Israeli civilian deaths to 13. The army said 50 missiles were fired yesterday at northern Israel, injuring at least 14 people.
* 31 Lebanese killed in Israeli air raids. Nine members of one family were killed and four wounded in a strike on their house in the village of Aitaroun. Five were killed in other strikes in the south and two in the Bekaa Valley. An attack on a Lebanese army barracks east of Beirut killed 11 soldiers and wounded 30. A truck carrying medical supplies was hit and its driver killed on the Beirut-Damascus highway. Hizbullah says one of its fighters was killed.
* One man killed as he was walking to a bomb shelter in Nahariya, northern Israel. The army said Hizbullah fired 50 missiles, hitting the port and railway depot at Haifa, as well as the towns of Safed, Acre and Kiryat Shmona.
* Hundreds evacuated from Beirut in helicopters and boats. HMS Gloucester arrives to start evacuation of Britons. The Orient Queen, a cruise ship capable of carrying 750, sets out from Cyprus, escorted by a US destroyer.
Bush Supports Israel's Move Against Hezbollah
By Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks
The Washington Post
Wednesday 19 July 2006
In blunt language, President Bush yesterday endorsed Israel's campaign to cripple or eliminate Hezbollah, charged that Syria is trying to reassert control of Lebanon, and called for the isolation of Iran.
Bush, in remarks at the White House after he briefed members of Congress about the recent Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations, said the "root cause" of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon "is terrorism and terrorist attacks on a democratic country."
"And part of those terrorist attacks are inspired by nation states, like Syria and Iran. And in order to be able to deal with this crisis, the world must deal with Hezbollah, with Syria and to continue to work to isolate Iran," Bush said.
The president spoke amid increasing pessimism about the potential for diplomacy to defuse the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in the near future. Many U.S., European and Arab officials are resigned to a prolonged battle with limited prospects for diplomacy because of limited alternatives and what one European diplomat called the "unstoppable dynamic" of Israel's military campaign.
At the same time, the administration is scrambling to develop a strategy to deal with the crisis. Despite unity at the G-8, U.S. officials said that a lot of ideas have been offered without details or feasibility assessments.
"What we have to do before we launch anyone at a target is understand the mission," a senior U.S. official said.
For now, the administration is letting Israel's military strategy to weaken Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian backers play out.
"The real objective here has to be to deny the Mediterranean branch of Tehran a strategic victory and to find a way that, coming out of the crisis, we have a situation recomposed, so Hezbollah's influence is more limited -- ideally you could say destroyed," the senior U.S. official said.
Iran gave birth to Hezbollah and has provided some $100 million annually in funds and most of its arms.
Syria, which ended a 29-year occupation of Lebanon when it withdrew 14,000 troops last year, is trying to get back into Lebanon in violation of U.N. Resolution 1559, Bush said. The president said there are growing "suspicions" that the instability that followed Hezbollah's cross-border raid last week will lead some Lebanese to invite Syria to return. Any such move is "against the United Nations policy and it's against U.S. policy," Bush vowed.
Pressed on whether he is trying to buy time for Israel to eliminate Hezbollah, Bush said Israel should be allowed to defend itself. But he also cautioned that Israel should be "mindful" to allow Lebanon's government to "succeed and survive" after the conflict.
"Sometimes it requires tragic situations to help bring clarity in the international community," Bush said. "And it is now clear for all to see that there are terrorist elements who want to destroy our democratic friends and allies, and the world must work to prevent them from doing so."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated yesterday that the situation is not yet ripe for U.S. diplomatic intervention.
"We have to make certain that anything that we do is going to be of lasting value," Rice said during a brief session with reporters along with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "The Middle East has been through too many spasms of violence, and we have to deal with underlying conditions so that we can create sustainable conditions for political progress there."
Rice added: "When it is appropriate and when it is necessary and will be helpful to the situation, I am more than pleased to go to the region."
After talks with Rice, the Egyptian foreign minister pressed for an urgent cease-fire. "We have to keep working to reach that objective. It is imperative. We have to bring it to an end as soon as possible," he told reporters at the State Department.
A U.N. team touring the region is expected to return tonight and brief the Security Council tomorrow. Secretary General Kofi Annan will also discuss his ideas for an international peacekeeping force, which he said will be "much larger" than the U.N. mission of 2,000 peacekeepers stationed in southern Lebanon since 1978. Annan said a force "would help stabilize the situation" in southern Lebanon and give the fragile Lebanese government time to "sort out" Hezbollah's disarmament and "extend its authority throughout the territory."
Rice is expected to attend the U.N. discussion, diplomats said.
Some U.S. and European military and intelligence officials said yesterday that they were puzzled by Israel's strategy and concerned that its goals are unrealistic or too ambitious.
Israel has "target packages" but no viable long-term strategy, a senior U.S. official said, speaking anonymously because he was criticizing an ally. There is limited reason to believe that either Hezbollah or Hamas can be compelled to give up their Israeli prisoners or end the attacks.
Others questioned the impact on the Lebanese government and the very military force Israel hopes will eventually take over the areas now under Hezbollah's control.
"Won't Israeli military actions have the effect of decreasing the already limited capacities of the Lebanese government?" asked retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, who teaches at Boston University. "Going after Hezbollah makes sense, but I just don't understand the rationale for the campaign as it is being conducted."
But retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, a former commander in the town of Ramallah, said, "Israel is attempting to create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters by exacting a heavy price from the elite in Beirut. The message is: If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land."
Other specialists in security strategy said that Israel is sending messages to several audiences, telling the people of Lebanon that the attack is the price of tolerating the Hezbollah's presence and the broader Arab world that its current response is the price of provoking Israel.