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A chance for peace

THE RESOLUTION UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED FRIDAY by the U.N. Security Council calling for a “full cessation of hostilities” in Lebanon comes too late for the more than 1,000 people killed in the last four weeks. But its adoption -- with the expected consent of Israel and Lebanon -- is still a major achievement. If implemented successfully, it not only would prevent further loss of innocent life, but would address what President Bush called the “root cause” of this unexpected and unexpectedly bloody conflict: Hezbollah’s creation of its own state within Lebanon.

Hezbollah, a Shiite movement nurtured by Iran, proved that it could act with impunity when it crossed the Israeli-Lebanese border in July and abducted two Israeli soldiers. But it wasn’t until Israel retaliated that the world learned the extent to which Hezbollah had established itself as a military force.

What Israel is promised by the Security Council resolution is peace on its northern border, secured by the Lebanese army and what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls a “robust” international force of about 15,000 troops. Technically, this new force would be an augmentation of the 2,000-member United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, an anemic contingent long held in contempt by Israel. Although the Lebanese army would be responsible for disarming Hezbollah, the new U.N. force is intended to be muscular enough to discourage Hezbollah from subverting the Security Council agreement.

Although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will recommend that his Cabinet accept the resolution today, he made it clear even as it was being fashioned that Israeli forces were poised for a ground operation in Lebanon if diplomacy failed. Obviously, Israel will never deprive itself of the option of military action if it believes diplomacy will not protect its citizens. But it is better for Israel, its neighbors and the world if Israel’s security can be guaranteed in other ways.

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After seeming to hold back when it looked as if Israel could subdue Hezbollah in short order, Bush last week joined those calling for an end to the violence. He then matched those words with energetic diplomacy that focused on the United Nations (not Bush’s preferred foreign policy arena) and actively engaged France (not his favorite European ally), a nation with historic ties to Lebanon. The result is a resolution that, while not failure-proof, is a serious effort to defuse a conflict that had become a humanitarian catastrophe.

Although the people of Israel and Lebanon will be the principal beneficiaries of an end to this war, the U.S. will also benefit. As pro-Hezbollah sentiment in Iraq made clear, continued violence in Lebanon would further demonize Israel and the United States in that country, with its large Shiite population, and complicate U.S. relations with other Arab nations as well. Far from advancing the campaign against what Bush calls “Islamic fascism,” a prolonged war, with possible Syrian and Iranian involvement, would have thrown that effort into confusion. In serving the cause of peace, the United States has served its own interests as well.


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