By: E&P Staff
In a column for The New York Times on Wednesday, Thomas Friedman, writing from Damascus, takes up the current conflict in the Middle East, observing, “You can?t go into an office in the Arab world today without finding an Arab TV station featuring the daily carnage in Lebanon. It?s now the Muzak of the Arab world, and it is toxic for us and our Arab friends.”
Friedman, who has strongly supported the Israeli air strikes against Hezbollah and throughout Lebanon, now criticizes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for not going to Syria “to bring the Syrians on board” for some sort of international solution.
“Can we get the Syrians on board? Can we split Damascus from Tehran? My conversations here suggest it would be very hard, but worth a shot,” Friedman writes. “It is the most important strategic play we could make, because Syria is the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah. But it would take a high-level, rational dialogue….
“I understand Israel?s vital need to degrade Hezbollah?s rocket network. But Hezbollah?s militia, which represents 40 percent of Lebanon, the Shiites, can?t be wiped out at a price that Israel, or America?s Arab allies, can sustain ? if at all.
“Despite Hezbollah?s bravado, Israel has hurt it and its supporters badly, in a way they will never forget. Point made. It is now time to wind down this war and pull together a deal ? a cease-fire, a prisoner exchange, a resumption of the peace effort and an international force to help the Lebanese Army secure the border with Israel ? before things spin out of control. Whoever goes for a knockout blow will knock themselves out instead.” The rest of the column is available at www.nytimes.com via TimesSelect.
Meanwhile, David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post, proposes on Wednesday, “To stop the war in Lebanon, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will need to start with some basics: The best strategy for containing a militia such as Hezbollah is to build a strong Lebanese state; any lasting solution for this conflict will be political, not just military; continued Israeli bombardment of Lebanon to destroy terrorists might backfire by creating another failed state from which terrorists can operate more freely….
“Negotiated settlements are always messy, but this package has one great advantage: It would provide a framework for the chronically weak Lebanese state, backed by an international force, to begin to assert control over all its territory. It would stress the basic idea that should be the centerpiece of U.S. policy in the Middle East from Beirut to Baghdad: that political compromise and reconciliation, backed by U.S. and allied military power, provide the only path out of the crisis afflicting the region….
“The cornerstone of this package, according to my sources, is that Hezbollah would agree to withdraw its armed fighters from south Lebanon and accept an international force there that would accompany the Lebanese army. Israel, for its part, would agree to halt its attacks and lift its air and sea blockade. The United States would call for negotiations over the return of a disputed territory known as Shebaa Farms, claimed by Lebanon even though the United Nations ruled in 2000 that it was Syrian.
“Within 24 hours after a cease-fire, there would be an exchange of prisoners as part of this package: Hezbollah would give up the two Israeli soldiers it captured in the July 12 border raid that started the crisis; Israel would release Lebanese prisoners it holds. The package also includes some minor provisions, including an Israeli agreement to provide maps of land mines placed just north of the Lebanon-Israel border.
“What’s in it for Israel to accept such a deal, which would allow Hezbollah to survive? The answer is that an attempt to go all the way and destroy the Shiite militia would require a full-scale invasion of Lebanon, and might well misfire in the same way as Israel’s 1982 invasion. Better to go for a solid half a loaf — pushing armed Hezbollah fighters north of the Litani River and bringing in an international force to help the Lebanese army police a buffer zone — than to risk further setbacks.”
The remainder of his column can be found at www.washingtonpost.com