McClatchy Writers Warn of Dangers in U.S. Approach on Middle East Crisis

By: E&P Staff

Support for Israel’s extensive air strikes against Beirut and Lebanon’s infrastructure in the current Middle East conflict remains strong among U.S. officials, and on newspaper editorial pages, while diplomatic efforts remain slowed. At the White House, President Bush?s press secretary, Tony Snow, said today, ?I?m not sure at this juncture we?re going to step in and put up a stop sign.”

But William Douglas and John Walcott from McClatchy’s Washington bureau today warned of the dangers in the current approach. An excerpt follows. The entire article can be found here.


The White House’s inaction on the Israeli-Hezbollah and Israeli-Palestinian issues is consistent with its belief that the goal of American Mideast policy shouldn’t be keeping the peace but transforming the region by destabilizing, defeating or overthrowing groups and regimes that practice or support terrorism and are hostile to Israel.

“That’s the big idea that was behind the invasion of Iraq, it’s the reason they won’t talk to Syria or Iran or Hamas, and now it’s the reason they’re giving the Israelis time and space to try to destroy Hezbollah,” said a veteran U.S. diplomat who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because “if you print my name, it’ll be the end of my career.”

The trouble with the policy is “it won’t work,” said the official. That view was shared by a half-dozen other current and former foreign policy and intelligence officials, all of whom requested anonymity for the same reason.

The Israelis tried to remake Lebanon in 1982 and failed. U.S. attempts to transform Iraq and Afghanistan two decades later are in deep trouble.

As a result of elections, Hamas, the militant group that stands for Israel’s destruction, took control of the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah has members in the Lebanese National Assembly and Cabinet, and Shiite Muslim parties allied with Iran hold power in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the administration’s decision to shun Iran, Hamas and Syria has left it with no contacts and little leverage in Tehran, the Palestinian territories or Damascus.

There’s also a risk that militant groups will gain popular support as a result of the administration’s indifference in brokering a settlement to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its unwillingness to stop Israel’s attacks on Lebanon.

Other risks of a hands-off approach:

— Hezbollah could try to draw the Israelis into another ground campaign in Lebanon. That would be even more disastrous for the Lebanese people, the government and the economy, but it also would give Hezbollah militants new opportunities to kill Jews, recruit followers, become martyrs and muster wider support in Lebanon and beyond.

— If Israel’s air strikes fail to stop Hezbollah from firing its large arsenal of crude rockets, the Israelis may be tempted to go to what both many Israelis and President Bush consider to be the source of the problem by attacking Syria. That could provoke a wider regional war and put an even greater squeeze on moderate Arab rulers such as Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who are caught among the U.S., the anti-Israeli attitudes of their people and the rising threat of Islamic militancy.

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