|Originally Aired: July 25, 2006
As Conflict Continues, Israel Weighs Military and Diplomatic Options
|U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continued her diplomatic trip to the Middle East Tuesday, speaking to Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Experts discuss the military and peace-keeping options facing Israel and the national debate over the current conflict.|
RAY SUAREZ: It was the heaviest bombardment of Beirut in two weeks of
fighting. Five missiles shook the southern suburbs, targeting a Hezbollah
This was the scene in southern Beirut, where this man's engineering business
was hit. He said Israeli bombs don't discriminate between Hezbollah and other
MOHAMMED EL KOMANI, Lebanese Citizen: They want to kill all
of the people here. I don't know why. There is no Hezbollah here.
RAY SUAREZ: Next door was a preschool; it, too, was
destroyed. A missile strike near the Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh killed seven people in this house. Further
counted 100 more strikes.
In the ancient town of Tyre,
Israeli warplanes dumped 1,000-pound bombs. Surrounding villages were shelled
by heavy guns. Fierce fighting continues around the town of Bint Jbeil, where up to 200 Hezbollah gunmen
are reportedly holding out against Israeli ground troops.
Meanwhile, aid organizations delivered food and medical
supplies to displaced Lebanese, including these at a refugee camp near Tyre.
On the other side of the border, Hezbollah launched some 70
rockets into Israel.
The port city of Haifa
was hit again, and at least five people were injured there.
And in Maghar, a 15-year-old Arab girl was killed when one
rocket tore through her family's home. Three others were injured in that town.
Israeli tanks pushed into southern Lebanon, near the border town of Maroun al-Ras later in the
day. In Jerusalem,
the talk in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, was direct and to the point.
SHIMON PERES, Vice Premier, Israel (through translator): It is
either us or Hezbollah. You do not have a choice, either. It is either you or
Hezbollah. As far as we are concerned, this is a war for life or death.
RAY SUAREZ: Diplomatic efforts to solve the conflict
continued, with Secretary of State Rice meeting with Israeli and Palestinian
leaders today and her European and Arab counterparts tomorrow.
Rice on a mission
RAY SUAREZ: For more on Secretary of State Rice's trip to Israel,
we get two views. Ori Nir is Washington
bureau chief for the Forward, a weekly newspaper that covers the Jewish world. He's
also a former West Bank and Gaza
correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.
And Jon Alterman is director of the Middle East program at
the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Previously, he served at the
State Department on the policy planning staff and as a special assistant to
assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
Let's start with both of your overall assessments. Ori Nir,
what were Secretary Rice's objectives? And can she leave Israeli thinking she
ORI NIR, Washington Bureau Chief, The Forward: I think that
her objectives in Israel, Lebanon,
Palestinian Authority was to set the stage. I think that what's much more
important than her visit to the region will be her follow-up tomorrow in Rome with the core group meeting, trying to set some kind
of a scenario that will bring about the deployment of a multinational force in Lebanon.
RAY SUAREZ: Jon Alterman, same question?
JON ALTERMAN, Center for Strategic and International
Studies: My understanding is that she went to deliver partly a message of
support to the Israelis, but also a message of urgency that this can't go on
forever, that when the international community meets, and then she goes away
and comes back to the region, it's going to be time to really stop the fighting
and get some peacemaking.
They have a fixed period of time to do what urgently needs
to be done, and then it's going to be time, in a week or so, when the
peacemaking really kicks in.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, how do you do that? How do you send a
message of urgency that has to be fulfilled a week or so from now? Aren't those
two things kind of in conflict with each other?
JON ALTERMAN: Well, it's my sense that there's a lot of
intelligence-sharing that's going on. There's already a lot of
intelligence-sharing between the U.S.
and there would be some sense of, "Let's talk about targets and objectives
and strategically where we're trying to go, and then let's talk about how much
can be done."
I can't imagine she would have delivered that message if
there was a sense that the Israelis really couldn't get done what needed to be
done in the near term.
I think there's a growing sense that there are a few things
that need to be done still, but that it's not an open book, and this can't go
on for months and months, even if the Israelis may talk about an 80-day time
frame. That's really not realistic.
RAY SUAREZ: Ori Nir, just before we came on the air Eastern
time, word came from the region that U.N. observers had been killed in the
latest Israeli strikes. Does that change the situation on the ground? Does that
make it harder to give Israel
cover for doing what it needs to do -- the United
States' administration believes it needs to do in
ORI NIR: I think that such incidents can influence this time
frame that Jon was talking about. Yes, it can shorten the time frame. If there are
more such incidents that occur, with either harming, hurting civilian
population on a broader scale, or international targets, as happened today,
yes, it can.
RAY SUAREZ: Does the U.N. killing change the situation?
JON ALTERMAN: It changes it a little bit; I'm not sure it
really changes the broader complexion of it. The world is impatient. The U.S.
is understanding. I think we're going to be able to manage that through the
next week or so, but ultimately this can't go on indefinitely.
RAY SUAREZ: Jon Alterman, what did Israel want from this visit from
JON ALTERMAN: Well, I think they wanted this sense of
understanding. They wanted the partnership. They have an internal political
problem, a domestic political problem, which having the U.S. show the flag and show solidarity with Israel helps
I think, in a broader sense, Israel has a strategic
conundrum, because the Kadima Party came in on the idea that unilateral
withdrawal brings peace, and the two examples were Lebanon and Gaza. And now,
the government is fighting a two-front war in Lebanon and Gaza, so they don't
have a new strategic framework, a new strategic paradigm.
Having the U.S. say, "We understand," means the
current Israeli government is not flailing, and that's very, very important on
the domestic political scene.
RAY SUAREZ: Ori Nir, what do you think the latest situation
does to the Kadima promise to move ahead with land for peace?
ORI NIR: Well, I think it's shelved for now or, if you want,
deep frozen for a long time. A disengagement in the West Bank is not on the
agenda, at the moment at least, and everyone knows that in Israel.
What everyone in Israel is now focused on is the war in
Lebanon. There is a very strong urge, supported by an overwhelming majority of
somewhere around 90 percent of the population, including the Arab minority of
20 percent in Israel, that this is a just war that should go on, in order to
crush Hezbollah as much as possible.
As brutal as it may sound, that is the overwhelming
consensus now. And this is what Israel,
I think, sought from Secretary Rice: a commitment to allow Israel to do as
much as possible within the broad time frame that Jon was talking about
Keeping vs. making peace
RAY SUAREZ: Well, today, during the conversations, Prime
Minister Olmert discussed a security strip on Lebanese territory, just north of
Secretary Rice agreed. Is this a workable, near term?
ORI NIR: I think it probably is workable, near term. The big
conundrum now in Israel
tactically is how to maintain such a security zone without constant Israeli
presence, military presence on the ground throughout that zone. If you do that,
it comes with a great deal of death toll, in terms of Israeli troops.
So that's at the moment the conundrum. The purpose, however,
what Israel is trying to say is, "We will hold this, and we will hold this
security zone, and we will establish this security zone by trying to root out
as many Hezbollah elements as possible," so that an international force
can, at some point, come in and deploy.
RAY SUAREZ: Jon Alterman, does that security zone move the
pressure, once Israel's established in southern Lebanon, onto the international
community to form this force and get it transferred to the region?
JON ALTERMAN: You know, it does two really interesting
things. One is that it buys Israel time to get out, because they can say,
"We're just waiting for the Europeans to come in. So the only reason we're
still here is because the Europeans aren't fast enough." So it takes the
pressure off them.
The other interesting thing it does is it means that the
Europeans have an interest in Israel weakening Hezbollah militarily as much as
possible before they come in. So it reorients the European interest from,
"We have to stop the fighting right away," to, "We have to let
the Israelis clean up the military capacity of Hezbollah, because if they don't
fire at Israelis, then they'll fire at Europeans later."
But there's a broader question as to whether you can
actually have an effective peacemaking force in southern Lebanon. I've seen
peacekeeping forces work; I've never seen a peacemaking force work.
And if you're sending European troops in to a place where
there's still a war, where there are still people fighting, I'm not sure how
well that's going to work, even in the immediate term, let alone a year or two
down the line.
RAY SUAREZ: Can a peacemaking force work, Ori?
ORI NIR: Well, but that's exactly the issue. What Israel is
saying -- there's kind of a dance going on here, kind of a behind-the-scenes, I
is saying to the Europeans, to the international community, is, "If you
give us the time, and if you give us a little more breathing room, we can go in
and do the job for you. We can make -- not the peace -- make the war against
Hezbollah, in order to try to weaken it as much as possible, so that you,
whatever international force, European force, NATO force, whatever comes in
won't have to do that very, very difficult, bloody job."
An enduring Hezbollah presence
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the United
States has made it clear it's not going to be part of
that multinational force, but it did talk a lot, through Secretary Rice's voice
today, about the humanitarian effort in Lebanon. Does saying that, along
with the Israeli prime minister right next to you at the lectern, oblige Israel to be more careful in southern Lebanon
until those corridors and that humanitarian aid flow is set up?
ORI NIR: It probably does. It definitely does commit Israel -- and Israel was committed to doing that
even before the secretary came and before her trip was announced -- to let in
humanitarian reinforcement shipments and things of that sort.
I agree with you that it also probably implies that Israel will have to be somewhat more careful,
more conservative, in terms of civilian casualties in Lebanon.
RAY SUAREZ: And what about Hezbollah? You know, we're
talking about these time frames, letting Israel go on and achieve its
military objectives. Can you root Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon?
JON ALTERMAN: I don't think you can root them out militarily.
Militarily, they can do a rope-a-dope. They can take hits. They can go
underground. As long as they can survive in any way, they survive.
Ultimately, it seems to me, the solution to Hezbollah has to
be a Lebanese political solution. It has to be domesticated in some way. You
have to create a split between the people who insist on fighting and the people
who want to be just pure politicians, and Hezbollah has an awful lot of
politicians in it.
But if you really want to fix the problem, it seems to me,
you have to fix it politically. You can treat the military problem, but that
problem is going to come back, maybe not in a year, but in five or more, and
that's exactly what Israel
has found in the past.
RAY SUAREZ: Ori Nir, do you agree? Is Hezbollah still going
to exist in one form or another after this operation's done?
ORI NIR: Absolutely. And I have to tell you that what I'm
hearing from Israeli politicians is, publicly, is that they do expect that to
happen, that they do expect Hezbollah to maintain a presence in Lebanon. But
what very much they hope -- and I think that that's probably going to happen --
that they will still be a robust political force, a political party, with a presence
in the parliament, but not a militia, not an armed militia.
RAY SUAREZ: Ori Nir, Jon Alterman, gentlemen, thank you
JON ALTERMAN: Thank you.
||As Conflict Continues, Israel Weighs Military and Diplomatic Options
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