In Mideast, cease-fire is a start
The cease-fire is set to take effect at 8 a.m. Monday, though fighting continued Sunday between Israel and Hizbullah.
The diplomats and politicians have spoken: A cease-fire to end a five-week conflict between Israel and Hizbullah is to take hold at 8 a.m. Monday.Skip to next paragraph
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The UN Security Council voted Friday for a 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force and Lebanese Army control over southern Lebanon. But fighting continued Sunday, and deal-breaking questions remained in a conflict that the US and Iran – patrons of Israel and Hizbullah, respectively – have cast as a strategic struggle to redefine the Middle East.
"Definitely there is a race, between the new Middle East, as defined by the US administration as democratic, and the other new Middle East of resistance, the one of Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Iran, and Syria," says Nizar Hamzah, a Lebanese analyst at the American University of Kuwait. "Where do we end this war? This is the junction."
Over the weekend, Israel pushed deeper into Lebanon, bringing troop strength to 30,000 and engaging in heavy fighting that killed 24 Israeli soldiers on Saturday – nearly one-fifth of Israel's entire troop toll.
Midafternoon Sunday, 18 Israeli shells in two minutes struck targets in Beirut's southern suburbs; south Lebanon received a constant barrage. More than 200 Hizbullah rockets hit northern Israel, showing that five weeks of war have yet to significantly downgrade guerrilla capabilities.
The view from Lebanon, and across much of the Arab and Islamic world, is that Israel – and by extension, the US – has suffered a severe blow by not achieving Israel's stated aim of destroying Hizbullah.
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his fighters – who have fired more than 3,600 rockets into Israel – will abide by the Lebanese government's cease-fire acceptance, and cooperate with deployment of the Lebanese Army.
But he also warned Saturday night that "the war has not ended," because Israeli strikes continued to cause casualties. As long as Israeli soldiers remain on Lebanese soil, Mr. Nasrallah said, "it is our natural right to confront them; fight them; and defend our land, our homes, and ourselves."
The UN cease-fire deal does not require Israel to withdraw immediately – a key Lebanese demand – nor Hizbullah to disarm, which has been an Israeli war aim from the start. It also does not address the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizbullah in a cross-border raid July 12, an act that sparked the massive Israeli response, or return by Israel of the contested Shebaa Farms area.
"The immediate results are a lot of destruction in Lebanon, but you can't judge because it's an assymetrical war, and the results will be assymetrical as well," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, an expert on Hizbullah at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.
"Israel did not achieve a single one of its aims through military force," says Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb. Hizbullah made a concession, accepting Lebanese Army and UN control of the south, which effectively pushes Hizbullah forces back from Israel's border.
"But overall that isn't much, considering what Israel expected to achieve out of this, and the US," she says. "That's how it is measured as a [Hizbullah] victory. Israel was defeated because it set the bar very high from the beginning."
The stakes have been raised further, with rhetoric from President Bush and top US officials who have framed Israel's offensive in Lebanon as crucial to the US "war on terror," and the necessary "birth pangs" of a democratic Middle East.
A frequent US and Israeli theme portrays the battle against Hizbullah as a blow to its "terrorist" patrons Iran and Syria, which have bankrolled and armed Hizbullah, or Party of God, for years. Frequently targeted in this conflict are roads from Syria to Lebanon used to transfer Iranian weapons to the guerrillas.