The value of mea culpas in the Middle East

Just when his star could not be higher among Muslims, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said this week that he regrets provoking Israel into waging a war in Lebanon. His surprise contrition in a region of chest-beating and conflicts must count for something.

So must the comments of Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for Hamas, about the need of Palestinians to reflect on their responsibilities for the current chaos in Gaza and not blame Israel for reentering the territory to battle rocket-launching militants.

"Gaza is suffering under the yoke of anarchy and the swords of thugs," he wrote in a newspaper commentary Sunday. "We've all been attacked by the bacteria of stupidity.... We have lost our sense of direction."

Israel, too, is experiencing a moment of self- reflection after the Lebanon war, although perhaps not enough. Perceptions that Israel "lost" the war and that its military bungled operations and lost too many soldiers have led to demands for an independent official inquiry. Instead, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to appoint a few, less independent committees to judge the government's flaws during the war. He said he did not want to subject the army to "collective flagellation."

As Israeli commentator and military expert Ze'ev Schiff states: "The goal of these inquiries is not to chop off heads or to settle accounts between politicians, but to expose the truth and the shortcomings and, whenever necessary, to expose those responsible."

In Iraq, meanwhile, a major step toward peace was made Saturday when hundreds of tribal Shiite and Sunni sheikhs gathered to support a national reconciliation plan. They pledged "to be sincere and serious in preserving the unity of our country ... and work hard to stop the bloodletting and ... sectarian killings that have nothing to do with our values."

Indeed, values do count in an area that spawned three major religions. And these recent but rare instances of leaders judging their actions with humility could help end the very conflicts waged in the name of religion. Then, too, the immense power and reach of modern weapons should make people think harder about war. The Hizbullah leader's regret over ordering the abduction of two Israeli soldiers, for instance, was based on his witnessing the "magnitude" of Israel's devastating response in Lebanon.

Iran, too, is in debate with itself over how much to confront Israel through Hizbullah and the United Nations by refusing to suspend its nuclear program. Two leading reformers who sought peace in the Lebanon war, former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, were strongly criticized by supporters of the current hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Lebanon war, said Mr. Rafsanjani in a speech, "taught everyone a lesson. It must be studied." Many Iranian voices warn that Iran must avoid a war with Israel.

In April, President Bush admitted that several mistakes were made in how the US conducted the war in Iraq. Last week, he said the war is "straining" the American psyche.

Such honest, public self-reflection among leaders is essential to bringing peace in the Middle East. As the Hamas spokesman wrote: "Running away from self-confrontation will only cause us more pain."

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