ANALYSIS: Unlike '96, deaths of Qana civilians won't stop assault
Israel to limit air-force operations in Beirut on condition that Hezbollah won't expand attacks on Israeli towns.
Even though the prime minister announced that Israel will continue its attacks against Hezbollah, even after the sad incident at Qana, and will not accept the demand for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire - he did accede to the American request to limit air-force operations in the area of Beirut. This will be done on condition that Hezbollah will not expand its attacks against other towns in Israel, as its leader, Nasrallah, has recently threatened.
In April 1996, during Operation Grapes of Wrath against Hezbollah, an error similar to the one Sunday occured at Qana and 102 Lebanese were killed, and Israel stopped its military operation. That will not happen this time. The prime minister and the defense minister, with the support of many other ministers, ordered the Israel Defense Forces to carry on pressuring Hezbollah.
The American request regarding the air force's activities in Beirut was actually made several days ago. Israel was told that this recommendation came from President Bush. Indeed, aerial operations over the Lebanese capital have slowed substantially, with no connection to the unfortunate events at Qana.
Israel was warned that in spite the fact that it is known that in a particular quarter in Beirut (Dahiya in the south), there are tunnels, and that in the main underground command center of Hezbollah, its leaders are hiding - the fact that the city is now full of refugees should be taken into account. A single mistake in a bombing raid would be enough to injure a multitude of civilians.
After what happened in Qana it is logical that the slowdown in air-force action in the skies over Beirut will continue, except if Hezbollah tries to attack other Israeli cities with long-range missiles.
Following the erroneous attack against Qana a decade ago, a cease-fire was declared, followed by a broader deal between Hezbollah and Israel. Like now, UN secretary general Boutros-Ghali also claimed at the time that Israel had struck the UN position, where civilians had found refuge, on purpose. The UN committee of inquiry also ruled, contrary to the findings of the Israeli investigation, that Israel was responsible for everything bad that took place in Qana. The cease-fire was temporary and the deal collapsed following another Hezbollah attack.
This time Israel has called the incident a "tragedy," but it is not willing to accept the Lebanese government's call for a cease-fire. This is, in essence, a Hezbollah offer: to end the fighting without any conditions that will substantially alter the status of the movement.
U.S. Secretary of State Rice also says that the condition for a cease-fire is that both sides agree to it. Olmert's call for more time for the military operation suggests that he supports a more extensive campaign. Such a recommendation will be made to the cabinet Monday or Tuesday.
The blame for the killing of civilians at Qana will be directed by many in the international community at Israel, not at Nasrallah and his group, which has launched thousands of rockets against Israeli civilians. Some of the warheads of these rockets are full of metal pellets that are meant to cause maximum casualties.
Israel must now examine itself and investigate the recent mistakes made during air-force attacks, including the recent bombing of a UN position and the killing of four observers.