Agreement with Hezbollah / On the way to Road Map II
In spite of Hassan Nasrallah's threats to strike Tel Aviv with rockets, the attack only managed to reach Hadera and kept the fighting contained within the 04 area code. Nasrallah would like a cease-fire that would include an immediate end to attacks deep within Lebanon: Hezbollah's rockets in return for the air force jets. Israel is opposed to this and is demanding a simultaneous freeze of the situation on the ground, the deployment of a multinational force, a mechanism that will ensure the prevention of smuggling of weapons through Lebanese points of entry, a strengthening of the Lebanese army and the release of the abducted soldiers.
In the meantime, Nasrallah has been left with less than 10 launchers, according to IDF estimates. In addition, the General Staff estimates that with the completion of the occupation of the territory, the IDF will be able to deal with 80 percent of the short-range rockets. Against the remaining 20 percent that may continue to threaten the area of Kiryat Shmona from positions north of the Litani, the IDF plans to use air power, commando raids and precision strikes from the ground.
The IDF calls on residents of Tyre and Sidon to leave their homes were meant as a preamble to air, not ground, attacks in the neighborhoods and refugee camps of these cities. The IDF hesitates to accept the recommendations of Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, and others, to advance further north, toward the rivers Zaharani and Awali, and bring larger portions of territory under its control, which it will transfer to the Lebanese army and the multi-national force after a cease-fire. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz believes that the territory south of the Litani will be sufficient, both in terms of the number of Israeli casualties in such an operation, and also in the expected guerrilla attacks that will follow.
Another debate revolves around the impact of the diplomatic and military efforts on each other. According to political sources in Jerusalem, the air attack on Qana a week ago cut off a move that was meant to bring about an end to the fighting. Nasrallah had been under tremendous pressure at that time and was ready to accept the terms posed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, but in the two-day hiatus in the bombing, he recovered his nerve. Qana also caused the cancellation of the visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Beirut, which was to usher in a cease-fire package.
At the General Staff, their response to this criticism was as follows: the political echelon can take pride in their ability to plan only if they can actually have results; but in view of the absence of diplomatic moves creating the necessary leverage in Lebanon and Syria, only the military acts feature prominently.
While the fighting goes on in southern Lebanon, the center of attention moved to Crawford, Texas where President George Bush is on holiday. Bush, who is meeting with advisers and Middle East experts, is expected to present a Road Map for settling the relations of Lebanon with its neighbors, and aiming at bolstering a moderate Arab front against Iran. The idea would be to also unravel the Syrian-Iranian axis in order to permanently damage Hezbollah's military capabilities.
Unlike a similar initiative by the Reagan administration in 1982, involving the PLO, Syria is expected to be included in a deal that would offer it incentives to emerge from the status of a terrorist-supporting state. A powerful clue into the way the U.S. is viewing the overall picture was in the statement by General John Abizaid, head of CENTCOM, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that "we must find a comprehensive solution to the corrosive Arab-Israeli conflict."
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