Haifa, Beirut and many other Lebanese and Israeli towns and villages are under fire. Who would have thought this possible a few weeks ago? Across the globe, the reaction to the images of destruction and death in Lebanon, but also in Gaza and Israel, has been one of abhorrence.
The current war in Lebanon is not a war by the Arab world against Israel; rather, it is a war orchestrated by the region's radical forces - Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iran - which fundamentally reject any settlement with Israel.
Conflict was sought for three reasons: first to ease pressure on Hamas from within the Palestinian community to recognize Israel; second to undermine democratization in Lebanon, which was marginalizing Syria; and third to lift attention from the emerging dispute over the Iranian nuclear program and demonstrate to the West the "tools" at its disposal in the case of a conflict.
Moderate Arab governments understand full well the issue at stake in this war: It is about regional hegemony in the case of Syria with Lebanon and Palestine and, on a wider level, Iran's hegemonic claim to the entire Middle East. Yet the war in Lebanon and Gaza could prove to be a miscalculation for the radicals. By firing missiles on Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, a boundary has been crossed. From now on, the issue is no longer primarily one of territory, restitution or occupation. Instead, the main issue is the strategic threat to Israel's existence.
The rejectionist front has underestimated Israel's determination and capacity for deterrence. It has proved there is no way back to the status quo in Lebanon, and it revealed Iran's hegemonic aspirations to the entire world. The folly of this is readily apparent, because it doesn't require much imagination to see what the Middle East would look like if an Iranian nuclear umbrella were shielding the radicals.
This miscalculation will become obvious as four developments unfold:
*Israel avoids being sucked into a ground war in Lebanon;
*UN Resolution 1559 - which requires the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon with the help of the international community - is enforced and a return to the status quo rendered impossible;
*today's de facto "anti-hegemon" coalition, comprising moderate Arab countries (including moderate Palestinians), is transformed into a robust and serious peace initiative; and
*the Quartet, led by the United States, becomes actively engaged for a viable solution and provides the necessary political, economic and military guarantees to sustain it over time.
Israel has a key role to play here. Twice, it withdrew its troops unilaterally behind its recognized borders, namely from southern Lebanon and Gaza. Both times, Israel's land-for-peace formula resulted in land for war. Now, with the existence of Israel under threat, peace with its Arab neighbors seems a more distant prospect than ever.
I believe today's war in Lebanon can open up a new opportunity for peace. The sooner the guns are silenced in Lebanon, the better. But let's not forget the war's starting point: the clash within Hamas over whether to recognize Israel. And let's not forget the attitude of moderate Arab governments toward this war and to the hidden intentions of those who sought it.
Israel's security makes a restructuring of Lebanon's internal organization and a guarantee of Lebanon's state sovereignty nonnegotiable. Now is the time to play the Syrian card and bring President Bashar Assad onto the path of normalization. With the Golan Heights, Israel has the key element in its hand. Without Syria, Iran would be alone. Iraq, too, would profit from such a development.
Finally, things are not as hopeless for the Palestinians as they may seem. In Israel's prisons, a consensus has developed among leading Fatah and Hamas Palestinian inmates on accepting a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. This new Palestinian realism must be supported. But there can be no way past the historic date of June 1967 (for both sides).
How then, will Israel define its security in the future? Currently, Israel emphasizes massive deterrence, but it would be well advised to utilize the political and diplomatic possibilities presented by this war and take the initiative from a position of strength to offer a comprehensive peace to all those who are ready to recognize its existence and permanently renounce violence, not just in word, but also in deed.
Now is the time to think big! This applies not only to Israel and its neighbors, but to the U.S. and Europe as well. This war offers a chance for lasting peace. We must not let it slip away.
Joschka Fischer, a leader of the Green Party for nearly 20 years, was Germany's foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005.
Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences.