Security Council Torn Between Fear of Hezbollah and Criticism of Israel

NEW YORK - The international community is torn between the unavoidable recognition that Hezbollah is a terror organization that is directly responsible for setting off a crisis in a violence-prone region, and a rather forced rejection of "Israel's disproportionate response." This is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the emergency session of the United Nations Security Council held Friday at Lebanon's request.

Before the session, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Israel would not end its military operation in Lebanon until the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for disarming Hezbollah and the deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon.

Most of the speeches criticized Israel's "extreme and dangerous" military actions, but near-unanimous condemnation of Hezbollah for firing rockets into Israel territory was also voiced.

The ambassadors to the UN of China, France and Argentina took a particularly strident line against Israel. John Bolton, the United States envoy, was the only speaker who did not even mention Israel's military operations. Bolton, who two days earlier used his veto power for the first time to head off Qatar's resolution against Operation Summer Rains, demanded that Syria and Iran end their support of Hezbollah and Hamas.

The conventional wisdom emanating from UN headquarters was that in comparison to previous sessions, the one on Friday was almost a velvet caress for Israel.

Israel's ambassador to the international body, Dan Gillerman, confirmed in a conversation that the criticism of Israel was balanced.

Lebanese Foreign Ministry official Nouhad Mahmoud called Israel's military operation "barbaric aggression," saying it was aimed at "bringing Lebanon to its knees and subverting it by any means."

"I need not explain to you who is the victim and who is the aggressor," Mahmoud said, asking for a "comprehensive, immediate cease-fire, a lifting of the air and sea blockade imposed upon Lebanon and ... an end to Israeli aggression." Gillerman, in contrast, ended his speech with a personal appeal to his Lebanese colleague, saying, "You know deep in your heart that if you could, you would be sitting here right next to me right now because you know that we are doing the right thing and that if we succeed, Lebanon would be the beneficiary."

Uncharacteristically, the emergency session ended without an official announcement. Lebanon's demand for a call to end the military actions went unanswered, but the Security Council did issue a brief statement welcoming Annan's decision to send a team to the region to encourage restraint.

"It would be an exaggeration to say that the Security Council gave Israel a green light to continue its activities," a senior Western diplomat said to Haaretz yesterday, "but there is no doubt that the mood of the session and the fact that the council did not issue any announcement can be interpreted as a clear sign that the international community views Hezbollah as a dangerous terror organization, and that it unofficially and implicitly recognized Israel's motivation of self-defense against terror."

Gillerman echoed this view, telling Haaretz yesterday that "the fact that the session ended with no demands on Israel constitutes clear-cut proof that the international community understands that Israel took military measures because it had no choice, and that if they succeed, the free world will reap the benefits."

Gillerman said that in private meetings with other UN ambassadors and in small talk in the corridors, he has run across encouragement. "Ambassadors shake my hand and pat me on the shoulder," he said. "The international community now makes the distinction between terror and those who fight terror."