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No Time For 'Peace'

By Ross Kaminsky

Israel surprised much of the world by not launching a substantial ground invasion of Lebanon last week. While many of us assumed that the IDF had a strategic surprise up their sleeves, an unusually-timed devastating assault on Hezbollah, it now seems more likely by the day that they had been hoping that air power would do all they needed.

If so, that thinking represents an unusual failure of thinking by Israeli leadership. Whether that failure represents a division within the highest levels of the military or the Knesset or whether it was simply a miscalculation we are nevertheless left in a most dangerous situation now: We have the possibility of some sort of cessation of fighting, even if temporary, without a clear Israeli victory.

Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, knows full well that anything resembling a standstill, a tie, as the outcome in Lebanon would represent a tremendous victory for the terrorists and their masters in Syria and Iran.

While Hezbollah is a client of those regimes, we should not overestimate the degree to which Nasrallah is beholden to them, especially now. Hezbollah does receive money, weapons, and training from them but is still able to act somewhat independently. Relative success, that is avoiding being destroyed by Israel, only increases their desire and ability to claim a new mantle of legitimacy within Lebanon and the Arab world as the only military force ever to effectively withstand war with Israel.

If the war were to stop today, this is exactly what Hezbollah would claim, and it would be hard to argue with them. They have indeed put up a tremendous fight against a theoretically far superior opponent and are claiming victory. Hezbollah's second-in-command is quoted as saying that the US and Israel must not be allowed any political gain from their defeat at the hands of Hezbollah.

Iran's supreme leader said on Saturday that Nasrallah is "people's favorite person all over the world" and that Hezbollah's "blistering attack has foiled the American plot" to support a "lackey government" in Israel.

This sort of rhetoric, if backed up with a plausibly compatible outcome on the ground such as the current situation, will gain Hezbollah the ability to raise far more money than ever before and recruit far more willing merchants of death. The result will be a rejuvenated Shi'ite terrorist movement (but also greater confidence within Sunni groups like Al Qaeda), increased attacks on Israel, the US, and even Sunni Arab countries, and consistently greater instability in the Middle East.

Nasrallah himself said on Al Jazeera that if Hezbollah wins, they "will never forget all those who supported us. As for those who sinned against us, those who let us down, and those who conspired against us, this will be left for a day to settle accounts."

Even Hamas, a strictly Sunni organization, is now parading its people through the streets of Gaza waving Hezbollah flags and carrying posters of Nasrallah, their new hero.

This situation, a bloodied but still standing Hezbollah, led by a charismatic leader likely to increase his manpower, weaponry, and funding must not be allowed to continue.

Israel MUST take the next military step, a ground invasion. It must be made unmistakably clear that groups or countries which launch missiles into Israel, or which capture and kill its soldiers on the Israeli side of the border, will be punished mercilessly. There must be no letup, no quarter, no caving in to Kofi Annan and the other passively or actively anti-Semitic leaders of the "world community".

We must not buy into the pleasant-sounding but exceptionally dangerous suggestions of internationalist gasbags like Annan, Madeline Albright, and anyone in France, that it is possible to enter into a useful agreement with Hezbollah. Iran has already demonstrated its ability to play the West and all its big talkers like a fiddle, stringing us along while they continue with their plans to become the most dangerous nuclear power on earth. Hezbollah would be no different, using negotiations as a tactical tool to increase their strength under the watchful but apparently unseeing eyes of UN observers.

Israel is fighting for its life. Backing off the military confrontation with Hezbollah at this time, even in the presence of a NATO or UN force in Lebanon, is simply an invitation for Hezbollah to strengthen rapidly and try again.

We should be thankful that this conflict started when it did. In the six years since Israel pulled out of Lebanon, Hezbollah has obviously gotten better and more training, weapons, bunkers, and tactics than anyone had expected. They were clearly building up to a major attack on Israel. Their apparent miscalculation of Israel's willingness to go to war over a relatively small border incident didn't seem to bother them very much, and now we know why. They were far more prepared, thanks to Iran and Syria, than even the Israelis with their excellent spy network, believed.

Had this conflict not started for a few more years, the damage they might be doing to Israeli soldiers and Israel itself would be far greater. If a cease-fire is put into place without the decapitation of Hezbollah, they will simply return to that path and the next breakout of fighting will be that much worse for Israel (and particularly its civilian population.)

There is a well-known expression (which I fully understand from my Jewish background) "Two Jews, three opinions". Yet ninety percent of Israel believes it is right for them to be bombing Lebanon and 80% believe Israel's offensive should continue. They are absolutely correct. In a part of the world that understands and respects nothing but raw power, stopping now would be tantamount to surrender. It could easily turn into the beginning of the end for Israel as radical anti-Semites take succor in the idea that Israel can be beaten...and Israelis know it.

It seems clear that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice know it too. They are in a difficult position of having to appear to condone civilian collateral damage in Lebanon. They know but can't say that the Lebanese have to take some responsibility from letting terrorists mingle among them, hiding weapons and fighters in schools, mosques, and civilian neighborhoods. But the Administration's actions speak clearly: Israel must finish the job.

This is no time for "peace". A cease-fire now would be a prelude to a much more destructive campaign against the only real democracy and our only real ally in the Middle East. It would send precisely the wrong message to our enemies, and that includes those who are thinking of attacking the US. They will become richer, stronger, and bolder, plotting the right time to try to destroy all we hold dear.

This is not just Israel's war. It is a war for civilization, and Israel must not stop until it is won.

Ross Kaminsky blogs at Rossputin.com

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