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The Israeli Army as Peace Broker

By Jules Crittenden

In the midst of war and destruction, there is a reason for hope. Something remarkable is happening.

Even as the Middle East is erupting into open warfare, we may be witnessing a rare watershed moment in history, approaching the fall of the Berlin Wall in its significance.

Israel, in response to the abduction of its soldiers and bombardment of its cities, has reoccupied Gaza and is pounding Lebanon and the bases of the Iranian-backed terrorist group that holds Lebanon hostage.

The world's remarkable and unprecedented reaction? Israel is justified. The leading democracies of the world, not given to agreeing on much in the Middle East, yesterday joined to call on Hezbollah and Hamas to return the Israeli soldiers they have abducted and stop the attacks on Israeli cities that the G-8 leaders agreed was the cause of the current violence.

"The extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos and provoke a wider conflict. The extremists must immediately halt their attacks." They called on Israel to show "utmost restraint."

The French, not surprisingly, agreed to this statement with their fingers crossed. French Pres. Jacques Chirac announced the statement was a call for an Israeli ceasefire. Chirac several days earlier was denouncing Israel for responding disproportionately ... a patently absurd statement from a nation that responded to Greenpeace's threat of protest some years ago by sinking the Rainbow Warrior. U.S. State Department Undersecretary Nicholas Burns countered, "There was no push by any country for a ceasefire." It's just another example of France being sorely out of touch with the forward movement of history.

That is evidenced by the support for Israel's response to Hezbollah voiced by the Arab world, something even more surprising that the G-8 statement.

Saudi Arabia called Hezbollah's attack on Israel, "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts," a position the Associated Press reports is shared by Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The Arab world has signalled that it is ready for an accommodation with Israel, that it is tired of Palestinian terrorism, or perhaps more to the point, it is tired of the Palestinian cause being hijacked by violent extremists for their own ends. Particularly by Iran, which Israel accuses of supplying the sophisticated missiles and military expertise Hezbollah has been using against Israeli cities and an Israeli warship. Largely Sunni Muslim Arab nations are alarmed by non-Arab, Shiite Iran's increasingly aggressive efforts to dominate the Middle East.

The Palestinian cause is no longer an acceptable fig leaf for power grabs and indiscriminate violence as it has been used by Iran, Syria, Palestinian extremists, and not least al-Qaeda.

When an Israeli military response is proclaimed as justified and gets results, we are experiencing something else quite remarkable. The Israeli Defense Forces as a Mideast peace broker.

Iran, the puppeteer calling the shots in Lebanon, seems to be getting the message. Iran issued a remarkable statement of its own yesterday. Under pressure to end its nuclear weapons program, Iran had been openly and derisively defiant to Europe, the United States and the United Nations, and had said it will get around to answering an offer of incentives in its own good time ... maybe sometime in August. Yesterday, Iran executed a sudden about-face, announcing mildly that the incentives package is an "acceptable basis for talks."

In no way should this be seen as Iranian capitulation on that issue. Instead, it should be viewed in exactly the same light as Adolf Hitler's 1938 agreement in Munich to stop invading his neighbors. Not worth the breath on which it was uttered, a stalling manuever. Teheran may realize it has overplayed its hand in Lebanon and on the nuclear stage, and wants to avoid providing Israel, or the United States, an excuse for immediate and devastating military action against Iran. What we are seeing may be Iran scurrying for cover now that the lights have been turned on.

The Israeli ground offensive to eliminate Hezbollah is now underway, as Israeli troops crossed the border after several days of softening up Hezbollah positions and cutting off its escape routes. Yesterday, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that the Iranian foreign minister had arrived in Syria for talks on the crisis. Iran may well now be positioning itself to act -- with a straight face and no little irony -- as a peacemaker.

Don't be fooled into thinking for a moment that Iran is reconsidering its desire to become a nuclear-armed Islamic superpower. But as the world begins to signal it is no longer willing to look the other way, one of the brightest moments in recent Middle East history is emerging, ironically, in time of open warfare.

Jules Crittenden is a Boston Herald city editor and columnist for bostonherald.com. Crittenden has covered foreign policy, military affairs and social issues in India, Pakistan, Israel, Kosovo, Armenia, Iraq and Kuwait. He can be reached at jcrittenden@bostonherald.com.

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