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Bush's Fortitude on the Middle East

By Ed Koch

The war now raging in Lebanon should not surprise anyone. For many years, Hezbollah, which is funded, equipped and ideologically supported by Iran and Syria, has made it crystal clear that its goal is to conquer Israel, expel its Jewish inhabitants, and place the entire land under Islamic rule.

Hezbollah engages in terrorism -- the deliberate targeting of Jewish civilians and others -- to achieve its goals. For the past month, Hezbollah has rained down thousands of rockets on Israel, deliberately maiming and killing innocent Israeli civilians. Hezbollah uses Lebanese civilians as human shields when it places its rockets in civilian areas, and is therefore responsible for many Lebanese casualties. Nonetheless, the European Union refuses to describe Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The Islamic terrorism represented by Hezbollah and others will one day threaten the entire world. Islamic fanatics have already engaged in terrorist acts in the U.S., England, Spain, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan and others. Israel should be applauded for fighting international terrorism and using its military forces in Lebanon to confront the terrorist infrastructure after Hezbollah launched a military attack across the Lebanese-Israeli border on July 12th.

Instead, Israel has been criticized by a number of countries in the European Union that seek to make it difficult for the Israeli army to degrade or eliminate Hezbollah. You can count on the French government to try to deliver Israel into the hands of its enemies. British Prime Minister Tony Blair deserves enormous credit for standing with the U.S. against those in and out of his government who have opposed his willingness to fight international terrorism and his support for the right of Israel to defend itself against Hezbollah.

I have no doubt, however, that if it were not for the support of the United States, led by President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, many European states would be even more active in trying to snatch victory from the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The position of the United States has been clear from the start of hostilities: a sustainable ceasefire. An August 7th New York Times editorial stated what The Times believes is required: "For Israel, [the U.N. Resolution] must include some assurance that Hezbollah will no longer be able to cross into Israeli territory and kidnap Israeli soldiers or launch its rockets against Israeli towns and cities."

For Lebanon, all agree that a "sustainable ceasefire" means a return of control of the entire country to the elected Lebanese government. The Lebanese army is not strong enough to exercise such control and disarm Hezbollah. It will need the military forces of NATO or other friendly countries to assist it.

It was disingenuous for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the butcher of Grozny and the Chechen Republic, and others to talk of a "disproportionate response" on the part of Israel. Even with the onslaught of Israeli troops sent into southern Lebanon, Israel's response to date has been clearly inadequate to the danger it faces. Although it is making progress, it has been unable to destroy all of Hezbollah's bases and rockets so as to remove them as future threats.

Israel's decision not to use major combat infantry in addition to its air force early on was, in hindsight, a serious error, even if its intent was to minimize casualties to both Israeli military forces and Lebanese civilians. It appears that Hezbollah will emerge from this exchange of hostilities degraded militarily in its ability to wage terrorist attacks against Israel, but not destroyed. Politically, it will be strengthened, simply by having withstood Israeli efforts to totally obliterate it. Arab leadership will seek to convince the "Arab street" that Israel's army was defeated by Hezbollah. Rational people, however, will look at the damage inflicted by Israel in southern Lebanon and Beirut and know that Lebanon paid a heavy price for Hezbollah's military misadventure.

In an effort to limit Israel's victory, the Arab League is seeking to have the proposed Security Council resolution order Israel to vacate southern Lebanon before Hezbollah is disarmed and the Lebanese army and a multinational force is placed there as required by U.N. Resolution 1559. Israel cannot protect its population from a renewal of Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israeli cities and towns if it were to quit Lebanon before both Lebanon's army and a U.N.-mandated military force are in place to keep the peace and disarm Hezbollah.

According to The New York Times, President Bush made the U.S. position clear, "Speaking to reporters from his ranch in Crawford, Tex., President Bush called for the resolution's speedy adoption, but made clear that the main sticking point -- Lebanese insistence that the draft be altered to require Israel to withdraw troops immediately -- was nonnegotiable."

In my judgment, when history evaluates George W. Bush's position in the pantheon of presidents, he will be compared with Harry S. Truman. Bush's fortitude in recognizing the danger of Islamic fundamentalism to the U.S. and, indeed, the Western world, and his awareness of the need to win this war of civilizations is remarkable. He deserves the applause of all Americans and in time he will receive it.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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