Where the situation is now:
Israel has agreed to a 48 hour cessation of air strikes, which started at 2 am this morning, in order to allow for an investigation of the Qana tragedy. The ground sorties are continuing, however, with new targets being pursued; where necessary the air force is providing cover for this activity and in fact has reserved the right to respond by air where there are imminent threats.
There has been some criticism of Olmert’s readiness to agree to this in response to international pressure. There is legitimate concern that this slowdown of aerial activity will give Syria an opportunity to move more weaponry over the border unhindered.
What Israel has apparently refused to do is agree to an immediate ceasefire. Both Olmert and Peretz are saying we are going to keep going, and, in fact, the ground actions are progressing. Addressing mayors of northern Israeli towns in Tel Aviv today, Olmert said: "…we are determined to come out victorious in this battle…. To those nations who criticize us we say ‘you would never accept such murderous attacks on your citizens.’”
The nation is solidly behind this approach; opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu is among those encouraging all possible fortitude here, even in the face of international opposition. The way has been hard, but Hezbollah still needs to be taken out.
Intelligence reports are now coming through indicating that Hezbollah is showing signs of weakening. We continue to be in a place of waiting and watching with regard to how much more Israel needs to do to truly weaken Hezbollah, and how long we will be given to do it.
According to the Middle East Newsline, the anticipated time we have is only until August 2, when a Security Council resolution for a ceasefire (see below) is expected to pass. Whether all the details of a plan can be put in place by Thursday remains to be seen. MENL says Israeli action now is focusing on establishing a two-kilometer wide security zone from which all Hezbollah presence has been removed.
Bush is continuing to back us strongly with regard to resisting an immediate ceasefire; he is holding out for that "sustainable" ceasefire to be negotiated as part of a comprehensive settlement.
What Sec. Rice is attempting to hammer out is an arrangement — to be brought to the Security Council — that includes "a ceasefire, the political principles that provide for a long-term settlement, and the authorization of an international force to support the Lebanese army in keeping the peace." This would involve an agreement between Lebanon and Israel. Lebanon, however, has declared itself unwilling to negotiate, insisting there is nothing to say until an immediate ceasefire has been put in place.
Analysts have noted that Rice fails to mention release of the Israeli soldiers. I did hear Bush include mention of them in a statement he made in Florida today.
Many questions arise with regard to the sort of "sustainable" cease-fire and negotiated settlement that Rice is alluding to:
— Under what terms or circumstances would Hezbollah cease firing, in the almost certain likelihood that it still had the capacity to launch rockets when the ceasefire is called? Put simply — how do you get them to stop?
— If the ceasefire is called before the international force is actually in place (which seems to be the plan), what is to prevent Hezbollah from rearming in the interim?
— Are there going to be concessions that might be interpreted as "rewards for terrorism" built into the agreement, such as turning over Shabaa Farms to Lebanon?
— Is there any realistic likelihood of an international force actually disarming Hezbollah (as compared to simply preventing it from re-arming)? What nations would be involved, and what mandate would be provided for them?
— What about release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, which, from the beginning Israel has declared to be a requirement for cessation of hostilities?
A dispatch from MEMRI reveals that Syria is adamantly opposed to a multinational force in Lebanon, and is threatening to attack both the force and Israel.
For some amazing, and touching, photos of Israel’s soldiers in prayer:
French Foreign Minister Phillippe Douste-Blazy, at a news conference in Beirut today, praised Iran as a “stabilizing force in the Middle East.” Iran, he said, "is an outstanding country with great people and an honorable civilization. It has a crucial role in the region.”
Every time I think these guys can’t sink any lower, they surprise me.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has now declared his intention to meet Douste-Blazy in Beirut.
This posting can be found at: https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/current-postings/2006/7/31/posted-july-31-2006.html