Strikes Are Called Part of Broad Strategy

A house in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya was hit by a rocket fired by Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. At least six Israelis were hurt in attacks in the area.
A house in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya was hit by a rocket fired by Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. At least six Israelis were hurt in attacks in the area. (By Yoray Liberman -- Getty Images)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 16, 2006

Israel, with U.S. support, intends to resist calls for a cease-fire and continue a longer-term strategy of punishing Hezbollah, which is likely to include several weeks of precision bombing in Lebanon, according to senior Israeli and U.S. officials.

For Israel, the goal is to eliminate Hezbollah as a security threat -- or altogether, the sources said. A senior Israeli official confirmed that Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah is a target, on the calculation that the Shiite movement would be far less dynamic without him.

For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East, U.S. officials say.

Whatever the outrage on the Arab streets, Washington believes it has strong behind-the-scenes support among key Arab leaders also nervous about the populist militants -- with a tacit agreement that the timing is right to strike.

"What is out there is concern among conservative Arab allies that there is a hegemonic Persian threat [running] through Damascus, through the southern suburbs of Beirut and to the Palestinians in Hamas," said a senior U.S. official who requested anonymity because of sensitive diplomacy. "Regional leaders want to find a way to navigate unease on their streets and deal with the strategic threats to take down Hezbollah and Hamas, to come out of the crisis where they are not as ascendant."

Hezbollah's cross-border raid that captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others has provided a "unique moment" with a "convergence of interests" among Israel, some Arab regimes and even those in Lebanon who want to rein in the country's last private army, the senior Israeli official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing conflict.

Israel and the United States would like to hold out until Hezbollah is crippled.

"It seems like we will go to the end now," said Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon. "We will not go part way and be held hostage again. We'll have to go for the kill -- Hezbollah neutralization."

White House officials said Friday that Bush has called on Israel to limit civilian casualties and avoid toppling the Lebanese government but has not pressured Israel to stop its military action. "He believes that the Israelis have a right to protect themselves," spokesman Tony Snow said in St. Petersburg, where Bush is attending the Group of Eight summit. "The president is not going to make military decisions for Israel."

Specifically, officials said, Israel and the United States are looking to create conditions for achieving one remaining goal of U.N. Resolution 1559, adopted in 2004, which calls for the dismantling and disarming of Lebanon's militias and expanding the state's control over all its territory.

"We think part of the solution to this is the implementation of 1559, which would eliminate that [armed group operating outside the government] and help Lebanon extend all of its authority throughout the whole country," national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters with Bush in Russia yesterday.

The other part of the resolution calls for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, which was completed in April last year -- after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, which was widely linked to Syria.

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