Bush Supports Israel's Move Against Hezbollah

President Bush said the world
President Bush said the world "must deal with" Hezbollah and Syria and "continue to work to isolate Iran." (By Evan F. Sisley -- Bloomberg News)
By Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In blunt language, President Bush yesterday endorsed Israel's campaign to cripple or eliminate Hezbollah, charged that Syria is trying to reassert control of Lebanon, and called for the isolation of Iran.

Bush, in remarks at the White House after he briefed members of Congress about the recent Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations, said the "root cause" of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon "is terrorism and terrorist attacks on a democratic country."

"And part of those terrorist attacks are inspired by nation states, like Syria and Iran. And in order to be able to deal with this crisis, the world must deal with Hezbollah, with Syria and to continue to work to isolate Iran," Bush said.

The president spoke amid increasing pessimism about the potential for diplomacy to defuse the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in the near future. Many U.S., European and Arab officials are resigned to a prolonged battle with limited prospects for diplomacy because of limited alternatives and what one European diplomat called the "unstoppable dynamic" of Israel's military campaign.

At the same time, the administration is scrambling to develop a strategy to deal with the crisis. Despite unity at the G-8, U.S. officials said that a lot of ideas have been offered without details or feasibility assessments.

"What we have to do before we launch anyone at a target is understand the mission," a senior U.S. official said.

For now, the administration is letting Israel's military strategy to weaken Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian backers play out.

"The real objective here has to be to deny the Mediterranean branch of Tehran a strategic victory and to find a way that, coming out of the crisis, we have a situation recomposed, so Hezbollah's influence is more limited -- ideally you could say destroyed," the senior U.S. official said.

Iran gave birth to Hezbollah and has provided some $100 million annually in funds and most of its arms.

Syria, which ended a 29-year occupation of Lebanon when it withdrew 14,000 troops last year, is trying to get back into Lebanon in violation of U.N. Resolution 1559, Bush said. The president said there are growing "suspicions" that the instability that followed Hezbollah's cross-border raid last week will lead some Lebanese to invite Syria to return. Any such move is "against the United Nations policy and it's against U.S. policy," Bush vowed.

Pressed on whether he is trying to buy time for Israel to eliminate Hezbollah, Bush said Israel should be allowed to defend itself. But he also cautioned that Israel should be "mindful" to allow Lebanon's government to "succeed and survive" after the conflict.

"Sometimes it requires tragic situations to help bring clarity in the international community," Bush said. "And it is now clear for all to see that there are terrorist elements who want to destroy our democratic friends and allies, and the world must work to prevent them from doing so."

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