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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)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated yesterday that the situation is not yet ripe for U.S. diplomatic intervention.

"We have to make certain that anything that we do is going to be of lasting value," Rice said during a brief session with reporters along with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "The Middle East has been through too many spasms of violence, and we have to deal with underlying conditions so that we can create sustainable conditions for political progress there."

Rice added: "When it is appropriate and when it is necessary and will be helpful to the situation, I am more than pleased to go to the region."

After talks with Rice, the Egyptian foreign minister pressed for an urgent cease-fire. "We have to keep working to reach that objective. It is imperative. We have to bring it to an end as soon as possible," he told reporters at the State Department.

A U.N. team touring the region is expected to return tonight and brief the Security Council tomorrow. Secretary General Kofi Annan will also discuss his ideas for an international peacekeeping force, which he said will be "much larger" than the U.N. mission of 2,000 peacekeepers stationed in southern Lebanon since 1978. Annan said a force "would help stabilize the situation" in southern Lebanon and give the fragile Lebanese government time to "sort out" Hezbollah's disarmament and "extend its authority throughout the territory."

Rice is expected to attend the U.N. discussion, diplomats said.

Some U.S. and European military and intelligence officials said yesterday that they were puzzled by Israel's strategy and concerned that its goals are unrealistic or too ambitious.

Israel has "target packages" but no viable long-term strategy, a senior U.S. official said, speaking anonymously because he was criticizing an ally. There is limited reason to believe that either Hezbollah or Hamas can be compelled to give up their Israeli prisoners or end the attacks.

Others questioned the impact on the Lebanese government and the very military force Israel hopes will eventually take over the areas now under Hezbollah's control.

"Won't Israeli military actions have the effect of decreasing the already limited capacities of the Lebanese government?" asked retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, who teaches at Boston University. "Going after Hezbollah makes sense, but I just don't understand the rationale for the campaign as it is being conducted."

But retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, a former commander in the town of Ramallah, said, "Israel is attempting to create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters by exacting a heavy price from the elite in Beirut. The message is: If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land."

Other specialists in security strategy said that Israel is sending messages to several audiences, telling the people of Lebanon that the attack is the price of tolerating the Hezbollah's presence and the broader Arab world that its current response is the price of provoking Israel.

Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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