Winning the Peace

Thursday, August 17, 2006

WHO WON the 34-day war in Lebanon? Hezbollah says it did; President Bush claims the opposite. In fact, much of the answer depends on what happens next. It's more than possible that Hezbollah will rearm, resume its prior positions and present an even greater threat to Israel in a year or two than it did before. But things could go differently if Lebanon's government, the United Nations and the major powers of the Security Council keep the promises they made last week.

Those looking for gloomy signs would not have been disappointed yesterday. Hezbollah, the radical Shiite militia and political party, was violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 in numerous ways, including by failing to disarm and by failing to free the Israeli soldiers with whose kidnapping it precipitated the war last month. Neither Iran nor Syria, Hezbollah's financial backers and arms suppliers, had accepted the terms of the resolution, which the Security Council adopted on a 15-to-0 vote with the support of Lebanon's government. In fact, on Tuesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech of such venomous intransigence ("The fact that Israel should know is that each new generation will hate Israel more than the generation which preceded it.") that Germany's foreign minister, a leading advocate within the West for engaging Mr. Assad, canceled a trip to Damascus for which he had already boarded his jet. Meanwhile, Israel's coalition government, never strong, faces a period of internal investigation and second-guessing of its conduct of the war.

But there was also progress yesterday toward implementation of Resolution 1701. Lebanon's government ordered the deployment of 15,000 of its national troops into southern Lebanon, territory previously occupied only by Hezbollah, and said the first soldiers would arrive today. It repeated that it would not tolerate the presence of other armed groups, though it also pointedly did not demand Hezbollah's disarmament. France's defense minister said her nation would lead an expanded international mission in support of those Lebanese forces if it is given a clear, strong mandate. Other nations with capable militaries, including several Muslim-majority countries, also were talking about providing troops.

The key now is to move beyond talking, and fast. No one expects the weak Lebanese army forcibly to disarm Hezbollah, but if the army, backed by a U.N. force, becomes the sole visible armed presence in the south, the impact would be significant. International forces that do not want to deploy to the front lines could help enforce the plank of the U.N. resolution that bars arms shipments to Hezbollah. Rather than pressing Israel to completely lift its blockade of Lebanon's ports and airports, as he did yesterday, France's foreign minister should work to deploy a force to those places and to the Lebanon-Syria border. And as Iran ships cash to Hezbollah so that it can take credit for reconstruction, nations with a different agenda, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, should accelerate their aid to Lebanon's government so that it can play in the same game.

The shooting war has ended, at least for now, but the intensity of struggle between the forces of moderation and radicalism has not waned. Nor has the urgency of action.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company