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(photo credit: AP)
According to a well-worn script that Israel has grown accustomed to over the years, the arrival of the US secretary of state during wartime means an end to Israeli military advances.
But this time the script is different.
Condoleezza Rice, who arrived here Monday evening for a 24-hour visit, is not expected to dictate a cease-fire to Israel.
She said as much over the weekend, telling a press conference before setting out for the region that a cease-fire that froze the status quo ante would ensure that "we will be back here in six months again or in five months or in nine months or in a year, trying to get another cease-fire because Hizbullah will have decided yet again to try and to use southern Lebanon as a sanctuary to fire against Israel."
No one doubts that US President George W. Bush is a friend of Israel, that he understands Israel's predicament better than most if not all of his predecessors, and that he is very supportive of Jerusalem's policies.
But there is more than just pro-Israel sentiment to Washington's giving Jerusalem a longer military grace period than ever before.
Bush is keen on providing Israel more time to pound Hizbullah because while this serves Israel's interests, it also serves America's goals.
First of all, Bush has proven his intent to spread democracy to the Middle East, believing this to be in the strategic interest of the US. Lebanon is a prime candidate, and a roundly defeated Hizbullah would give the nascent Lebanese democracy needed oxygen to grow and take root.
Second, the US is engaged in a global war on terrorism, and Hizbullah and Hamas are key soldiers in that war. Their victory anywhere is America's defeat, because it would embolden others like them to spread Islamic radicalism. Their defeat, their weakened position, is a victory for America.
That's in the long term.
In the short term, a defeated Hizbullah is a blow to Iran, and a blow to Iran is good for the US because Teheran is up to its eyeballs in causing trouble for the US in Iraq.
As the Chicago Tribune, not exactly a newspaper that can be accused of a pro-Israel tilt, editorialized Sunday, "Iraq is spiraling deeper into violence, with a powerful assist from Iran. Last month, the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said the Iranians are providing weapons, roadside bomb technology and training to Shi'ite extremist groups. Some of the training is being done in Iran, and some by Hizbullah at Iran's behest, he said.
"Pumped with oil wealth, Iran is testing its limits," the paper wrote. "It is challenging the world, directly and by proxy. The answer must be swift and sure, not just on the battlefield, but in the Security Council. Iran is counting on distracting the world long enough to go nuclear. A hard slap of sanctions by the council would show Teheran that the greatest powers on earth aren't so easily bamboozled."
That's what the Tribune wrote. But by taking his time in sending Rice here, and then by not directing Rice to order Israel to stop the shooting, Bush is making clear that he feels Iran needs much more than just the hard "slap of sanctions" at the United Nations over the nuclear issue, it also needs its main proxy to feel the sharp sting of a military defeat.
That serves Israel's interest, but also the US's. Otherwise, Bush would not be giving the IDF so much time.
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