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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
"The time for diplomacy has arrived," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday, after meeting a top-level United Nations team trying to put together a ceasefire package.
In the past, these words - coming in the midst of heavy fighting - had an ominous ring in Jerusalem because a diplomatic process in the midst of fighting inevitably signaled the onslaught of intense pressure on the IDF to stop an offensive.
This time, however, things are different. Seven days into a massive Israeli offensive against Hizbullah in Lebanon, as various diplomats begin arriving to look for a way out of the crisis, Israel is still not coming under any unbearable pressure to stop the offensive.
Indeed, according to diplomatic officials, there is unprecedented understanding in the world's capitals for Israel's actions and a widespread understanding that it is in everyone's interest - not only Israel's - if Hizbullah, and by proxy Iran, is dealt a major blow.
Which explains why there hasn't been any great rush around the globe to put an end to the fighting.
Granted, the UN delegation is shuttling around the region, there is talk of organizing an international force to take up positions in southern Lebanon, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is arriving on Wednesday, but there still isn't a great sense of urgency to get Israel to end its attack. Even Arab regimes like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are not pulling out all the stops to call Israel off of Hizbullah.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, first expected to come at the end of the week, may now not arrive until the middle of next week, if at all. Not exactly a sign of urgency.
When US President George W. Bush wants Israel to stop a military operation, he knows how to get that message across.
For example, in April 2002, in the midst of Operation Defensive Shield, Bush met British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Crawford, Texas, and afterward had some tough words for Ariel Sharon.
"My words to Israel are the same today as they were a couple of days ago: Withdraw without delay," Bush said. "I don't expect them to ignore [the message]," he said, "I expect them to heed the call."
Compare that with the offmicrophone words he exchanged with that same Blair Monday at the G-8 conference, and you'll see that the diplomatic process that now has been put into motion doesn't necessarily translate into heavy pressure on Israel to stop.
"What they need to do," Bush said of the UN, is "get Syria to get Hizbullah to stop doing this shit and it's over."
Quite a difference from four years ago. Israel is basking in a degree of international legitimacy for its actions - manifest in the G-8 statement on the crisis issues Sunday and, to a lesser extent, the EU statement of Monday - which it hasn't enjoyed in decades.
Livni said Tuesday that the start of the diplomatic process did not mean the end of the military operations, but that the two would rather run in parallel.
"The military objectives are to hit Hizbullah's infrastructure and physical strength," Livni said. "The diplomatic process is not intended to reduce the time available for the IDF's operations but as an extension of it in order to avoid the need for additional operations in the future."
In the past, these words would have seemed like wishful thinking, what an Israeli foreign minister wanted from the world. But this time they don't seem to ring as hollow.
The diplomatic process that has now been set into motion is for full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1559, which entails dismantling Hizbullah, and for the Lebanese government to extend its sovereignty over all of the country. If implemented, this would, indeed, have farreaching implications for the country's security.
Concern voiced by Israeli diplomatic officials Saturday night that Israel faced a 48- to 72-hour window of opportunity to hammer Hizbullah before the world stepped in and called for a ceasefire was apparently premature. Israel is enjoying more time now than ever before - partly because it withdrew to the international border in the north, and partly because much of the world sees Hizbullah as a branch of the world jihad that is giving everyone, not just Israelis, the jitters.
The diplomatic process has started, but so far it has not necessitated - much to Israel's great satisfaction - an end to the military action.
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