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We know that the expanded ground offensive approved Wednesday by the cabinet risks a terrible human toll in the lives of our soldiers. The cabinet took this wrenching decision with its eyes open, aware that Hizbullah is dug in and well-armed with sophisticated weaponry, for some of which our forces do not have fully satisfactory defenses.
Yet, the decision was taken, because the alternative would be to allow an Iranian-backed militia to defeat Israel, an outcome that the cabinet and our military leaders regard as an existential threat to this country. Many, understandably, ask why this is so, given that Hizbullah is a militia with a few thousand fighters, has no tanks or aircraft and could not invade Israel.
The answer is that the entire Arab world is watching to see whether Hizbullah is a match for the mighty Israeli army. If it is, we are not the regional superpower we are made out to be.
In this region, Hizbullah's survival in the face of the best Israel can throw at it is the equivalent of throwing blood in a tank full of sharks. It would embolden the jihadis of the region and deal a terrible blow to those nascent forces that believe the Arab world, for its own sake, must advance on the path of democracy and freedom rather than death and dictatorship.
This is the impeccable logic behind the Israeli consensus and the cabinet's decision. Which begs the question: Why, if this conflict is an existential one as the cabinet asserts, did Prime Minister Ehud Olmert order the extended operation stopped just hours after it had been authorized?
The explanation given was the desire to give diplomacy a few more days. But we know that neither the most "robust" international force, nor the Lebanese army, will dismantle the Hizbullah fortifications strewn between where the IDF is currently deployed and the Litani river - the same area from which Israel is currently being bombarded with missiles. We know that, at best, an international force will only keep Hizbullah from returning to areas from which the IDF has evicted it.
Olmert must decide: is this an existential conflict or isn't it? If it is, then why hold out hope for a feckless international solution that he must know will leave Hizbullah to bombard Israel another day - the next time, potentially, with unconventional weapons?
Indeed, the only hope for an international solution that will hold water will come after the approved ground operation is completed.
In this context, the White House's sudden decision to return to the language of moral equivalence is very puzzling and disturbing. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said just after the cabinet decision that "we want an end to violence and we do not want escalations."
What does this mean? That suddenly the White House sees Israel on the same plane as Hizbullah? Does it mean that President George W. Bush believes that a UN resolution imposed now, perhaps after a watering-down by France at the behest of the Arab League, will produce the long-term stability that Washington has said it is seeking?
Again, if Israel has been dragged into an existential conflict, the White House should not be pressuring the Israeli government, and Israel's prime minister should not be pretending - or worse, not pretending - that he might accede to that pressure.
In the same White House press conference, Snow excoriated the "extreme left" Democrats who toppled Senator Joseph Lieberman in his party primary. It was a "defining moment" for Democrats, he said, who were ready "simply to walk away" from Iraq's nascent democracy. This would "encourage terrorists not only in Iraq, but throughout the region and throughout the world."
It would also vindicate Osama bin Laden, who "some years ago said that one of the keys is that, if you simply stay at terror long enough, the West is too weak. He said the Americans were too weak and would stand down."
"A white flag [in Iraq]," Snow summed up, "means a white flag in the war on terror."
It should need no explaining to this White House that for Israel to wave a white flag in the face of Hizbullah would have implications similar to those of the US doing so in Iraq. Iran's attack, through Hizbullah, is as much an attack on and a test of the United States as it is of Israel.