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At this moment, Israel's ground and air forces are doing the treacherous work of degrading Hizbullah's arsenal and forces, built with impunity over the six years since Israel's total withdrawal from Lebanon. As a nation, we are paying a high price for neglecting this buildup, both in the lives of soldiers and of civilians. This terrible toll must not be paid in vain.
Despite some headlines twisting her words to the contrary, it is clear that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who meets today with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, shows every sign of understanding this, and no interest in imposing a cease-fire on Israel.
As Rice explained on July 21:
"A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo, allowing terrorists to launch attacks at the time and terms of their choosing and to threaten innocent people, Arab and Israeli, throughout the region. That would be a guarantee of future violence. Instead we must be more effective and more ambitious than that. We must work urgently to create the conditions for stability and lasting peace."
Rarely has there been such agreement between Israel and the international community regarding the causes of a war and the situation that must be created in its aftermath. The danger is that this consensus will not be implemented on the ground as broadly and deeply as necessary.
The current UN force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, has been worse than useless: It has done more to shield Hizbullah from the IDF than to protect Israeli citizens from Iran's proxy aggression. Given this, Israel's initial opposition to any international force in Lebanon is completely understandable. Indeed, any discussion of this topic must begin with a commitment to disband UNIFIL.
Once Hizbullah has been dealt a tremendous, but in itself perhaps not fatal, blow, the question becomes how to prevent its terrorist-guerrilla army from being rebuilt.
Israel and the US are holding Lebanon responsible for this task. The US is correctly expecting that Lebanon will eventually sign a cease-fire agreement, including such commitments, directly with Israel. But even if Lebanon commits to moving its army south and to completing the disarmament of Hizbullah, its Shi'ite-dominated army cannot be trusted to do the job on its own, particularly if Syria remains untouched in this war.
By blockading Lebanon and attacking infrastructure targets, Israel has given Lebanon a strong incentive not to allow Hizbullah to threaten its own sovereignty again. But Syria, despite being repeatedly blamed by Israel and the US for arming Hizbullah, has not paid any price for its actions and therefore has not been deterred from attempting to recreate such a proxy force.
Given this situation, it is clear that the Lebanese-Syrian border must be effectively policed to prevent a resupply of heavy weaponry to what is left of Hizbullah. Israel has no desire to reoccupy any part of Lebanon over the long term. But the Lebanese government alone is a weak reed on which to depend opposite a belligerent and unchastened Syria.
In this context, an international force would seem to be necessary to fill the gap. It must not be an ineffective and "neutral" UN force; its composition, capabilities and mandate must be very different than those of the discredited UNIFIL.
The new multinational force must be composed of nations that not only have an interest in its primary mission - the continued suppression of Hizbullah - but have no aversion to being accused of "defending Israel." Accordingly, while it might perhaps be appropriate for Egypt or Jordan, as Arab states at peace with Israel, to participate in a symbolic way, its backbone would have to be built from well-trained forces from major Western countries.
In addition to defending itself, Israel is doing the world a tremendous service by destroying Hizbullah, the terrorist arm of Iran. It is not clear which nations will volunteer for the job of following up, including disarming Hizbullah's remnants and preventing its rejuvenation.
Yet if the West is serious about its support for Israel's security and Lebanon's independence, not to mention defeating the threat posed by Iran, it must step up to this challenge. As difficult as it is, it is far easier than what Israel is now doing, and than facing a rebuilt Hizbullah and a further emboldened Iran in the near future.