troops return 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah are all declaring victory. They can't all be right. Many Israelis and outside observers seem to agree with Assad and Nasrallah that Israel lost.
Yet whether the war was a defeat for Israel depends not just on the war itself, but on who wins the peace. If we - the US, Europe and Israel - give up on the aftermath, defeat is a certainty. But why should we give up?
The other side is certainly losing no time in fighting to shape the peace. On Tuesday, Nasrallah announced that Hizbullah would not disarm, and Assad openly defended the Islamist organization, claiming, "The resistance is necessary as much as it is natural and legitimate."
Lebanon's Defense Minister Elias Murr, while sending 15,000 troops southward, said, "The army is not going to the south to strip Hizbullah of weapons and do the work Israel did not." The Lebanese government is reportedly going to allow Hizbullah to keep "hidden weapons" in the south.
Contradicting his own statements and the reported agreement regarding hidden weapons, Murr also said, "The resistance is cooperating to the utmost level so that as soon as the Lebanese army arrives in the south there will be no weapons but those of the army."
Finally, the commander of UNIFIL, French Maj.-Gen. Alain Pellegrini, made a mockery of himself and his force when he told the BBC that if he saw the IDF and Hizbullah fighting he would "beg" them to stop.
Given all this, it is hardly surprising that Bush's and Olmert's insistence that we are on track to disarming Hizbullah and creating a new reality is being met with widespread ridicule. If nothing changes, such defeatism will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The US, Europe, and Israel, however, need not stand by helplessly as UN Security Council Resolution 1701 becomes a dead letter before the ink has dried.
Before the war, the European Union steadfastly rejected American and Israeli requests to place Hizbullah on its terrorist list. Even during the war, on August 1, as Hizbullah was bombarding Israeli civilians night and day, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, responded to a letter from 213 members of the US Congress urging the union to change its position by saying: "Given the sensitive situation, I don't think this is something we will be acting on now."
If the EU does not want to see Lebanon once again become a pawn of Hizbullah and Iran, counting down to the next war, now would be a good time to change its position. The EU should immediately say to Lebanon that if Hizbullah is not disarmed, the EU will regard it as a terrorist organization, and regard Lebanon as country that supports terrorism for refusing to disarm it.
Similarly, Iran and Syria are openly expressing support for Hizbullah and opposition to its disarmament. The US and the EU must quickly state that they will seek sanctions against these countries for supporting terrorism and violating Lebanon's independence.
The UN rightly took Syria's assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri seriously. It appointed an investigator, and took action when the investigation clearly implicated the Syrian regime.
A tougher approach should be taken toward the continuing Syrian/Iranian arming of Hizbullah. As important as the assassination of a former prime minister is, it pales beside the consequences for Lebanon and the region should Hizbullah be allowed to rebuild its arsenal, or even to retain the arms currently in its possession.
The UN, therefore, should launch a full investigation of the Syrian/Iranian arming of Hizbullah, similar to the investigation into the Hariri assassination. The results should be linked to sanctions against these two nations, until such time as this international aggression is stopped.
To help force the UN's hand, Israel should send an ultimatum backed by force to Syria to stop its support for anti-Israeli terrorism, similar to the Turkish ultimatum to Syria to stop arming the PKK - as proposed by Efraim Inbar on this page.
The skeptics assume that none of this will happen. Past behavior gives every reason to believe they will be proven right. Why, though, must the West blindly repeat its mistakes?
We do know this: If Bush and Olmert do not even attempt to leverage the obvious lessons of this war to dramatically change UN and European policy, their claims of victory stand no chance of becoming reality and recent bloody history will, at best, repeat itself.