The international community is now trying to end two weeks of intense fighting between Hizbullah and Israel by imposing a cease-fire. It would be good for the battling and suffering come to an end. But a bad cease-fire agreement will only produce another war, as well as spiraling terrorism and radicalism bringing far more suffering, mostly to targets other than Israel. Only a cease-fire that works by changing the situation that caused the war is worth negotiating. But there is a real danger that Western diplomacy will hand the terrorists and radicals a victory. Two factors caused the crisis. First, Hizbullah wanted a conflict because it seeks to be the Arab world's hero and model by showing it can hurt Israel, no matter if Lebanon suffers 10 times more. Second, a well-armed Hizbullah, with Syrian and Iranian backing and able to do whatever it pleased in Lebanon, thought it could get away with its behavior at no significant cost. Hizbullah wants and can afford confrontation, and no Western diplomacy is going to change its extremism or genocidal intent. Needed, then, is an international and Lebanese effort to ensure that Hizbullah cannot do what it wants. And this almost certainly isn't going to happen. A USEFUL cease-fire must at least:
stop southern Lebanon from being a terrorist-run zone for attacking Israel, either by ensuring its control by Lebanon's government and army, an effective international force, or both.
pressure Syria and Iran so they do not rearm Hizbullah and encourage it toward terrorism against Israel.
Such an effort is in the interests of the West and Lebanon as well as of Israel. As Lebanese political leader Walid Jumblatt put it, there can be peace only if Hizbullah is forced to recognize Lebanon's government. But can any amount of international help really put backbone into the Beirut politicians, especially since they fear that challenging Hizbullah means civil war and a threat to their own lives?
While many Lebanese dislike Hizbullah, they are too afraid to do anything. Asks Mohsen Rezai, Iranian Expediency Council secretary and former Revolutionary Guard commander: "Disarm Hizbullah? Who would dare? Who has the power? Today Lebanon is in the hands of Hizbullah." (MEMRI translation). On this point he's right. Don't count on Lebanon to do anything.
THE SAME is true for the international community, which has no excuse for such behavior. It does not understand that its own vital interests require Hizbullah to be seen as the loser; or Syria and Iran to be intimidated so they don't plunge the region into war whenever they please.
Already a new wave of extremism is sweeping the area, viewing Hizbullah as the successful model to imitate and Iran as the powerful patron to work for. Unless they are discredited, revolutionary movements challenging moderate Arab regimes will grow as terrorists recruit thousands of new gunmen and are emboldened to attack.
Yet no one is even talking about pressure on Iran or Syria - nor is any serious international force likely to be organized. No such operation will be meaningful unless it is ready to fight Hizbullah terrorists to stop them from attacking Israel.
Such a policy, however, would open participating countries to reprisals, and the troops to constant warfare and kidnapping. Remember what happened with the last big international force in Lebanon in the early 1980s? Terrorists killed 300 American and French soldiers, and the West fled.
These factors will discourage anyone from really combating Hizbullah.
Europe is eager for appeasement: a quick cease-fire, with no real change in anything. The US understands the problem, but can it succeed without international help?
And so the key issue has become whether Western intervention will save Hizbullah, or give it a setback.
THE CURRENT moment in the Middle East parallels March 1968. Then, responding to cross-border Palestinian attacks from Jordan, an Israeli force hit the main Fatah base at Karama. Israel won, capturing the camp and many prisoners. Yasser Arafat had to run for his life, literally.
Yet the Arab masses believed Karama was a heroic Fatah victory. Money poured in from Arab states and volunteers signed up by the thousands. The event was Arafat's launching pad and the beginning of the myth that heroic Arab guerrillas were the way to defeat Israel.
Actually, their accomplishments amounted to inflicting decades of useless suffering on Palestinians, a civil war in Lebanon and Jordan, assassinations and terrorism throughout the Arab world, inflamed anti-Western passions, and ensuring there would be no Arab-Israeli peace settlement.
The battles in Lebanon may be the Islamists' Karama. The fact that Lebanon has been far more damaged than Israel is of no consequence. Once again, the Arab world is displaying its apparently endless ability to be entranced by losers claiming to be winners who will eventually lead them to defeats too big to be ignored.
THE WESTERN refusal to confront the terrorist threat back in the 1960s and 1970s unleashed decades of brutal violence, not only in the Middle East but throughout the world. Once again the West, except for the US, is teaching that extremism and terrorism pays - despite the fact that even Arab states are horrified by this trend.
If the dominant view, reinforced by a cease-fire, is going to be that Hizbullah has won, or survived relatively unscathed, it will help set back Arab-Israeli peace, moderation in the region, and an end to terrorism by 20 years.
Such an outcome would increase radical Islamist revolutionary and terrorist activity both in the Middle East and Europe, while strengthening a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. And that is an outcome that threatens the interests of just about every other state in the region, neighboring countries, and Western nations as well.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.