Saturday, July 29, 2006

Paddy Ashdown's view

I do not entirely agree with the wilder alarmist premises in the second part of the article. However, it is an engaging piece, particularly in the first part posted here:

Sometimes events surpass hyperbole - and this, I fear, is one of them. It is impossible to overstate what is now at stake in the Middle East. As Tony Blair returns from Washington he must confront the fact that the shape of the region cannot be the same again. But with so much dry tinder about and so many firebrands, what we cannot know is whether this will affect us all on a much wider and more dangerous scale.

It is also difficult to comprehend the delicacy of the dilemma on whose horns we are impaled.

On the one hand we would all like to see a ceasefire as soon as possible, backed by a settlement and the quick interposition of a peacekeeping force on the ground in Lebanon and Gaza. But I remember the ceasefires in Bosnia. They came and went like sunny afternoons. And when they had gone they left the soldiers of the intervening force, Unprofor, once again as impotent observers to a conflict neither side wanted to end and no one in the international community was prepared to stop.

A ceasefire without the ingredients of a lasting peace and a willingness by both sides to observe it would place any intervening international force in an equally impossible position. If it were weak it would very quickly be turned into another Unprofor. If it were strong it would soon become an occupying force standing between the combatants and the war aims they had not yet forsaken.

On the other hand, the chances of this conflict widening grow every day. Shutting it down quickly must now be an imperative aim of western policy.

Hizbullah may have started this with an outrageous breach of international law and a sustained and flagrant contravention of a UN security council resolution. But it is not Hizbullah's position that is weakening now. It is Israel's. Its stated war aim was to destroy Hizbullah. It is not clear why, having failed to do this by occupying Lebanon, it thought it could achieve it by bombing. But whatever its thinking, it has been unable to deliver the knockout blow that was its primary military aim.

From now on, Hizbullah does not have to win. It merely has to survive as a potent force - and it appears to be doing just that. Meanwhile the political damage done to Israel through miscalculation, overreaction and targeting errors is incalculable. But there is no comfort to be taken in the thought that Israel may be reaping the whirlwind it has helped to sow. A defeat for Israel and a victory for Hizbullah would have terrifying consequences for the Middle East, which would probably begin with regime change on a wide scale (but not the kind Washington looks for) and could end with the very battle for survival that Israel has always claimed that its use of military force was designed to avoid.

Read On

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