Send Condi?

Posted: Jul 19, 2006 12:01 AM

So we incline to support Israel, which is understandable, but which raises, also, questions.

Begin by focusing on hints of policies/inclinations that seeped out of St. Petersburg during the summit. The most instantly reassuring note was: President Bush is unwilling to negotiate with four of the key players. Namely, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

That intoxicating notion didn't last for very long. The news releases for Tuesday all but committed the United States to dispatching Condoleezza Rice to the area. To do what, was nowhere specified, the clearest reason for this being that there are no openings for negotiation that don't require the abandonment of life's purposes for two unofficial entities (Hamas and Hezbollah) and for two regimes (Syria and Iran).

The whole purpose of Hamas is to press its case against the existence of Israel. If tomorrow it abandoned this objective, the voters who gave Hamas its victory in the Palestinian Authority election would almost certainly coalesce around a fresh leader, returning to the same goal.

Hezbollah could be destroyed but not appeased, certainly not at this juncture. Sustained warfare in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is concentrated, could break the organization's back. But the government of Lebanon, although it never abandoned its formal powers in deference to the Shiite radicalism of Hezbollah, isn't strong enough to carry out a military campaign in Lebanon designed to subjugate that powerful minority. The work would have to be done by Israeli soldiers, summoned back to the duties they undertook before 2000, when a new modus vivendi was arrived at.

President Bush was probably correct when he muttered to Mr. Blair that Syria should clamp down on Hezbollah, because the Syrian government, unlike the Lebanese, would have the power to do so. However, Syria, though a secular state, is a hothouse of radical Islamic activity. It is unlikely to move against the Shiite radicals unless prompted to do so by -- Iran.

Between Iran and Syria is a stretch of territory under the flag of Iraq. Last week in Iraq disparate elements expressed themselves heatedly. Hundreds of civilians were killed.

What would a memorandum to Secretary Rice say that accommodated the realities on the map?

If Hezbollah is going to be destroyed, Israel will need to do this, heavily backed by U.S. military reserves. But of course, this would inflame the Shiite governors of Iran. They are bent on reifying their defiance of the West by the eloquent expedient of acquiring nuclear weapons. When this is done, not even Condi will be able seriously to effect rearrangements in the Mideast of a kind that a) guarantee the independence and longevity of Israel, b) give to Palestine plausible statehood, and c) induce the tranquilization of Iraq as a three-nation state, with Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites sharing the territory and the oil.

But this advances no program for the next fortnight, let alone for the balance of President Bush's term in office. It is unlikely that Teheran would provoke nuclear attack by the United States. Its demands have to fall short of this. Whether they will fall short enough to permit galvanized military action to destroy Hezbollah can't be predicted. But nothing less than that will affect the current crisis decisively enough to bring restabilization.

True, the United States can inform Israel that military moves of substantial strategic consequence have to be OK'd by the only power on Earth whose collaboration in a serious Israeli military enterprise would permit its success.

We do not know, and it is probably best that we should not have known, whether Israel was intending to go to war in Lebanon to retrieve its two soldiers. Israel always gives the impression that it is acting on its own, though it is genuinely solicitous of approval of what it undertakes. Whether the people of the Mideast believe it that the United States was not complicit in this new war by Israel, we don't know. But any ongoing and decisive Israeli action against Hezbollah and Syria would be unthinkable without the outspoken support of the United States. The alternative is complete U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, which is almost unthinkable.