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Crisis Sparks Fears of Wider War

Prepared by: CFR.org Staff
Updated: July 27, 2006

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After Israel suffers its bloodiest day since launching an offensive against Lebanon two weeks ago, the country's security cabinet decides not to expand its mission in Lebanon (Haaretz). The government does, however, call up thousands of reserve troops in preparation for a wider war (WashPost). The conflict could well spill into other regions; Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number two leader, called July 27 for Muslims around the world to join in the fight against Israel (Guardian).

Talks in Rome between U.S., European, and Arab foreign ministers, joined by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, failed to find a formula for a ceasefire (MSNBC) between Israel and the Lebanon-based militia of Hezbollah. But a broad consensus emerged that a strong international peacekeeping force has to be part of the longer-term solution (al-Jazeera), and most argued over American objections that Syria and Iran had to be part of the discussion. CFR President Richard N. Haass tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman in this interview that the United States should open talks with Syria and Iran, calling Washington's reluctance to deal with the two countries a major impediment to achieving U.S. objectives in the Middle East. This Washington Post analysis says the wide gap between the United States and Europe over how to deal with the ongoing crisis is yet another setback to President Bush’s foreign policy in a second term full of missteps and disappointments.

In Israel on Tuesday, Rice won conditional support from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the idea of a foreign peacekeeping force (LAT), possibly led by NATO, on the southern Lebanese border. But officials in Israel, and American officials in unattributed comments, underscored Washington's support (CSMonitor) for the Israeli aim of degrading Hezbollah militarily, even if there are disagreements on methods. Middle East expert Martin Indyk writes in the Financial Times that the United States should push for a UN-sanctioned ceasefire that forces Hezbollah to recognize the authority of the Lebanese government. But external forces have had a mixed history in the region. This Backgrounder examines the legacy of multinational intervention in the Middle East.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni tells Newsweek the military offensive is focused on weakening Hezbollah, and says Israel does not want a wider regional war. But the ferocity of the Israeli attack on Lebanon, which has driven more than 500,000 people from their homes and killed more than 400 civilians so far, is increasing support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and across the Middle East (CS Monitor).

Lebanese Foreign Minister Fouad Siniora has been desperately trying to get a ceasefire for his battered country. But his government is too weak to negotiate one on its own; the reasons behind that are examined in this Backgrounder. Lebanon's Daily Star points to increasing carnage in Iraq, as well as the continuing battering of Lebanon by Israel, as signs that George W. Bush's vision of democracy in the Middle East is being "engulfed in the flames of the current shortsighted American foreign policy." The Weekly Standard says Bush is just being consistent in his policy of support for Israel, but Judith Kipper writes in Newsday that Washington should use its clout to push not just for a resolution, but a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As many look to Iran and Syria—both of which are playing strong roles in the crisis—to help contain the violence, those two countries are facing problems of their own. TIME says many Iranians are angry at Hezbollah, rejecting the militia's attempts to turn the crisis into a regional conflict, and worrying that the violence is threatening Tehran's status in the world.

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