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Diplomacy Flags, Mideast War Rages

Prepared by: CFR.org Staff
July 31, 2006

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Israel's air force carried out raids in southern Lebanon July 31 in spite of a pledge to temporarily halt such strikes after dozens of civilians, many of them children, perished in an attack on the village of Qana over the weekend (WashPost). Hezbollah, too, fought on, leading Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to insist the war will continue until Israelis are able "to live in safety and security" (NPR). Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations on July 31, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres said the conflict is an "unprecendented war" with no clear end.

After a week of contentious meetings around the globe, Lebanon's government told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice she was not welcomed in Beirut. She responded by pledging to work for a cease-fire agreement through the UN Security Council within a week (NYT). But Rice continued to argue for a more comprehensive agreement than much of the rest of the world is demanding, and President Bush reiterated the position (Reuters) during remarks on Monday. This led UN officials to delay talks on a peacekeeping force (Guardian), citing the continued lack of consensus. Separately, France, which would lead such a force and has circulated a draft peace plan at the UN, says no such force could be assembled without a cease-fire (Times of London).

The United States, meanwhile, is fighting world opinion that blames Washington—and to a lesser extent London—for failing to restrain Israel. Julia Choucair, an expert on Lebanon at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tells CFR.org's Bernard Gwertzman that after initial scorn for Hezbollah in the region, there has been a clear shift towards condemnation of Israel from Sunni leaders in the Mideast.

Robert Fisk captures the global outrage over the Qana attack in a furious column in the Independent, writing, "This slaughter was an obscenity, an atrocity—yes, if the Israeli air force truly bombs with the 'pinpoint accuracy' it claims, this was also a war crime." UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed for an immediate cease-fire, but U.S. opposition scuttled such a call (Reuters) in a July 30 resolution deploring the Qana attack. Many say Rice's diplomatic task will be even tougher, since the United States is seen as having lost its already shaky claim to being an honest broker in the region (CSMonitor).

Meanwhile, fighting continues on Israel's second front, in Gaza. Israeli forces withdrew to the Gaza border after fighting left thirty Palestinians dead in three days, but denied they were halting their operation there (Daily Star). Much debate has arisen over whether Israel's military actions constitute a proportionate use of force, a question explored in this Backgrounder. The Economist lays out the historical argument for proportionality in war.

Whether Hezbollah is being helped or hurt politically by the current offensive is a matter of debate. The Daily Star says the ferocity of the Israeli attack—and what is seen as U.S. complicity in it—has pushed support for the militant group to record highs among Lebanese. Syed Saleem Shazad of the Asia Times writes that the Israeli bombing campaign is driving Lebanese, young and old, into Hezbollah's ranks. But Lee Smith writes in the Weekly Standard that many Lebanese are getting sick of Hezbollah and are turning against the group.

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