While the world was preoccupied elsewhere, Hezbollah quietly accumulated an arsenal of some 10,000 short-range rockets supplied by Syria and Iran. This is not the kind of stockpile that augurs well for peaceful relations of any consequence with neighboring Israel. Nor does it suggest much peaceful inclination on the part of the governing regimes in Syria and Iran.
Firing the Katyusha rockets at Israel at about 100 a day as they have been, Hezbollah could keep up this daily barrage for about another 80 days, or well into October.
Think of this as if a renegade group had a base in New Jersey and could hit Manhattan with 100 rockets a day nonstop for three months. Or a similar group across the Potomac could do the same to downtown Washington, D.C.
Hezbollah is the provocateur that launched this war. Israel, as Israel predictably does, has responded with considerable force. While the rockets fly from Lebanon into Israel, Israeli artillery and war planes fire back with shells and bombs. The death and wounded toll on both sides is in the hundreds. Although Hezbollah has longer-range and more sophisticated rockets, the short-range Katyushas are fairly primitive and cannot be effectively targeted. Thus they are fired scattershot and do not discriminate between Israeli soldiers and Israeli civilians. Similarly, while the Israelis say they are aiming for Hezbollah targets, they have killed innocent civilians, along with some unarmed United Nations observers. The casualties on both sides have included women and children, as was sadly evident in the weekend Israeli bombing of Qana.
It is in almost nobody's interest — perhaps with the exception of Iran — that this devastating bloodletting should continue. But the contestants are in a race against time. Before the guns and rockets are stilled, the Israelis, in the words of the military men, are intent on "degrading" Hezbollah's capability to wreak further harm on their citizens. Meanwhile Hezbollah's soldiers, who have shown surprising tenacity, want to hold in place as much territory as they can along the Lebanese-Israeli border so that they can resume their assault on Israel when circumstances permit.
World opinion demands a cease-fire. Much more essential is a cease-fire that leads to an overall solution. The ideal shape of a solution beyond a cease-fire has already been determined. It is in the language of United Nations resolution 1559, which requires that Hezbollah, the armed militia that the Lebanese government has been unable to tame, is to be disarmed.
That would give Lebanon's fragile democracy a chance to survive and gather strength. Hezbollah could make its voice heard in the parliament, where it already has representation, rather than through the barrel of a gun.
International diplomats seem to be leaning toward some multinational force that would be placed along the Lebanon-Israel border, separating Hezbollah and Israeli soldiers. Three major questions must be answered about this force. From what countries will its troops be drawn? With what armament will they be equipped? What will be their mission?
If it is simply to attempt to keep the peace in a region where there is no peace, then the mission is pointless. They would merely be preserving an uneasy status quo.
If it is to fulfill U.N. resolution 1559 requiring the disarming of Hezbollah, are they to do it themselves or in concert with Lebanon's own rather ineffective army? What degree of force will be needed? Therefore, what degree of armament will they require? Tanks? Artillery? Aircraft? To whom will the force report? The United Nations? NATO? The questions are many. And what will be the stance of Syria and Iran, Hezbollah's mentors, while all this takes place? Will they stand idly by on the sidelines?
The complexity of this operation suggests that it should be viewed within a much broader context. It may seem fanciful to suggest that the moment is here to resolve the hostility between Arabs and Jews that has plagued the Middle East for decades. Tempers are too high. The wounds are too deep. But the scenes of senseless violence from Israel and Lebanon that are currently dominating our television screens should surely give impetus to steps in that ultimate direction.
A democratic Lebanon. A Palestinian state and an Israeli state, living side by side in harmony. This is not the stuff of pipe dreams. Difficult though the outlook may seem, they have been within grasp in the past and are worth striving for in the future.
John Hughes is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News. He is a former editor of the Christian Science Monitor, which syndicates this column. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org