Friday, July 28, 2006

Running Out of Time

I said that Israel had to move fast on Hizbollah to take advantage of Sunni Arab governments' tacit approval of taking down Shia Iran's proxy Hizbollah before "street" pressure forced the governments to oppose Israel's campaign:

Israel should say to hell with proportionality and hit Hizbollah as hard and as fast as they can before Sunni Arab states succumb to public pressure to "do something about Israel" and before our efforts to stall the UN from calling for a ceasefire fail. But Israel should also show restraint and slow down the erosion of tacit support for hitting Hizbollah by avoiding Lebanese targets except in extreme circumstances. Even if they are of use to Hizbollah. The Lebanese are not the enemy.

Well, as a result of publicity about Israeli air attacks that have (however unintentionally) killed Lebanese civilians, the street pressure is having an effect:

Rising Arab anger over the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah appears to have pushed conservative rulers in the region to refocus their criticism away from the Shiite guerrillas and onto Israel.

The most dramatic turn has come from Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally whose king initially rebuked Hezbollah for carrying out "uncalculated adventures" with a cross-border raid that captured two Israeli soldiers. This week, however, King Abdullah warned that "if the option of peace fails as a result of Israeli arrogance, then the only option remaining will be war."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an important mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict for the last 25 years, now mixes his condemnation of Hezbollah's move with sharp criticism of Israel's response.

It was "disproportionate, to say the least," Mubarak said in remarks posted Friday on Time magazine's Web site. "Israel's response demonstrated a collective punishment against the Palestinians and the Lebanese. The bloodshed and the destruction caused by the Israelis went way too far."

Much of the initial reaction among Sunni Arab rulers was fueled by a dislike of Hezbollah and wariness of the guerrillas' Iranian backers, but that has been swept aside by a flood public anger at Israel.

Popular opinion in favor of Hezbollah has swelled as newspapers and television stations have shown graphic pictures of the suffering amid climbing civilian casualties.

The Israelis have forgotten that they have limited time to crush external enemies. They used to know this and planned accordingly. Perhaps Israeli rulers thought the time crunch only came from the old Soviet Union and that with that state's demise they could fight enemies at their leisure. But pressure rises from other sources, too. Even America.

We have other objectives in the area besides Lebanon and when Israeli actions appear to threaten them, we apply pressure too. We've shielded Israel for quite some time now. We can only do so much. The Israelis need to do as much damage to Hamas and Hizbollah as they can in the next days--not weeks as they hope--and wrap it up.

And then focus on preparing for the next round.