Friday, July 21, 2006

Fighting elephants; trembling mice

There's an old saying, rendered variously as:

When elephants fight, it's the mice who must tremble.

When elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers.

The applicability to the current situation in the Middle East? When Hezbollah goads Israel from its hiding place in Lebanon, and Israel retaliates, the ordinary people in both countries suffer.

Right now, as Fouad Ajami points out in today's Opinion Journal (and as I pointed out some days ago, here), the Lebanese people are being held hostage by Hezbollah. Yes, of course, some of the Lebanese people support Hezbollah, even though it was originally a foreign graft from Iran. But the majority? Doubtful. But that didn't stop Nasrallah from provoking the Israelis into this war in Lebanon; elephants don't ordinarily ask the mice's permission when they start a battle.

Ajami believes that Nasrallah miscalculated, thinking it would be just business as usual when he provoked Israel, underestimating the spine of the new, non-Sharon, government (as well as the opposition of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan). Gone were the old warriors of Israel, Nasrallah thought--the elephants, as it were--and in their place were the bureaucrats.

But Israel seems to have found a new resolve, exemplified by this passage from a speech Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made last Monday:

"There are moments in the life of a nation, when it is compelled to look directly into the face of reality and say: no more!" Olmert said in a speech in the Knesset plenum Monday evening. "And I say to everyone: no more! Israel will not be held hostage - not by terror gangs or by a terrorist authority or by any sovereign state."

There's that metaphor again: being held hostage. And the linked Jerusalem Post article goes on to point out that Israel and its leaders (usually so fractious) are presently united behind Olmert.

Why is this? It seems to me that it's because so much else has been tried, for so very long, and been found so very wanting. If the slogan of the peace movement is "Give peace a chance," Israel can honestly say (although its enemies will never credit this, of course) "Been there, done that, many times. And it didn't work."

Another reason Olmert can stand firm is that the Bush administration is refusing to pay any more lip service to the 'peace process" as a way of dealing with terrorist entities such as Hezbollah.

The tricky part, of course, is to stand firm in such a way that the Green Revolution in Lebanon is not destroyed--that the mice and the grass (to continue the green metaphor) don't tremble too much as the elephants collide.

Secretary Rice is going to the region to try to strike that delicate balance. It will not be easy, as blogger Alcibiades at Kesher Talk points out, here:

...the crumbling of prosperous, pro-Democrat Lebanon may represent a crumbling of what could have been a very important bulwark against the Islamist night that will never be built up again in quite the right way.

But, unfortunately, for Lebanon to ever become that bulwark, Hezbollah has to be rooted out. You can't have it both ways. The hope is that the cure isn't worse than the disease.

Secretary Rice is declaring her own version (or Bush's version, or their combined version) of Olmert's cry of "No more!" Her version is a "no more, enough!" to the false promise of the ceasefire in this case:

We do seek an end to the current violence and we seek it urgently,'' Rice told reporters at the State Department. Still, ``a cease fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.''....`Hezbollah is the source of the problem,'' Rice said. No diplomatic solution can allow Hezbollah to stay in place, she said. The U.S. is working to put pressure on Iran and Syria, which sponsor Hezbollah, to ease the strife diplomatically...

Rice is clear: a diplomatic solution is not ruled out. But it must involve an end to the Hezbollah presence in Lebanon. Only then can a ceasefire be meaningful; until then any cease-fire would be premature and counterproductive.

"Cease-fire." It's a wonderful word, is it not? It speaks of peace and tranquility; the poor mice and the defenseless grass can finally stop suffering. Who wouldn't want that? And there are those who are calling for an immediate ceasefire--such as Kofi Annan, not unexpectedly.

But ceasefires in the region, especially ones with a terrorist entity as one of the parties, don't have a good track record. The status quo is unacceptable.

Enough is enough.

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