The Bush administration’s effort to buy more time for Israel’s military offensive against Hezbollah is itself running out of time, as calls from other nations for an immediate cease-fire mount.
The Hezbollah attacks that triggered the current surge in violence altered the contours of the standard diplomatic response to Middle East bloodshed, with European countries quickly lining up behind the Bush administration’s insistence that Israel be given adequate time to forcibly disarm the Hezbollah militia and evict it from its quasi state in southern Lebanon. Sunni Muslim Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt also lent tacit support to the Israeli offensive because of their concerns that the Shiite Muslim militia’s attacks on Israel were emboldening Shiite-led Iran, a regional rival, and sparking unrest among their own Shiite minorities.
But that consensus is splintering as European and Arab countries increasingly demand that Israel agree to a cease-fire in Lebanon, where more than 300 civilians have been killed by Israeli strikes. The upshot is that the Bush administration finds itself increasingly isolated in its support for Israel and its refusal to pressure the Jewish state to wind down or terminate its military operations in Lebanon.
That is forcing Washington to scramble to head off action at the U.N. while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gears up to travel to the Middle East as early as next week. The White House is concerned that a continued run-up in civilian casualties in Lebanon could trigger Security Council resolutions condemning Israel that the U.S. would feel obliged to veto, further straining its ties with allies. –Yochi J. Dreazen