Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Deal With Hezbollah?

I was obviously wrong in assuming that Tony Blair in Washington would endorse the general European line of calling for an immediate cease-fire in the war.

He did not - and once again the European Union is split on a major foreign policy issue.

Tony Blair - once again - sees lining up with the US as the only way of having any influence on developments, opening him up to the charge of actually having no influence whatsoever.

And the rest of the Europeans are more or less left in the dust. Italian Foreign Minister D'Alema is off to Damascus only to underline the divisions.

A meeting of the foreign ministers on Wednesday next week is supposed to sort things out. We'll see.

But pressure for a cease-fire is building up not the least because it is obvious to more and more people that Israel will not achieve its military objectives. Today's editorial in New┬┤York Times clearly points at the direction in which also US opinion is heading.

Focus is now on trying to get together a 10.000 - 20.000 strong military force to go into Southern Lebanon. A meeting at the UN in New York on Monday will look at the possibilities, although I guess very few would be ready to commit anything as long as there is no political agreement on what such a force could do.

The only thing that's clear is that the two nations now pushing for the force have no intention of being part of it. The US considers it too dangereous, and the UK simply does not have the forces available at the moment.

Nothing can be achieved without an agreement with and inside Lebanon. That's the key to everything. So far the Lebanese government is holding together - Hezbollah is part of the coalition - and there are evidently constructive although difficult talks going on.

As we are now in the third week of war - with app 700 000 refugess and massive destruction - the only positive thing that could be said is that both Washington and Jerusalem now seems to understand that there is no military victory in sight and that there has to be a political agreement.

But there is a long road ahead. There is virtually no possibility of the Israeli army clearing a sufficiently broad security zone in southern Lebanon quickly or easily. Fighting is fierce.

So an international force can only come in with the agreement of Hezbollah.

Such a deal will obviously have different elements. Some sort of prisoner exchange is highly likely. But also the recognition of Hezbollah's political role in Lebanon.

It will be an interesting arrangement.