Monday, July 17, 2006

A New Tone In The L.A. Times Editorial Today On The Middle East

There is a distinct new and welcome tone today in the L.A. Times editorial on the Middle East. It represents a more sober and realistic view of the situation.

"Make no mistake about it," the editorial begins. "Responsibility for the escalating carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel lies with one side, and one side only. And that is Hezbollah, the Islamist militant party, along with its Syrian and Iranian backers. Reasonable minds can differ on the strategic wisdom of the Israeli response, but there can be no doubt about the blame for the mounting death toll on both sides of the border."

This is a far cry from earlier Times editorials that focused on a call on Israel to restrain itself from strong action, ignoring the dangers to Israel in not forcefully responding to aggression by Arab terrorists.

The L.A. Times editorial writers may have noticed two important developments in the present conflict. One is that the moderate Arab states, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States, have all taken a position against Hezbollah. They are alarmed by the terrorist organization's conduct and, more particularly, that of its Syrian and Iranian backers, because they recognize the great danger of Iranian ascendancy in the Middle East. Second, the operative role of both Iran and Syria in what Hezbollah has been doing has become clearer than ever. It is, after all, Syrian and Iranian missiles that have been used against Israel, and there are even reports that Iranian troops sent to Lebanon actually fired the missile that damaged an Israeli Navy ship.

In the background also is the increasing split between Shiites and Sunnis in the region, with Iran representing Shiite ascendancy, and threats of a war between Shiites and Sunnis growing out of the sectarian violence in Iraq.

Apropos of this, the New York Times reports this Monday morning that certain Sunnis in Iraq, worried about Shiite killings of Sunnis, have now switched position and are calling on American troops in Iraq to stay in the country to protect them from the Shiites.

All this indicates that Israel's correct response to the kidnapping of its soldiers and Hezbollah missile strikes in the north of Israel has lit up the landscape and brought into prominence the increasing split in the Arab world.

Despite attempts by the G-8 powers and the United Nations to intervene in the conflict and bring about a cease fire, the situation remains dangerous. Further escalation of the fighting cannot be ruled out. But the outlines of a cease fire agreement are now plain: a cessation of Hezbollah attacks on Israel and return of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers in South Lebanon and Gaza, installation of an international force in South Lebanon to keep Hezbollah away from the Israeli border, and probably an eventual release by Israel of some Arab prisoners, separated in time so that it does not appear that Israel is giving in directly to the kidnappers, or encouraging future kidnappings.

A central element of this would be the peacekeeping force. It could not be the toothless forces sent in the past to the region by the U.N., forces that have tended to retreat every time there has been any aggressive behavior by the terrorists. This force, to which Russia has already said it would contribute, would have to consist of forces from all the big powers, such as the occupation of Germany after World War II, and it would have to be prepared for combat as necessary.

While mounting its air attacks and sea blockade of Lebanon, Israel has thus far avoided invading South Lebanon by land. The Israelis undoubtedly would prefer an international force to occupy the ground, push Hezbollah forces out and then keep control, rather than using their own forces which would be subject to the kind of guerrilla activity that afflicted occupying Israeli troops in the past.

World opinion is coalzing around such a plan. Only the pro-Hezbollah Guardian newspaper in Britain continues to one-sidedly criticize Israel among major organs of the international press.

It is also good this morning to see a Pulitzer Prize winning Times reporter, Kim Murphy, reporting from Damascus. Murphy has valuable Middle East experience and insight to bring to coverage of the present conflict.

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With all the developments in the Middle East, there has been little space to deal with anything else in recent days, but I do want to compliment Times media writer Jim Rainey on his recent articles about the situation at the Santa Barbara News-Press, and his article, pursuant to his recent assignment in Baghdad, on the Iraqi support personnel for the L.A. Times bureau in Iraq.

Rainey has matured as a media reporter, is working hard at his job, and showed conspicuous bravery in going to Iraq in the first place.

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