Middle East: Prospects for Peace and Risks of Protracted War

Although it's difficult to predict when Israel will decide it has done enough to 'neuter' Hezbollah as a military force, that moment may provide the international community with the opportunity to offer a long-term solution to the 'border issue.' But what will be the components of that solution, and will it be sustainable? Or are we now entering a more volatile era in the Middle East that makes a settlement highly unlikely despite the international community's best efforts? An era in which Israel faces enemies who are better equipped, better organized and more resolute than its old nemesis, the PLO? An era in which Muslim states are further fractured along sectarian lines: Shia and Sunni?

While UN mediators speak of the urgency of ending the conflict, Israel won't bend to their timetable and is clearly not being pressured to do so by the US, which is only too happy to see Hezbollah 'taken down.' Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said before leaving for the region that "A cease fire would be a false promise if it returns us to the status quo."

Since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has had six years of relative quiet, and plenty of help from Syria and Iran, in which to improve and harden its capabilities. It will not be 'defanged' in a matter of days. In any case, a ceasefire is unlikely unless it is part of a broader post-conflict settlement, and that will take weeks rather than days to fashion.

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