HAIFA. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - The ministerial conference on the Middle East ended on Wednesday in Rome as expected: the U.S. insisted that the final declaration demand an urgent rather than immediate cessation of hostilities.
So Israelis will be waiting for more call-up orders.
The host of the meeting, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alemo, expressed the gist of what is going on in the most appropriate and succinct manner possible: "We wish a ceasefire had been achieved yesterday. The problem is how realistic it is to demand one today."
Shmuel Bar, an expert from the Herzliya-based Interdisciplinary Center, observes that political and diplomatic progress is impossible as long as the outcome of the military campaign in Lebanon is unclear. If a meeting of diplomats takes place in conditions where a military solution to the conflict is nowhere in sight, it is very difficult to achieve concrete results, he said.
Professor Bar emphasized that not a single state in the world will assume responsibility for what is taking place in the conflict area nor send its troops there until the military aspect of the situation becomes clearer. Otherwise, the foreign troops would become Hezbollah's hostages, he explained.
But when will the situation become clear? No matter how much the Israelis and Lebanese may dream of an end to the war, Israel will not stop its military campaign until it can claim to its citizens that it has succeeded.
The question is what Israel wants to achieve by its operation in Lebanon. Every other day Israeli politicians talk about different tactical goals: ousting Hezbollah from the border area, setting up a buffer zone there, or completely destroying "the structure of terror" in Lebanon. The idea is to prevent the repetition of the attacks on Israeli territory and minimize Hezbollah's influence in Lebanon. But where will the Israeli army stop? Hostilities around several Lebanese villages on the border will not change the alignment of forces in the region. So should it go for Beirut? What next?
Israelis shudder at the very idea of returning to Lebanon, but obviously without an extended ground operation the army will not be able to inflict tangible damage on Hezbollah. Israelis with military experience are pessimistic: if the military operation continues as it is today, it may take several months. The Israeli government is afraid to show resolve. The prime minister and the defense minister have never before conducted military campaigns. Aviation and artillery will not solve the problem, they say. Many now recall former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was not afraid to take abrupt steps or act contrary to the opinion of the international community. Many in Israel say they wish he would recover from the coma and return to politics.
The military believe that the operation is being dragged out because the Israeli army is trying to spare civilian lives. But casualties keep mounting both in Lebanon and Israel, as well as in the Israeli army. In the meantime, the Arab world is increasingly sympathetic to Hezbollah, which has been resisting the Israeli war machine for a fortnight. No regular army has done this.
An Israeli diplomat who has worked in Arab countries and preferred to remain anonymous said that the political situation is "vague". When asked how the Israelis are going to destroy Hezbollah, a part of Lebanese society that represents the interests of a substantial portion of its population, he said that Israel is taking this into account. "We simply want the Lebanese government, rather than Hezbollah, to control the situation in the country," he explained. The world community demands the same, but nobody knows how to avoid returning to the status quo. There are two options: negotiate with Hezbollah or destroy it, but neither is possible.
"Do you understand that even if you achieve military success, the situation may repeat itself?" I asked many Israeli diplomats. "We understand this cannot be ruled out, but we don't have any other choice," they replied. Many ordinary Israelis also believe that the government did not have a choice. Yair, who lives in a kibbutz on the Lebanese-Israeli border, said that it was high time to put an end to Hezbollah raids. Russian-speaking residents of Haifa ask: "How could Israel allow Hezbollah to fire even one rocket at our territory?"
But there are people in Israel who think that the operation is damaging to the country. Some of them represent human rights groups while others are Israeli Arabs. "America wants to deal with Hezbollah through us. They have no compassion for our soldiers," said Yana Knopova. Like her Arab friend Abir, she is an activist in the new movement "Women Against the War". "Why wage a war which will not bring peace?" she asked. Her friend Abir explains why the military operation is a vain effort: "If the Israeli army destroys Hezbollah, other movements will emerge. Is there any difference whether it's Sheikh Nasrallah or someone else?" she asked.
While the anti-war campaigners are demanding an end to the war, the Israelis who left Lebanon six years ago during the troop withdrawal are now waiting for call-up orders. David, who was one of the last soldiers to leave Lebanon in 2000, said: "We had a feeling we would have to go back." If only it were the last time. But neither the military nor politicians can promise this for the time being. Nobody knows when and how the Lebanese-Israeli confrontation will end.