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Stop now, immediately

by By Gideon Levy Monday, Jul. 24, 2006 at 11:39 AM

The fact that George Bush and Tony Blair are cheering Israel might be consolation for Ehud Olmert and the media in Israel, but it is not enough to persuade millions of TV viewers who see the images of destruction and devastation, most of which are not shown to Israeli audiences. The world sees entire neighborhoods that have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing in panic, homeless, and hundreds of civilians dead and wounded including many children who have nothing to do with Hezbollah.

Stop now, immediately

By Gideon Levy

This war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return. This is a good time to stop the war because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hezbollah and Hezbollah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement. Remember the lessons of the Yom Kippur War.

Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial "target bank" has mostly been covered. The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it.

Those who want to restore Israel's deterrent capabilities have succeeded. Hezbollah and the rest of its enemies know that Israel reacts with enormous force to any provocation. South Lebanon is cleaner now of a Hezbollah presence. In any case, the organization is likely to return there, just as it is likely to rearm. An international agreement could be achieved now, and it won't be possible to achieve a better deal at a reasonable price in the future.



Israel's other goals - returning the captured soldiers and the elimination of Hassan Nasrallah - will anyway be more difficult to achieve even if the war goes on for weeks and months. The IDF is now asking for "two more weeks" and in another two weeks it will ask for "another two weeks." A decisive victory is not in the offing.

On the other hand, the price is skyrocketing. Every day increases international criticism of Israel and hatred of it. That is also an element in "national security." As opposed to the choir in Israel that makes a false presentation as if the world is cheering Israel, the images from Beirut are causing Israel enormous damage, and rightly so. Not only in the streets of the Arab world is more and more hatred being sown, but also in the West. Not only hundreds of thousands of Lebanese but tens of thousands of Westerners fleeing from Lebanon are contributing to the depiction of Israel as a violent, crude and destructive state.

The fact that George Bush and Tony Blair are cheering Israel might be consolation for Ehud Olmert and the media in Israel, but it is not enough to persuade millions of TV viewers who see the images of destruction and devastation, most of which are not shown to Israeli audiences. The world sees entire neighborhoods that have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing in panic, homeless, and hundreds of civilians dead and wounded including many children who have nothing to do with Hezbollah.

The continuation of the war therefore is neither moral nor worthwhile. The economic blow the war caused to Israel will even remain limited if the war ends now. A lethal summer will exact a much greater economic price.

The Israeli rear, which has so far displayed impressive resilience, will not remain indifferent in the shelters for much longer. Slowly, the cracks will open and citizens will begin to ask why we are dying and what we are killing for. That's just the way of war. At first, nobody asks why, but the more entangled they become, the more difficult the questions become.

We've been here before, more than once. Wars began with broad national approval and ended with a great crisis. Those who bask now in the consensus should know that nothing lasts forever. The war will become an imbroglio. When it becomes apparent that the air force is not enough, the ground invasion that has already begun will intensify. The cliche about the Lebanese quagmire will be revalidated, and when the soldiers are killed, as is already happening daily, in house to house hunting, the protests will rise and divide society.

Now Israel is hoping for the elimination of Nasrallah. That's an atavistic impulse, even if understandable, which seeks the head of the enemy in order to prove our victory over him. There's no wisdom or practicality in it. Once again it is worth reminding ourselves of the dozens of people Israel assassinated in Lebanon and the territories, from Sheikh Abbas Mussawi to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, each replaced by someone new, usually more talented and dangerous than the predecessor. The goals of the war should not be dictated by dark impulses, even if they come in response to the wishes and demands of the mob. The only advantage that would benefit Israel from the elimination of Nasrallah would be that maybe it would bring about an end to the warring. But it can be halted even without that. The other desired goal, the return of the prisoners, will anyway only be achieved through negotiations to release prisoners. Israel could have done that before the war.

It is still too early to weigh out the balance of achievements and failures of this war. The day will come when it will become clear that it was purposeless, as are all wars of choice. Ceasing it now guarantees a limited achievement at a limited price. Continuing it guarantees a heavy price without any guarantee of a suitable reward. Therefore, Israel must cease and desist. The president of the United States can push us to continue the war all he wants, the prime minister of Britain can cheer us in parliament, but in Israel and Lebanon, the blood is being spilled, the horror is intensifying, the price is rising and it is all for naught.

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