Friday, July 21, 2006

Israel-Hizbollah fight is policy windfall for Bush

Israel-Hizbollah fight is policy windfall for Bush
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israel's campaign to destroy Hizbollah is a foreign policy windfall for the Bush administration, which hopes it will boost the U.S. war on terrorism and heap pressure on its nemesis Iran, analysts say.

"It's not just Israel that doesn't want a ceasefire here," said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.

Long a stalwart ally of Israel, the White House has repeatedly voiced support for Israel's right to self-defense and denied the nine-day-old Israeli bombardment could be considered America's war too.

But administration officials admit the current fighting, triggered by the Islamic militants' capture of two Israeli soldiers and rocket attacks into northern Israel, is also furthering some U.S. goals.

"To the extent that this is part of the war on terror, we certainly have an interest in it," White House spokesman Tony Snow said on Wednesday.

He said the attacks by the Iran- and Syria-backed Hizbollah had forged a sense of international determination to rein in the militant group, while encouraging international progress toward a U.N. resolution curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

While some experts say the escalating bloodshed may fuel Arab resentment and trigger an anti-U.S. backlash, several analysts say the fighting is a chance to let someone else's military promote what are also U.S. objectives, while gaining leverage for Washington's own diplomatic efforts.

"This seems like the perfect opportunity for the United States to bang the drum and say to people, 'Look, you need to wake up and smell the coffee,'" said James Carafano, a security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which is considered close to the administration.

"The people who are causing evil in the Middle East are Syria, Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas. These people are just as bad as al Qaeda and we've got to stand together and deal with this if we want peace in the Middle East," he said.


Several experts including Makovsky said the conflict helped the United States show Iran it could not scare the world or divert attention from its nuclear program by using Hizbollah as a military proxy.

Influential conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called the current conflict a "golden, unprecedented opportunity" to try to promote the U.S. goal of dismantling Hizbollah.

"Everyone agrees it must be done. But who to do it? No one. The Lebanese are too weak. The Europeans don't invade anyone. After its bitter experience of 20 years ago, the United States has a Lebanon allergy," he wrote in the Washington Post, referring to a 1983 Beirut bombing which killed 241 U.S. servicemen.

The campaign against Hizbollah also fits squarely into the Bush administration's long-held position that the war on terrorism it declared after the September 11 attacks cannot be limited to al Qaeda, but must include a broad spectrum of militants it says hate America's way of life.

The United States has long included Hizbollah on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

"What's under attack is liberal democratic civilization, whose leading representative right now happens to be the United States," William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, wrote in the magazine's current issue.

The administration may disagree, but Kristol concluded, "This is our war too."