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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

Peace in Mideast means real talks with Iran, Syria

There appears little hope that the United States or anyone else for that matter will be able to convince Israel to call off its massive offensive against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon any time soon.

That doesn't mean we should not try. But U.S. influence in that part of the world is so degraded that there is virtually no possibility we can do it alone.

What's needed is forceful multilateral pressure including critically pressure from regional governments such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Those governments have already (mildly) criticized Hezbollah for sparking this latest round of violence and should be fully involved in any diplomatic effort.

They understand, as well as anyone, that this fighting could easily escalate into a ruinous regional conflict.

In fact, as important as it is to seek a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds, it is almost more important to begin the groundwork for what comes after Israel pulls back.

Israel has been fairly clear that its purpose here is not just to retaliate for Hezbollah raids and kidnappings, but rather to destroy that group's military and logistical capabilities. That's a cold tactical decision that will hardly be swayed by calls for calm and a cease-fire.

But when Hezbollah has been beaten down and Israel pulls back, what then? The cycle will only begin again unless the United States reasserts its role in the Middle East and brings the rest of the world, including other Arab states with it.

The key is Iran and Syria, active backers and suppliers of Hezbollah, who are no doubt taking quiet pleasure in the current chaos. Once this episode ends, they will go right back to rearming and resupplying Hezbollah unless they find it in their best interests to do otherwise.

That means the global community will have to swallow a distasteful pill and begin talking, seriously and directly, with these two countries.

Unless Iran and Syria can be convinced that the United States, the world community and their Arab neighbors truly want them to be engaged in a peaceful and productive outcome, the cycle of violence and retribution will simply continue.