The following editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:
Israel says its purpose in attacking a Syrian radar site in Lebanon was not to provoke its bitterest enemy into a new military confrontation but to pressure it to restrain Hezbollah, the radical Islamist group whose raids against positions in northern Israel have been increasing. Syria keeps an army of more than 30,000 in Lebanon. It effectively dominates Lebanese politics and controls Hezbollah's freedom of action. Israel has warned repeatedly that it holds Syria responsible for keeping the tense border area quiet. It has made clear that if Hezbollah isn't reined in, retaliation against Syrian targets should be expected.
Syria's late President Hafez Assad was careful to balance his hostile rhetoric toward Israel with strategic caution, knowing that his military was no match for Israel's. His son and successor, Bashar, also is aware of the qualitative gap between his forces and Israel's. Hezbollah won enormous prestige in Lebanon when its campaign of roadside bombings eventually forced Israel to end its long occupation of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah now justifies its continuing belligerency by claiming that Israel still occupies a sliver of Lebanese land known as Shabaa Farms. In fact, a U.N. boundary commission has established that Shabaa Farms is not Lebanese territory but Syrian, notwithstanding Damascus' support for Hezbollah's claim.
Israel's strike against Syria reflected its anger over the casualties it has taken along the Lebanese border but also its frustration over being unable to control the Palestinian intifada. The fighting that erupted nearly seven months ago has taken a high toll of life, while inflicting mounting economic damage and fueling what amounts to tribal hatred. The conflict shows no sign of abating, or of achieving anything except more bloodshed and destruction.
Palestinian and other Arab leaders want the United States to reinvolve itself, because they believe it alone has leverage over Israel. The Bush administration's response - and it is the right one - is that no effective U.S. role is possible until both sides signal they are ready to suspend hostilities and resume serious talks. Washington continues to wait for such a sign.
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