Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has a "solution" to the Israeli-Hezbollah war. He wants to beef up the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.
I bet you didn't know there was a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. It's called UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), and it's been there since 1978. Been doing a crackerjack job, hasn't it?
Can you name a single instance in which UN peacekeepers actually kept the peace? Mostly as in Lebanon and Bosnia they stand idly by as terrorists launch attacks. Sometimes as in the Congo they commit atrocities themselves. Yet liberal faith in the UN is impervious to evidence. Who says they aren't religious?
The current crisis began July 12 when Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid (yards from a UN post) in which three Israeli soldiers were killed and two were kidnapped.
At a UN outpost he observed during a prewar visit, "the UN flag and the Hezbollah flag fly side by side. Observers told me the UN and Hezbollah personnel share water and telephones, and the UN presence serves as a shield against Israeli strikes against the terrorists," wrote former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jed Babbin.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told the left-wing British journalist Robert Fisk the raid was five months in the planning.
In 2000, Hezbollah had kidnapped three Israeli soldiers, who were later killed. Israel did not respond then with bombs and bullets. It traded 430 prisoners in Israeli jails for the bodies of its soldiers. Hezbollah and its sponsors in Iran and Syria probably expected as timid a response this time. Their surprise must have been unpleasant.
Hezbollah has responded to Israel's response by raining rockets on Israel (1,600 as of this writing). Iran and Syria have supplied the terror group with an estimated 13,000 of these. The vast majority are two models of the short range Katushyas (5-12 miles). But Hezbollah also has hundreds perhaps thousands of the larger and more modern Fajr rockets, which have ranges of 25-45 miles.
Hezbollah has suffered by far the most in the fighting so far, and would have suffered more had Mr. Nasrallah and his senior aides been in the bunker on which the Israelis dropped 23 tons of bombs Wednesday.
But since Hezbollah's real bosses are in Damascus and Tehran, even if the IDF had nailed Mr. Nasrallah, the triumph would have been temporary.
The Israelis say they've destroyed about half of Hezbollah's rockets. But air power enthusiasts always overestimate what's accomplished by bombing campaigns. I'm among those who think the rat's nests can be cleaned out only by a ground invasion.
But I understand why the Israelis are reluctant to mount one. Hezbollah is, arguably, the best fighting force in the Arab world. The Hezbies are well armed, well trained, well disciplined and fanatically brave. They've already had some nasty surprises for the IDF, and they've had (under the noses of UN peacekeepers) six years to fortify their positions along the border. A ground fight likely would be costly, and certainly would accelerate pressure for a cease fire.
A ground invasion also would have unfortunate public relations consequences for Israel within Lebanon. At the moment, the non-Shia majority blames Hezbollah as much as Israel for their current miseries. But Lebanon's defense minister warned Thursday the Lebanese army might join with Hezbollah in resisting an Israeli invasion.
Those are pretty big risks to run. But if the alternative is to leave its fate in the hands of UN peacekeepers, Israel would be well advised to run them. And at this writing, there are signs a ground invasion is imminent.
The Israeli objective likely will be to carve out a security zone that would take Hezbollah out of rocket range of its cities. But that limited objective would provide relief so temporary that it is hardly worth the cost.
The Israelis have no desire to remain in southern Lebanon. But if Hezbollah is still a viable force after the fighting stops, a beefed up UN peacekeeping force or the Lebanese army are unlikely to keep them from flowing back.
Hezbollah must be crushed, but it cannot be crushed so long as the present regime remains in power in Syria, because Hezbollah fighters can take refuge there, and be resupplied from there. Nor can a democratic Lebanon fully emerge until the baneful influence of Syria is reduced substantially, or eliminated altogether.
The road to peace in the Middle East runs through Damascus. That's the road Israel should take, even if it seems longer and more dangerous, because the other roads are dead ends.