Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was sent to Damascus to urge Hizbullah to curb rocket attacks against Israel and to release two Israel Defense Forces soldiers captured a week ago in order to avoid further escalations, a London-based Arabic daily reported.
The report, which was based on leaks by an Iranian presidential aide, said Iran is worried by criticism waged against Hizbullah by an array of Lebanese politicians like Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri, son of slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The trio outspokenly attacked Hizbullah for being Iran's proxy and condemned as "irresponsible" the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.
Meryl Yourish observes: "Iran knows exactly how much damage Hizbullah has taken. I think this would be Iran’s attempt to rescue the organization from being smashed utterly."
She bases the observation on this report from the Jerusalem Post:
Forty to fifty percent of Hizbullah's military capability has been destroyed in the six days of the IDF counter-attack following last Wednesday's Hizbullah raid in northern Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The IDF, it is understood, believes it needs another week or so minimum to achieve its military goals in terms of alleviating Hizbullah's capacity to threaten Israel.
Austin Bay points to this analysis in the Toronto Star:
For all the sound and fury, today's war may never actually be worthy of its own name. It appears likely it will not become The Big One. Though all the ingredients for something larger exist, neither Israel, nor Syria, nor even Iran, appears to want the larger battle.
Not yet, at least.
Also, as [analyst Cameron] Brown notes, when you hear U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wondering whether now is really the right time for a ceasefire, "that tells us the U.S. doesn't really mind if Israel pummels Hezbollah to nothing. That's fine with the Americans."
Evacuations of Beirut continue, as do the rocket attacks on northern Israel.
UPDATE 11:29 am CDT: 11 Lebanese soldiers were killed when Israeli planes attacked an army base situated near Hezbollah territory. I've found no explanation thus far of why Israel attacked this base.
UPDATE 1:03 pm CDT: The Washington Post editorializes on behalf of a multinational peacekeeping force
The middle course between allowing Israel to take the fight to Hamas and Hezbollah and pressuring it to accept Tehran's terms is that suggested by Britain and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan: an international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. It's worth noting that such a force already exists -- and has failed miserably in its nearly three decades of existence. Success would require Western troops and a very different mandate: in particular, authority to prevent launchings of missiles and raids against Israel from Lebanon, and to enforce Security Council Resolution 1559, which ordered the disarmament of Hezbollah. An international diplomatic initiative that allows Hezbollah to preserve and eventually restock its military wing would be worse than none at all.
Hope triumphs over experience once again.
In essence, the only way such a force will work is if it takes over the current Israeli campaign. It cannot be a passive force. But since the Israeli campaign is animated by true national interest, Israel has reason to persevere against return attack and diplomatic condemnation. The "international community" has no such motive, and would be likely to turn and run at the first failure. Nerves only develop when a party has a strong reason to persist; a vague effort to promote "peace", to stop the influx of ugly headlines, does not constitute a strong reason.
The Post also repeats a false assertion in the G8 statement. The falsehood is minor, a diplomatic nicety, but it is still unfortunate:
Somewhat remarkably, the world leaders gathered in St. Petersburg managed to grasp the most important point about the current Middle East crisis: It "results from efforts by extremist forces to destabilize the region and to frustrate the aspirations of the Palestinian, Israeli and Lebanese people for democracy and peace."
The statement is true in its overall assertion but false in its details. The truth of the matter is that Israel seeks democracy and peace, the bare majority of Lebanese, those who do not support Hezbollah, seek democracy and peace, and a cowering minorty in Palestine seeks democracy and peace. Seeking instead war and genocide are those regions of Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah, and an overwhelming majority of Palestinians, the people that elected to put Hamas in power.
UPDATE 2:26 pm CDT: Israel's Arabs strongly support the war against Hezbollah:
[T]he seemingly indiscriminate Hezbollah rocket attacks have targeted both Jewish and Arab towns throughout northern Israel, including Acre, the ancient Crusader city of Richard the Lionheart and home to Arabs and Jews alike. One rocket hit the holy gardens of the Bahai Temple. There were no casualties.
Arab Israelis, who in the past have opposed Israeli army operations against Palestinians in the occupied territories and to Israel's previous occupation of Lebanon, express little sympathy for Hezbollah.
The distinctions between Shia communities infiltrated by Hezbollah and other communities in Lebanon is stark:
The contrast between the western Bekaa and towns on the other side of the Lebanon range was, frankly, startling.
Here was another Christian area, but unlike the Bekaa, it does not also have a large Shia Muslim population, the sect from which Hezbollah draws most of its support.
In other words, something would have to go seriously wrong if these well-heeled towns overlooking East Beirut were to be bombed by the Israelis.
Therefore, down in the Bekaa, cars were driving flat-out and very few people were venturing out of their homes.
But here, shops were open, scantily-clad Maronite Christians were strolling about, eating ice-cream, and in the open-air restaurants the first barbecues were being lit for the evening clientele.
Hezbollah is a state within a state, the effective if illegal government of a substantial portion of Lebanon, and it is against them that Israel makes war.
UPDATE 4:38 pm CDT: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has asserted the belief that Iran and Hezbollah coordinated the kidnapping of two soldiers and the killing of eight others. His assertion is premised on the timing of the act. So close was it to the G8 summit that Olmert has included it was intended to distract the world powers from discussions of Iran's nuclear program. It's the first official assertion of such a suspicion.