Middle East Worried by Israel-Lebanon Violence

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Walid Kazziha talks with Steve Inskeep about the regional reaction to Israeli attacks on Lebanon. Kazziha is a Professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. Arab League foreign ministers are to meet in emergency session Saturday in Cairo.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The violence between Israel, Palestinians, and Lebanon is being closely followed by their neighbors. Arab league foreign ministers are to meet in an emergency session, tomorrow, in Cairo. And head of that meeting, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas warned of the possibility of a new regional war. We're going to now to Walid Kazziha, he is chairman of the Department of Political Science at American University, in Cairo. Welcome to the program.

Mr. WALID KAZZIHA (Chairman, Department of Political Science, American University Cairo): Hi.

INSKEEP: Are people were you are, wondering why Hezbollah did what it did in recent days, staging this raid into Northern Israel, which has led to this Israeli response?

Mr. KAZZIHA: No, they're not wondering, because many of us know that Hezbollah operates on the basis of opportunity, and the opportunity doesn't present itself too often. Whenever the Israeli's army relaxes a little bit, Hezbollah can snatch a couple of people.

INSKEEP: Saudi Arabia has accused Hezbollah of what it described as uncalculated adventures. Is there danger here, to other Arab nations, as this conflict goes on?

Mr. KAZZIHA: I think most Arab governments would want that headache to go away; that is, any conflict with Israel. Because that puts them on the defensive and their credibility is extremely low. The Palestinians, the Lebanese are being hit by the Israelis. Arab governments can't do anything about it. So the best thing for them is to say, we don't want that headache. Please, Hezbollah don't do it.

But there is another point of view on the Arab street, in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Damascus, in Lebanon. And this is the voice of people who are saying, look, we have extended to the Israelis, at the highest level in the Arab Summit 2002 Peace Plan - the Israelis didn't pick it up.

They decided to go, all alone, and to move unilaterally to withdraw from Gaza in southern Lebanon. They didn't negotiate with us a comprehensive settlement. Now, what Hezbollah is saying, you've done the wrong thing. You have to negotiate with people, with us.

INSKEEP: Is the government where you are, in Egypt, as while as the government in Jordan, under a lot of pressure now?

Mr. KAZZIHA: Enormously under pressure, because their whole credibility is being questioned. What are you doing for your Arab compatriots? The Israelis are hitting our cities, are hitting our villages, they are killing people in scores, and what are you doing?

Mind you, Hezbollah's attack, and that recent attack by the Palestinians where they had snatched a soldier, were against purely military targets.

INSKEEP: Are you suggesting that it's now possible for hardliners, militants in Hezbollah, to determine the direction of events in the Middle East - and they can drag unwilling Arab governments along behind them?

Mr. KAZZIHA: Arab governments are not going to be dragged behind them. And, I think the Israelis are banking on this by hitting civilian targets, making life miserable for people in Lebanon, now, with the electricity off - water. And they're hoping that the government would turn against people like Hezbollah, like the militant organizations, among with Palestinians.

But the thing they don't understand, is that the governments don't have the power to do it. And also, they don't have the consensus of public opinion behind them to do it - and that's the killing point for them.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's Walid Kazziha, chairman of the Department of Political Science at American University in Cairo.

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