Week in Review: Israel, Hezbollah and Iran

Highlights of the week's news include a raging debate over who won the fight between Israel and Hezbollah; Iran's enhanced influence and France's limited role in keeping the peace. Also, circumstances in Darfur remain dire.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

GEORGE W: Hezbollah attacked Israel. Hezbollah started the crisis. And Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis.

SIMON: President Bush speaking at a news conference at the State Department on Monday. A United Nations resolution calling for a cease-fire and providing for U.N. troops to help keep the peace is now in effect, though, as we note this morning, there was an attack in Lebanon.

Daniel Schorr is on vacation this week. So we're joined by Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post.

Thanks very much for being back with us.

ROBIN WRIGHT: Good morning.

SIMON: Several different people in several different sides are claiming victory. How do you - we have to note, of course, whoever claims victory, a lot of civilians have lost in that - in Lebanon and in Israel. How do you see the various claims of victory?

WRIGHT: Well, everybody lost something. But I think that this was a different kind of Middle East war. For the first time we saw how vulnerable Israel is. Some of the stories that are coming out among soldiers are really quite stunning.

This is the most powerful army in the Middle East, has won decisively five Middle East wars. Many now consider this the sixth. And there are stories of troops not having enough ammunition, drinking water off the canteens of dead Hezbollah soldiers, not having straps for their guns, not having a certain war plan, which has underlined the tension altogether.

I think the government of Ehud Olmert is under fire and there is likely to be a reckoning inside Israel, and a rethink of their security. For the first time, they look vulnerable.

And this is something that has become existential for Israel. The big winner - at the moment, anyway - is Hezbollah, which has become larger than life, not only in Lebanon, but even more so throughout the region, a region looking for leadership, looking for some kind of strength, of finding its leaders lacking. And Nasrallah has fought the longest war with Israel in Middle East history, and has managed to come out with position, with a lot of his armory. And frankly, the U.N. force going in is not quite what the United States had originally promised.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Well, let me follow up on a couple of things. First I want to ask you about Iran's position in all this, because it seems to me over the period of a month, they went from saying, oh, it's - sure there's a relationship, but it's mostly inspiration, to now, sort of saying, yeah; or, you know, look what our guy did.

WRIGHT: Absolutely. And this comes at a very interesting time, because on Tuesday Iran is supposed to give its answer to the international community on its nuclear energy program and will it stop enrichment, a process that can be used to convert into a weapon. Coming out of this, its surrogate in Lebanon, the group it armed, it trained, it funded for a generation, looks ever stronger. And this in turn enhances Iran's position throughout the region. It arguably has never been stronger since the 1979 revolution. And this gives it the kind of leverage and clout it wants going into international negotiations on other issues.

SIMON: And this U.N. force. France had taken such a strategic, such an important position along with the United States in urging the creation of the force and seemed to be poised to lead it. Now their version of leading it seems to be a couple of hundred troops. What happened?

WRIGHT: And engineers at that. These are not frontline forces. Yes. The United States had originally talked about NATO leading this force, something Israel had wanted; did not want, in fact, a U.N. force or an expanded U.N. force, which is what it ended up with. And the troops that have committed so far are from Muslim nations: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia. They are not the top European troops that Israel had hoped would be deployed along that very volatile border. And Israel's also concerned because, in the case of Indonesia and Malaysia they do not recognize Israel. And Israel does not want to be surrounded by even more Muslim...

SIMON: Well...

WRIGHT: ...troops.

SIMON: ...do you get the sense that this is France's final offer, or are they waiting for something?

WRIGHT: Well, the president on Friday appealed for more and it may be that they do deploy more. But I think that the issue really here is not just who, but why. And the mandate is something that really is in question. And that's why you find other European countries like Germany providing peripheral, you know, help with the Coast Guard, maybe some border police, some technical equipment. But not providing the ground troops that the United States and Israel had hoped.

SIMON: Their concern is that they can't return fire?

WRIGHT: That's right. The issue is how much muscular firepower you have in dealing with armed forces, be they Hezbollah or anyone else that might challenge their mission. They - the U.N. force in the past has been peace monitoring. It did not have significant equipment. And the French and others believe they need something to ensure that we don't go through another 1983, when they became victims of car bombs. They couldn't protect themselves.

SIMON: And if they're going to disarm Hezbollah, which seems to be the mandate.

WRIGHT: No, it isn't, in fact.

SIMON: Oh, it is not the mandate. That's right.

WRIGHT: No. In fact, that was a big contentious point, that the French did not want - no - none of the forces wanted to have to disarm Hezbollah. That's a non-starter. And in fact, the bottom line in this is that it looks like Hezbollah will maintain most of its arms, hide them or keep them.

SIMON: Jordan's King Abdullah said this week it's time to start the peace process again. Where would he begin it, do you think?

WRIGHT: Yeah. Well, it's a very good question. The reality is when you look out there, there is no sense at the moment that the United States or any of its partners in this so-called quartet - the United Nations, Russia, the European Union - are doing anything to try to take advantage of this crisis and deal with the bigger issue, to get - to jumpstart the Arab-Israeli peace process. The roadmap that the U.S. designed is dead. Tensions are greater. And one doesn't sense that kind of movement, which is perhaps the biggest tragedy to come out of this.

SIMON: I want to get you to talk about Darfur. I don't want to go another week without overlooking it. And of course, rightly, a lot of urgent issues have claimed our attention. But once again we have to note that circumstances there become ever more dire.

WRIGHT: Absolutely. The peace agreement that was signed on May 5th has begun to disintegrate seriously. The United Nations has sent out urgent warnings that no one appears to be heeding very much. There are 1.6 million people who are now beyond access to humanitarian aid.

This is a country that is the size of France, or an area that's the size of France, in a country that's a quarter of the size of the United States. We've all been concerned about Lebanon, where something like 1600 people have been killed. But we're talking about a quarter of a million people who've died in Darfur since 2003. And this is a tragedy that is reminiscent of Rwanda in 1994, when the world didn't pay much attention and regretted it down the road. And Darfur is now as dire as it's ever been.

SIMON: Once again, we've found of the same questions echoed. Is any nation stepping forward to provide troops for an international force?

WRIGHT: No. And that's one of the problems. The African Union troops have been in charge. The United Nations has, you know, talked about deploying some kind of force. But the international community does not have much enthusiasm for going into Sudan.

SIMON: Yeah. General Romeo Delaire, who of course was head of U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, on our show and many others has suggested that European states should take a primary role, saying that the U.S. and Britain, for a lot of political reasons, and even deployment reasons, just don't have the circumstances this time. But he thinks European nations would.

WRIGHT: Absolutely. They have an experience in Africa and, of course, the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq.

SIMON: Sign of the time. Bill Clinton turns 60 and Barry Manilow has got to have work done on both of his hips.

WRIGHT: (Laughs) Yeah, and my birthday is on Tuesday and I'm feeling old myself. Well, it shows you, the Baby Boomers are getting old. They're getting to a certain point. But when Barry Manilow loses his hips, you know, makes you wonder about all the rest of us.

SIMON: He'll get new ones and I'm sure they'll be top of the line. Robin, thanks very much.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

SIMON: Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post.

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