Every Hezbollah rocket that plows deeper into Israel, every retaliatory Israeli strike that tears up Lebanese cities, drives the region closer to all-out war. Civilian deaths are mounting on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border, increasing the desire for retribution and making it tougher for either side to stand down. It's imperative that the international community act decisively to try to halt the hostilities and broker a cease-fire that recognizes Israel's right to a secure border and spares Lebanon the punishment due the Iranian-backed guerrilla group at the center of this fight.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan have suggested sending international peacekeepers to south Lebanon. Theirs is the only concrete proposal to emanate from the Group of Eight meeting that just concluded, but it has gained little traction because such a force, to be effective, would have to be prepared to confront Hezbollah guerrillas or Israeli forces if the attacks and counterattacks continued. However, if rigorous diplomacy is under way behind the scenes, the Blair-Annan proposal could offer an opening for Israel and Hezbollah to halt their campaigns.
But unless the underlying issue - the disarming of Hezbollah - is addressed, a cease-fire would amount to a temporary reprieve.
Israel has justified its bombardment as a defensive action to protect its citizens and pressure the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah and deploy its army to control its southern border. But the severity of the Israeli strikes - taking out roads, crippling transportation, targeting other than Hezbollah strongholds and killing more than 100 civilians - has made it difficult for Lebanese moderates to move against Hezbollah when scores of Lebanese are dying.
As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the region, the U.S. should be working, through an ally viewed as a more honest broker than it is, to negotiate a halt to Hezbollah's rockets and the return of the Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped, triggering the conflict.
Every rocket launched, every bombing sortie flown gives the other side another reason to push the conflict further.