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Rigorous diplomacy now


It was a week of grim superlatives in Israel's drive to roust Hezbollah guerrillas from their hideouts in south Lebanon. The most Israeli soldiers killed in a single day: nine. The most Hezbollah rockets fired into northern Israel: 125. And this was all in the same day. Add the other casualties from the other days of war so far - both Lebanese and Israeli, but mostly Lebanese - and this is shaping up to be a bloody, long conflict that is fueling anti-Israel and anti-U.S. sentiment throughout the region. The retaliatory exhortations emanating from Iran and al-Qaida are likely empty rhetoric. But Lebanon can't evolve into the newest jihad staging ground. The Bush administration needs to stop talking about a "new Middle East" and focus its efforts on ending this crisis.

Such talk encourages more America-bashing, requires U.S. allies in the region, who are already nervous, to take cover, and undercuts what must be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's imperative - negotiating a cease-fire that secures Israel's borders, strengthens Lebanon's democratic government and defangs Hezbollah. It's a daunting task for the secretary, who is expected to be back in the region today, because Hezbollah guerrillas won't unilaterally give up their arms, and their Syrian backers have rebuffed requests to help.

Israel's top commanders acknowledged last week that they could not estimate how long it would take to rout the Islamic militia. Hezbollah has shown itself to be a formidable opponent, battling nearly toe to toe with the Middle East's best-trained fighting force and continuing to fire rockets deeper into Israel. It has had six years to fortify its lair of bunkers since Israel withdrew its forces from the area.

Adamant about the need to decimate Hezbollah, Israel has nonetheless signaled a willingness to bring this conflict to an end. Although it called up 30,000 reservists last week, the government made the right decision when it chose not to expand its ground offensive. Israel also has backed a U.S. proposal to have an international force in south Lebanon, which would later be joined by the Lebanese army. But Ms. Rice will have to persuade European and Arab allies to contribute to such a police force. So far there are few volunteers, and a tougher job lies ahead - disarming Hezbollah.

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