ITALIAN Prime Minister Romano Prodi has a "solution" to the Israeli-Hezbollah war. He wants to beef up the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.
I bet you didn't know there was a U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon. It's called UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), and it's been there since 1978. Been doing a crackerjack job, hasn't it?
Can you name a single instance in which U.N. peacekeepers actually kept the peace? Mostly - as in Lebanon and Bosnia - they stand idly by as terrorists launch attacks. Sometimes - as in the Congo - they commit atrocities themselves.
The current crisis began July 12 when Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid in which three Israeli soldiers were killed and two were kidnapped. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told the left-wing British journalist Robert Fisk the raid was five months in the planning.
In 2000, Hezbollah had kidnapped three Israeli soldiers, who were later killed. Israel did not respond then with bombs and bullets. It traded 430 prisoners in Israeli jails for the bodies of its soldiers. Hezbollah and its sponsors in Iran and Syria probably expected as timid a response this time. Their surprise must have been unpleasant.
Hezbollah has responded by raining rockets on Israel (1,600 as of this writing).
Hezbollah has suffered the most in the fighting so far, and would have suffered more had Mr. Nasrallah and his senior aides been in the bunker on which the Israelis dropped 23 tons of bombs Wednesday. But because Hezbollah's real bosses are in Damascus and Tehran, even if the IDF had nailed Mr. Nasrallah, the triumph would have been temporary.
Hezbollah is, arguably, the best fighting force in the Arab world. The Hezbies are well armed, well trained, well disciplined, and fanatically brave. They've already had some nasty surprises for the IDF, and they've had six years to fortify their positions along the border. A ground fight likely would be costly, and certainly would accelerate pressure for a cease-fire.
A ground invasion also would have unfortunate public relations consequences for Israel within Lebanon. At the moment, the non-Shiite majority blames Hezbollah as much as Israel for their current miseries. But Lebanon's defense minister warned Thursday the Lebanese army might join with Hezbollah in resisting an Israeli invasion.
Those are pretty big risks to run. But if the alternative is to leave its fate in the hands of U.N. peacekeepers, Israel would be well advised to run them. And at this writing, there are signs a ground invasion is imminent.
Hezbollah must be crushed, but it cannot be crushed as long as the present regime remains in power in Syria, because Hezbollah fighters can take refuge there, and be resupplied from there. Nor can a democratic Lebanon fully emerge until the baneful influence of Syria is reduced or eliminated altogether.
The road to peace in the Middle East runs through Damascus. That's the road Israel should take, even if it seems longer and more dangerous, because the other roads are dead ends.