The Bush-Blair Mideast Plan

The Bush-Blair Mideast Plan

The Bush-Blair Mideast Plan

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 29 2006 5:01 AM

Peace Train

Everybody leads with the latest proposals for tackling the crisis in the Middle East. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox emphasize the new Bush-Blair plan for ending the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's return to the region this weekend to hash out the details. The Los Angeles Times  headlines Israel's rejection of an offer from Lebanon and Hezbollah.

Bush and Blair, aware that much of the world thinks they have been fiddling while Beirut burns, presented what the NYT sees as a united front at the White House, but the Journal thinks Blair subtly distanced himself from some of the Bush positions.

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Their plan calls for an international peacekeeping force in the southern region of Lebanon now controlled by Hezbollah, to help the Lebanese government police the area and maintain a buffer zone between Hezbollah and Israel (the WSJ, however, says it is not clear whether the troops are also meant to be an offensive force). The peacekeeping force is not likely to include American troops. The resolution, to be presented to the United Nations next week, will call for an end to the fighting, but not for the kind of immediate cease-fire many European and Arab nations are calling for.

As the Times points out higher than anybody else, there's a not-so-little problem: the chief pushback to the Bush-Blair plan for peace between Israel and Hezbollah is likely to come from … Israel and Hezbollah. Israel seems intent on destroying Hezbollah, and Hezbollah has proven to have surprising staying power and support. "Nobody wants to stop," one European diplomat says.

Plus, although the president did call on Syria to "become an active participant in the neighborhood for peace," the Bush-Blair plan seems to assume that a settlement can happen without Syria's help, which, the Times alone points out, is something few diplomats, except those in the Bush administration, think is possible.

The LAT gives big play to an offer from Hezbollah leaders to go along with an alternative proposal from the Lebanese government, which, the WP notes, seems to be working at cross purposes.It calls for an immediate cease-fire, a prisoner exchange, and, instead of an international force, the beefing up of the ineffective U.N. force already in the south. It does not directly call on Hezbollah to disarm. The LAT calls the Hezbollah offer evidence of the group's "flexibility to negotiate." Israel calls it DOA.

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Meanwhile, the fighting continued, with no end in sight. Hezbollah launched a new kind of rocket into Israel, the Khaibar-1, with a longer range and more power than the Katyushas that Hezbollah has mainly used. The rocket penetrated about 30 miles into Israel, Hezbollah's deepest strike yet. Haaretz reports suspicions that the new weapons originated in Iran, and says Israeli war planes succeeded in taking out the launchers used to fire them. Israel continued to bombard southern Lebanon from the air, and said it had killed 26 Hezbollah gunmen in ground fighting in Bint Jbail. Lebanon said more than 400 of its citizens have now been killed. The U.N. humanitarian chief said, "There is something fundamentally wrong with a war where there are more dead children than armed men."

In downtown Seattle, a man claiming to be a Muslim angry at Israel walked into a Jewish organization and opened fire, killing one person and injuring five others before surrendering to police. Authorities had been warning Jewish groups to be vigilant since the fighting erupted between Israel and Lebanon.

In Iraq, there are rumors of an impending coup attempt against the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Times fronts the Iraqi banking system's "slow slide into oblivion," replete with clandestine cash runs, bank robbers dressed as police officers and soldiers, and kidnappings of bank executives held for huge ransoms. The Post fronts the Pentagon's expensive and frustrating quest to detect and protect against the single deadliest threat to U.S. troops in Iraq, roadside bombs. Early on, the Pentagon told some companies offering high-tech solutions to get lost. Now, with more than 11,000 roadside bombs in the first half of 2006 alone, a Boeing spokeswoman tells the Post, "the customer has evolved."

The House of Representatives passed legislation to help shore up the pensions of some 44 million Americans. GOP leaders then promptly incensed many Democrats by maneuvering to combine a $2.10 increase in the minimum wage with deep and permanent cuts to the estate tax. Next stop: the Senate, where class warfare could undo the whole deal.

No More Norad: Well, not exactly, but Hollywood is going to have to come up with a new way to capture America's apocalyptic anxieties. Norad (short for North American Aerospace Defense Command), the cold-war era early warning system for nuclear war, is leaving the only home it has ever known, Colorado's legendarily fortified Cheyenne Mountain. Norad's day-to-day operations are being taken over by Peterson Air Force Base in nearby Colorado Springs. Says one military official, "the threat has changed."