Israel holds its fire as Arabs leave guerrillas in the cold

AFTER IT announced its ceasefire in southern Lebanon last night, Israel appeared confident that Syria and Lebanon would ultimately agree to its terms: to persuade Hizbollah to stop its rocket attacks and in future to restrain the pro-Iranian militia.

This confidence is rooted in strong signals, largely from Damascus, that Syria may be ready to loosen its ties with Hizbollah, and that the Arab world in general has no sympathy for the guerrillas. According to Israeli intelligence sources, Syria on Friday rejected offers from Tehran to supply Hizbollah with money and arms. This reduced the greatest danger for Israel: an increased Iranian involvement in Hizbollah activity. And early on in the offensive Israel also received indications from Damascus - via United States officials - that Syria would respond only mildly to the bombing and would not intervene. President Assad of Syria remained remarkably silent, despite the civilian suffering caused by the Israeli bombardment.

As the week wore on, therefore, Israel came to believe that a 'green light' for the offensive had been given, and that Damascus would eventually help to engineer a ceasefire, after Hizbollah had been weakened.

It remains unclear, however, whether Hizbollah will agree to end its rocket attacks on Israel. Also uncertain is whether the US, which must now broker a formal end to the conflict, can pay the price that Syria is certain to demand for supporting a ceasefire. Shia Hizbollah gunmen operating in south Lebanon are trained and armed largely by Iran. Syria lends them tacit support, allowing arms to flow through Damascus and encouraging their activities in Lebanon. Israel's main stipulation for a ceasefire was that Syria should curb Hizbollah, which has increased its attacks against Israeli targets in recent months.

Israeli government sources and Western diplomats in the Middle East believe Syria was signalling that it would be flexible to such demands, and that the US had tacitly agreed to the Israeli action. 'There is a sense in which all of this was pre-ordained. Otherwise why has the world remained so quiet?' said a Western official.

While attention has focused on the bombing in Lebanon, frenetic diplomatic activity has been underway all week. The first sign that Syria was adopting a flexible approach came when Damascus did not condemn the deaths of four of its soldiers in the bombardment last Sunday. US contacts were immediately established with Syria and Israel; and Bill Clinton praised Syria for its 'restraint'. Lebanon, which called for Security Council action last Sunday, withdrew its request on the bidding of Syria. And on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati travelled to Damascus, offering money and arms for Hizbollah.

Now Israel would like the US to consummate diplomatically what it believes it has achieved militarily, by offering Syria incentives to cut off Hizbollah.

This is a lot to ask, even of the US. Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, is due in the region on Tuesday. But as one Western diplomat put it yesterday: 'I'm not sure exactly what we have to offer them (the Syrians).'

Mr Assad is already angry that Syria has not been better rewarded by the US for its support in the Gulf war. The Syrian President would like his country to be removed from the US list of states sponsoring terrorism. But Mr Clinton's hands are tied by Congress, which takes a strongly anti- Syrian position.

The only viable forum for offering Syrian incentives to ensure peace in southern Lebanon is in the context of the peace talks. Syria is now sure to redouble is demands for the return of the Golan Heights, as a quid pro quo for curbing Hizbollah.

However, the conflict of the past week may well have made it even more difficult for Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, to return the Golan to Syria. For the Israeli public, this week's fighting has proved the need for more security on the state's borders, not less.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower