Peres is forced to change course

MIDDLE EAST IN TURMOIL

In the wake of the massacre of 101 Lebanese at Qana, Israel is looking for a ceasefire through a United States mediation effort. The terms of the ceasefire are likely to reinstate the understanding of 1993 under which Israel and Hizbollah undertook not to fire at civilian targets outside the Israeli-occupied zone in the south of Lebanon.

Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, arrives in Damascus today for talks with President Hafaz el-Assad, and Dennis Ross, the US peace coordinator, was expected in Israel last night. Within hours of the slaughter of refugees at the United Nations post at Qana, President Bill Clinton reversed his previous tolerance of the Israeli operation and called for an immediate ceasefire.

The change in the American position led Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister, to alter his own political course. Ehud Barak, his Foreign Minister, had wanted to negotiate with Syria and Lebanon while keeping them under pressure by continuing the bombardment. Late on Thursday night, after an emergency cabinet meeting, Mr Peres said: "It is also possible to conduct the negotiations for new understandings when there is a ceasefire on the ground. We don't have to be firing."

After a brief hiatus in Israeli artillery fire on Thursday, its heavy guns once again opened fire as Katyusha rockets fell on northern Galilee. Mr Peres has always said that the aim of Operation Grapes of Wrath was to safeguard the northern border of Israel from rocket attack.

In fact Israel's real objectives were more ambitious. These are no longer attainable since an Israeli army howitzer fired 155mm shells into the refugees huddled in the Fijian UN post. Aluf Ben, a commentator in the daily Ha'aretz, says that in asking for a ceasefire Israel has failed on a number of fronts, including a demand for greater latitude in retaliating against Hizbollah than was agreed under the 1993 understanding.

Other notable failures include underestimating President Assad. At the end of last month he appeared isolated by the Sharm el-Sheikh summit on terrorism arranged by President Clinton, at which Israel was supported by most Arab leaders. Following the failure of Grapes of Wrath to force him to rein in Hizbollah, President Assad has strengthened his preeminence in Lebanon and the Arab world.

Mr Peres appears to have failed to control the Israeli army and notably the head of its Northern Command, Major General Amiram Levine. In contrast to Yitzhak Rabin, his predecessor as prime minister and a former Chief of Staff, Mr Peres delegated his responsibilities as Defence Minister.Ha'aretz says that under General Levine's leadership what Mr Peres had intended as a surgical strike became an attack "on the civil infrastructure of Lebanon and climaxed with the killing of dozens of civilians". Israeli aircraft have also attacked Palestinian refugee camps and Lebanese and Syrian army units.

It is unlikely that a ceasefire in Lebanon will do much harm to Mr Peres in the election on 29 May, though it may not do him as much good as he once hoped. One poll published yesterday, taken mainly before the Qana massacre, showed him losing one percentage point against Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud, who will be his rival for the prime minister's office. Mr Peres has a 5 per cent lead with 50 per cent of the vote, compared to 45 per cent for Mr Netanyahu, who is himself a strong supporter of intervention in Lebanon.

There is no sign of any revulsion over the attack on Qana among Israelis, who see the operation as a whole as defensive. No Israelis, either civilian or military, have been killed since it started 10 days ago. A poll showed 89 per cent saying Grapes of Wrath would not affect the way they voted.

The only withdrawal of support for Mr Peres is among the Israeli-Arab community, 14 per cent of the electorate, whose total support he will need at the polls in six weeks time if he is to win.

Mr Peres may not get what he wanted from Grapes of Wrath but he does need to make good, at least until after the election, on his pledge that Katyusha rockets will stop falling. A Hizbollah official in Beirut said yesterday: "What is important is returning to the July 1993 understandings and having guarantees that the Israeli aggression would not be repeated. Otherwise, our rockets will be the best reply." Israeli intelligence was reported yesterday as admitting that Hizbollah has lost a maximum of 20 men and the buildings attacked by Israel were empty.

An Israeli commentator notes that Yitzhak Rabin used to say that as a rule you could tell the loser in any war between Israel and the Arabs by looking at who called for a ceasefire first. By this token the outcome of Grapes of Wrath is likely to be a defeat for Israel.

Suggested Topics
Sport
World Cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?