The Lebanese Flag





Israel Draws Little U.S. Ire

July 22, 2006; Wall Street Journal Page A2

WHEN SECRETARY of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the Middle East next week, she'll be coping with a lot of pressures: a Lebanese government desperate for help to end the current fighting there, an Israeli government determined to smash Hezbollah's military structure before it stops the conflict, and Arab allies so fearful of their own publics' anger over the fighting that they have decided to meet Secretary Rice in Rome rather than in an Arab capital.

Most surprising, though, is one kind of pressure she won't be feeling: There is little public outcry back home in the U.S. to compel Israel to pull back. This is the dog that isn't barking in the current crisis, giving President Bush and his secretary of state a considerably freer hand in responding -- and in pursuing their staunch support of Israel -- than they might have expected.

This stands in stark contrast to the situation the last time this script played out, when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. At that time, President Ronald Reagan -- like Mr. Bush, no slouch when it came to supporting Israel -- felt enormous domestic political pressure to force Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, to pull back.

That's not happening this time around; indeed, on Thursday the House passed by a 410-8 margin a resolution staunchly supporting Israel in the confrontation. White House officials who have pondered the domestic reaction so far suspect a combination of reasons explain the difference from the 1980s.

First, the U.S. itself now is directly engaged in its own war on terrorism. That has produced more sympathy for Israel, which is seen as the ultimate target of many Islamic and Palestinian terror groups. And while there also is a great deal of sympathy for the Lebanese government, Americans now are more likely to share Israel's desire to bust up the Islamic militants of Hezbollah, who form a kind of state within a state in Lebanon.

Second, Israel has helped itself by having unilaterally pulled its troops out of southern Lebanon and Gaza in recent years. That has bolstered the feeling among Americans that it has taken steps for its part to end the confrontation with Arabs around it. Never mind that critics see the withdrawals as a way for Israel to impose its version of peace unilaterally.

Third, Israel benefits in American eyes because it was seen as having tried to offer a mutually acceptable negotiated peace to Palestinians in the waning days of the Clinton administration, in peace talks at Camp David. And the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is seen as being the one who rejected it.

Finally, though it's little discussed, Christian conservatives, a powerful constituency within Mr. Bush's Republican party, have become a potent pro-Israel force on the political front in recent years. That matters to this White House.

Critics fear the president and his team are too supportive of Israel to have much effect brokering an end to the violence. But if the president's instinctive reaction is to support Israel, the public reaction at home isn't doing much to force him to alter it.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at  

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