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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 01:20 GMT 02:20 UK
Analysis: Israel's strategy
By Paul Adams
Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News

Israeli army at Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel
Israel has vowed the conflict will not stop for diplomacy
A week into this crisis, what is Israel's strategy?

International diplomatic efforts are intensifying, but Israel's military campaign continues unabated.

"The diplomatic process is not intended to reduce the window of opportunity for military operations," Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told journalists after meeting the visiting UN delegation, "but will take place in parallel."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan put it rather differently, calling for a cessation of hostilities to provide a window in which diplomacy might be conducted.

For the time being, Israel will get its way, and Mr Annan's mediators will have to pursue their mission against the din of continued conflict.

Decisive blow

The trigger for Israel's operation "Just Reward" was the capture of two Israeli soldiers, but just as its operation in Gaza (triggered in exactly the same way) quickly widened into something more comprehensive, so its assault on Lebanon now has a much bigger purpose.

Israel wants to deliver a decisive blow to Hezbollah, destroying much of the arsenal of rockets acquired from Iran and Syria by the Shia militia since Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000.

It then wants to see the organisation disarmed and disbanded, in line with the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, passed in September 2004.

Destroyed and damaged buildings in Beirut suburbs
The assault on Beirut shows no sign of abating

According to Mrs Livni, Israel also wants to see the effective deployment of the Lebanese army throughout southern Lebanon, and wants to be sure that Iran and Syria are not able to rearm Hezbollah in the future.

It is a bold agenda. In the words of Maj Gen Giora Eiland, former director of Israel's National Security Council, the operation in Lebanon "gives us the possibility of succeeding at something we tried to achieve and failed, both in 1982 and 2000".

"The existence of an independent, non-belligerent state to the north," he wrote in Monday's Ma'ariv newspaper, "could be achieved now."

But the widespread destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, and the killing of Lebanese civilians and soldiers, may seem a curious way of achieving this desirable objective.

Gen Eiland warned that if Israel simply issued an ultimatum to Lebanon, it could backfire.

There's no reason whatsoever to continue this showdown
Yossi Beilin
Israeli opposition politician

The military campaign could continue for weeks, resulting in a "shift against us in the international community". It would also trigger a political crisis in Lebanon, "and we will return to chaos".

So far, the government's tactics enjoy widespread public support, even among those civilians in the north who have had to endure repeated salvoes of Katyusha rockets.

Public support

But a few lone voices argue that Israel has already gone too far.

The leader of the opposition Meretz party, Yossi Beilin, said "there's no reason whatsoever to continue this showdown".

Speaking to the BBC, he urged dialogue with Hezbollah, using a third party if necessary, and said some way should also be found to talk to Syria.

Radical left-wing writer and academic Yitzhak Laor went further. In a column in Tuesday's Ha'aretz newspaper, he castigated the Israeli Defence Forces.

"Only the insufferable status of the IDF in Israeli society has prevented Israelis who emerged by tooth and nail from the Lebanon war from pointing to the senior officers and saying: 'Enough.'"

An overwhelming majority of Israelis does not agree. Opinion polls suggest that more than 80% support the government.

And so, until the diplomatic process develops further - Condoleezza Rice is expected in the region as early as this weekend - Israel's military campaign will continue.

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