[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 05:50 GMT 06:50 UK
Middle East crisis: Future scenarios
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Now that the Rome conference on Lebanon has ended without a decisive move towards settling the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, it is worth looking at what might happen next.

DIPLOMATIC SETTLEMENT

The Lebanese government and Hezbollah would agree to implement Security Council resolution 1559.

This resolution, passed in September 2004, called for the disbanding of all militias in Lebanon and the extension of Lebanese government authority to all parts of the country. Hezbollah would move out of south Lebanon and the Lebanese army would move down to the border with Israel. The idea is that this would remove the source of conflict.

Lebanese women refugees from Israeli bombing
Lebanese women refugees from Israeli bombing

Both Israel and Hezbollah would accept a ceasefire and the agreement formalised in a new Security Council resolution.

An international force would be deployed in the border area at least until the Lebanese army arrived.

Getting agreement on the mandate, size and deployment of such a force is not going to be easy. It would replace an existing UN force, Unifil, which has been monitoring events but not influencing them since 1978.

The Israelis might maintain a self-declared "buffer zone" for a time, but any settlement would have to see an Israeli withdrawal.

Some kind of deal would be done to resolve the original trigger for this war, the capture of two Israeli solders by Hezbollah. Israel wants their unconditional release. Hezbollah says they were taken to be exchanged.

Lebanon also wants Israel to leave a strip of land known as the Shebaa Farms at the foot of Mount Hermon, but the UN has ruled that this land belongs to Syria and that its future should be decided by Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

STALEMATE

Under this scenario, the Israeli military effort to remove Hezbollah fighters from south Lebanon gets bogged down and Hezbollah refuses to pull back or reach any agreement with the Lebanese government. Fighting continues.

This would leave Israel far short of its aims. There would be domestic political fall-out in that great ambitions were laid out for this conflict.

A stalemate in which Israel was making little headway might also be interpreted as "Israel loses", in that it did not achieve its goals.

Already the Israelis have found the going tougher than they might have expected. The terrain - mountainous, rocky, and full of caves, gullies and ravines - is ideal guerrilla country and the Israelis cannot use their armoured forces there easily.

Israeli woman and children flee Hezbollah rocket attack
Israeli woman and children flee Hezbollah rocket attack

It is therefore conceivable that the Israelis will not achieve the decisive victory they seek.

If that happened, the fighting could go on indefinitely to a greater or lesser degree. Israeli bombing could continue in an attempt to cut off Hezbollah reinforcements moving south.

Hezbollah could continue firing rockets from north of any Israeli-controlled zone.

The civilian suffering would go on and people might not be able to return to normal lives on both sides of the border.

Israel could establish control over a self-declared "buffer zone" along the border and just stay there. There would be stalemate, with continuing confrontations and fire fights with the potential of the conflict erupting again at any time.

ISRAEL DECLARES SUCCESS

Israel would go on more or less as now until it reckoned it had achieved success. It might or might not announce a ceasefire but it would in practice hand over southern Lebanon to an international force and withdraw. In due course, the Lebanese army would deploy to the border. Israel would declare victory against Hezbollah, though it would probably not get its two captured soldiers back.

THE WAR WINDS DOWN

It is possible that at some stage the Israelis will announce they have achieved their main aims through bombing and the removal of Hezbollah from the border. There might be no ceasefire but the bombing would stop or be reduced. Hezbollah might respond by stopping its rocket attacks. There might be occasional incidents.

This would leave issues unresolved however, including that of the missing Israeli soldiers. Israel will not exchange them for the prisoner Hezbollah wants most, Samir Qantar, who attacked a block of flats in Nahariha in 1979, killing a father and his daughter (the latter by smashing her head in). The only prisoner release Israel says it will engage in is one through the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

WIDER ISRAELI INVASION

Israel might decide to step up its ground attacks, for example, after a Hezbollah attack on cities further south.

In 1978, the Israelis invaded up to the Litani River some 20km (12 miles) north of the border and in 1982 they went all the way to Beirut. They did not leave south Lebanon until 2000.

Their aim in those operations was to remove Palestinian fighters, from whom Hezbollah has taken over.

It is possible that the Israelis will decide to expand their currently quite limited ground attacks into the kind of big operation carried out in 1978. An attack on Tyre on the coast would be considered as Hezbollah has been firing rockets from around Tyre.

However, all this would leave Israel in occupation and under constant harassment and attack. It would not be the long-term solution they seek. If they simply left again, Hezbollah would move back in.

THE CONFLICT ESCALATES OR SPREADS

The intensity of the fighting might increase. Hezbollah might extend its attacks to other cities. Israel might step up its bombing and ground operations.

If this happened, tensions would rise all round.

The Lebanese government, product of an uneasy alliance between Lebanon's various populations, and in which Hezbollah sits with reforming elements from the Cedar Revolution, has held together.

But it could fall apart if the pressure is not eased and some solution does not become apparent, especially to the suffering of civilians. Hezbollah could emerge the stronger.

The fighting could develop into a new Jihadist front, drawing in fighters from elsewhere.

Hezbollah's supporters, Syria and Iran, could get drawn in.

Syria which has lost power in Lebanon over the last couple of years could be tempted to regain influence there.

The sidelined issue of Iran's nuclear programme could come to the fore again and become a diplomatic and economic confrontation with the West if tensions increased. The solution to the issue depends on understanding and confidence and this has been badly damaged by this crisis.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk






FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific