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A Fragile Peace

A Fragile PeaceWith a cease-fire tentatively holding between Israel and Hezbollah forces, Tufts experts weigh in on the conflict.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.21.06] On Aug. 14, a United Nations-brokered cease-fire took hold between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters, who had been engaged in heavy combat over the past month. Though the physical fighting has largely stopped, the two sides continue to wage a propaganda war. According to Tufts experts, both sides have claimed victory, but neither has secured a win.

"I think that Hezbollah is going to claim that they won the war," Richard Shultz, professor of international politics at The Fletcher School and co-author of the new book " Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat," said on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight."" Israel, on the other hand, went in with, I believe, objectives that were not achievable. They were going to destroy Hezbollah. So in my view, I don't think either won, although Hezbollah clearly will win the propaganda war on this in this Middle East." According to Shultz, the lack of victory for either side leaves each group with unanswered questions. Hezbollah, for example, needs to clarify its identity in the wake of the battle with Israel.

"Is it a political movement? It is a militia? Is it a social movement? Is it a terrorist organization?" he said on the program. "It's all of those right now."

Meanwhile, Shultz added, Israel needs to find a solution to contain Hezbollah.

"For Israel, the issue is can Hezbollah be put in a position where it can't constitute, what I consider to be, a strategic threat to Israel?" he told CNN. "Here we have an armed group that has missiles that can hit any Israeli city. Israel can't live with that."

Malik Mufti, an associate professor of political science and director of the international relations program at Tufts, says that to accomplish such goals, Israel needs to expand its approach.

"I think really for Israelis, this should be a wake up call leading to the realization that they are going to have to adopt an attitude towards their Arab neighbors that's not simply based on flexing its military muscles," he said on New England Cable News.

According to Mufti, Israel cannot do it alone.

"Israel, left to itself, is not going to be able to resolve that Palestinian problem in a manner and with the speed that are necessary for the safeguard of the American interests," Mufti said on NECN. "The United States really has to become more actively engaged in the Arab-Israeli/Palestinian problem itself."

The international community is split over the best way to resolve the conflict. According to one Tufts expert, the United States and Europe view the fighting from very different perspectives.

"The Europeans have suffered tremendously with war, so their instinct is to stop the fighting. They don't see it resolving a crisis, but exacerbating things," Professor Jeswald Salacuse, a Fletcher expert in international conflict resolution, told The Christian Science Monitor. Meanwhile, he adds, the United States "tends to see this conflict as an extension of the war on terror… that has led to a tighter bond with Israel.

In the meantime, the cease-fire resolution approved by the United Nations Security Council mandates that the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) should ensure that no "hostile activities" take place in the buffer zone. An ambiguity of terms, warns one Tufts expert, could make the already-tenuous peace even more vulnerable.

"What constitutes 'hostile activities'?" Ian Johnstone, an associate professor of international law at The Fletcher School and former U.N. peacekeeping official, asked the Associated Press. "One can imagine all the situations where one side takes action and that's interpreted as hostile by the other, and UNIFIL will have to decide."

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