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Today's Mideast crisis not just a replay of past battles
by reposted
Monday Jul 17th, 2006 4:15 AM
Around the world, people could be excused for feeling that they are witnessing something numbingly familiar in the Middle East, like a recurring nightmare that many would rather keep stored in the recesses of memory.
But the conflagration involving Israel and its neighbors has erupted once more --and no one knows how bad and destabilizing it could get.

The lethal exchange of firepower between Israel and Hezbollah won't likely let up until someone -- the U.N., or nervous Arab countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or possibly the U.S. -- intervenes and persuades one or both sides to stop.

A British official told TIME that Prime Minister Tony Blair is personally pressing President George W. Bush to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region to engage in Henry Kissinger-style shuttle diplomacy. But it's not clear that anyone has the ability to get the belligerents to climb down.

Though the current battles may have been set off, at base, by age-old hatreds between Israel and its Arab enemies, what we're seeing today is not simply a replay of hackneyed set pieces in the Middle East.

With new governments in place in the three key nodes of the crisis -- Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority -- and fighters within the radical Islamist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, eager to assert their agendas, the region is going through a period of dramatic and in some ways radical change.

To understand why the Arab militants of Hamas and Hezbollah are picking a fight with Israel now, you might start with an election. In January, Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, won the Palestinian general vote.

The Hamas political leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, who fashions himself a relative moderate, became Prime Minister, and set about trying to prove Hamas could govern. Boycotted financially and politically by the U.S. and the EU, Haniya in late June hammered out an agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on a unified platform that would implicitly recognize Israel if it would withdraw to its 1967 borders.