Once the ceasefire took hold in southern Lebanon, Western reporters entered the town of Khiam, perched on a hilltop less than a mile from the Israeli frontier. As Hezbollah fighters emerged from the rubble, one succinctly summed up the situation: “We’re still here.”
After a month of fighting and hundreds of casualties on both sides, those words reflect an enduring truth about life along the border. Hezbollah might be diminished by the ferocious Israeli assault but they have not been destroyed. Their fighters are still entrenched, village by village, house by house. One guerilla casually showed journalists what he had stashed in his car trunk: five AK-47 assault rifles.
President Bush refuses to recognize this reality. He claims that Hezbollah “suffered a defeat in this crisis” because the United Nations passed a resolution creating a “new power in the south of Lebanon.” That combination of homegrown Lebanese troops and a “robust international force” is supposed to move into the border region and eliminate the “root cause of the problem,” the guerillas’ unchecked military power.
We fervently hope he’s correct. Hezbollah is indeed an evil element that cynically uses civilians as shields in Lebanon and targets in Israel. But it’s hard to take the president seriously. The scene in Khiam tells a very different story. The “root cause of the problem” is not going anywhere.