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Hezbollah-Israel Conflict Set to Shape New Mideast
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As a conflict between Israel and Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah entered the 12th day on Sunday, Egyptian experts said that the conflict was set to usher in a new Middle East.

"I think what is going on in Lebanon at the moment would open the door for a big change in the Middle East region," said Ramadan Abdul Kader, editor-in-chief of the English-language daily The Egyptian Gazette.

"Israel's military operations in Lebanon tell of one fact: Israel would not stop until Hezbollah is disarmed," Abdul Kader said.

This might be true. Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a cabinet meeting that the current Lebanon crisis would last for a long time.

Olmert said that the Israeli army would not be restrained in its operations against Hezbollah guerillas, Israel's best-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Violence between Israel and Hezbollah erupted on July 12 when Hezbollah guerillas abducted two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border attack.

Israel said that its military response was aimed at removing the group from southern Lebanon.

More than 300 Lebanese and 37 Israelis have been killed in firefights between the two sides, while tens of thousands of foreign nationals have been fleeing Lebanon.

"Israel was sending clear messages to both Syria and Iran by doing so," Abdul Kader said, adding that Hezbollah was believed to be supported by Syria and Iran.

He said that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will start her crisis mission in the Middle East soon, was speaking about a new map for the region.

"But, I have to say that the American version of the Middle East is one that is full of chaos and destruction. Just look at what is going on in Iraq," said Abdul Kader.

Ahmed Hany Hassnein, a senior editor and Mideast affairs expert based in Cairo, said that the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hezbollah has opened a new chapter in Middle East affairs.

"Some of old strategies have become obsolete and new elements have emerged in an international formula," he wrote in an article carried by the Egyptian Gazette on Friday.

The most important new element was the breaking of Israel's strategic security taboo -- not attacked at home, he said. Since the outbreak of the conflict, Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel. Haifa, Israel's third largest city, has also come under attack, with several resident skilled.

Hassnein said that such a conflict was tantamount to are distribution of the pack before a new deal that will change the region forever.

Israel would have to change its policies based on a new security and strategic reality after the conflict was over, he said.

He said that Iran has a role to play in the conflict in Lebanon since it maintained close relations with Syria and Hezbollah, adding that Iran would play such a card in negotiations with Western powers on its nuclear program.

"Syria also needs a new formula to have a greater role after its army withdrew from Lebanon," said Hassnein.

However, Mamdouh Qenawi, political analyst and chief of the Constitutional Social Liberal Party, had an eye on what would happen inside Lebanon after the conflict.

"After the guns fall silent, the Lebanese would start to bring Hezbollah leaders to account," Qenawi said, adding that Hezbollah leaders would be held responsible for destruction of infrastructure and death of many Lebanese.

To Qenawi's mind, the idea of some Lebanese blaming Hezbollah meant that there might be a sectarian strife in Lebanon.

"Whether Lebanon would remain a unified country after this big argument is a question," Qenawi said.
"At the same time, if the conflict (between Israel and Hezbollah) means something to the Palestinians, it means that the creaking railway carriage of peace has already derailed and there is no way to put it back on track," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency July 24, 2006)

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