THE assertion by Israel's Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, that “We received from the Rome conference permission to continue the military operation in Lebanon” was deeply worrying. It suggested that at the highest level (Mr Ramon is a close confidant of prime minister Ehud Olmert) Israel is deluding itself about the state of international opinion over its attack on Lebanon. The reality, of course, is that in Rome on Wednesday two nations, Britain and the United States, blocked proposals from the United Nations, the European Union and others for measures that would require Israel (and Hezbollah) to stop the attacks and talk instead. If Mr Ramon really believes what he said about the outcome of the Rome conference then it is clear Israel is not being ruled by rational people. The best hope is that his words were intended to boost Israeli morale following the latest evidence of the effectiveness of Hezbollah resistance. Although the first priority at the moment must be to find a way of bringing the war to an end, there are also longer-term issues demanding examination. The most obvious is this: for how long can Israel be allowed to hold the Middle East and the wider world to ransom over its unilateral actions because of its unique influence with the United States? The problem is magnified by the ignorance and indifference of President Bush but it will not necessarily go away altogether under another president. This issue needs urgent debate and resolution.


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