By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - President Bush, just hours after a cease-fire took hold Monday, said Hezbollah guerillas had suffered a sound defeat at the hands of
Israel in their monthlong Mideast war.
"There's going to be a new power in the south of Lebanon," Bush said, referring to plans for the Lebanese government, backed by an international force, to reassert control in the area that has been dominated by Hezbollah fighters.
The president also said the war was part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror, and he blamed Iran and Syria for fomenting the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
"We can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks," the president said.
Bush said Iran and Syria were the primary sponsors of Hezbollah guerrillas who captured two Israeli soldiers, igniting the battle with Israel. More than 900 people were killed in the fighting, and there was massive destruction in southern Lebanon.
Bush said the "responsibility for this suffering lies with Hezbollah."
The president spoke at the State Department after conferring with his national security team, first at the Pentagon and then at State. He was flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Bush said the U.N. cease-fire resolution was "an important step forward that will help bring an end to the violence."
"We certainly hope the cease-fire holds," he said. "Lebanon can't be a strong democracy when there is a state within a state and that's Hezbollah."
"Hezbollah attacked Israel, Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis," the president said. "The reason why is, this is because there's going to be a new power in the south of Lebanon, and that's going to be a Lebanese force with a robust international force to help them seize control of the country."
"It will take time for people to see the truth, that Hezbollah hides behind innocent civilians," Bush said.
In the Mideast, there were competing claims about who came out on top in the war.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the war had shifted the strategic balance in the region and eliminated the "state within a state" run by Hezbollah, restoring Lebanon's sovereignty in the south.
But Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said his guerrillas achieved a "strategic, historic victory" against Israel.
Bush, taking questions from reporters on a variety of topics, said the United States still believes that al-Qaida was behind last week's disrupted plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners from Britain.
"It sure looks like it. ... It looks like the kind of thing al-Qaida would do," he said. But he said the United States has not made a definite conclusion about the sponsorship of the plan.
Asked if there might be any U.S.-based participants, Bush said, "Any time we get a hint that there might be a terror cell in the United States, we move on it."
While Bush praised the Mideast cease-fire, he said Israel would have the right to defend itself if it were attacked by Hezbollah.
"We don't advise Israel on its military options," the president said. "As far as I'm concerned, if somebody shoots at an Israeli soldier ... Israel has a right to defend herself. They have the right to suppress that kind of fire."
Bush rejected criticism that the United States was slow to support a cease-fire and allowed the violence to continue.
"You know it's going to be a painful process," the president said. "Diplomacy can be a painful process."
He said that if a resolution had been reached quickly without addressing the root causes, then "everybody would have felt better for a quick period of time. Then the violence would have erupted again."
At least he had the courtesy not to declare this one from an Israeli Aircraft Carrier.
Crossposted to _liberal_ and cynicaliberal.