A bloody pause…but for how long?

The best that can be said of the U.N. cease-fire resolution, now agreed to with different degrees of reservation by Lebanon, Hezbollah and Israel, is that it will stop the heavy fighting in southern Lebanon, if only temporarily.

The winner in all this, at least in its own eyes, is Hezbollah, whose leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, is proclaiming a “strategic, historic victory” over the Israelis, something no other Arab army has achieved.

Hezbollah can’t afford another such victory, having lost, by some estimates, a fourth of its fighting force. But for simply having survived this conflict, Hezbollah has the admiration of the Arab “street” and the grudging respect of moderate Arab leaders who privately oppose the radical, Iranian-linked group.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claims that Israel succeeded in eliminating a “state within a state.” While crippling Hezbollah, Israel did not, as it set out to do, destroy Hezbollah as a fighting force, drive it out of rocket range of Israel proper or get its abducted soldiers back. Olmert’s government may not survive popular dissatisfaction with the outcome.

Somewhere in the rubble is President Bush’s Mideast policy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s inappropriate observation that the fighting was the birth “pangs” of a new Mideast was widely ridiculed. One Arab diplomat said that if this was the new Mideast, he vastly preferred the old one.

The Arab world widely believes that Bush stalled on seeking a cease-fire to buy time for Israel to crush Hezbollah. It might have worked if Israel had succeeded, but it did not, and to Arab thinking, the United States has lost any claim to being an honest broker.

While Bush policy is to promote democracy in the Mideast, Washington stood aside as the Israelis pounded the civilian infrastructure — roads, bridges, power plants, fuel tanks — of a fragile democratic Lebanese government we’re pledged to support, and indeed helped to bring to power by convincing Syria to end its occupation.

The success of the cease-fire now rests on the untested Lebanese army and a French-led U.N. force of 15,000 that is supposed to take over southern Lebanon as the Israelis pull out. But the U.N. resolution does not give its troops an unambiguous mandate to use force to maintain the cease-fire.

The cease-fire, while welcome, does not look like a solution, only a postponement of a day of reckoning.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)