From Bush's perspective, he only has two years to consolidate his vision of complete U.S. control of the Middle East, and to do that, all seeds of resistance should be crushed in a devastating blow that will make it clear to every single Arab that obeying the master is the only way to stay alive. If Israel is willing to do the job, and crush not only the Palestinians, but also Lebanon and Hezbollah, then the U.S., torn from the inside by growing resentment over Bush's wars, and perhaps unable to send new soldiers to be killed for this cause right now, will give Israel all the backing it can. As Rice announced in her visit in Jerusalem on July 25, what is at stakes is "a new Middle East". "We will prevail" - she promised Olmert.
But Israel is not sacrificing its soldiers and citizens only to please the Bush administration. The "new Middle East" has been a dream of the Israeli ruling military circles since at least 1982, when Sharon led the country to the first Lebanon war with precisely this declared goal. Hezbollah's leaders have argued for years that its real long-term role is to protect Lebanon, whose army is too weak to do this. They have said that Israel has never given up its aspirations for Lebanon and that the only reason it pulled out of Southern Lebanon in 2000 is because Hezbollah's resistance has made maintaining the occupation too costly. Lebanon's people know what every Israeli old enough to remember knows - that in the vision of Ben Gurion, Israel's founding leader, Israel's border should be "natural", that is - the Jordan river in the East, and the Litani river of Lebanon in the north. In 1967, Israel gained control over the Jordan river, in the occupied Palestinian land, but all its attempts to establish the Litani border have failed so far.
As I argued in Israel/Palestine, already when the Israeli army left Southern Lebanon in 2000, the plans to return were ready. But in Israel's military vision, in the next round, the land should be first "cleaned" of its residents, as Israel did when it occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967, and as it is doing now in southern Lebanon. To enable Israel's eventual realization of Ben Gurion's vision, it is necessary to establish a "friendly regime" in Lebanon, one that will collaborate in crushing any resistance. To do this, it is necessary first to destroy the country, as in the U.S. model of Iraq. These were precisely Sharon's declared aims in the first Lebanon war. Israel and the U.S. believe that now conditions have ripened enough that these aims can finally be realized.