Israel has begun lifting its two-month-old blockade of Lebanon, against the wishes of the Israeli army. It was imposed the day after Hizbollah Islamic fighters abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross- border raid into Israel on 12 July.
A Middle East Airlines plane circled ceremonially three times over central Beirut before landing at the airport yesterday, officially ending the air blockade. But Israel said the naval embargo would continue until an international naval force was in place.
The blockade failed to achieve any of its aims. The Israeli army objected to ending it because it saw the measure as one of the few means of obtaining the release of its soldiers. Stopping ships and planes reaching Lebanon was never likely to cause any inconvenience to Hizbollah since the organisation does not move its men and arms by air and sea.
The embargo was more in the nature of a collective punishment of Lebanon. "The direct impact of the blockade on trade activity alone is estimated at around $45m (pounds 24m) a day," the Lebanese Finance Minister, Jihad Azour, said. Even before the Israeli announcement, there were signs that it was crumbling, with several airlines flying to Beirut and others, such as British Airways, about to resume flights after assurances from the British Government about safety.
Israel had previously said it would maintain the trade embargo until there were measures in place to prevent Hizbollah obtaining more arms from Iran and Syria. But this demand appeared wholly unrealistic in the light of Israel's own failure to locate or destroy Hizbollah forces or rockets during the 34-day war.
The fiercest battle in Israel is among the political and military leaders to avoid taking responsibility for the failure in Lebanon. It is difficult to see how the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, the Defence Minister, Amir Peretz. and the Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz can save their careers. General Halutz's claim to have won a victory on points has been derided by the Israeli media. …