The New York Times has found reason to be optimistic about Middle East, and not just on its predictable editorial page (after all, at that venue all it would take is for the Israelis to be reasonable) but on its news pages. This morning, in fact, on its front page.  Michael Slackman, writing from Beirut, notes the "distinct change of direction" in the tone and even substance of diplomacy. Here is Slackman's litany: "Syria is being welcomed out of isolation by Europe and is holding indirect talks with Israel.  Lebanon has formed a new government.  Israel has cut deals with Hamas (a cease-fire) and Hezbollah (a prisoner exchange)."   Forgive me. But I believe all of this will amount to nothing. Alas, Slackman is known as a gull, an intellectual schlemiel. Apparently, he has now been shifted from Cairo (where nothing reportable happens) to Beirut (where no one is honest about what is reportable).

"Lebanon has formed a new government," writes Slackman.  And each and every person and personage in this government trooped to pay homage to the new hero of Lebanon, Samir Kuntar, a clear-headed and clear-hearted murderer of children. The tribute to Kuntar was also homage to the Ayatollah Nasrallah, whose name does not even appear in Slackman's dispatch.

I cannot deny that this is a victory for Hezbollah...and a defeat for what was left of subtle and even gracious Lebanon. But what was left before, with the Sunni Hariri movement and the perfume soldiers of the Maronites, was precious little.

Maybe Lebanon will have another chance at life. But I doubt it. It is now under the boot of Hezbollah, true-believers and cut-throats. They will yet cut the throats of those who paid tribute to Kuntar, a coerced gesture.

I want to examine what gave Hezbollah (and Nasrallah and Kuntar) the victory in Beirut. It was Security Council resolution 1701 which the Israeli government accepted because of its own confusions and its own lack of military skill. But this would not have occurred had not Condi Rice bludgeoned its members into acceding to it. Unfortunately, it guaranteed nothing. UNIFIL turned out again to be the phony operation it has been since 1978, an "interim" force by name with not a single achievement, even an interim one.

Instead of disarming Hezbollah in Lebanon's south it averted its lazy eyes from the rearmament of the terrorist militia and its reinstallation in the south of the country. Read about this in a devastating article, "The sole achievement has been erased," by Israel Harel in Ha'aretz of July 10.

I look forward to Michael Slackman eating his words.