1701 on life support
Though many people reflexively disagree with President Bush, his statement that the ceasefire in Lebanon under UNSC Resolution 1701 will collapse unless a major European country makes a substantial contribution of troops to an expanded UNIFIL force will probably meet with wide agreement. It is now hoped that Italy will fill the gap left by the sudden refusal of France, co-sponsor of 1701, to send more than 200 men to the contingent. The problem is that the Europeans have no intention of disarming Hezbollah by force, which would require high intensity combat operations and politically unpopular casualties. France actually wanted an assurance that Hezbollah would be "safed" before they made their appearance. MSNBC reported: "French officials on Tuesday (Aug 15) insisted Paris would resist leading a bolstered international force in southern Lebanon without Lebanese government assurances that Hizbollah, the militant Shia group, would be disarmed. ... French officials accept that disarming Hizbollah would not happen overnight but say an international force could not be deployed until a demilitarized zone was created."
Nor would the "international community" leave the disarmament of Hezbollah to Israel, even under its residual right to self-defense under 1701. The UN actually warned Israel that it was violating the ceasefire simply by using force to interdict arms smuggling from Syria -- arms meant to attack Israel.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan views the Israel Defense Forces' commando operation near Baalbek over the weekend as a violation of the cease-fire agreement, UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during their meeting in Jerusalem Monday. "If you discovered arms smuggling, you could have complained through diplomatic channels," Larsen told Livni.
There was something of the air of unreality about Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema statement on Tuesday that "From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire. It's fair to expect that Hizbollah put down their weapons, but we cannot send our troops to Lebanon if the (Israeli) army keeps shooting." The ceasefire was fragile indeed if the last European country willing to send a substantial force into Lebanon conditioned its participation on those terms.
What a new UNIFIL might be expected to accomplish, in the event that it ever deployed, was illustrated by the current UNIFIL's inability to even be noticed by Hezbollah. Arutz Sheva reports:
Hizbullah terrorists have shown their strength against UNIFIL guards at a funeral parade in Lebanon, where they dragged away U.N. barriers and opened gates. They had been told they could bury three terrorists at a cemetery outside the town of Nagoura, inside a UNIFIL compound, on condition that they did not wave political slogans or Hizbullah flags. During the procession, several hundred chanting Hizbullah supporters overcame the French guards, who said, "They will eat us alive." The mob then waved Hizbullah flags and carried portraits of terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah.
UNIFIL sure showed Hezbollah who was boss. In a fantastic world of diplomat-speak, the Hashmonean asks the pertinent question: where is Resolution 1701? "Kofi Annan keeps slamming Israel (business as usual), saying it is in breach of resolution 1701 - as if there is a resoluton 1701." The resolution was supposed to provide an internationally supervised buffer zone and staunch the flow of arms to Hezbollah. Those are the words. But in reality the French have decamped, Hezbollah continues to arm, unmolested by the UN and Israel is sternly warned not to interfere -- on pain of being cited for violating the ceasefire. Kofi Annan does well to cite the words, because words are all that remain of 1701.
Sadly but not unsurprisingly, a Israeli cabinet minister has openly called for the construction of more bomb shelters in anticipation of a possible conflict with Iran. It's always a bad sign when a ceasefire evokes not bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, but presents itself as prelude to a larger war. The question, even as President Bush sought a new UN Security Council resolution providing Italy with workable rules of engagement, was whether this effort would put the region firmly on the road to peace or merely rearrange the deck chairs on a ship sinking from wounds no one had the fortitude to look on. With Iran signaling its intention to reject the Security Council proposal to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for a package of incentives, the connection between the Lebanese ceasefire and the regional ambitions of Teheran grows ever harder to disentangle. The question is larger than any answer a brigade from Italy, however valiant, can provide.