Monday, August 14, 2006

Assessing the Cease-Fire in Lebanon

Over the weekend, the UN Security Council reached agreement on the terms of a cease-fire, scheduled to begin today, between Israel, Hezbollah, and Lebanon. Basically, the agreement states that fighting will end today and that southern Lebanon will be occupied by a force made up of the Lebanese Army and an international force (about 15,000 soldiers each).

This deal is fraught with problems. First, the Lebanese Army is almost completely disfunctional. It was incapable and unwilling of taking on and reining in Hezbollah before, which permitted the current conflict to erupt. How is an army that has no tanks, no air force, and only a few 40-year old helicopters going to deal with "the best guerrilla force in the world?" Obviously, the cease-fire will largely depend on the willingness of the international force, which apparently will be dominated by (don't laugh) French troops, to prevent Hezbollah from re-asserting itself and challenging Israel once again. This does not instill confidence. The Battle of Algiers notwithstanding, the French have not, as of late, demonstrated much of a stomach for ground combat. Nor do the French possess a political system that can must sufficient will for such an extended deployment.

But there are even more immediate problems. Israel has said it will not withdraw until the Lebanese/international force arrives to replace Israeli troops; Hezbollah has said it will not honor the cease-fire so long as Israeli soldiers remain in Lebanon. Despite the cease-fire going into effect at 1o PM (Pacific time) last night, minor skirmishes continued throughout today. One has to believe it's only a matter of time until one of those skirmishes reignites the wider conflict.

The problem was the French, along with much of the international community, insistence on a UN role in monitoring the cease-fire. The fact that Israel agreed to allow the UN to monitor its borders indicates how badly the invasion went for Israel; but, the UN has never demonstrated the spine to take on enforce a peace. Keep a peace, yes. Enforce it, no. Neither Hezbollah nor Israel really wants this cease-fire as it is and if and when hostilities re-emerge, will the UN really be willing to stand up to either side? Will UN soldiers prevent Hezbollah from establishing artillery posts near UN bases? Will UN soldiers stop, and even shoot, Hezbollah fighters moving towards the Israeli border? Unlikely.

Unfortunately, Israel's campaign in Lebanon didn't go well enough to allow Israel to dictate the terms of the cease-fire and get the NATO force it so desperately wanted in Lebanon. Now, it will have to make do with the UN. That is no recipe for a long-term peace.

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