TCS Daily


UNIFIL Unfulfilled

By T.K. Vogel - August 22, 2006 12:00 AM

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was established in 1978 "for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces, restoring international peace and security and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area," according to Security Council resolution 425. The fact that the same force is still needed today, essentially for the same task, does not on the surface seem to recommend the approach chosen 28 years ago. But the force has just been given a new lease on life with Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorizes it to "take all necessary action... to ensure that its area of operations [that is, Southern Lebanon] is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind."

The resolution was passed on August 11 after much wrangling behind the scenes, the product of classic great-power diplomacy: it was co-sponsored by the United States and France, which promised to deliver their clients in the region, Israel and Lebanon.

But in the event, France couldn't even deliver itself.

France had spearheaded the diplomatic effort for a ceasefire and a new mandate for UNIFIL and had made it quite clear that it should be in overall command of the peacekeepers. The new UNIFIL, the story went, would need to be robust and credible if it were to be effective in its ultimate goal of helping the Lebanese government regain control over the South, currently firmly in the hands of Hezbollah. It was initially thought the job would take around 40,000 peacekeepers; this was then whittled down to just 15,000, to "complement" another 15,000 men from the Lebanese army that would also be deployed in Southern Lebanon. France was widely expected to commit thousands of troops -- an expectation it did nothing to dispel.

But last week, French Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie said her country would not send more than 200 troops: the rules of engagement, she said, were "fuzzy." Indeed: would the new force go door to door, together with the Lebanese army, to collect Hezbollah's Katyushas? Would they take action that would risk the wrath of local residents? Would they engage Israeli forces if they raided Hezbollah positions inside Lebanon from which they had come under fire?

Recalling events in Bosnia and indeed Lebanon, where 58 French soldiers were blown up in 1983 by one of the groups that were to form the nucleus of Hezbollah, Alliot-Marie told French radio, "I remember the painful experience of other operations where UN forces didn't have sufficiently precise missions or means."

That is certainly a legitimate "lesson learned" to have taken away from the two massive peacekeeping debacles of the 1990s, Rwanda and Bosnia, analyzed in countless scholarly tomes, numerous evaluation reports, and at least two scathing studies prepared by the UN peacekeeping department itself. One of the two reports commissioned by Secretary General Kofi Annan (who was in charge of peacekeeping at the time of the operations in Rwanda and Bosnia) considered the events surrounding the fall of the Eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica -- a UN-protected "safe area" -- to Serb forces in July 1995, in which thousands of unarmed men and boys were slaughtered. "Peacekeepers must never again be told that they must use their peacekeeping tools -- lightly armed soldiers in scattered positions -- to impose the ill-defined wishes of the international community on one or another of the belligerents by military means," it concluded. "If the necessary resources are not provided -- and the necessary political, military and moral judgments are not made -- the job simply cannot be done."

That the job of disarming Hezbollah cannot be done militarily -- except, perhaps, by permanently depopulating Southern Lebanon and applying methods that would land commanding officers in The Hague -- was a lesson the Israel Defense Force learned the hard way over the last month. Hezbollah turned out to be a much more formidable fighting force than Israeli intelligence (and almost everyone one) seems to have thought, extremely effective not just in hit-and-run tactics but also in defending built-up areas and threatening Israel itself with a seemingly inexhaustible arsenal of Iranian-supplied missiles. (Don't take Hezbollah's bragging at face value, though: it is very likely that its infrastructure and equipment have been severely degraded by Israel's pounding.)

Can UNIFIL succeed where the IDF hasn't?

That's the wrong question to ask, for two reasons. First, UNIFIL won't even try to disarm Hezbollah: it will support the Lebanese army in doing so. This looks very much like diplomatic fudge given that the Lebanese army is short of almost everything needed to be an effective, coherent force and that the bulk of its conscripts are Shia, many of whom will feel closer to Hezbollah than to the Lebanese government, which has spent the past decades ignoring their community's wants and needs. Second, the great powers have now committed themselves to working robustly towards a political settlement; the hope is that such a settlement, rather than military action, will get the missiles out of Hezbollah's hands. 1701 was from the beginning conceived as a stop-gap measure to silence the guns and give diplomacy a chance.

This may sound like a good idea when you're sitting in an office in Midtown Manhattan. Its chances of actually working in practice are none too good. Yet, it has to be tried -- it's the only option on the table that has any chance of success, but only if the great powers are serious.

This also means that UNIFIL and 1701 are barely more than a tool to create breathing space. And Lebanon's civilians can certainly use some breathing space: they were caught in the middle of a war that probably neither the IDF nor Hezbollah had actively sought. But if the "international community" -- and above all the United States and France -- walk away from the problem once UNIFIL is in place and a superficial calm has been restored, precisely nothing will have been won by either the war or the truce that followed it. The Middle East cannot afford another decade or two of UNIFIL.

The author is a South-East Europe editor with Transitions Online (www.tol.org), a newsweekly covering the post-Communist world. He has written for the Wall Street Journal Europe, the International Herald Tribune, and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

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5 Comments

The Jews having been enduring this for 2000 thousand years
Give the mideast oil fields to China and India.

Move the entire Judeo Christian holy land to Quebec, Canada. And the problem will go away. We can then Change the name Quebec to New Jerusalem.

French Peace Keepers
The French and europeans in general do not care enough about the futher to reproduce themselves. Why should they be bothered to do anything risky?

The French
The only western Nation still having babies is the USA.

Name a colony of France that hasn't been left a mess.
I say let the Germans rearm as fully as they wish to.
Let Japanese go for it.
The French are too self absorbed.

the french are prisoners of Islam at this very moment
The french aperthied system has come back to own the french. They designed the slums of france to be controlable through military or simple civilian measures like turning off the power & water & closing the roads. The slums were designed with few ways in & out.
Yet now that the french slums ARE filled with out and out enemies of french culture and the french state, the french dont have the gaul (yes, humor!) to defend their own lands and persons. IMHO the french gene pool is wasted from too many wars. the bold Y chromosomes where all killed in battle leaving the french males nothing but weasal y chromosomes.

Le Marquis de Lafayette and Charles Martel
Le Marquis de Lafayette and Charles Martel are the only 2 Frenchmen I respect.

We repaid our debt to Lafayette in 1917-1918.

The only way we can repay our debt to Charles Martel is to liberate the alleged Muslim lands, but I doubt that will happen until Jesus comes.

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