TOPICS : Peacekeeping challenges in south Lebanon
The UN resolution that won a ceasefire in the Israeli-Hizbullah war calls for bolstering the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — presently only a skeleton apparatus of some 2,000 soldiers — with thousands of additional soldiers. Contingents have been pledged by Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Indonesia — all nations that refuse diplomatic relations with Israel. At the same time, Europeans have been slow to offer troops. Only Italy has offered a sizable contingent.
One of Hizbullah’s telling successes is that it has acquired such a fierce reputation for its tough toe-to-toe battles with Israel that no sentient PM wants to send his or her soldiers to complete a job that Israel failed to do. Even Turkish generals, who lead a revered army, are balking at the prospect of sending fighting units as peacekeepers to Lebanon.
After more than a month of Israeli bombardment, Hizbullah emerged with its support intact, if not increased. Its impressive and rapid response to the needs of those whose homes and lives have been ravaged — mostly, but not all Shiite Muslims — has further consolidated its impressive base of support. Outsiders often forget that the Lebanese have suffered tremendously under Israeli attacks. One of the key tasks is to insure Lebanese civilians peacefully return to and rebuild their devastated villages.
If UNIFIL, created in 1978 to oversee an Israeli withdrawal that was 22 years in coming, cannot help restore the civilian population to their homes, then the next few months will only be an interlude in the 2006 war. Given Hizbullah’s broad base of support and the fact that its supporters see no other force that can thwart Israel should it decide to reignite the war, it is completely unrealistic that the new international contingents will succeed either in disarming Hizbullah or in diminishing its appeal. To succeed, UNIFIL will need Hizbullah’s cooperation.
The new force will probably total no more than 8,000 soldiers, not the 15,000 originally envisaged. UNIFIL-plus will retain a major deficit that characterises almost any international force, namely an endemic lack of local knowledge and language skills. The deployment of thousands of Lebanese troops to the south should help to mitigate this problem, especially since the UN force is to work side by side with the Lebanese Army. It is popular sport to castigate the UN for its failures, but no peacekeeping force will be any more effective
than the contributing countries allow it to be. Will governments permit their soldiers to protect Lebanese civilians from Israeli “defensive” attacks, or will soldiers be ordered to mount risky offensive operations against Hizbullah?
The problems are foreseeable, so we are doubtful. Enhancing UNIFIL will do no more than freeze the situation in southern Lebanon. That task in itself would be an accomplishment, but the real work that needs to be done is diplomatic. The integration of Hizbullah’s military apparatus into the Lebanese Army should be a goal of diplomacy. — The Christian Science Monitor