The catch-phrase for Israel’s goal in the Gaza war has shifted from “quiet for quiet” to “destroy the tunnels” to “disarmament.”
But no one has defined what that disarmament would mean or how it would be achieved and monitored.
The most recent related model, the “disarmament” of Hezbollah in Lebanon following the 2006 war, is considered a colossal failure.
Hezbollah’s pre- and immediate post-war rockets totals were estimated between 6,000 and 12,000, while current estimates of rockets plus mortar shells range from 60,000 to double or triple that.
This in spite of the fact that UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was considered one of the toughest and most pro-Israel (in relative terms) resolutions issued.
UN Resolution 1701 officially gave the UNIFIL peacekeeping force a role in aspects of disarmament and intercepting arms, greatly expanded its funding and the force to 13,000 troops, provided it tanks, heavy armor, antiaircraft weapons and naval vessels and, for the first time, authorized it to use force.
The hope was that UNIFIL would support the Lebanese Army in disarming Hezbollah, removing Hezbollah from the Israeli border area and, at the very least, prevent Hezbollah from rearming.
None of the above occurred, partially because UNIFIL’s mandate, if stronger, was still unclear, partially because some UNIFIL commanders refused to use force without additional approvals from their home-country and partially because where UNIFIL tried to investigate/block Hezbollah rearmament, it was overpowered by Hezbollah supporters.
The lesson is that likely no UN force, alone, no matter how strong and how forceful a mandate is likely to succeed in disarming a major force, whether Hezbollah or Hamas, without backing from a force willing to re-engage in all-out conflict to enforce the disarmament.
If that is true, how can disarmament be enforced once the IDF’s guns are silent? A frequently hinted to possibility is putting the Palestinian Authority security forces in charge of border crossings and possibly taking over or combining within it any other armed Gaza forces.
But the PA was whipped soundly once by Hamas (in June 2007). Why, without another force backing it on the ground, would one expect it to do better? And any foreign force on the ground would have the massive drawback of making the PA look like mere agents of that force.
US President Barack Obama has endorsed disarmament, but in the vague sense of working into a distant, broader solution.
But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and numerous security experts like Institute for National Security Studies head Amos Yadlin have said that disarmament must occur in the short-term.
Netanyahu has spoken of only allowing in rebuilding funds in stages parallel to disarmament.
But money and civilian supplies are sometimes even easier to launder and move around without being detected than arms.
And who is going to stop the UN, Western countries and others at the border from bringing in funds and materials to rebuild until a particular Gaza neighborhood has given up its arms.
Probably the only formula that could come close to guaranteeing complete disarmament or moving arms to the PA would mean an extended stay of the IDF in parts of Gaza (check out Hamas’s current opposition to any cease-fire pre-withdrawal), with withdrawals only occurring as areas were disarmed, and a willingness to stay where disarmament lagged.
Even then, at some point the IDF would withdraw and rearmament could begin unless the UN, the PA or some other third party was in place to prevent it – taking us back to the same problems with weak-third parties trying to enforce agreements against strong forces like Hamas.
Could some residual IDF force be left behind to work with the UN or the PA? If not, given initial disarmament (a big given), could that third party, along with the idea of linking rebuilding funds to non-rearmament, block rearmament? All of this assumes (some would say unrealistically) that the IDF escalates the fight with Hamas to a point where the latter is willing to disarm.
The other approach would acknowledge that the discussion may not really be about complete disarmament, as much as it is about preventing rearmament as occurred with Hezbollah.
All of the same problems arise, but it is still far easier to prevent new arms from coming in than it is to remove arms from those currently possessing and hiding them.
In short, if disarmament or preventing re-armament is to have any chance, it must be clearly defined, including a forceful mechanism for violations, and even then it is a long shot.