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European and Arab diplomats voiced their support Monday for an international peacekeeping force on the Israel-Lebanon border, a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel would consider such a plan.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said sending an international peacekeeping force would be a difficult, but crucial part of an overall solution to the conflict, adding that "several European Union nations" would contribute troops and hardware.
Saad Hariri, Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader, also called for international aid to guarantee his nation's freedom and sovereignty. "This must stop... we don't want another war in Lebanon," he said. "We don't want Lebanon to be used as a territory for other conflicts. We need Lebanon to be a free and sovereign country."
"Hizbullah has to either be persuaded or forced to give up its arms and start behaving like a democratic organization within a democratic Lebanon," said Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells, Britain's top diplomat for the Middle East, on Monday.
"There are no easy decisions about an intervention force or stabilization force... What will be its rules of engagement and how will it get there?" Howells said after talks with Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit and Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib in Amman.
In any scenario, Howells stressed, a multinational force must have "the cooperation of the Lebanese government and people."
However, a prominent leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community warned in an interview with The Globe and Mail that the deployment of a NATO-led force in southern Lebanon would be rejected by the majority of Lebanese as a form of occupation, and any foreign army would likely be targeted by Hizbullah.
Bahia Hariri, sister of assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, said in the interview that like the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has been deployed on the blue line since 1978, NATO troops would not succeed in creating a buffer zone on the frontier or in disarming Hizbullah.
According to international law expert Ruth Lapidoth, who served as a UN envoy during the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, the UNIFIL was doomed to failure from the start because Hizbullah was not interested in peace and the UNIFIL lacked the manpower and hardware to take them on.
In contrast, Lapidoth noted, the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), which was established by Israel and Egypt with the help of the US in 1982, "has performed its peacekeeping mission effectively because peace was in the interests of both parties."
Hizbullah's existential worth is fed by the conflict, continued Lapidoth, and thus a large and well-equipped NATO-led force, with a clear mandate to deter Hizbullah attacks with force, is required.
"The question is, what powers will the NATO force be given? Will they only be able to fight in self-defense, or will they be able to act proactively to stop Hizbullah from striking Israel from the south of Lebanon?" she said.
The goal, Lapidoth continued, is to stabilize a situation until the politicians and diplomats have the opportunity to establish a permanent peace. And this, she added, requires a capable and committed military force.
By most accounts, the presence of UNIFIL on the northern frontier has been ineffective at best. Two-hundred and fifty-seven UNIFIL troops and staff have been killed in Lebanon since it was established on March 19, 1978. The blue-helmeted troops have looked on, powerless, as Hizbullah has assembled a massive arsenal of missiles along the border over the last six years.
According to the UNIFIL mandate, the force's initial charge was "to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, to restore international peace and security and to assist the Lebanese government in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area."
As of May 31, 1,900 UNIFIL troops from China, France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Ukraine have manned compounds side-by-side with Hizbullah outposts.
As opposed to UNIFIL, NATO forces deployed in the Balkans in the aftermath of Yugoslavia's break-up in the Nineties demonstrated an operational capability to deal with a constant threat of violence.
Once a purely defensive alliance, NATO intervened with force to end ethnically-driven conflicts, and then deployed troops to prevent a return to hostilities. In Kosovo and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO troops oversaw the disarming of insurgents and created the pre-conditions for diplomatic reconciliation. The calm, while tense, created an environment where a peace process could take root.
NATO has also expanded its international peacekeeping duties outside the Euro-Atlantic area. In August 2003, NATO took over command and coordination of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and in Iraq and Africa, the alliance administrates training, equipping and technical assistance to peacekeeping forces, according to the official NATO Web site.
AP contributed to this report.
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