idf troops 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Quietly, without fanfare, the IDF is leaving south Lebanon. By the weekend half the positions held by Israeli forces had been relinquished. At this point almost no Israeli reservists remain in Lebanon.
In an ideal world this could be cheery news. But it isn't anything of the sort if we juxtapose reality with declared objectives - and not even the ones issued at the war's outset but the more modest demands Israel made as the cease-fire deal was being negotiated. Everyone knew, and said so at the time, that the test of any purported achievements made on paper would be in the implementation, and that ensuring proper implementation was the real challenge.
Yet some of these "achievements" now look like they are being frittered away.
Only with utmost reluctance did Israel acquiesce to an enlarged UNIFIL presence as a guarantor of a new reality in southern Lebanon. The French had reportedly scuttled proposals for professional and capable NATO contingents. Israel chose to make do with the promise that an enlarged UNIFIL would improve its act.
Skepticism about a force which owes its authority and allegiance to the UN was always warranted. The record could not have been more unpromising. In the years that led up to the past few weeks of fighting, UNIFIL essentially became a human shield for Hizbullah; it did not so much as warn about, let alone lift a finger to prevent, Hizbullah's massive weapons build up.
So long as Israel holds on to territory it has been forced to recapture in Lebanon in the past weeks, it retains a degree of leverage as to the kind of presence that replaces it. The less territory Israel controls, the weaker its bargaining chips.
Initially Israel vowed not to cede positions to the Lebanese army, which contains significant Shi'ite components and which in any case couldn't be expected to battle Hizbullah. Lebanon's leaders, indeed, lose no opportunity to underscore their refusal to confront Hizbullah's terrorists, so weakened are they by Hizbullah's presence, so incapable of reasserting Lebanese sovereignty.
In fact, however, the IDF has handed over some positions to vanguard Lebanese army units. It has ceded others to UNIFIL - a UNIFIL that it has no compelling reason to believe will act any differently than in years past. Some areas from which Israeli forces have pulled back, meanwhile, remain without even symbolic supervision.
Concomitantly, locals returning to southern Lebanon include in their midst numerous Hizbullah reinforcements, who are already warning UNIFIL not to approach their strongholds. New weaponry and ammunition are said to be coming in again via Syria through uncontrolled borders.
By the time any meaningful UNIFIL presence arrives - if at all - there is every danger of it encountering a Hizbullah reentrenched and rearmed, essentially as before. Any remote chance that international troops could grapple with it would have disappeared.
World leaders reiterate that they have no intention of taking on Hizbullah and disarming it, even though that is the mandate of UN Resolution 1559 and the heart of 1701. To make matters worse, among those most eager to contribute soldiers to the "new" UNIFIL are hostile Arab and Muslim states. Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman has rightly protested against the travesty that some of those entrusted with keeping the peace would be dispatched by states that don't recognize Israel's right to exist.
France, which led the clamor for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and claimed a leadership role in the rehabilitated UNIFIL, astounded the world last week when it announced that for now it would only add 200 more soldiers to the same number of its men currently serving in the impotent UNIFIL.
That isn't only a cynical breach of trust towards Israel, but also to a Lebanon which would be left to Hizbullah's mercy. France evidently prefers not to jeopardize ties with Syria and Iran (the latter having been absurdly described by Paris lately as "a stabilizing force" in this region).
In short, given all of the above, next to nothing in Lebanon is shaping up as envisioned even according to the most circumscribed Israeli wish list. Yet it is still not too late to prevent Resolution 1701 being rendered a total dead letter.
So long as the IDF retains a presence in Lebanon, Israeli leverage isn't completely nullified. Responsibility must not be transferred to incapable, irresponsible or outright hostile hands in a bid to get out with alacrity. Israel can still prevent an outright betrayal by the international community that can only prompt more bloodshed in the not-so-distant future. For Israel's sake, and for Lebanon's, the international community must not be released from its commitments.