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(photo credit: AP)
We have to work with the Lebanese government to extend its authority over southern Lebanon... The Lebanese government has indicated to me that already they've put in a thousand troops, and others will follow as the UN also moves down, and we will re-enforce the UN troops on the ground...
Let me say that Hizbullah... is a player in the south of Lebanon... I did tell Mr. Nasrallah that Hizbullah exercised restraint, responsibility and discipline after the withdrawal, and that we would want to see that continue, and I'm sure from the indications that he gave me that he intends to do it.
- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with prime minister Ehud Barak, June 21, 2000
Kofi Annan's faith in "Mr. Nasrallah" and the Lebanese government, just after the UN had certified Israel's complete withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago, was somewhat misplaced. Now Annan is talking about sending a "considerably larger" force than UNIFIL with a "different concept of operation." What can we learn from the UN's failures in Lebanon?
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was created after a March 11, 1978 PLO attack against Israel from Lebanon that caused "many dead and wounded among the Israeli population," as UNIFIL's Web site explains. Israel retaliated with a massive military operation against the PLO state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon on the night of March 14.
The next day, the Lebanese government asked the Security Council to intervene, claiming that the Israeli action had "no connection" to the PLO attack.
Just four days later, the Security Council obliged, demanding Israel's immediate withdrawal and establishing UNIFIL to "confirm the Israeli withdrawal, restore international peace and security, and assist the government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area."
Almost 30 years later, after much confirming, restoring, and assisting by UNIFIL, Israel is again in Lebanon, again destroying an alien force ensconced there, this one with capabilities that the PLO could only dream of.
Hizbullah's massive arsenal of missiles, some of which can reach greater Tel Aviv and are controlled directly by Iran, was assembled under the noses of UNIFIL troops. Indeed, UNIFIL's latest contribution is to complain that the current IDF operation has endangered its troops.
Perhaps this is because Hizbullah has been known to base itself right next to UNIFIL forces, in the hopes that Israel would inadvertently hit UNIFIL in response. This is understandable from Hizbullah's cynical perspective, but harder to fathom in relation to UNIFIL's mandate to restore peace and security.
It is often noted that UNIFIL failed in its mission, but even that is too kind, to the extent that it implies that its presence is benign. In reality, UNIFIL has provided more security to Hizbullah than it has to Israel, thereby increasing the likelihood of conflict and helping to make the current war inevitable.
The principal blame for this cannot be placed on the blue-helmeted troops from assorted countries themselves, over 250 of whom lost their lives over the years. Even if they wanted to, the troops could not escape the distorted political constraints imposed by the organization and the nations that sent them. Nor could they escape the iron law of peacekeeping forces: those that are "successful" are not necessary, and those that are most necessary are doomed to failure.
On the Golan Heights and in the Sinai, for example, UN forces are "successful" because Syria and Egypt deem it in their interest to prevent direct conflict with Israel. In Lebanon, where Syria and Iran decided they had an opposite interest, UNIFIL would not lift a finger to stop them.
Enlarging UNIFIL will not solve this problem. An international force - by whatever name, of whatever size, and manned by whichever countries - can at best be the decoration on a fundamental shift in the strategic landscape that prevents further aggression.
That shift must begin with "letting" Israel maximize Hizbullah's destruction. It should continue with a Lebanese, international and Israeli determination to physically prevent southern Lebanon from becoming a terrorist state-within-a-state ever again.
There is already broad international understanding that Hizbullah must be trounced, not trusted. To this must be added the realization that the road to peace and security lies not in helping to protect Israel's attackers, but in helping Israel to protect itself.
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