Eiland: Give Lebanese army a chance

Deployment should be "monitored and escorted" by battalion-sized int'l force.

Israel should consider the deployment of the Lebanese Army in south Lebanon as a way out of the current crisis, former National Security Council head Giora Eiland said Wednesday. Eiland, who served as head of the NSC during the period of disengagement from Gaza, also said at a Jerusalem press briefing that he did not think Israel and the Palestinians could ever reach a political agreement based on a two-state solution inside the current boundaries. "There is no real political solution between Israel and the Palestinians that can be achieved in the foreseeable future, or ever," Eiland said. "One of the obstacles is that the space in which the solution should be achieved - and the solution is a two-state solution - cannot be implemented in the very narrow strip between the Jordan River and the [Mediterranean] sea." Since both sides realized two states in this small area were not possible, he said, "it is no surprise that neither side - the Israelis [and] the Palestinians - is interested in implementing the two-state solution according to the Clinton parameters." Alluding to various land-swap ideas that had been raised in recent years, Eiland said that "the only way maybe to move forward toward a political solution is if we expand the geographic dimension of the problem and include certain areas in Jordan and Egypt to reach a two-state solution, but in a much more reasonable space." Regarding Lebanon, Eiland said Israel should not rule out the southern deployment of the Lebanese Army if three conditions were met. First, he said, the deployment should be "monitored and escorted" by a battalion-sized international force that could come from Europe and arrive within 48 hours to ensure that the Lebanese Army acted in a way that was "consistent with the expectations." Second, the army's mandate would be to prevent the presence of any armed militia from the Litani southward, and it should "have the military force and full political authority to confront those who violate this understanding." The third condition, he said, was that the Shaba farms issue not be a part of this deal. "First let us see what happens before we can talk about other arrangements," he said. "If this can be supported by the Lebanese government - with the full support of the Arab league - I would take the chance and accept it," he said. Eiland added, however, that this did not necessarily mean Israel should not expand its military operation in Lebanon, which the cabinet decided upon on Wednesday. "You can begin a wide military operation... and stop the operation whenever you want," he said. Eiland said that, while the military operation had been "efficient" thus far, it had not been "effective." He said it had been too concentrated in the areas up to six kilometers north of the border and around Beirut. "We are doing the right things in the areas that are less important," he said. According to Eiland, the military efforts needed to be concentrated in an area 20-25 kilometers from the border, where the rocket launchers that are creating such havoc in the north are located. He said there was a dramatic reduction in rocket fire from areas where the IDF is present. Eiland said he didn't know why the government waited until Wednesday, four full weeks since the start of the fighting, to decide to move up to the Litani River. He also criticized the international community for letting the Lebanese government and people off the hook too easily by painting them as innocent victims of a war between two larger powers being waged on their backs. Eiland said that in the Middle East - and especially in Lebanon - the governments "never want to be responsible for anything. It is very comfortable not to be responsible, only to be the victims." Lebanon got away with this, he said, not because it did not have the political or military force but rather because the "international approach gave them the permission to pretend they are so weak. It was a huge mistake." Eiland said that only this week, when US State Department envoy David Welch visited Beirut, did the international community begin speaking to Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora in the right terms. "You are the prime minister and have to make decisions," he paraphrased Welch as saying. "If you make the right decisions we will help you, and if you make the wrong decisions, this is your problem." Saniora's tears at the meeting of Arab foreign ministers earlier in the week in Beirut were not only because of the Lebanese victims, Eiland said, but "because for the first time he could feel the responsibility that he had to do something, not only complain."