Lebanon tipping-point?

Responsible actors in the int'l community must act to close the spigot spewing weapons into Lebanon.

hizbullah welcome 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
hizbullah welcome 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel is sounding the alarm: The fragile balance of forces in Lebanon is unraveling. And the world is playing deaf. The Israeli-Lebanese relationship is reaching another critical turning-point; and not just over how Lebanon and Hizbullah are melding into a single new entity, with Beirut set to formally confer upon Hizbullah the right to "liberate or recover occupied lands" - meaning any territory it defines as "occupied," whether Mount Dov (the Shaba Farms) or Galilee. Lebanon is metamorphosing from hapless bystander to willing Hizbullah enabler, a transformation certain to have devastating consequences. The even more immediate crisis is that unless Hizbullah's runaway arms-smuggling is checked, the Islamists may soon possess weapons that could force Israel into preemptive military action to protect this country's deterrence. In the words of Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "We are warning leaders, foreign ministers, defense ministers around the world of the consequences of destabilizing the very delicate balance that exists in Lebanon." THIS WEEK, the four-member Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team, dispatched by UN Secretary of State Ban Ki-moon to assess "the monitoring of the Lebanese border with Syria" - or, in plain English, to expose rampant Hizbullah arms smuggling - wrapped up its two-week mission. It will now submit recommendations to the secretary-general. We should pray that its report is genuine, and that the powers-that-be will sit up and take notice. Israel continues to insist that UNIFIL countries are choosing to disregard evidence of Hizbullah smuggling because they do not want to confront the muscular extremists. Still, Israeli officials have been sounding the alarm. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Barak both held meetings with Ban last week to press for action against Hizbullah's shameless violations of UN Security Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. Livni declared that Israel "cannot accept" the flood of Hizbullah weapons smuggling. Barak was equally blunt, saying 1701 "did not work, doesn't work, and is a failure" given that Syria and Iran have moved "munitions, rockets and other weapon systems" into Lebanon. How Damascus expects Israelis to reconcile its behavior - not to mention Bashar Assad's weekend dalliance in Teheran - with intimations that Syria wants rapprochement with Israel is anyone's guess. It also begs the question of whether Israel's indirect talks with Syria have inoculated Assad's regime against international reprobation. At any rate, after his meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney last week in Washington, Barak remarked that Syria's hostile behavior had led, in the last two years, to Hizbullah doubling or tripling the number of missiles in its arsenal. Hizbullah's armaments are smuggled from Iran via Syria, though some are of Syrian origin. The most lethal weaponry is Russian-made. While Resolution 1701 demanded "the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon," Hizbullah has never been better armed. While it called on Lebanon to support the cease-fire, Beirut now explicitly threatens Israel. And while it demanded that "no sales or supply of arms and related material" reach Lebanon - Syria, Iran (and, less brazenly, Russia) are systematically flouting 1701. WHY ARE Israeli officials raising the decibel level now given that Hizbullah has been violating 1701 practically from the get-go? And what to make of Hizbullah's menacing declaration last week that it would treat as "provocative" and "unacceptable" Israeli overflights of Lebanese airspace? There is no denying that Israeli aircraft fly reconnaissance missions over Lebanon gathering imperative intelligence and monitoring Hizbullah's hostile intentions. Now that Lebanon stands poised to adopt Hizbullah's anti-Israel crusade as national policy, it would be ludicrous to treat Lebanese airspace as sacrosanct. Hizbullah appears set to receive a new generation of anti-aircraft missiles that would jeopardize the IAF's intelligence-gathering capabilities. If, for instance, Syria facilitates the delivery of these Russian-manufactured, SA-8 self-propelled anti-aircraft missiles - or, more ominously, the SA-15 now operating in Iran - Israeli decision-makers may have to consider a preemptive strike. No weapons at all should be reaching Hizbullah; but channeling dangerously destabilizing surface-to-air missiles that could blind Israel to the threats emanating from the north is simply asking for trouble. Responsible actors in the international community need to take Israel's warnings with the utmost seriousness and act to close the spigot spewing weapons into Lebanon.