Monday, August 21, 2006

The unraveling ceasefire

It should come as no surprise that the UN-brokered ceasefire in Southern Lebanon seems to be unraveling.

European countries, who have been among the most vocal in calling for the ceasefire, have expressed reluctance to commit troops to the UN peacekeeping mission. Meanwhile, Israel launched a commando raid on a Hezbollah hideout for reasons that remain murky but were almost certainly either ill-advised or ill-conceived.

France, expected to comprise the backbone of the peacekeeping force, sent a laughably small contingent of 50 troops, in numbers more suitable for forming a soccer team than maintaining a ceasefire. In fact, France’s soccer team has historically proven itself degrees more intrepid than its army, and if I thought Hezbollah could be neutralized by the simple expedient of head-butting I would be willing to effect the substitution. France, unwilling to commit further troops until their safety can be guaranteed, has agreed to top them up with only another 150, far short of the 4000 hardy Gallic warriors it was expected to contribute. France to the fore!

Among the other UN member states composing the peacekeeping contingent, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh are predominantly Muslim countries with no formal diplomatic recognition of Israel.

Nor can the job be reliably outsourced to the Lebanese army, comprised of roughly 60% Shi’a Muslims who are more sympathetically disposed towards Hezbollah. Early in the conflict, in a display of rare regional cooperation, radar supplied by the Lebanese army guided an Iranian-made missile supplied through Syria to its target, an Israeli navy ship.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora seems to envision the army’s task as establishing a sort of protectorate in South where Hezbollah can operate without constraint. Lebanese Defense Minister Elian Murr sees its goal as twofold: to “ensure the security of the [Islamic] Resistance and citizens, to protect the victory of the Resistance.” The United Nations is not much more ambitious; this week, Kofi Annan ruled out the use of force to disarm the terrorist militia.

Thus far, it must be said, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has not been what you might call a resounding success. In 2000, UNIFIL troops were complicit in the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, and the entire distasteful episode was the subject of a cover-up that saw the UN withhold videotaped evidence of the crime from Israel. In the ensuing years after Israeli withdrawal, UNIFIL presided over the re-arming of Hezbollah in Lebanon. During the course of the recent conflict, its troops were reduced to cowering in bunkers and sending stern letters of protest to the authorities as firefights broke out around them. Hardly the stuff of legend.

The United Nations does not have a glorious record when it comes to military intervention. Missions are hampered by the lack of a clear mandate to use force in the protection of civilians. Third-world troops are ill trained, poorly equipped, and prone to graft and corruption.

In Rwanda, UN troops sat on the sidelines, powerless to prevent the slaughter of 900,000 Rwandans over a three-month period. (France, it will be remembered, was accused of facilitating the genocide by arming the Hutu aggressors, allowing the slaughter of Tutsis in French areas of deployment, and stymieing foreign intervention in what it considered its sphere of influence.) In the Congo, UN peacekeepers, unauthorized to act, cowered behind razor-wire as thousands were slaughtered. Their enforced inaction has come has come at great cost to both civilians and peacekeepers themselves; in the Congo in 2003, three UN peacekeepers, after having called repeatedly and futilely for reinforcements, were murdered and their bodies later found mutilated. In Bosnia, troops were held hostage by warring parties while the killing continued unabated.

In short, I do not have much hope from the organization that brought us what Mark Steyn has dubbed the “Oil-For-Fraud” and “Child-Sex-For-Food” programs. Under the aegis of the UN Oil for Food program in Iraq, you will recall, billions of dollars were diverted to the regime in the form of kickbacks and used to enrich the leadership, buy influence at the UN and, it is believed, fund the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. In the Congo, UN peacekeepers who should have been otherwise occupied preventing brutal atrocities, including cannibalism, bedded the locals with wild enthusiasm, allegedly raping women and young children and trading sexual favors for food.

The UN General Assembly is comprised in the main of autocrats who insist on democratic representation in the form of one state, one vote, with a vehemence that must stun their jailed opposition back home, and the new Human Rights Commission is only slightly less of a joke than the old one. As the world’s only forum for global diplomacy, the UN is not entirely useless. But, having overseen more than its share of venality and corruption, its imprimatur is hardly required to lend legitimacy to the military undertakings of the world’s democracies, nor yet effective enough to render them unnecessary.

Israel has emerged as both the perceived aggressor and loser in this conflict. It has accomplished neither the disarming of Hezbollah nor the rescue of its kidnapped soldiers, whose safe return has not been made a condition of the ceasefire. Syria has successfully deflected attention from investigations into its assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and ditto Iran from its nascent nuclear program, while emerging a greater regional power to boot. Hezbollah, having set the bar for victory so low that their very survival is considered a triumph, is consolidating its support with piles of Iranian cash for Lebanese victims of the conflict. The ceasefire effectively ensures the rearming of Hezbollah, the weakening of Israel, and, I fear, the future deaths of a great many more civilians the next time around.


Anonymous said...

"Ceasefire" is one method of labelling the breathing room the UN gave Hezbollah to re-arm, there are probably more accurate terms however.

Hopefully Israel won't make the same mistakes twice, so that when the Lebanon battle heats up again they'll be ready to smash the Iranian fascists in Lebanon. Smashing Iran itself would be a good idea too...

Calgary Junkie said...

What I don't understand is why it's taking so long for Jack Layton, Keith Martin, or any of the other usual suspects to come out and demand that Canada pony up some peace-keepers too. After all, its the U.N. calling the shots here, and not that evil Bush, which means Canada should jump in, blue helmets on, come across as more neutral, nuanced, and all that good stuff.

One of these guys better hurry up and stake out their position before the other guy beats them to it, and makes a stronger claim to all those anti-Bush/Harper votes.

sharon said...


You are right. It doesn't make much sense to go after what is, after all, only a proxy army, when the real enemy is Iran. I only hope that the international community can summon up both the will and the strength to defeat it by any means possible, diplomatic and military. However, I'm not holding my breath.

sharon said...

calgary junkie,

That is an excellent point. It exposes the hypocrisy of the Canadian left, who were so vocal in calling for a ceasefire yet surprisingly mute in calling for Canadian troops to enforce it. It's all very well to sit in Ottawa and make airy statements, and quite another to shed Canadian blood in support of them.

Phil said...

Yes, the real enemy is Iran, and nothing would please me more than to see the Mullahs and Ahmadinejihad sent on a one-way trip to meet Allah. However, geography makes it essentially impossible for Israel – alone - to engage Iran in any meaningful way.

The key here is Syria - the other Iranian proxy that represents Hezbollah's material lifeline. We can only hope that the Olmert government suffers a non-confidence vote as soon as possible. I don't think Olmert, or anyone else in the Kadima party, has the intestinal fortitude to accept that Baby Assad and his regime absolutely must go, and in terrifically dramatic fashion. Such a move would starve Hezbollah and reverse the dangerous decline of Israeli deterrence.


P.S. Hi Sharon. Glad to see you’re blogging again. I just got your message from a few weeks ago. For whatever reason, my Outlook junk-mail filter did not approve. Must have something to do with the header created by the PHP script I use on my site’s contact form.

sharon said...

Hi Phil,

That's a sharp analysis of the situation. I couldn't possibly add anything more to that.

Do you suppose that Bibi has what it takes to dispatch the mad mullahs to Allah? I think he's the best candidate, but on an ethical level I find him a bit dodgy.

PS Better late than never! It's nice that we're on the same side of the political divide.

Phil said...

I'm torn when it comes to Bibi. On the one hand, I agree with just about everything he has to say on these events; the implacability of Israel's enemies, the need for Israel to take a hard-line with Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. But, on the other hand, Bibi is too much of a political animal, for my taste. Were he to become PM - again - would he live-up to the positions he takes as loyal opposition? Or does he merely want power?

If only Arik had been at the helm for this unprecedented moment in Israel's brief history.

BTW, to say we are on the same side of the political divide may be a huge understatement. Your essays echo my sentiments to a tee.


sharon said...

Hi Phil,

This war suffered from unclear military goals and fumbling political leadership, and to that extent I think Sharon would have helped.

But Israeli intelligence was caught unawares by the extent of Hezbollah's weaponry, and there are disturbing reports of Israeli reserve soldiers underprepared and under-equipped. To me, this indicates a dangerous kind of complacency in the military establishment, similar to what we saw in the run-up to the Yom Kippur War. Israel should always be mobilized for war, as it cannot afford to lose one, and the fact that it wasn't indicates something far more systemic.

Thanks for your comment. If I don't soon find a point of contention, it will certainly make debate between us rather uninteresting!