July 31, 2006

July 31, 2006 | Commentary on Middle East

Lebanon: The U.N. dance

Fireworks started yesterday as the U.N. Security Council met in emergency session to craft a resolution that would - among other issues - deploy a stabilization force to Lebanon to end the fighting between Israel and its terrorist nemesis, Hezbollah.

President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair firmly (and rightly) insist that the cease-fire include Hezbollah's disarmament (per Security Council Resolution 1559). They're absolutely right - but getting a majority (and all the council's veto powers) to sign off on that may be tough.

But even if the council's member can agree on a U.N. mandate, getting together the right international force won't be easy.

Putting boots on the ground in Lebanon's wilderness of mirrors is a roll of the political and military dice. The country's been a meat grinder for peacekeepers before - and would likely be one again.

World capitals get it. They're going to be extremely cautious about sending troops into harm's way to deal with Hezbollah - and its Syrian and Iranian backers - in southern Lebanon's chaos.

Depending on how much hurt Israel puts on the terrorists before an international force hits the ground, the stabilization force might face guerrilla warfare, improvised explosive devices, booby traps and unmarked minefields.

Sure, France, Italy, Turkey and Norway have expressed an early willingness to consider sending troops into Lebanon under the right conditions - but no one is jumping up and down, hollering, "Ooh, ooh, send me!"

The United States says it has no intention of participating in a Lebanon stabilization force. We've already got our hands full in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the War on Terror. We haven't forgotten 1983, when a Hezbollah truck bomb killed 241 U.S. marines and sailors, sleeping in their barracks, while on a peacekeeping mission in Beirut.

Others have their own reasons to stay out - like Germany. Some Germans have raised the possibility that descendants of Holocaust perpetrators might end up pointing weapons at the Israeli descendants of Holocaust victims. (German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeyer, on the other hand, says Berlin has a responsibility, and must get involved, "given the difficult shared history between Germany and Israel.")

Under which "banner" should a Lebanon stabilization force operate? Paris is pushing for a U.N. force, not wanting to put French troops under NATO command. (France pulled out of NATO's military structure in the 1960s.)

But the Blue Beret-types are keeping the idea at arms' length. No doubt the loss of four peacekeepers to an errant Israeli attack last week is the proximate cause. But it could also be a sense that the security environment in Lebanon will be anything but "permissive."

It's likely to be more like "peace-making" or "peace-enforcing," rather than peacekeeping. Any force introduced into Lebanon will clearly need to be "heavy," including combat troops, armor and air power.

So what about NATO? While NATO has the "punch," it's stretched thin with its new commitment in southern Afghanistan - indeed, member nations like Britain are having trouble providing helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and armored vehicles for just that force, never mind Lebanon.

So what's left? The most likely option is a "catch-as-catch-can" multinational force that includes Arabs, Turks and others from Europe and the Pacific, operating under a U.N. mandate and working alongside the (currently feeble) Lebanese army to secure southern Lebanon and parts of the Syrian border.

But, again, no international force should be deployed to Lebanon until there are real prospects for - and progress in - disarming Hezbollah's militia, and any other foreign forces (e.g., Iran/Syria) withdraw.

A cease-fire without Hezbollah laying down its arms will just allow it to catch its breath, lick its wounds and re-supply. Hezbollah only has to survive this conflict to claim victory, enhance its standing and fill its coffers.

If you're going to send an international force into the crucible of southern Lebanon, it's got to be more than a feel-good public-relations exercise. Only "heavy hitters" need apply.

And unless you can get Hezbollah to disarm, you'll have achieved nothing sustainable or of enduring value to peace and stability. Indeed, you won't need peacekeepers - because there will be no peace to keep.

Peter Brookes, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States."

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post