- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

One of the stumbling blocks United Nations negotiators are facing as they draw up the draft resolution aimed at stopping the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah is the kind of force to deploy in south Lebanon.

The first hurdle the Security Council will have to overcome in establishing a U.N. force is to decide if it will be an observation force, a peacekeeping force or a deterrent force. The job of an observation force is simply to monitor the armistice and to report breaches of a cease-fire to the Security Council. It has no authority to intervene in a conflict.

A peacekeeping force acts more along the lines of a police force with extra vigor, and may use force to implement the agreement as set up by the Security Council.

A deterrent force, on the other hand, may be tasked with using force to keep both parties in line.

Israel would like to see a force “with teeth” deployed, one capable of keeping Hezbollah in tow. For its part, Hezbollah would prefer an observation force.

Unless all warring factions agree to the force’s composition, odds of it failing are practically guaranteed. That is why the make-up of this new force, whose job in part will be to back up the Lebanese army in securing the south, is of paramount importance.

Right out of the gate that rules out sending American troops, who would find themselves in open confrontation with Hezbollah militiamen. Current Middle East politics also rules out dispatching British troops because of their involvement in Iraq, and because of the United Kingdom’s tight alliance with the Bush administration. But other countries such as France, Italy and Spain could be contributors, as of course could a number of Muslim nations such as Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait and Nigeria. And we cannot forget neutral countries such as Brazil and Argentina.

South Lebanon has had a U.N. force in place since 1978: UNIFIL — the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon — when Israel earlier invaded the country, occupying land up to the Litani River. And from the very first day of its deployment, UNIFIL ran into serious problems.

The first contingent to arrive and take up positions in the south following Israel’s incursion were French troops commanded by a no-nonsense veteran of previous colonial wars, Col. Jean Salvan. Within days of his arrival Palestinian gunmen ambushed Col. Salvan, seriously injuring him.

Initially composed of some 6,000 men from about a dozen countries, including France and (pre-revolution) Iran, UNIFIL was mandated for a period of six months (renewable) to observe and to try to prevent Palestinians from introducing weapons into the area under the their control. An area previously occupied, held and “cleaned” of Palestinian resistance fighters by Israel was handed over to UNIFIL. Does history not seem to repeat itself?

By and large, UNIFIL has, despite the best of intentions, proved to be inadequate in preventing Palestinian fighters from returning into their area. Nor was UNIFIL able to prevent Israel from reoccupying Lebanon again in 1982.

But history may yet be kind to UNIFIL, as the U.N. Security Council may create a new role for UNIFIL as the vanguard of the new U.N. force. Mandating UNIFIL could in fact become part of the solution to what is holding up the draft resolution.

As a first step Lebanon is demanding an immediate cease-fire and a complete withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanese territory, including from the disputed Shebaa Farms. Israel instead wants a gradual pullout, with the U.N. force moving in as its troops move out, and the Shebaa Farms coming under U.N. administration until a later time when a final resolution regarding its status may be found.

One way out of the current impasse could be to deploy a re-equipped and rejuvenated UNIFIL along with units of the Lebanese Army, as Israel pulls out in measured steps.

There are two important points that U.N. negotiators must not lose sight of. The first is that failure to reach an agreement will result in renewed — and undoubtedly more ferocious — fighting. That will result in more deaths and will create even more refugees.

The second point is that winter is only a few short months away, and with close to 1 million internally displaced people living under tents, in public parks and in schools, a disaster of major proportions is in the making unless the refugees can return to their homes before the cold weather sets in.

And if the Lebanese government is unable to provide shelter and social services for the refugees, they may well turn to Hezbollah, who has provided for them in the past.

And once again, history may be repeating itself.

Claude Salhani is international editor of United Press International.

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