Sunday, August 20, 2006

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s ill-considered decision to leave much of the heavy lifting on Hezbollah’s disarmament to the United Nations and a sclerotic Lebanese government is looking worse all the time. It is clear that the Lebanese army lacks the ability and inclination to disarm Hezbollah — and may even be subordinate to it. Meanwhile, France, which is supposed to lead the expanded international peacekeeping force, refuses to commit more than 200 new troops and Germany has declined to send any soldiers to Lebanon. Thus far, some of the major commitments of forces come from Muslim countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. (In the case of Malaysia, the foreign minister suggested earlier this month that Muslim countries provide arms to Hezbollah.)

Neither the United Nations nor the Lebanese government has shown much determination to fulfill one of the main provisions of Security Council Resolution 1701, the cease-fire resolution approved 10 days ago: an arms embargo against Hezbollah. But while the United Nations proves useless in preventing Hezbollah’s rearming, Secretary-General Kofi Annan continues to do what the United Nations has always done consistently: condemn Israel for defending itself against terrorists.

Under Resolution 1701, the Lebanese army and international forces are supposed to be stationed at the Lebanon-Syria border to ensure there are no violations of the arms embargo and stop illicit weapons transfers to Hezbollah. But thus far there has been no real deployment of forces to the border area. That’s why Israel, upon learning about a specific shipment of weapons that had been smuggled by Iran and Syria into Lebanon for Hezbollah’s use, launched a commando raid Friday against a terrorist stronghold in the Bekaa Valley. Mr. Annan denounced the raid as a violation of the Lebanon truce. But his statement is false: Israel took action to defend itself and enforce the truce because neither the United Nations nor a weak, ineffectual Lebanese government has demonstrated any ability to act against Hezbollah.

In fact, since the cease-fire took effect one week ago, both the Beirut government and the United Nations seem to have been going out of their way to demonstrate that they have absolutely no intention of interfering with Hezbollah’s efforts to rearm and menace Israel. Some reports quoted Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as having agreed that Hezbollah could keep its weapons so long as they were concealed. Israel protested this as a violation of Resolution 1701, which requires Hezbollah’s removal from the border area. Mr. Annan told an Israeli television station that “dismantling Hezbollah is not the direct mandate of the U.N., which could only help Lebanon do the job.”

But Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr, an ally of Syria, contradicted Mr. Annan: The [Lebanese army] is not going to the south to strip Hezbollah of weapons and do the work that Israel did not.” On Wednesday, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, another Syrian ally, emphasized that Hezbollah will not be disarmed — even in the area south of the Litani River near the border with Israel. Sheikh Nasrallah was quoted as saying that Hezbollah members could rebuild their bunkers and fill them with rockets in preparation for the next round of hostilities.

On Saturday, the British Guardian newspaper quoted a retired Lebanese general as stating that Hezbollah and the Lebanese army “cooperate on security issues,” and suggesting that if Lebanese soldiers find Hezbollah guns, they return them to the owners. Other current and former Lebanese officials, including Lebanese army Chief of Staff Gen. Michel Suleiman, were also quoted as praising Hezbollah and stating that it was the duty of the military to protect it. One analyst told the Guardian that the Lebanese army behaved as a junior partner to Hezbollah’s military apparatus. “All intelligence gathered by the army is put at the disposal of Hizbollah, but Hizbollah does not offer the same transparency to the army,” he said. “In a sense, military intelligence in the south is operating on Hezbollah’s behalf.”

In short, it is delusional to think that either the United Nations or the Lebanese military will contribute much of anything to the disarmament of Hezbollah. For the time being, the sides will return to the old pattern: terrorist provocations, half-hearted Israeli retaliatory strikes and U.N. condemnations of Israel. That could change if Iran decides to act on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic calls for Israel’s destruction.

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