Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A retired American general and other analysts warned yesterday that any deployment of international peacekeepers in southern Lebanon will be undermined unless troops focus on preventing Syria from re-arming Hezbollah.

Syria, meanwhile, threatened to close its border with Lebanon if peacekeepers were deployed there.

European officials were meeting in Brussels to work out the details of a 15,000-strong international force sanctioned by the United Nations. Italy has pledged 2,000 to 3,000 troops to help fulfill the peacekeeping mandate, and France has pledged 200.

At a conference in Washington, retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman said it was crucial that any international force have a clear mission and rules of engagement, including the use of deadly force, “to prevent the entry into Lebanon of foreign forces, arms and related material.”

“If the military cannot accomplish the mission of intercepting and interrupting the resupply of Hezbollah, then the mission of stabilizing Lebanon and providing the opportunity of political dialogue will fail,” Gen. Christman said.

Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, warned that the re-arming of Hezbollah could spark renewed fighting.

“I’m not sure that a larger force would make a difference, but it should focus on preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament” by controlling the borders, Mr. Eisenstadt said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted as saying on Dubai television that he would consider troop deployment along the Lebanon-Syria border as “creating a hostile condition” between the two countries, the Associated Press reported.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja told reporters that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem had threatened to close the border if troops were moved there.

The comments drove up tensions in the region.

“We are now in the most sensitive and explosive position,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni after talks with her French counterpart, Philippe Douste-Blazy, the AP reported.

“We, therefore, need extremely quick action from the international community,” she said.

With 10 days into the cease-fire, an analyst said, the delay in deploying an effective international force was creating a security and responsibility vacuum in the south that could lead to the collapse of the Lebanese government.

“Right now the security situation in the south is very precarious — any incident can escalate into war again,” said Emile El-Hokayem of the Henry L. Stimson Center.

The Lebanese government is trying to re-establish its credibility by sending its troops to the south, he said, but expecting the government to disarm Hezbollah was not a realistic option.

“The debate right now is more about weapons management than disarmament. The question is: Can Israel live with that?” Mr. El-Hokayem said.

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