- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2006

In the wake of the Israel Defense Forces’ inability to dislodge Hezbollah’s military, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems intent on trying to spin his way out of his unhappy political predicament. This will be extraordinarily difficult, given the realities that: 1) Hezbollah, an arm of the Iranian government, remains a powerful, if not dominating, force in Lebanon; 2) neither the Lebanese government nor the European-led U.N. “peacekeeping force” shows any serious inclination to disarm the terrorist group; and 3) when Israel, acting in self-defense, takes military action to prevent Syria and Iran from resupplying Hezbollah with weapons, it will be attacked by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other representatives of the international community — just as it was when it launched such an operation 10 days ago.

Speaking to the Israeli Cabinet yesterday, Mr. Olmert (whose resignation is now favored by 63 percent of Israelis, according to a recent poll) said that the deployment of the Lebanese army was something that one could only have “fantasized” about before the war began on July 12. “If a month and a half ago, someone would have suggested such an objective, the public would have reacted by saying one should not propose unachievable goals,” the prime minister said. “I am not arguing that everything has changed, but it is indeed possible to say that Lebanon is experiencing a turning point.”

But it is difficult verging on impossible to seriously portray what is occurring in Lebanon as some kind of success — either for Israel or the larger U.S.-led campaign against Islamofascism. Had the Israeli military succeeded in crippling Hezbollah as a military force capable of intimidating its fellow Lebanese, it might have been possible for Beirut’s weak, ineffectual armed forces to extend their authority to southern Lebanon with the help of international peacekeepers. But Mr. Olmert’s vacillation ultimately made it impossible for the IDF to do its job, resulting in a stalemate that is effectively a victory for Hezbollah.

With Israel, the regional superpower, unable (at least for now) to win decisively on the battlefield over Hezbollah, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Lebanese government, the United Nations, and the Europeans have been going out of their way to demonstrate how docile and ineffectual they will be when it comes to disarming the group. Over the weekend, Mohamad Chatah, senior adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, voiced objection to the idea. “We’re not going to achieve [Hezbollah’s disarmament] by sending the army after Hezbollah. That would be suicidal,” Mr. Chatah said.

Last week, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad said he would view the deployment of U.N. troops on the Syrian border to prevent Tehran and Damascus from rearming Hezbollah as a “hostile act” and threatened to seal Syria’s border with Lebanon. So, on Friday, Mr. Annan unsurprisingly capitulated, stating that U.N. peacekeepers would not be stationed along the Lebanese-Syrian border to prevent arms smuggling to Hezbollah unless the Lebanese ask for help. Lebanon’s interior minister said his government would continue on its own to police the border, although it would agree to accept some vague form of “technical assistance” from U.N. peacekeepers. Just to be sure the Lebanese government knows its place, Hezbollah’s second-ranking official vows to continue “resistance” (violence) against Israel. “Justifications for ending it do not exist,” he said in an interview published yesterday.

Translation: Don’t expect Beirut to do anything serious against Hezbollah.

Nor has the performance of the European Union, in particular France and Italy, been encouraging. Last week, French President Jacques Chirac, who had expressed interest in leading the proposed 15,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, announced he would send just 200 additional soldiers — bringing the total size of the French contingent in Lebanon to 400. After receiving much-deserved ridicule, M. Chirac reversed himself and said France would instead provide 1,600 additional soldiers. But this created conflict with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who promised 3,000 soldiers for the expanded U.N. mission in Lebanon. Over the past few days, Italy and France have bickered over which nation will run the force. The Italian government (which is pulling its troops out of the war against Islamofascism in Iraq) moved quickly to signal Hezbollah that it had nothing to fear from Italian peacekeepers, with Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema telling Time magazine: “Our objective is not to destroy Hezbollah, which by now is an important part of Lebanese society.”

One of the most baffling aspects of the debate over deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon has been the apparent failure of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to have nailed down specific troop commitments or rules of engagement for Lebanon prior to the U.N. Security Council’s approval of Resolution 1701 calling for a cease-fire in Lebanon. The most likely explanation is that Washington was interested in getting a deal — and worrying about specifics later.

For now, the ball is largely in Hezbollah’s court (and by extension Iran’s). Don’t be surprised if the terrorists bide their time, refraining from provocations in the short run while rearming. The next time Hezbollah goes to war with Israel, it could be doing so with 15,000 U.N. hostages to shield its fighters from Israeli retaliation.

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