- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2006

In due course the guns will fall silent in Lebanon, giving room to a political settlement that will most likely come accompanied by a demand for yet more foreign forces to take a position in an effort to guarantee a lasting peace.

The idea of international forces juxtaposing themselves between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah Shi’ite militias is gathering steam in Washington, Jerusalem, Beirut and at NATO headquarters in Brussels. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice undertakes her first stab at shuttle diplomacy, she appears to have endorsed the notion first placed on the table by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan for some form of “stabilization force” to act as peacekeepers with muscles in the war-torn region.

The concept of imposing peace by force if needed has already found support among European leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy envoy.

However, as Michael Eisenstadt, a Washington Institute for Near East Policy senior fellow and director for security studies, says in a paper titled, “An International Stabilization Force for Lebanon: Problems and Prospects,” such a force is “liable to face major obstacles and incur substantial risks that could jeopardize its prospects for success. For this reason, it is essential to consider what past experiences and Lebanon, the Middle East, and elsewhere teach about peacekeeping and peace enforcement options, the sort of challenges such a force could encounter, and the kind of mandate and capabilities required to meet the challenges.”

Much will be said of UNIFIL — the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon established in March 1978. Sadly for that force, it will be looked at as the example not to follow. UNIFIL, which first arrived to pick up positions in south Lebanon in 1978 following an Israeli incursion that took soldiers of the Jewish state right up to the ancient port city of Tyre. In total, about 6,000 men from a dozen nations took part. They included troops from France, Senegal, Fiji, Ireland, the Scandinavian countries and Nigeria. Over the years, UNIFIL has dwindled to 2,000 soldiers.

The United Nations passed U.N. Security Council resolution 425 and created UNIFIL as an interim, or temporary, force to facilitate the pullout of Israeli forces who had invaded as far north as the Litani River and to keep Palestinian commandos in check and north of the fence that separates Lebanon from Israel. UNIFIL failed in all aspects. Not only could they not prevent the two sides crisscrossing the frontier like it was red tag sales day at Macy’s, but from the very first day Palestinians loyal to Yasser Arafat engaged units of the French contingent near the city of Tyre and shot and severely injured Col. Jean Salvan, a tough paratrooper who had seen action in Indochina and Algeria. It was the PLO’s way of setting the parameters. It went downhill from there.

UNIFIL should serve as a lesson of what not to do. Why did UNIFIL fail so drastically?

(1) First, Mr. Eisenstadt says, UNIFIL was hastily organized “to prevent events in Lebanon from derailing U.S. efforts to advance and broaden the still-fragile Egyptian-Israeli peace process.” This resulted in a number of shortcomings.

(2) “UNIFIL operated in accordance with traditional peacekeeping principles: impartiality in its dealings with local entities (even terrorist groups).”

(3) UNIFIL lacked the proper strength needed to carry out the job. “Even at its peak strength of 6,000 soldiers and observers, it lacked the manpower necessary to secure its entire area of operations, creating numerous gaps in its deployments that were often exploited by terrorists and others seeking to disturb the peace.”

Mr. Eisenstadt correctly notes any new force would need the proper strength to carry out its mission. Two immediate changes would have to be made in a force such as UNIFIL: It would have to be a deterrent force with the ability to strike rather than merely an observation force; and it would need to be deployed in far larger numbers, no less than 25,000 combat-ready soldiers and possibly more.

That force would need to comprise an intelligence company, a logistics company, and have the backing of armor, artillery and most important, the support of competent air cover — both fixed-wing and helicopters. Only a handful of countries, such as the United States, France, Great Britain and Russia, would be capable of dedicating aircraft carriers to support such a mission.

UNIFIL, despite its failures, should not be scrapped altogether, but rather integrated into the new force, as it brings almost 30 years of field experience, knowledge of the terrain, the area, its customs and its people. In that sense, UNIFIL can be a valuable asset to the new deterrent force in south Lebanon.

To succeed this time as a strike force, it must have clear marching orders from the U.N. Security Council. Mr. Eizenstadt said it should also be endorsed by the Arab League. This may be a rubber-stamp formality but would nevertheless give the force that added little legitimacy expected by the rest of the Arab world.

However, this strike force’s primary task, Mr. Eizenstadt says, must be to help the Lebanese army integrate the south and become the respected force in the area. It should fall to the Lebanese army — with the backing of this new multinational strike force — to ensure (a) Hezbollah militiamen do not cross into the no-go zone and (b) that Israel stays on its side of the border.

The Lebanese army and the new multinational force that will enter the south after the violence stops will find a much-destroyed south Lebanon with little or no infrastructure intact. The Lebanese army’s primary task will be to maintain security and prevent the reinfiltration of militias. Then, to win the hearts and minds of the Lebanese population — which is mostly Shi’ite — the Lebanese and foreign military will need help from yet another army: nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and volunteers, doctors, builders, educators and other everyday professionals. They will have to take on the social services provided by Hezbollah.

Deploying one without the other would invite another failure in south Lebanon.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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