As Israel fights to break the back of one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has come up with a very bad idea. He wants to throw a lifeline to Hezbollah, dispatching U.N. peacekeepers to Lebanon. Perhaps Mr. Annan and other advocates of such a force can tell us how many peacekeepers would be necessary, whether Hezbollah would be required to disarm, and, if so, who would disarm them.
Mr. Annan must explain how his peacekeepers would differ from the current U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has failed miserably ever since it was dispatched in 1978. UNIFIL was created following the Coastal Road Massacre of March 11, 1978 — when Palestinian terrorists based in Lebanon and affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization entered Israel along the Mediterranean coast and hijacked a bus. Thirty-six hostages died. In response, the Israel Defense Force invaded southern Lebanon to destroy terrorist bases there. The U.N. Security Council responded by adopting Resolution 425, calling on Israel to “immediately” withdraw from Lebanon and establishing UNIFIL for the purpose of “assisting the government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority to the area.”
In June 1982, UNIFIL failed to stop Palestinian terrorist groups from attacking Israel and forced an occupation of much of Lebanon, leading to the destruction of the Palestinian terrorist bases there. With substantial Syrian and Iranian complicity, Hezbollah supplanted the PLO as the dominant terrorist organization in Lebanon. In 1985, Israel withdrew from Lebanese territory but for a small security zone on Lebanon’s southern border, required to prevent attacks on Israel. Over the next 15 years, UNIFIL was mostly worthless, unable to stop Hezbollah attacks but remarkably successful in getting in the way of Israelis defending themselves. Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, describes how this worked: “Hezbollah would launch military attacks 50 meters from a UNIFIL outpost, Israel would shoot back and UNIFIL would protest against the Israeli response.”
When Israel withdrew from the security zone in May 2000, UNIFIL was worthless again, as Hezbollah rushed to the border to establish a terrorist presence the U.N. forces could only observe. On Oct. 7, 2000, Hezbollah operatives used cars disguised as U.N. vehicles to kidnap and kill three Israeli soldiers. When Israel asked UNIFIL for a videotape of the cars that Hezbollah used in the kidnapping, U.N. officials lied, telling them that no such tape existed. UNIFIL failed to prevent last week’s Hezbollah raid, in which two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped and eight others died. That set off the current mess.
Once Hezbollah is defeated, disarmed and forced to return the soldiers kidnapped last week, someone may find a useful role for the United Nations to play in helping the Lebanese Army extend its authority to the south. For now, however, the Israeli military is doing more to enhance the long-term prospects for peace in Lebanon than the United Nations has ever done. Kofi Annan can perform a great service by staying out of the way.