Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Middle East Cease-Fire: Flawed and Dangerous

Today's San Diego Union-Tribune editorial page has a sober analysis of the problems with the U.N. Security Council's Resolution 1701 calling for a cease-fire in the 2006 Mideast War. The editors credit Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Bush administration for their skillful diplomacy, especially in winning a unanimous 15-0 vote of approval at the Security Council. The resolution remains problematic, nevertheless:

The current resolution's deficiencies are glaringly apparent.

A 2004 Security Council resolution, 1559, called for disarming the Hezbollah militia that has long been an armed state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon and a proxy force for Syria and Iran. Had Resolution 1559 been implemented and enforced, the fierce war this past month would never have occurred.

Yet, the U.N.'s current cease-fire resolution leaves the matter of disarming Hezbollah dangerously ambiguous. No one, not the weak Lebanese army nor a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force, is specifically charged with taking away Hezbollah's arsenals of arms, which include rockets and missiles capable of striking anywhere in northern Israel.

Ominously, a defiant Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah declared yesterday that talk of disarming his guerrilla army was “a big mistake.” That doesn't sound like Hezbollah, which is boasting that it won this war, will be voluntarily giving up its arms anytime soon.

The second grievous flaw in Resolution 1701 is denying the new U.N. peacekeeping force charged with enforcing the cease-fire full powers to use lethal force. The existing U.N. force in southern Lebanon, 2,000 armed observers, has been ineffective for two decades. Resolution 1701 calls for an additional 15,000 troops with limited powers to defend themselves but no mandate to take on Hezbollah if necessary.

That may be a fatal omission if Nasrallah and his sponsors in Damascus and Tehran decide on another round against Israel.

Meanwhile, the Israelis insist, understandably, that their forces won't withdraw from southern Lebanon until the new U.N. force arrives to take control together with the Lebanese army. Hezbollah says it will feel free to resist the Israeli presence on Lebanese soil. With the arrival of a new U.N. force weeks away, southern Lebanon will remain a volatile tinderbox that could erupt at any time.

The overriding strategic hope when this war began was that it would end with Hezbollah soundly defeated and Syria and Iran sharply checked in the process. Instead, Hezbollah has emerged battered but intact, while Syria and Iran have avoided any real setback to their regional ambitions.

To that, add a shaky cease-fire that fails to ensure Hezbollah's disarmament. Taken together, these are precisely the ingredients that risk renewed hostilities sooner or later.

There's now a general consensus that Hezbollah's been strengthened by the war, and Iran and Syria have been major beneficiaries as well . Indeed,
there'll be considerable debate going forward on whether Israel's war against Hezbollah was in fact an unmitigated defeat for the Jewish state.

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