Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wiil the Cease Fire Hold? Lebanon's Part

[This is part 2 of a continuing essay on factors that stabilize and destabilize the current cease-fire. Part 1 is below.]
3. The Lebanese government’s primary goals are recovery from the devastation of the war and the extension of state authority to southern Lebanon. The realization of both goals depends largely on containing Hezbollah. Its provoking Israel to a second round would signal defiance of state authority, while inevitably bringing more destruction, courtesy of Israel, to Lebanon. In theory, the restraints would involve the disarming of Hezbollah, especially since it is the only movement or community in Lebanon that remains armed. In practice, the government will move gingerly to avoid a confrontation that would prematurely test its army’s strength against Hezbollah. Moreover, the recovery effort will require Hezbollah’s participation for both the funds it can get from Iran and the effective administration it can provide for reconstruction in the Shiite areas.

Suggestions like former US State Department officials Carlos Pascual and Martin Indyk’s that the US and the petro-rich Arab states freeze Hezbollah and Iran out of the reconstruction process are just plain stupid. They ignore the extent and degree of the destruction, evident in survey maps, the Amnesty International Report on Israel’s war crimes and the near one million refugees trying to return home. These and Lebanese central bank reports indicate recovery costs of ten billion dollars, so every contribution from abroad will be needed. These pundits also ignore that the Lebanese government lacks personnel who could knowledgably and honesty administer southern Lebanon. It has been decades since government officials were in charge there, and then they were as corrupt as officials elsewhere in Lebanon – which is to say, very. Pacual and Indyk’s view of Lebanon, like that of Israeli pilots in the past month, is from 20,000 feet up. Like those pilots, they have no concern for Lebanon’s welfare. They are writing for an inside-the-Beltway audience that emotionally resembles someone who secretly thrilled when her pet chased a rabbit and half destroyed the neighbor’s garden. Now, needing to mollify the outrage of the other folks on the block, she’s willing to pay some damages, thinking she’s being generous, but is not willing to take any responsibility.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has displayed considerable confidence that his government can both use and contain Hezbollah. He knows that he enjoys the backing of the non-Shiite Lebanese and of many Shiites, who prefer a pluralistic, prosperous state to a pan-Islamist future or a return of Syrian hegemony. He also believes that Hezbollah was considerably weakened in the conflict with Israel. However to prevent any confrontations from spiraling out of control, he insists that the Lebanese army rather than UNIFIL disarm Hezbollah; in other words, he will take the integration of Hezbollah into Lebanon slowly. In that scenario, he wants UNIFIL as protection from Israel rather than for Israel.

In addition to meeting pressure from Israel, which continues its sea and air blockade of Lebanon, Siniora’s government also has to face pressure from Syria. Damascus is disturbed by the prospect of the Lebanese army denying it the right to smuggle arms to Hezbollah, its remaining ally in Lebanon. In response, it has threatened to close its extensive borders with Lebanon, completing the blockade of the country. Seeking some counterweight, Siniora has made tentative peace overtures to Israel, and, were the Israel government smart -- what a counter-factual! -- it would take him up on those. It could suggest setting a time table of steps toward mutual recognition that would include turning over the Shebaa Farms area to Lebanon. Israel demurred at the inclusion of the last step as projected actions under the cease fire, on the grounds it would look like a victory for Hezbollah. But the step would look different, if it came toward the beginning of direct negotiations between Lebanon and Israel. The Lebanese would grudgingly welcome this process. As much as they dislike the Israelis, with the exception of Hezbollah, they dislike the Syrians more. And Hezbollah, for its part, could claim a victory.

On balance, Lebanon has interest and options for making the cease-fire hold and lead to more solid arrangements. For it to follow the options, its army will need better training and equipment. There is also need for the deployment of UNIFIL forces of near 10,000, with clear rules of engagement. The US, the EC and the UN have gotten the message on both counts, but now must follow through.


Anonymous Daphne said...

Very informative! I learn more from your columns than reading the newspapers.

10:40 PM  

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