European Lebanon Force Is Cast as Shield for Iranian-Hizballah Military Buildup
Whereas Israel initially conceived of a multinational force as a guarantee of its border security against terrorist attack and a boost for the Lebanese army to displace Hizballah, the European governments contributing contingents to this force have their own ideas – and interests.
Less than two weeks into the UN-brokered ceasefire, the swiftly-evolving situation in Lebanon is casting the international force in the role of protector and shield for the rapid buildup of a new, beefed up Iranian-Hizballah military deployment in Lebanon up to the Israeli border.
The force dubbed by Kofi Annan UNIFIL-2 has no operational plan to enforce the UN arms embargo which would entail stemming the heavy flow of Iranian arms shipments entering Lebanon day by day along two Syrian tracks.
Long, heavily laden convoys are heading from the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus to the Lebanese Beqaa Valley, bringing Hizballah its first heavy missiles – the Russian-made Scud-B adapted by Iran as Shahab-1, which has a one-ton warhead and range of 350 km. A second track brings 3-5 Iranian air cargoes every day to Syrian air bases near the Lebanese border.
Neither does the European force, to be led until February 2007 by France, plan to hinder the operation of the Iranian Revolutionary Forces command center ensconced since last week on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border. The four Iranian generals at this center have taken direct command of Hizballah, which has the distinction of being the first terrorist group ever to be supplied by a UN member-state with the armaments of a national army.
Despite this ominous buildup on Israel’s northern border, foreign minister Tzipi Livni is pushing hard for the European force, which will number at most 6,000 troops, to move into position and allow Israeli troops to pull out.
So far, France has pledged 1,600 troops, Italy 3,000 and Belgium 400 soldiers to the expanded UNIFIL, mandated to police southern Lebanon. Greece, Finland, Spain and Holland may also pitch in. It will operate outside the bounds of NATO. The United States and Israel will have no say in its operations. This makes sense because the last thing on the minds of the European governments at this point is Israel’s security.
As for its attitude towards the US, the European Union’s leaders believe that success in boosting the 60,000-strong Lebanese army (40% of whom are Shiites) sufficiently to extend the Fouad Siniora government’s sovereignty to the whole of Lebanon would earn Europe the credit for having gone one better in Lebanon than the United States in Iraq.
As peacekeepers, they could pull this feat off without having to fight anyone – or even disarming Hizballah. It should not be too hard to persuade Siniora and Hassan Nasrallah to go along with the pretence that Hizballah’s armed militia has been integrated in the national army of Lebanon, exactly like the Shiite Badr Organization and Wolves have been ostensibly incorporated in the Iraqi national army.
Hizballah and the Iranians have no reason to disturb the peace and the international force’s deployment on the Lebanese-Israeli border, because under cover of this deployment a process contrary to Resolution 1701 will be going forward. It is starkly symbolized by the large pictures of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamnei, mushrooming alongside Nasrallah’s along the highways and byways of Lebanon.
Beirut and other parts of Lebanon are in the process of falling under the expanding domination – not of the Siniora government, but of Hizballah and its Iranian master. Meanwhile their fighters are training on the new state of the art weaponry and setting up new military positions ready for their next chance to resume the war against Israel.
However, European imaginations and ambitions soar way beyond Lebanon.
Its capitals were abuzz this week with talk of a revamped UNIFIL under a combined European command serving as the military arm of the European Union.
After pacifying Lebanon, they see units of the force relocated to the Palestinian Authority as a buffer between the Palestinians and Israel in Gaza and the West Bank.
In Rome and Madrid, some officials were enthusiastic enough to postulate European contingents for Iraq as dividers between American forces and insurgents until US troops are ready to depart Iraq.
Israeli must ask itself how far this European self-interest serves its security needs and what use UNIFIL-2 will be when Israel is faced with a fresh military threat from Iran and its Lebanese surrogate.
Given Europe’s motivations, foreign minister Livni’s policy of encouraging the EU to establish a presence in Lebanon is far from serving Israel’s national interests. It looks as though the Olmert-Livni-Peretz leadership has learned nothing from the first round of the Lebanon conflict and the dire consequences of the blunders committed by Israeli governments the last six years. Like its predecessors the incumbent government in Jerusalem prefers to hide its head in the sand.