Lebanon Hostilities Are Nowhere Near a UN-initiated Cessation
Tuesday night, Aug. 8, the UN Security Council was to begin discussing a resolution drafted by the US and France calling for a full cessation of hostilities based on the immediate halt of all Hizballah’s attacks and immediate end of all Israeli offensive military operations.
A second resolution, the second half of the US-French effort to resolve the Middle East crisis by diplomacy, would set out a mandate for an international force to be sent out to Lebanon.
An Arab League delegation arrived at the UN in time to overshadow the deliberations with a strong representation of the Lebanese position, which insists on an Israel’s withdrawal after a ceasefire starts.
France pushed for two changes in the original text to address the Arab-Lebanese demands: one, calling for the Israeli pullout before an international force is in place, the other, the handover of the tiny disputed Shebaa Farms enclave to UN custody.
The United States is reluctant to amend the text, but US Condoleezza Rice has promised to “listen to the concerns of the parties and see how they may be addressed.”
And France, as the Bush administration’s conduit to Hizballah and Tehran, may be heeded.
The French-Arab-Lebanese-ploy was carefully stage-managed.
As part of the show, prime minister Fouad Siniora burst into tears at the Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Beirut Monday, Aug. 7, when he counted the war’s cost to Lebanon, and the Syrian foreign minister Walild Mualem marched out of the meeting in protest against the proceedings.
The same day, US president George W. Bush delivered an address from his Texas ranch in which he labeled Hizballah the “root cause” of the Lebanese crisis and backed Israel’s case all the way. However, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice broke in with some down-to-earth comments. “We believe the first resolution draft is the right solution but we will listen to the parties after the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Beirut,” she said.
Within hours of the meeting’s breakup, the Arab delegation was on its way to UN Headquarters in New York bearing aloft Lebanon’s demands for changes in the US-French UN Security Council resolution draft.
Paris stood ready to chip in with two textual changes.
After night fell, the Beirut government decided unanimously to post Lebanese soldiers in the south to cooperate with UNIFIL – as soon as Israeli troops had departed. Surprisingly, the five Hizballah ministers and allies endorsed the motion.
The props were now in place for the next stage of the performance: a combined effort to rewrite the US-French resolution so as to hustle Israeli troops out of South Lebanon and wrap up the Lebanon war by a ceasefire, without waiting for the “robust” international force which Israel is holding out for to come into being.
In his address, the US president conveyed the impression that Israel had plenty of time to complete its mission – Israeli officials were still talking on that fateful Monday about “several weeks of combat” still to come. But debkafile reports that Rice, in an effort to regain American initiative in the Lebanese crisis, was busy making quiet contacts, mainly through the Saudis, to terminate the conflict.
debkafile‘s intelligence sources report that in Paris, the Saudis put the Lebanese majority leader Saad Hariri to work with guidelines for PM Siniora on the force for South Lebanon.
In Washington, ex-ambassador to the US Prince Bandar, coordinator of the Saudi secret services, undertook to bring Syrian president Basher Assad aboard.
If the French-Arab-Lebanese initiative is allowed to proceed according to plan, debkafile‘s analysts foresee the following potential results, none of which were envisaged a month ago:
1. Lebanon will place on the ready units for deployment in South Lebanon. It will be a token force. While making a show of calling up reserves to deploy 15,000 men in the south, Lebanon has no reserve army only a special airborne commando battalion called The Leopards which numbers no more than 1,000 men.
2. France will place on standby a similar number of paratroops to eke out UNIFIL’s deployment ahead of the main multinational stabilization force.
3. Following a UN Security Council call for the immediate cessation of hostilities, the French contingent will fly to South Lebanon to form a buffer between the IDF and Hizballah forces.
4. It will do so on the basis of a Hizballah pledge to refrain from firing on the French-Lebanese deployment.
5. A token UNIFIL force of no more than some scores of troops will be posted at the Lebanese border crossings to Syria to try and monitor arms deliveries from Syria and Iran to Hizballah.
6. Either the Security Council or the commanders of this mixed force will demand that Israel desist from attacking Hizballah after obtaining a commitment from Hassan Nasrallah to stop firing rockets at Israel.
debkafile‘s military sources report that Hizballah is badly in need of a pause in the fighting. Israeli military pressure has taken a heavy toll of his resources.
7. Israel will face the demand to immediately pull its troops behind the international border, the Blue Line.
8. Hizballah will face a corresponding demand to pull its forces out of South Lebanon. But it will be understood in private exchanges that they will leave only after Israel cedes to international control the disputed Shebaa Farms. In the interim, Hizballah fighters will stay put with the status of “civilian residents.”
9. Indirect talks on the exchange of prisoners leading to the release of the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizballah, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, will begin through an international broker.
If this plan goes through, the Olmert government will come out of a painful and devastating war without achieving any of its objectives. Hizballah will have suffered a beating without being broken or bowed. The IDF will not have repaired its deterrent strength, and Hizballah, rather than Israel, will be seen – at least by Arab opinion -as having come out on top. A ransom in the coin of a prisoner exchange will be paid for the Israeli hostages. It is hard to see any force capable or willing to make Nasrallah pull his troops out of South Lebanon or disarm after the Israeli army failed.
Financial assistance will flood into Lebanon to repair the damage caused by Israeli bombardments; Israel will have to foot its own bill for the destruction wrought by Hizballah to one third of the country and the ruin of its economy.
Of course, Israel is still free to accept or reject these terms.
Wednesday, Aug 9, the day after the first Security Council discussion on the crisis, Israel’s inner cabinet will be asked to approve the expansion of the military offensive to push Hizballah up to the Litani River and beyond. The Olmert government must also decide whether to stick by its demand for an “effective” multinational destabilization force to move into the south before Israel removes its army.
The snap appointment of a high-powered general, deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen Moshe Kaplinsky, to supervise the war from the IDF’s northern command, is designed to give wings to the slow slog of Israel’s war effort.
But it may be too late to turn the war round. The role played by France in this initiative is ambivalent. While the Americans believe the French are partners, in fact Paris is playing a double game and working closely with Tehran. The amendments France is pushing for would manipulate the United Nations into granting Nasrallah everything he wants if only he makes a show of removing his guerrillas from the south until the heat is off and they can filter back.
Until it is decided which way diplomacy is going, both Hizballah and Israel will intensify their effort to gain the upper hand on the battlefield.