First Published: 2006-08-07

 
Can a Multinational Force Be Deployed in Lebanon?
 

A multinational force for Israel's war in Lebanon would be unhelpful unless and until a ceasefire is obtained and negotiations are begun between Israel and Lebanon, including Hezbollah - and would best include Iran and Syria, says Patrick Seale.

 

Middle East Online

Though everyone is talking about sending an international force to war-torn Lebanon, not much is being done about it. The proposed international force is, so far, little more than a mirage, and there is no international consensus that such a force will be sent to Lebanon.

In the best of circumstances it could take weeks if not months to organise and deploy, and so it cannot be counted on to bring immediate relief.

The Lebanese themselves are by no means convinced that it could play a useful role. If the force were to attempt to disarm Hezbollah, it would be immediately attacked. This would bring back painful memories of the heavy casualties suffered by a multinational force which was sent to Lebanon in 1983, after Israel's invasion the previous year. The United States lost 241 Marines, and the French lost 58 paratroopers. No one wants to repeat that experience.

General Michel Aoun, a former commander of the Lebanese army, and now the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, has come out openly against the deployment of a multinational force in Lebanon. His argument is that it would only serve to revive sectarian strife. Unlike other Lebanese Christian leaders, General Aoun supports a tactical alliance with Hezbollah in a bid to de-confessionalise Lebanon's conflicts. Rather than send a multinational force to Lebanon, he believes the international community should set up a tribunal to try Israel's leaders for war crimes.

The main reason why the proposed multinational force has got nowhere is because it is paralysed by two conflicting viewpoints - essentially those of the United States and France. Although they have been negotiating hard and claim to be close to an agreement on a joint UN Resolution, it looks as though we are witnessing something like a muted replay of the quarrel between Paris and Washington three years ago over the war in Iraq.

Anxious to protect its Israeli ally, the United States wants a multinational force to be deployed in south Lebanon as soon as possible. Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has even said that he will not agree to a ceasefire until a robust multinational force is in place. Its mission, he told the Financial Times on August 3, should be "stopping violence against innocent Israelis from Lebanon and disarming this murderous organisation, the Hezbollah, which is the long arm of Iran."

He wants European nations to send troops, as well as Muslim nations such as Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Olmert seems to be admitting that Israel cannot defend its own borders and needs a multinational force to do the job for it, or he wants an excuse to keep Israeli forces in south Lebanon indefinitely.

As outlined by President Jacques Chirac and foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French think that the United States and Israel are putting the cart before the horse: No multinational force can be sent to Lebanon, the French argue, until a ceasefire is in place and all the parties to the conflict, including Hezbollah, agree on a political settlement.

In other words, a multinational force can help keep the peace, but it cannot enforce peace by fighting one side on behalf of the other. The French position has the benefit of being realistic: No state - not even the United States - is prepared to send troops to Lebanon to fight Israel's war.

France has a historic relationship with Lebanon. It created Greater Lebanon in 1920 and has an ancient connection with the Maronites going back to the Crusades. Like much of international opinion, France has been outraged by Israel's systematic destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, the killing of nearly 1,000 Lebanese and the wounding of another 3,000 - overwhelmingly civilians and including a large number of children.

Although France has serious differences with the United States, it does not want their quarrel to result in the breach that occurred over Iraq. Indeed, it has been patching up its quarrel with Washington over the past couple of years, joining the United States in sponsoring Security Council Resolution 1559 in 2004, which called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the disarming of militias.

Part of this is Chirac's personal hostility toward President Bashar al-Asad. He blames the Syrian leader for extending the mandate of Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud - who he considers an enemy of France - and he suspects Syria of being responsible for the murder of Rafiq Hariri, one of Chirac's closest friends. But Chirac's animus against Syria, and his refusal to engage in a dialogue with Damascus, has distorted French diplomacy. Ignoring Syria's vital interests in Lebanon will not help resolve the crisis.

Of course, the real obstacle to a settlement in Lebanon is George W. Bush's unconditional support for Israel and his primitive understanding of the Middle East. He defines Hezbollah and Hamas as violent, cold-blooded killers who are trying to stop the advance of freedom and democracy. This is arrant nonsense. Until he learns better, Lebanese, Palestinians - and also Israelis - will continue to suffer.

Israel has been shown to be vulnerable to asymmetric warfare and to missile attack. The main lesson of the past few weeks of conflict is that it cannot bomb its way to security.

The only realistic solution to the crisis is an immediate ceasefire followed by political negotiations between the parties, including Hezbollah - and including Syria and Iran, which both have interests in Lebanon that need to be addressed.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

 

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