One month after fighting began in southern Lebanon, the United Nations Security Council last week passed a resolution calling for an end to the conflict. The resolution, which passed unanimously, was the subject of protracted negotiations and the compromises are evident in the final product. Both Israel and Hezbollah, the main parties in the conflict, have agreed to abide by its provisions — as long as the other does. Yet a “cessation of hostilities” is by no means a peace: That — along with the credibility of the U.N. itself — depends on energetic and honest diplomacy. There has been little sign of that despite the tragedy that has descended — again — on southern Lebanon.
Since full-scale conflict broke out between Israel and Hezbollah, the Islamic organization that is the de facto government in southern Lebanon, there has been more dithering than diplomacy. The U.S., the only outside force with any influence in Israel — and even that is limited — has been reluctant to weigh in, preferring to use the opportunity to break Hezbollah, which Washington and Tel Aviv see as a destabilizing force in the region. Neither government was prepared to accept a ceasefire that merely stopped the fighting: They wanted additional steps that would ensure Hezbollah could not attack Israel.
Despite massive bombing attacks throughout Lebanon and an invasion of the south with ground forces, Hezbollah has withstood the assault. Its ability to stand up to superior Israeli forces and inflict pain on Israel itself with rocket attacks have provided a victory for the group. The deaths of Lebanese civilians and U.N. observers as a result of Israeli attacks have also done great damage to Israel’s international image.
The U.S. and France took the lead in negotiating a resolution that would halt the fighting. Their first draft was opposed by the Lebanese government, which did not want any reference to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which calls for enforcement by military means; that reference was removed. The mandate of the international stabilization force, which originally would have been determined in a second resolution, was instead laid out in last week’s measure.
The resolution that was passed on Friday calls for a halt in the fighting, the deployment of Lebanese and U.N. forces to southern Lebanon and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon “in parallel” with that deployment. Critics charge that the obligations are uneven: Hezbollah must immediately cease all attacks while Israel must only end “all offensive military operations”; in other words, it is not obligated to withdraw troops from Lebanon. But the language is clear: the cessation of hostilities will lead to the U.N. deployment, which will in turn oblige Israel to withdraw.
The resolution calls for expanding the current 2,000-man international peacekeeping force to 15,000. France is expected to lead the unit, and other European nations will provide troops. Its mission is to ensure that a 25-km zone in southern Lebanon is free of “armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and (the U.N. troops).” The success of the plan depends on the international force’s commitment to make peace if the two sides do not stop fighting. The U.N.-deployed peacekeepers in Lebanon have been toothless; the latest fighting is only the most recent proof of their impotence. An enhanced mandate is vital, but it is not enough. A reluctance to put troops in harm’s way — which has occurred frequently in the past — will allow the combatants to ignore the forces with disdain.
Both Israel and Hezbollah have said they are ready to honor the agreement. But Tel Aviv’s first response was to pour more troops into Lebanon, nearly tripling its deployment. Hezbollah said it would comply, but only after Israel ceased its operations.
Since fighting broke out, about 1,100 Lebanese, mostly civilians, have been killed, along with nearly 160 Israelis, including 116 soldiers, and at least 530 Hezbollah fighters. It is unclear why the agreement reached last week was not attainable earlier. Political fatigue and the realization that Hezbollah would not be broken appear to be the answer. It is difficult to see what either side has accomplished in the month of fighting.
Those errors in judgment may be compounded if the world does not follow up and enforce the terms of last week’s resolution. The specific issues that triggered this conflict — Hezbollah’s seizure of Israeli soldiers and its continuing occupation of Lebanese territory — will be addressed only if the ceasefire holds. The failure to create the conditions for an enduring peace in Lebanon will guarantee that the Middle East remains unstable and that it bubbles over with alarming and tragic regularity. Reports that French officials are not prepared to disarm Hezbollah by force suggests that basic lessons have not been learned and that history may be about to repeat itself.
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