Monday, August 07, 2006

Lebanese army to deploy south - if . . .

The Lebanese government has agreed to deploy 15,000 national army troops to southern Lebanon.

But there's a catch (this is the Middle east we're talking about, after all).

The Lebanese prime minister rejected a U.N. cease-fire plan backed by President Bush, demanding on Monday that Israel immediately pull out from southern Lebanon even before a peacekeeping force arrives to act as a buffer between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert has repeatedly said that Israel will not agree to a ceasefire until a multinational force (MNF) is in place in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has said that it will not agree to a ceasefire until all Israeli troops have left Lebanon.

Today's proposal by the Lebanese government is no breakthrough. It really conforms to the Hezbollah position, no surprise since the Lebanese cabinet, which voted to send the 15,000 troops, includes two Hezbollah members. They will not deviate from the policy of Hezbollah's chief, Hassan Nasrallah. It would be literally life risking for them to do so.

Moreover, observers of all perspectives, including Lebanon's president, agree that the Lebanese army is hopelessly outmatched by Hezbollah's military wing. If Israel withdrew before a ceasefire (ain't gonna happen) and if the Lebanese army moved in it would be dominated by Hezbollah and would effectively become just an agent of Hezbollah's wishes. This is no formula for peace.

Israel, though, is at least slightly hoist on its own petard because PM Olmert has also stated that Israel desired the deployment of the Lebanese army in all of southern Lebanon. He can hardly object to a proposal by Lebanon's government to do so, even though its terms are other wise unsatisfactory. However, PM Olmert also demanded the expulsion of Hezbollah from the area, and fulfillment of United Nations Resolution 1559, which demands Hezbollah be disarmed. Before the war began on July 12, Lebanon's army was unable either to expel or disarm Hezbollah even if it had wanted to. Now it is hardly likely that it wants to try.

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton "said he thought the Beirut government's decision to deploy troops in the South was a positive development," but he could hardly say anything else since the UN has been calling on Lebanon's government to exercise soverign authority over all Lebanon since at least 2004. Besides, as a diplomat, Bolton can only treat the Lebanese proposal as a step in the right direction, though there are leaps left to go.

For the near term, and I'd say longer than that, the fighting will continue. Hezbollah and Israel both claim they are winning. One thing's for sure - Lebanon is losing.


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