Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Syria rejects UN troops presence

A commentary on prospects for peace

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calls for 15,000 UN-back soldiers to be deployed in southern Lebanon, expanding the presence of the small, existing UN Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has been there since 1978. France, which pushed hard for the measure and was expected to lead the mission, backpedaled furiously a few days ago. (Jules Crittenden argues that since we don't speak French, we must have misunderstood what they meant.

[O]ne must understand that when France suggested it wanted to broker peace in Lebanon, it did not necessarily mean “broker” or “peace” or “Lebanon” in the way we might understand those words. The same is true when France further suggested it wanted to “lead” a “strong” “multinational” “force” there.

But I digress.)

Anyway, Italy has pledged 3,000 troops but there is still no chain of command established or a clear mission or rules of engagement or anything that would make the UN force a, well, military force. Already, UN spokespeople have ruled out absolutely that the reinforced UNIFIL will disarm Hezbollah, which the Lebanese government also has said it will not do and which is (sort of) called for by the same UNSC Resolution 1701.

Other than Israel and the sea, southern Lebanon borders Syria. Since Syria is the main supplier of Hezbollah's weapons, one might imagine that UNIFIL would take an interest in patrolling along the Syrian border, on the Lebanese side, of course. And so UNIFIL might take such an interest, if indeed a new UNIFIL actually ever sets foot there (which I doubt).

Syria has no interest at all in any new UNIFIL, however pusillanimous it may be, in stepping onto Lebanese soil, and Syrian dictator President Bashar Assad restated only last week that no peace is possible with Israel. As Lebanon's Daily Star reports,

Indeed, as the recent declaration made by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem during his brief visit to Lebanon indicated, the prospect of a wider regional war is something these regimes actually welcome. For the strong showing that Hizbullah has made, the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure notwithstanding, is encouragement enough for these regimes, with their minds and hearts still stuck in the 1980s, to revive the old dream of defeating Israel militarily through involvement in a war of attrition and thus achieving military glory that will boost their credentials both at home and abroad. With the US caught in the Iraqi quagmire and its power seemingly neutralized as a result, this prospect might appear more and more tempting with each passing day.

Add to these things that Syria has continued to resupply Hezbollah with weapons since the ceasefire went into effect (as confirmed by Israeli surveillance aircraft, the announcement of which has been studiously ignored by Western media) - well then, it shall come as no surprise that Assad,

... was quoted Wednesday as rejecting the deployment of UN troops along the Lebanon-Syria border, saying such a move would create animosity between the two countries.

"This is an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty and a hostile position," Assad told Dubai Television. The TV station's anchor quoted Assad without showing video of the interview, which would air later Wednesday.

Assad also urged the Lebanese government to adhere to its responsibilities and not embark on anything that could sabotage relations with Syria.

Does it not bring a tear to your eye that Syrian dictator President Assad is so concerned about Lebanese sovereignty? I mean, it's not like Syria ever occupied Lebanon or did something truly dastardly like, say, assassinating Lebanon's prime minister.

Fer shur Assad doesn't want Lebanon to do anything that "could sabotage relations with Syria," since Assad & Co. consider Lebanon to be a Syrian satrapy - so the Lebanese better not get any silly ideas such as actually being a self-determining people. And most of all they may not disarm Hezbollah, Syria's only real means, at present, of fighting Israel.

Now, the questions are whether the new, reinforced UNIFIL will, (a) ever be formed and if so, (b) will it defy Assad and deploy along the Syrian-Lebanese border anyway, because otherwise it cannot minimally fulfill UNSC 1701's mandate wishes.

Here's your four-letter answer: No, no.

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