[NY Sun title: "This Cease-Fire Won't Hold"]
"There will be an international force [in Lebanon], because all the key players want it," an American official asserted recently. He appears to be right, as even the Israeli government has embraced the plan, announcing it "would agree to consider stationing a battle-tested force composed of soldiers from European Union member states."
The key players might "want it," but such a force will certainly fail, just as it did once before, in 1982-84.
That was when American, French, and Italian troops were deployed in Lebanon to buffer Israel from Lebanon's anarchy and terrorism. The "Multinational Force" collapsed back then when Hezbollah attacked MNF soldiers, embassies, and other installations, prompting the MNF's ignominious flight from Lebanon. The same pattern will no doubt recur. Back then, Americans and others did not regard Hezbollah as their enemy, and this remains the case today, notwithstanding the war on terror; in a recent Gallup poll, 65% of Americans said their government should not take sides in the current Israel-Hezbollah fighting.
Other, equally bad, ideas to end the anarchy in south Lebanon include:
- Deploying the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Lebanese state's official military. Hezbollah is within the government of Lebanon and would veto the LAF controlling the south. Also, Shiites sympathetic to Hezbollah make up half of the LAF. Finally, the LAF is too amateurish to confront Hezbollah.
- Deploying Syrian forces. Lebanese and Israelis both reject a Syrian occupation of south Lebanon.
- Deploying Israeli forces. After their experiences occupying Arab-majority lands in 1967 and 1982, Israelis have widely decided against a repetition.
Rather than travel down the road of predictable failure, something quite different needs to be tried. My suggestion? Shift attention to Syria from Lebanon and put Damascus on notice that it is responsible for Hezbollah violence. (Incidentally, this is in keeping with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1680, adopted May 17, 2006, calling on Syria to undertake "measures against movements of arms into Lebanese territory.")
Here's why: Israeli leaders have long failed to prevent attacks emanating from Lebanon. They stanched cross-border terrorism with other neighbors by making it too painful for their central governments to permit such attacks to continue. But when they made demands of the Lebanese government, they failed to get satisfaction. In Lebanon – unlike in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria – no strong central government enjoys a monopoly of force. Lebanon's state is permanently weak because its population directs its primary loyalties to one or another of the country's 18 religious-ethnic communities. As a result, militias, guerrillas, and terrorists wield more power than the government.
Israeli governments responded with an array of strategies over the past 40 years. In 1968, Israeli jets pounded Beirut's airport, to no effect. In the 1978 Litani operation, Israeli forces first entered Lebanon on a large scale, without success. In 1982, they seized a major part of the country, which proved untenable. Until 2000, they retained a security zone, but that ended in a sudden unilateral retreat. Evacuating every inch of Lebanese territory in 2000 also failed to prevent attacks.
At this point, the government of Bashar al-Assad should be told immediately to cease provisioning Hezbollah, and that future violence from south Lebanon will meet with what the Wall Street Journal calls an "offer that Syria cannot refuse" – meaning military reprisal. As David Bedein explains in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, "for every target hit by Syria's proxy, Israel will single out Syrian targets for attack." Such targets could include the terrorist, military, and governmental infrastructures.
This approach will work because Hezbollah's stature, strength, and skills depend on Syrian support, both direct and indirect. Given that Syrian territory is the only route by which Iranian aid reaches Hezbollah, focusing on Damascus has the major side benefit of restricting Iranian influence in the Levant.
This plan has its drawbacks and complications – the recent Syrian-Iranian mutual defense treaty, or its giving Hezbollah the option to drag Syria into war – but it has a better chance of success, I believe, than any alternative.
Recalling how a similar approach worked in 1998, when the Turkish government successfully pressured Damascus to stop hosting a terrorist leader, the Israeli strategist Efraim Inbar rightly suggests "the time has come to speak Turkish to the Syrians."