April 14, 2009

The UNís Disintegration in Lebanon

Poland is withdrawing its troops from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the U.S. is pressuring other European contributors to the mission to send additional soldiers to Afghanistan, and Israeli defense officials are worried the multinational force north of the border might collapse entirely. Israelis, however, aren’t the ones who should worry. South Lebanon’s Christians stand to lose the most if that happens.

“If UNIFIL leaves, we’re going with them,” a young Lebanese man told me in the village of Rmeich in February this year. “Everyone is frightened about what might happen.” Rmeich is a Maronite Christian enclave near the Israeli border. Along with the adjacent Maronite village of Ein Ebel, it is surrounded by Shia cities, towns, and villages where support for Hezbollah runs deep. “There are many Hezbollah people near here,” the man continued. “They wear civilian clothes. They used to come into our town with guns and harass us before the [July 2006] war, but not anymore thanks to UNIFIL.

UNFIL was created in 1978 to help the Lebanese government restore its sovereignty over the area after it was taken over by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and used as a base for guerrilla and terrorist attacks against Israel. The force was bolstered by thousands of mostly European soldiers after the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 and given a similar mandate. Hezbollah controlled the border area after Israeli soldiers withdrew from the “security belt” in South Lebanon in 2000. War was all but inevitable under those circumstances. So in addition to bringing the Lebanese Army and government back to the border where they might prevent another war outbreak, UNIFIL was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from replenishing its partially depleted stock of rockets and missiles through smuggling roads over the land border with Syria. In this, UNIFIL failed. Almost all analysts say Hezbollah has a larger arsenal now than it did before the 2006 war even started.

UNIFIL gets little credit for helping South Lebanon’s Christians, and that’s too bad. But the force gets far more credit than it deserves for keeping Hezbollah in check. UNIFIL’s presence is something of a problem because it appears the “international community” is doing something constructive to prevent the next war when it actually isn’t. Neither are the Israel Defense Forces, the Lebanese Army, or anyone else.

Some Lebanese officers are still loyal to Damascus. They were never purged from the armed forces after occupying Syrian soldiers and intelligence agents were forced to withdraw in the wake of the massive demonstration in downtown Beirut on March 14, 2005. “Sometimes we see things we don’t understand,” another resident of Rmeich told me recently. “Huge covered-up trucks get through the army checkpoints, and they’re not even stopped. When I go through in my open car, I have to pull over.”

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 14, 2009 8:50 AM
Comments

Surprised at no comments.

I'm not sure that many people particularly care about Lebanon. As a threat against Israel, as a tool of Syria and Iran, yes. But Lebanon as a country -not really.

Would have been nice to see Beriut during its heyday. Could say the same thing about Carthage.

Engaging in "talks" or other Diplomatic efforts with Arab Islamic Extremists is a waste of time, and for too many people provides a false hope.

I use this phrase more than I sould, but I truly mean it: A good Islamic Extremist is a dead Islamic Extremist. Egyptian, Pakistani, Syrian, Iranian, Saudi, Hamas, Hezbolla, Somalian, ...

Yasser Arafat: wasn't he the guy that the Pals basically voted in for life? Kind of like DC or Detroit Mayors.

Too many people want to be touchy-feely with Islamic Extremists, and/or say that the situation is "complicated". Gordian Knot say I.

The UN should be disbanded; or at least kicked out of the US and the US no longer being a member of that corrupt, divisive, ineffectual organization.

Posted by: Ron Snyder Author Profile Page at April 15, 2009 5:22 AM

Eye catching headline, some standard panic mongering, but I contest your analysis Mike.

There are over 14,000 troops in UNIFIL, the Poles - who have been there in some way shape of form since 1982 contribute a whopping.... 450.

The bulk of the post 1701 UNIFIL is basically a NATO Rapid Reaction Corps in all but name. The big batallions coming from France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and so on. They have a lot of men under arms and a lot of heavy weapons.

As for the re-armament of Hezbollah, the actual fact of the matter is that UNIFIL is not mandated to patrol anywhere north of the Litani or along the Syrian border. Study 1701 and you'll see this si the case. While most analysts agree with your prognosis that Hezbollah has rearmed, you provide no evidence - save a quote from an anonymous villager - to viably suggest that Hezbollah's new weapons are being smuggled into UNIFIL's Area of Operations.

Most serious analysts agree that there is a new defensive line north of the Litani and what has happened is that Hezbollah have acquired rockets with a longer range which can be fired over UNIFIL's troops.

As for the IDF being worried.... that's more a case of Crying Wolf.... the Israelis have never, ever relied on the UN to secure their norhtern border. That's what the powerful Israeli military is for.

Finally your readers might like to see this quote from the current UNIFIL Public Information Office:

"Any changes to UNIFIL's contributing forces are part of a dynamic operation which depends on regular discussions between the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and contributing states," said Yasmina Bouziane. The significance of the operation is that it guarantees "UNIFIL's workforce is at full capacity and ensures the force can continue its mission according to the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1701," she added. "As one state considers withdrawing or reducing its troops, other nations will increase theirs. There are countries who have already expressed desire to participate in UNIFIL," Bouziane said.

Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at April 15, 2009 6:03 AM

Eye catching headline, some standard panic mongering, but I contest your analysis Mike.

There are over 14,000 troops in UNIFIL, the Poles - who have been there in some way shape of form since 1982 contribute a whopping.... 450.

The bulk of the post 1701 UNIFIL is basically a NATO Rapid Reaction Corps in all but name. The big batallions coming from France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and so on. They have a lot of men under arms and a lot of heavy weapons.

As for the re-armament of Hezbollah, the actual fact of the matter is that UNIFIL is not mandated to patrol anywhere north of the Litani or along the Syrian border. Study 1701 and you'll see this si the case. While most analysts agree with your prognosis that Hezbollah has rearmed, you provide no evidence - save a quote from an anonymous villager - to viably suggest that Hezbollah's new weapons are being smuggled into UNIFIL's Area of Operations.

Most serious analysts agree that there is a new defensive line north of the Litani and what has happened is that Hezbollah have acquired rockets with a longer range which can be fired over UNIFIL's troops.

As for the IDF being worried.... that's more a case of Crying Wolf.... the Israelis have never, ever relied on the UN to secure their norhtern border. That's what the powerful Israeli military is for.

Finally your readers might like to see this quote from the current UNIFIL Public Information Office:

"Any changes to UNIFIL's contributing forces are part of a dynamic operation which depends on regular discussions between the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and contributing states," said Yasmina Bouziane. The significance of the operation is that it guarantees "UNIFIL's workforce is at full capacity and ensures the force can continue its mission according to the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1701," she added. "As one state considers withdrawing or reducing its troops, other nations will increase theirs. There are countries who have already expressed desire to participate in UNIFIL," Bouziane said.

Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at April 15, 2009 6:37 AM

Microraptor,

You've missed the point of the article entirely, but I'll get to that in a moment. I'll address a few of your points first.

The bulk of the post 1701 UNIFIL is basically a NATO Rapid Reaction Corps in all but name. The big batallions coming from France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and so on. They have a lot of men under arms and a lot of heavy weapons.

This is all meaningless unless they actually use their power to confront Hizballah. So far, they haven't even come close to doing so. Maybe Oren should have said, "combat force willing to engage in actual combat."

You provide no evidence - save a quote from an anonymous villager - to viably suggest that Hezbollah's new weapons are being smuggled into UNIFIL's Area of Operations.

What kind of evidence would satisfy you? Israeli intelligence has made these claims, but I doubt you'd accept their veracity. Who would be a reliable source to you?

Anyway, you've missed the point of the article, which was that UNIFIL is not going to be able to protect the non-Shiite minorities in the South from Hizballah much longer.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at April 15, 2009 7:14 AM

I'm on record as opposing the peacekeeping mission under 1701 back before it was even sent, and I'm still opposed. I'd like to see it withdrawn entirely, including the token force that was there before the war in 2006. Lebanon does not have a good history with peacekeepers. Or, peacekeepers do not have a good history with Lebanon. One of the two! Take your pick.

Israel can defend itself better without the peacekeepers being in the way, as it's obvious the peacekeepers are not going to be engaging themselves in any combat role should war break out.

As for Lebanon: What are they doing for Lebanon? What are they supposed to be doing for Lebanon? Policing? Policing what? Sorry, I just don't get it. If they are supposed to be keeping Hezbollah out of Christian areas, that sounds like a "nice" thing for them to be doing but it's not like Hezbollah is going to become something other than it's been all these years just because there are some European peacekeepers standing around with their arms crossed and looking sternly at them. Gimme a break.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at April 15, 2009 8:23 AM

Edgar, you don't understand the situation in southern Lebanon at all.... probably because you have never worked there, been there or even met people who come from there.

1701 was accepted by both parties: the Israelis and the then Lebanese government -- which also constituted Shia ministers from both Hezbollah and Amal.

UNIFIL is not supposed to "confront" Hezbollah, it doesn't say that anywhere in UNSCR 1701 and no-one in the IDF seriously expects it to do that. Seeing as the IDF itself got a smarting blow from Hezbollah in 2006 and they were in full war fighting mode, it's ludicrous of you to expect a peacekeeping force to somehow take up the baton from the Israelis.... why should they? The UN is not an extension of Israeli military power.... the UN was not invented to protect Israel per se....

The Lebanese have never, ever invaded Israel. It's always been the other way around. UNIFIL has suffered more deaths than any other UN peacekeeping force and guess who has killed most of those UN personnel? The Israelis.

Added to this, UNIFIL is in the south policing 1701 by consent. They are mandated as peacekeepers not peace enforcers -- and there is a very big difference... this is a complicated nuance of international relations, and not easily understood by "with us or against us" neanderthals of yesteryear.

UNIFIL have to work with ALL the local political parties on the ground, and that includes the most popular political party, which, unfortunately for some, is Hezbollah. Hezbollah run a lot of the local town councils and municipalities down there -- it's not just a military force, it's a major part of the Lebanese body politic... it is genuinely popular, even if you might prefer a reductionist, simplistic Bush-ite approach. Sadly, the reality on the ground in Lebanon is much more complex.

Also, seeing as UNIFIL have been redefining the term "interim" for the past 31 years, I don't think the Christians of the south need fear any imminent departure.

As for Craig's comments, if Israel is better off without UNIFIL, why did they sign up to 1701 and the notion of a bolstered UNIFIL in the first place? Why do the Israelis regularly attend the Tri-partite meetings between UNIFIL, the IDF and the LAF?

Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 4:30 AM

Microraptor: The Lebanese have never, ever invaded Israel. It's always been the other way around.

You'd think the Lebanese would be justified in invading, though. I mean, they've suffered endless infiltrations by radical Jewish guerillas since the 1960s.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 1:34 PM

Microraptor,

"The UN is not an extension of Israeli military power.... the UN was not invented to protect Israel per se...."

True, but at the same time UNIFIL was enforced via 1701 to protect Lebanon from destructive actions of Hezbollah first of all.

"The Lebanese have never, ever invaded Israel. It's always been the other way around."

True if we are to assume invasion is only invasion if done by government controlled military force (and it is very generous 'if').
But Israel was constantly harassed by Lebanon ever since Israel's resurrection in 1948 and Lebanon (among many) was the one who started the war and still are at war with Israel. Each and every attack of Israel on Lebanon was proceeded by Lebanon's action against Israel.

"Edgar, you don't understand the situation in southern Lebanon at all.... probably because you have never worked there, been there or even met people who come from there."

For somebody who has been around so much you yourself reach way too many faulty conclusions.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 11:58 PM

Many Lebanese are very upset because they believe that Israel has continually violated Lebanese Air Space since 1976. Is this true?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 11:48 AM

"Many Lebanese are very upset because they believe that Israel has continually violated Lebanese Air Space since 1976. Is this true?"

It should be true. After all, Lebanon has been the staging ground for numerous terrorist attacks on Israel since before then and is now home to the vanguard of Iran's antisemitic, Holocaust-denyiing, annihilationist regime.

Many of Michael's posters are very upset because they believe that "anand" is a dishonest weasel pretending to be impartial while ceaselessly spewing anti-Israel propaganda. Is this true?

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 10:51 PM
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