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Don't at this stage send
the UN into Lebanon



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

August 3, 2006

LONDON - So once again a conservative American government, with a history of being anti the organisation, is running to the UN to find a way out of the quagmire in Lebanon. Ronald Reagan's Administration did the same in 1983 in cahoots with General Ariel Sharon, then the chief of the Israeli army, who decided to agree to sharp reductions in the Israeli forces in Lebanon on condition that the UN forces be deployed between them and the Syrians in the Bekaa valley.

Yet a year before, the UN forces, attempting to contain the dangerous situation between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which was then based in the Lebanon), had been brutally pushed aside by the Israeli invasion.

At first President Reagan had thought that with French and Italian help the U.S. could do the job itself. But Hizbollah engineered an attack that led to the killing of over 300 American and French soldiers. Reagan then decided he wanted the UN to go into Beirut and also into the Chuf mountains where a battle raged between Phalangist Christians and Druze militias.

Understandably, the Soviet Union vetoed the American volte-face, reflecting a widespread opinion that the international community did not have to salvage the American chestnuts from the fire. Why had the concerned parties not gone to the UN in the first place? And why, earlier, had the U.S. vetoed the suggestion of posting UN observers in Beirut?

The U.S. learnt the hard way that it needed the UN. An all-western force was simply not acceptable to the local population, just as a NATO one would not be today. Moreover, the joint U.S.-French-Italian forces had other major defects. They did not have either troops specifically trained for peacekeeping, nor a collective intelligence system, nor the high degree of coordination necessary in a fast moving and subtle situation.

On the ground the joint force mainly had light infantry. But at sea the Americans had 20 ships, and these were joined by deployments from the allied navies. The Syrians had the only conventional force against which the navies' firepower could have been useful, but they had no intention of taking on the Western forces directly. The irregular forces were never concentrated enough to be a target for heavy gunfire or air attack. Yet political pressures on the French and Americans to use their heavy naval firepower were at times irresistible. Few irregulars were killed, but civilian sympathy was lost.

So why today should the UN accept the mandate that the U.S., Britain, France and Israel want it to shoulder? It would be a high cost deployment. The UN has maintained its peacekeeping operation in southern Lebanon for three decades now. Only last week four UN peacekeepers were killed by Israeli guns. Over 260 of its peacekeepers have died since 1978. To extend this operation to cover Beirut and other parts of war torn Lebanon would be a horrendous and deathly exercise as long as Israel and Hizbollah are still at loggerheads. Not even a Nato force, assuming it were acceptable, would have the muscle to disarm Hizbollah.

But how to get from A to B, how to win a modicum of peace, in an age when Israel believes with reason that it can act on an American blank checque, bombing its way to peace? An Israeli cease-fire is rejected. America and Israel are isolated and hated as never before in the Arab and Iranian world. Many, if not most, of the Shiites throughout the region could happily cut every American throat; the Sunnis are angry too and are torn within which way to go.

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It all comes back to Palestine. As long as Israel pushes on with its policy of widening its tenure of the West Bank, no Shiite or Sunni is much in the mood to compromise. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia rightly warns that the stakes have never been higher and a full-scale war in the region is now a distinct possibility.

It would be the height of folly and irresponsibility for the UN to widen its peacekeeping responsibilities in the Lebanon at this stage. Its soldiers would be put at terrifying risk, and for what?

Before the situation worsens there has to be an Israeli cease-fire and a return to the status quo ante, a position which Israel and the U.S. maintain they cannot countenance. And then there must be pressure on Israel, from Washington not least, to get out of the West Bank. Then we can think about various UN deployments, first in Lebanon and second, perhaps with Nato troops, on Israel's internationally recognized borders.


Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail: JonatPower@aol.com


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