UNIFIL nears full "reinforced" strength

The UN Spokesman has just reported that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has surpassed the 11,000 mark with the full deployment of an infantry battalion from Indonesia and an engineering unit from Portugal.

UN SG Kofi Annan reported recently to the UN Security Council that, once UNIFIL reaches a force strength of 11,500, UNIFIL will be in a position to fulfil its “reinforced” mandate, post-Israel-attack-on-Lebanon in July-August 2006.  The current total, more than 11,000 from 23 countries, is made up of more than 9,000 ground troops and more than 1,700 naval personnel, the UN Spokesman told journalists at UNHQ/NY on Friday.

And, the UN Spokesman said on Friday, UNIFIL peacekeepers continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population, with 552 instances where UNIFIL peacekeepers provided medical assistance over the past week. Meanwhile, in the last week, UNIFIL de-miners from various national contingents destroyed a total of 1,305 separate explosive devices, including rockets, grenades and cluster bombs.

Asked by journalists about the reimbursement of costs for the maritime deployment, the Spokesman said that the United Nations was still trying to work out financial arrangements with the Member States.

The interesting if not-always-accurate Israeli online beyond-the-news site, Debka File, reported with some displeasure on the day the Israeli Defense Force mostly-withdrew from Lebanon on 1 October, that “Only one third of the 15,000 international peacekeepers the UN Security Council pledged for an expanded UNIFIL has in fact been deployed in South Lebanon…While withdrawing the bulk of its force gradually, Israel kept the last units behind in a futile effort to persuade UNIFIL commanders to uphold key provisions of the resolution. They refused even the minimal demand to restrict Hizballah’s military movements along the Israeli border.  They claimed they could only act with the permission of the Lebanese government.  By finally giving way on this point, the Israeli government accepted the determination that UNIFIL is the instrument of the Lebanese government – not the enforcer of UN resolutions or Israeli security. This concession makes nonsense of the claim that the most important gain of the Lebanon operation was the removal of Hizballah’s fighting forces from access to the Israeli border.”

Since, then, according to the UNSG’s report (see previous posts) has gone some way to alleviating Israel’s concerns — and has even opened UNIFIL offices in the Tel Aviv Kirya, near the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and at the IDF northern command HQ.

The Debkafile story continued: “Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah used the war to forge alliances with the Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, head of the rival Shiite movement Amal, and the Christian Maronite strongman Michel Aoun. This bloc intends to make a bid to install a pro-Syrian government after Ramadan is over next month.  Our sources in Beirut report a last-minute US-French initiative to frustrate this development.  Siniora had his interior minister Ahmed Fatfat posted decree No. 2403 for Lebanon’s five intelligence and security agencies to pool their intelligence data and so provide his government and national army with the means of asserting control over national security.  Two pro-Syrian officers, General Security chief Wafic Jezzini, and Director-General of Internal Security forces, Maj.-Gen Ashraf Rifi, stamped hard on this decree. The Siniora government was thus denied a key resource for dominating the country at large, not just the South, and is more vulnerable than ever to a hostile push.  As for Israel’s policy-makers, their handling of the bargaining with UNIFIL was as muddled, vacillating and feeble as their conduct of the Lebanon war itself.  By accepting the Aug. 14 truce, they agreed to handing over the Lebanese-Israeli border to an international peacekeeping force without teeth; its rules of engagement are so constrictive that without Lebanese government authorization its members may not fire a single shot – even when necessary to prevent Hizballah moving back to its former aggressive positions or smuggling in fresh supplies of weapons”. http://www.debka.com/article.php?aid=1215

An earlier Debka File story described UNIFIL’s rules of engagement: “The force’s commanders have sufficient authority to act forcefully when confronted with hostile activity of any kind. UNIFIL personnel may exercise the inherent right of self-defense, as well as ‘the use of force beyond self-defense to ensure that UNIFIL’s area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities.’  The peacekeepers also may use force ‘to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council, to protect U.N. personnel, facilities, installations and equipment and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of U.N. personnel and humanitarian workers.’Â Also the use of force may be applied ‘to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence in its areas of deployment, within its capabilities’.”  DEBKAfile notes that all these locutions are open to broad interpretation. For instance, ‘hostile activity’ could apply to an attack from outer space … The ‘arms embargo’ ordered by Resolution 1701 is another unmentionable.  The ‘civilians’ to be protected are likewise undefined. UNIFIL’s commander has full discretion to decide whether or not it is applicable to a Hizballlah rocket attack on Nahariya … By their silence and passivity, Israeli leaders hope to hide the true outcome of that bungled campaign from Israeli and world opinion.  Foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who proudly held up the UN force’s deployment as the war’s only success and the formula for Israel’s successful exit strategy, has been strangely struck dumb”. http://www.debka.com/article.php?aid=1217

There’s an interesting OpEd piece in today’s NY Times (seen in link from Angry Arab), and here are some excerpts of the better parts: “ONCE more, Lebanon is in political crisis. This time, we are told, it pits ‘Syrian- and Iranian-backed’ Shiite parties (Hezbollah and Amal) and the Christian faction led by Michel Aoun against the ‘Western-backed’ Christian, Sunni and Druze groups that support the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.  These very descriptions — citing one external backer or another as a mark of political identification —  illustrate the fundamental problem Lebanon must overcome.  Call it the Lebanese Disease: rather than sorting out their differences internally and addressing the fundamental injustices at the heart of their disputes, the Lebanese constantly look to outsiders to gain an advantage over their rivals.  Naturally, any advantages thus gained are short-lived, for both the Lebanese and their foreign backers.  In the end, the only result is greater popular suffering and instability in Lebanon and the entire Middle East.
… Only the Lebanese can cure themselves of this disease, but a bit of enlightened self-interest on the part of the ‘Western backers’ — primarily the United States and France — would greatly help.

“Let’s dial back half a year, to the start of this latest crisis.  The immediate reaction of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to the cross-border attack by Hezbollah on Israeli troops was his most honest. This was not, he said, an act of terrorism — it was an act of war.  And, issues of proportionality aside, it was quite justifiable to hold the Lebanese government to account.   The honesty of that initial reaction, however, was quickly replaced by the old formula to which Israel has resorted since 1978.  Israel did not intend to attack Lebanon, its spokesmen insisted, but was just trying to help the Lebanese by attacking Iran-controlled Hezbollah.  This was a polite way of saying to Mr. Siniora: We’re going to rid ourselves — and you — of Hezbollah, for which you should be grateful, and you’d better make sure they don’t rise again.

“Now let’s try to view this from the perspective of a Lebanese nationalist. To acquiesce to the American-Israeli formula for Lebanon would be to accept that one’s nation should be entirely supine before a neighbor; that any time the Israelis decided to react to a limited provocation or threat, the only defense one could mount would be the tearful pleas of a powerless prime minister.  Thus it should not be surprising that many Lebanese, including Mr. Siniora, at least temporarily put aside their factional mistrust and embraced Hezbollah as the sole available means of national resistance. This, along with Hezbollah’s surprisingly successful resistance, has permanently changed the political calculus of the nation … its involvement in Lebanese politics since the summer has already brought discernible changes in Hezbollah’s attitudes and behavior. Its leaders understand that if they want to influence the policies of the state, they will have to accommodate the interests of other religious groups and political factions.

“…Tacitly encouraging civil war is seldom wise, and particularly when the side with which one is affiliated cannot win.  It should be obvious that American — and Israeli — interests are best served by a unified Lebanese state that has clear control over its people and its territory.  We now know that Hezbollah is not going to be eradicated, nor its influence reduced.  So the only way of making the Lebanese government accountable is to encourage the progressive, moderating integration of Hezbollah into the political, social and military fabric of the state.

“…we should give up talk of greatly enlarging the multinational force in southern Lebanon, and convince the Europeans to do likewise. Fortunately, the plan to insert such a force this fall foundered when the French (wisely) decided they were not up to the task of disarming Hezbollah, although smaller numbers of European troops are apparently headed there soon. It is folly, particularly with lightly armed foreign forces, to try to get regional actors to do things that they see as fundamentally against their interests.

“Second is to end the proxy battles between foreign powers. I don’t know what the Americans are telling the Lebanese government privately, but the public statements are disappointing. Last month the White House issued an official statement citing ‘attempts by Syria, Iran, and their allies within Lebanon to foment instability and violence’ and insisting the United States would ‘continue its efforts with allied nations and democratic forces in Lebanon to resist these efforts.’ In other words, we’re still trying to rile Lebanese sentiment as a wedge against our enemies in the region … Washington will never achieve its objectives in the Middle East — including its obligation to ensure Israel’s long-term security — unless it puts emotions aside and deals realistically with facts on the ground.  Like it or not, Hezbollah is one of those facts. A less-than-pliable but strong government in Lebanon would be far preferable to no real government at all, which is what we have now.”

Robert Grenier, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s counterintelligence center, is a security consultant.

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