Monday, August 14, 2006

Cease-Fire Holding--For Now

I read in Michael Totten's blog last night, and posted accordingly, that a potential cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon was dead--that's the call he got when standing in the free fire zone on the Israeli border, but I got a different story from the Associated Press this morning. According to the AP, the cease-fire is in place:

Israel's defense minister said Monday that barring isolated skirmishes with Hezbollah, the U.N.-imposed cease-fire is holding in southern Lebanon, and Israel is coordinating with the United Nations to relinquish captured territory.
From everything I've read the Israelis definitely don't want to get stuck in another occupation of southern Lebanon, and while they may have some reservations about whether the engagement with Hezbollah accomplished what it needed to, they will go ahead with the handing over of captured Lebanese territory to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, hoping that UNIFIL will help the Lebanese army to gain control of the territories once occupied by Hezbollah.

The question I've seen the most redundantly over the last few days is whether the U.N. force will be of any use toward that end. After all, there was a U.N. peace-keeping force in southern Lebanon before the war broke out, supposedly keeping guard over Hezbollah. However, in some cases the U.N. and Hezbollah actually operated next door to each other. This cozy arrangement resulted in the death of four U.N. officials in July, when the Israelis bombed the village of El Khiam, apparently targeting Hezbollah. According to World Net Daily, there were strong indications Hezbollah was using the U.N. post as a shield from which to fire rockets. That's not very effective peace keeping on the part of the U.N., I'd say. Other sources I've read have claimed that, before the war broke out, the U.N. forces in Southern Lebanon did nothing to stop Hezbollah activities occurring in plain sight of their stations. That's not really a good sign that Israel will be able to count on the U.N. to enforce the cease-fire from the Lebanese end. Another concern is that with Iran providing ever longer range missiles, Hezbollah can fire from deeper inside Lebanon, basically over the heads of UNIFIL, and any Lebanese Army forces that move into the south.

This U.N. mandated cease-fire may or may not be in the best interest of Lebanon, or Israel. It's in both their interests for all the devastation wrought in both countries not to be in vain. What would make the damage easier to take from Israel's perspective, and that of many Lebanese, would be the dismantling of the militia that started all the turmoil in the first place. Neither of them benefit by the existence of an active Hezbollah inciting violence between two of the region's very small number of democracies. Whether it is in vain will depend largely on how much Hezbollah in Lebanon has been damaged by the Israeli Defense Force, and whether the legitimate Lebanese military can take back all of its own territory and hold it. If Hezbollah merely falls back to regroup with the aid of Syria and Iran, or to keep firing rockets from a safer distance, unhindered by either the Lebanese military, or UNIFIL, Israel will have no choice but to resume hostilities. I hope, for Lebanon's sake, that doesn't happen. If the U.N. wants what's best for Lebanon, regardless of how little concern the world body has for Israel, they need to take the task of preventing the return of Hezbollah aggression against Israel seriously--more seriously than they did the last time around. They had also better keep an eye on Iran.

Update: I understand now why Michael Totten said the cease-fire was scrapped, when it is, at this point, in effect. He was writing about August 11th, which wasn't clear from the post I referenced, but is clear from this follow-up. Once again, it's a good source of on-the-ground perspective--and pictures, lots of pictures--and nobody writes like Michael Totten. Really, he puts you there with him.