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Doubts Emerge About Lebanon Peacekeeping Efforts

  • Meredith Buel

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan meets with European foreign ministers Friday in Brussels where he is expected to encourage them to send armed forces to southern Lebanon to help enforce the truce between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas. Some Middle East analysts are expressing doubts that the international peacekeeping force will be able to succeed in its mission.

Earlier this month the U.N. Security Council approved resolution 1701 that led to the current ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

The resolution calls for the expansion of the 2,000-strong U.N. force already in southern Lebanon to 15,000 soldiers.

The resolution calls on Israel to withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon and authorizes 15,000 Lebanese soldiers to work with the enhanced U.N. force to monitor the truce.

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Daniel Christman, who participated in diplomatic and peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and the Balkans, says no operation is likely to succeed for the long term in Lebanon because there is no political solution in sight to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

"I fear that from a mission success standpoint this peacekeeping, this peace enforcement mission, however it will unfold, will be doomed to mission failure. This is in my judgment an underlying political problem which is yet to be resolved," he said.

The expanded U.N. force in southern Lebanon is expected to consist mostly of soldiers from European countries, although some have expressed reluctance to send troops until the rules of engagement are clear.

General Christman says armed forces in many countries are already stretched thin by military commitments around the globe.

"The U.N. now has 17 missions and over 85,000 troops deployed in U.N. missions around the globe. You add East Timor to that, you add Darfur to that, and you easily crest 100,000. Nations don't have those assets available," he said.

Resolution 1701 stresses that the Lebanese government must take control over all its territory and disarm Hezbollah.

Emile El-Hokayem, a Lebanese analyst currently with the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, says the government in Beirut is not currently in a position to remove weapons from Hezbollah fighters.

"I just want to be clear about what the Lebanese government can do at this point," he said. "It can constrain and restrain Hezbollah. It currently lacks, and will for a long time lack, the political and military capability to disarm it. Disarming Hezbollah right now is not a realistic option for the government. So to be honest the debate right now is more about weapons management than disarmament. The question is whether Israel can live with that."

The director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Michael Eisenstadt, says a critical component of any peacekeeping force will be engineers and other soldiers who can rapidly assist with the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

"We learned from our experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere there is a golden hour," he said. "If you get in on the ground early and start with reconstruction activities, you have a much better chance of success than if the reconstruction efforts are delayed."

Eisenstadt predicts in the short-term both Israel and Hezbollah will avoid any major violations of the ceasefire and U.N. forces with Lebanese troops will be able to keep the peace in the near future.

Eisenstadt says, however, the recent war still left many issues unresolved, and he predicts in the future there will be a revival of the conflict in southern Lebanon.

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