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Helena Cobban's short sum re Lebanese war & UNIFIL

*Along with Juan Cole (**www.juancole.com* <http://www.juancole.com>*)
Helena Cobban presents some of the most astute  daily analyses re both
Iraq and Lebanon.  Cobban ( **www.justworldnews.org*
<http://www.justworldnews.org>*) has an impressive bio (posted on her
site).  Her closing observations re the military situation at the
Lebanon-Israeli border surprises me but that's because I'm not used to
being anything but pessimistic about anything going on in the Middle East.
*


     Lebanese war; post-war; role of UNIFIL

Posted by Helena Cobban at September 24, 2006 11:23 PM
**
*Here's the short version of the 33-day war that wracked Lebanon and
some of northern Israel this summer.*
**
*On the morning of July 12, Hizbullah undertook two cross-border actions
against Israel. One of them (the diversion) was to rocket a couple of
border areas (no casualties recorded.) The other-- the "real thing"--
was to ambush a two-jeep patrol. In the ambush they killed three IDF
soldiers, wounded two, and captured two others, taking them to captivity
somewhere in Lebanon. *
*The diversion had been so successful-- and the IDF's operating
procedures so sloppy-- that it was half an hour before any one in the
IDF Northern Command even realised the jeep patrol had been attacked. At
that point, the IDF sent a tank unit in "hot" (or by that time,
decidedly "cool") pursuit after the Hizbullahis into Lebanon. The tank
unit went straight into a land-mine trap. One tank was completely blown
up. It took the IDF nearly a further day (and one further life) to get
the tank and the bodies of its four dead crew members out of there. *
**
*PM Olmert had never faced a national-security challenge like this
before and may well have felt flustered and humiliated. He and his
equally inexperienced defense minister Amir Peretz clearly felt they had
a _lot_ to prove... and they had chief of staff Dan Halutz, a former
chief of the Air Force, whispering in their ears that he "had the
solution" to all the government's problems... By the end of that day,
July 12, the Olmert government **had decided*
<http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/07/12/mideast/>* to launch what was
clearly signaled as _a full-scale reprisal attack against all of Lebanon._*
**
*That CNN report there, from July 12, spells out that Olmert had stated
that,
*

     *The raid was "not a terror attack, but an operation of a
     sovereign state without any reason or provocation... The Lebanese
     government, which Hezbollah is part of, is trying to undermine the
     stability of the region, and _the Lebanese government will be
     responsible for the consequences._"
     *

**
*The head of the IDF's northern command, Udi Adam, said,
*

     *"This affair is between Israel and the state of Lebanon... Where
     to attack? _Once it is inside Lebanon, everything is legitimate --
     not just southern Lebanon, not just the line of Hezbollah posts." _
     *

*And Halutz said,
*

     *"If the soldiers are not returned, we will turn Lebanon's clock
     back 20 years."
     *

*So, the attack was quite evidently (and declaredly) _not_ just against
Hizbullah, though later the Israeli leaders tried to claim it had been.
And that very night, the Israeli air force, navy, and long-range
artillery units started attacking infrastructure targets throughout the
whole of Lebanon. *
** * **
*What were they thinking?*
*As best as I can reconstruct it, Olmert's very inexperienced leadership
team was fighting at that point for one major goal: They sought to _bomb
Lebanon's government and people into compliance_ with their request that
the Lebanese authorities agree to disarm and hopefully also dismantle
Hizbullah. And they would do this through "strategic counter-value
bombing", a strategy whose time, Halutz evidently felt, had finally
come! Never mind that this time round, Israel didn't even have any
allies inside Lebanon in the way it had back in June 1982, when Ariel
Sharon had launched his earlier war against the country. This time,
Halutz evidently felt Israel didn't even need any allies: they had total
air superiority, plentiful supplies of extremely enormous and lethal
American and Israeli munitions; and they could simply bomb the Lebanese
people into submission. *
*(And never mind, either, 80 years' worth of experience indicating that
airpower on its own is only very, very rarely able to effect political
change on the ground.)*
*Well, it didn't work. Not only did the Saniora government not bow to
Olmert's demands-- but Hizbullah's rockets started coming into northern
Israel in far greater numbers than they had done during that first,
limited diversionary bombardment-- and on a regular and seemingly
unstoppable basis. *
*For Hizbullah, whose claims that they hadn't expected the full-scale
Israeli Blitzkrieg may or may not be true, the war had rapidly become
one about something very important to them: their ability to "deter" a
full-scale Israeli attack on Lebanon, which had been very badly eroded
by Olmert's decision to launch Halutz's long-planned Blitzkrieg.
Hizbullah's people evidnetly felt they needed to restore the credibility
of their deterrent. *
*But guess what? Once Hizbullah's rockets started raining regularly on
and around communities in northern Israel, the Olmert/Halutz leadership
felt _it_ needed majorly to restore the credibility of Israel's military
deterrent, too. (That feeling had anyway been percolating throughout
rightwing circles in Israel ever since PM Barak's unilateral withdrawal
from Lebanon in 2000, and had become stronger after Sharon's unilateral
withdrawal from Gaza last year...) *
*And so the fighting ground on, between these two parties each fighting
determinedly to restore the credibility of its own "deterrent." Also,
Hizbullah was understandably anxious not to let the Saniora government
fall into the grip of Israel's political schemes. *
*So Hizbullah's very expert political operatives-- who included two
members of Saniora's government, a dozen MPs, and numerous other pols
very experienced in the intricacies of Lebanon's internal situation--
went into action. In the Lebanese political field, the Israelis had
almost no assets at all with which to counter them. I mean, what could
they say: "Dear Fouad Saniora, we're so sorry we're bombing your country
and killing your people but please enter into an alliance with us anyway?" *
*So Halutz kept promising the Israeli government that "within ten days",
or "within two weeks", or whatever, his bombardment would bear fruit.
And they had the Bush administration (and lapdog Blair) totally on their
side, running serious interference for them by blocking any possibility
of a ceasefire for almost a full month there, at the UN and elsewhere. *
*The IDF was given all the time (and emergency resupply of munitions
from the US) that it needed. But Halutz's Blitzkrieig still didn't have
the desired political effect. Finally, during the first week of August,
the Israeli leaders started getting serious about supplementing the air
attack with a ground invasion. But Gen. Adam apparently understood full
well that his ground forces were in lousy shape. He stalled (I think)
and there was evidently a massive set of debates in the Kirya (Israel's
mini-Pentagon) in those days. Israelis anyway-- and quite
understandably-- have a lot of wariness about sending ground forces for
any length of time into Lebanon. When the ground incursion came it was
late-- it started, indeed, even after the text of the ceasefire
resolution had been agreed at the UN in New York on the evening of
August 11. It was also just as disastrous as Gen. Adam had feared it
would be. *
*On August 14, ceasefire day, Israeli ground troops started pouring back
home from Lebanon, carrying with them the many casualties they had
suffered during those last two days, and a massive sense of shame,
frustration, bewilderment, and anger that continues to rock Israel to
this day. *
*On that same day, starting at 8 in the morning, the hundreds of
thousands of civilian supporters of Hizbullah who had been violently
displaced from their homes in south Lebanon by the fighting started
flocking back to their homes in any way they could get there. Here's
what the very experienced military analyst Pat Lang **wrote *
<http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2006/08/leaving_the_bat.html>*on
his blog that day:
*

     *A basic lesson of history is that one must win on the battlefield
     to dictate the peace. A proof of winning on the battlefield has
     always been possession of that battlefield when the shooting
     stops. Those who remain on the field are just about always
     believed to have been victorious. Those who leave the field are
     believed to be the defeated.
     *

*Well, yes and no... I did note with interest, however, the stress that
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah put in his most recent (Sept.
22) * *speech* <http://justworldnews.org/archives/002139.html>*, on the
evidently well-planned actions his adherents undertook on August 14. He
told that adoring crowd of his supporters,
*

     *When 14 August came, [the Israelis'] wager was that the presence
     of the displaced in the areas to which they were displaced would
     put pressure on the resistance to impose more conditions on it.
     The resistance did not submit to any conditions. *
     *Once again, you amazed the world when the displaced returned in
     their cars and trucks, and some on foot. At 0800, the southern
     suburb of Beirut, the south of Lebanon, and Al-Biqa were full of
     their proud and honourable residents, who returned with raised heads.
     *


** * * *
*It seems clear to me that at this point, in the "battle" for the
loyalty of the Lebanese government and people, Hizbullah has come out
streets ahead of the Olmert government. Olmert in 2006, like Shimon
Peres in 1996, sought to use extreme military pressure on the people and
the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon to try to turn the country
against Hizbullah. In 2006 as in 1996, this project not only failed, but
it back-fired significantly, leaving Hizbullah politcally stronger
inside Lebanon than it had been before the Israeli assault. *
*In the other "battle" that both sides were fighting, meanwhile-- the
one in which each was seeking to re-establish the "credibility" of its
ability to militarily deter the other, _both sides won _. There is an
element of good news in this. The Lebanon-Israel border is now marked by
a return of the basic strategic stability-- underpinned by effective
reciprocal deterrence-- that marked it from 2000 through July 12 of this
year. _That is the reason why the August 11 ceasefire has "stuck" so
amazingly, and has been so remarkably successful since August 14-- and
also why it can be expected to continue to stick well for some further
time to come. _ This stability has almost nothing at all to do with the
presence of (now) about 5,000 more UNIFIL troops in southern Lebanon
than were there before the war.*
*So a world that is crying out for proficient peacekeepers in so many
trouble-spots might indeed ask today: What on earth are all those
well-trained European and other UN units actually doing in South Lebanon
at this time? *
*Good question.*
*Philippe Bolopion of /Le Monde/ * *described *
<http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/lebanon/2006/0822draftmandate.htm>*a
leaked version of the force's new Rules of Engagement and "Operational
Concept" as follows:
*

     *The provisional rules of engagement ... authorize the Blue
     Helmets to open fire to defend themselves, to protect civilians,
     or to disarm militia that they come across in passing. The 15,000
     soldiers, who will be placed under the UN's flag, will
     nevertheless not have the mission of actively looking for
     Hezbollah's weapons, nor of interposing themselves should fighting
     resume. *
     *The 21 page document, marked "UN restricted" and distributed to
     all the countries involved on Friday, August 18, asserts that the
     reinforced UNIFIL will operate according to tenets "principally
     defensive in nature," but that "authorize the use of appropriate
     and credible force if necessary." These rules of engagement
     unambiguously preserve the Blue Helmets' "inherent" right of
     self-defense. *
     *Beyond that, use of force is authorized to prevent the buffer
     zone between the "Blue Line" and the Litani River being "used for
     hostile activities," to "resist" attempts to hamper UNIFIL's
     mandate, or to "protect civilians under imminent threat of
     physical violence." Use of force must nonetheless be
     "proportionate." *
     *The "Operation Concept," another provisional document marked "UN
     confidential," clearly establishes that _it's up to the Lebanese
     armed forces to "take control" of the buffer zone and "disarm
     Hezbollah." _However, the UN could develop "effective information
     operations to counter Hezbollah propaganda." [Whatever that
     means-- HC.]*
     *"We will not actively go looking for Hezbollah's weapons,"
     explains one senior UN official, adding: "But if, during a patrol,
     we should come upon a cache, our mandate is to seize those
     rockets." UNIFIL will also establish fixed and mobile checkpoints.
     "If a truck goes by with weapons, we stop it," explains this UN
     military official. Then the Lebanese army will be called upon to
     intervene. "If the vehicle attempts to push its way through, we
     will use lethal force," he warns. *
     *On a daily basis, the Blue Helmets would have to, according to
     this source, "patrol the streets, day and night, show their
     presence, be in contact with what's happening in the area." If
     UNIFIL observes Hezbollah's men launching a rocket against Israel,
     it will call on the Lebanese army and should not, according to
     this source, use force, even though a strict interpretation of its
     mandate would authorize it to do so. *
     *In the same way, _in the event of an Israeli raid on Lebanon and
     a Lebanese response, UNIFIL would remain "outside." "We would not
     interpose ourselves, we would attempt to stop them by other
     means," continues this UN official. _"But if Israel targets
     civilians, we would have to find counter-measures, blocking access
     routes or putting observers in place, even if it's very
     dangerous," he asserts. [And how about protecting civilians
     against future Israeli air attacks, I wonder? Would the UN at
     least do that next time? He didn't say. ~HC] *
     *At Lebanon's request and contrary to Israel's desires, Resolution
     1701, which reinforced UNIFIL, does not fall under Chapter VII of
     the United Nations Charter, which allows a less restricted use of
     force than Chapter VI, which is based on consent of the parties.
     But UNIFIL enjoys "a robust Chapter VI," one UN high official
     explains, according to whom the UN "has taken bits of Chapter VII
     and placed them in the rules of engagement."
     *

**
*... Anyway, for now, the bland little * *series of daily reports*
<http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/unifilpress.htm>* that
UNFIL is issuing continues to confirm that matters are extremely
peaceable in the south-- even if the IDF has been taking quite a while
to complete its withdrawal from there. *
*It is great news that the situation is so stable. Civilians living on
both sides of the border can now start to rebuild their lives and repair
their damaged property. Obviously, the rebuilding north of the border
will be a much more challenging task than that in Israel. *
**
*Let's hope this situation of stability-thru-mutual-deterren
ce can buy
at least as much stability and safety for the residents of the border
areas as the one that preceded it, from 2000 through last July. Indeed,
maybe the smarter political figures in the region and the world can even
start to see the opportunity this (relative and localized) stability
provides, to restart a truly serious, comprehensive peace negotiation
that would involve Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and
Lebanon... so that real peace and normal interactions can be instituted
across all of threse borders, before we see another instance of the
catastrophic breakdown of deterrence??? *
**
*Meantime, I hope all those soldiers in UNIFIL have a nice restful time
in Lebanon.
*
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