“They Are Barely Able to Take Care of Themselves”

As the crisis in Lebanon moves into its second week, the calls for assertive diplomacy are escalating in volume. According to The Times this morning, the US appears to be staving off the pressure for the moment, allowing Israel the opportunity to continue bombing in an effort to deplete the efficacy of Hezbollah’s military prowess. Steven Erlanger reports that Condi Rice will be coming to the region within a week to broker some sort of cease fire and begin to tackle the vexing issue of what to do about Hezbollah. (Shmuel Rosner reports in Haaretz that Rice will be coming to the region this Sunday)

Integral to these discussions will be the question of whether an international force, presumably deployed under the auspices of the UN, should be brought in to Southern Lebanon to provide Israel with the guarantees it needs that Hezbollah will not re-arm and to monitor the Lebanese-Israel border. According to The Times, Israel has finally come around to the idea of such a force, if it includes troops from major powers and if it will take a pro-active role in preventing Hezbollah from supplementing its arsenal.

But is there any cause for confidence that such a force could be mustered with a mandate adequate to the situation? Remember, there has been a United Nations force deployed in Lebanon since 1978 (UNIFIL) and it has proven itself utterly feckless. “They are barely able to take care of themselves,” said Timur Goksel, who spent 20 years as an official with UNIFIL, and now lectures at American University in Beirut. “How can you expect them to do their work? It’s a mini-force with small engineering capacity and a narrow area of operation right along the border. What can anyone expect them to do?”

The saga of UNIFIL points to the larger issue of how peacekeeping forces (when the international community actually musters the will to deploy them) are consistently undermanned and outgunned. The key question – as it always is in these sorts of situations – is if any new force will have the mandate to use force to combat Hezbollah. Anything short of that will be futile.

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