Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Reluctant Force

The United Nations peacekeeping force meant to stand between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is coming together slowly. The UN is still seeking troops and agreement on the force's role and rules of engagement. Significant deployment is in no way imminent.

U.N. plans call for the first 3,500 troops to reach Lebanon in about a week, but Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said Friday that the remaining European forces are unlikely to reach the country for another two to three months.

It could be several more months after that before the entire force is fully operational, according to U.N. officials.
(emphsis added)

The plan is a cautious deployment, dependent on the nations' ability to mobilize and move troops and on politics. The schedule allows the UN to, test the environment. If anything happens early on, the bulk of the troops will not yet be in harm's way. Which might be fine if there were no war. The ceasefire is tenuous, both sides are in the mood for confrontation. Israel wants military security and recognition. Hezbollah (and much of the Muslim world)wants Jews out of Arab lands. Lebanon's fragile order may once again collapse into sectarian civil war. A powder keg. Somethilng that merits kicking into high gear, Sooner rather than later.

Sooner certainly seems unlikely. Finding troops for the force is proving difficult. I can see why a nation should be concerned about the safety of their troops in that meat grinder. Hezbollah could well provoke Israel into another devastating reaction. Both are capable of much havoc that would put the peacekeepers in a deadly crossfire.

In the end, military force will not resolve the ethnic, religious and national confllicts between Israel and its neighbors. Force can keep the Muslims at bay but it will not defeat their ideas. At best, force will open opportunities for discussion. But the parties must talk and look for agreements that will hold, that meet their objectives. That's politics, a difficult business in that Middle East.

"Troops are not going in there to disarm -- let's be clear," [UN Secretary General Kofi Annan]said. "Disarming Hezbollah cannot be done by force. It has to be political agreements among the Lebanese."

And, ultimately, agreements among all nations in the region, Israel included.