In its three major wars since 1967 — the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and the 1982 Lebanese incursion — Israel has enjoyed little international support but it has triumphed easily in military terms. Those victories did not always produce good political outcomes for Israel. But they gave the country a strong bargaining position — and its adversaries a weak one — in later diplomatic negotiations at Camp David and elsewhere.
This war has been different.
Israel began unusually with strong but covert support from European countries and Sunni Arab governments such as Egypt and Jordan. They realized that Israel was the victim of a Hezbollah attack planned and supplied by Iran and Syria and designed to shift the balance of power in the entire Middle East against the West and in favor of a Shia-dominated radical alliance. Since this threatened their long-term interests, they sat quiet and waited for the Israeli Defense Forces to defeat Hezbollah in short order.
That did not happen. Ten days ago, under media pressure, the coalition of Israel’s silent supporters began to break up, with most of them calling for an immediate ceasefire. Even then, however, the British, Germans, Czechs, Poles, and Dutch blocked an endorsement of this last week by the European Union on the assumption that Israel needed a little more time to complete its campaign. They stayed the course with the Bush administration and in a compromise resolution called for a “sustainable” cease fire.
But Hezbollah has used the last week better than the IDF. It has rained down death on Haifa, forced the IDF to pay dearly for its slow advance, given the Arab and Islamic worlds a heroic image to admire, and weakened reformist forces and pro-Western regimes in the Middle East. It now seems likely — not definite but likely — that a ceasefire will be in place before Israel has achieved its objective of destroying Hezbollah as a military force.
If that is so, then either there will be a short pause before a second war breaks out or the U.N. Security Council will succeed most improbably in brokering a deal that actually does establish a durable ceasefire.
For the ceasefire to be durable, however, it first has to begin. At present the main diplomatic obstacle to its starting is the dispute over who should control southern Lebanon until the new U.N. force arrives. Israel argues that it cannot leave the area since the vacuum created by its departure would soon be filled by Hezbollah; Lebanon and its Arab neighbors reply that a continued Israeli occupation would violate Lebanese sovereignty.
Israel has by far the better of this debate. Its fears are acute and reasonable. It has just fought a war to prevent Hezbollah firing rockets into its cities from southern Lebanon precisely because Lebanese sovereignty is a fiction. Indeed, the main task of any serious U.N. force would be to create a real Lebanese sovereignty by disarming Hezbollah, policing a buffer zone between Lebanon and Israel, and training a decent Lebanese army.
In order for the U.N. force to accomplish such tasks, it would have to be very different from the present U.N. observer force in Lebanon which, however brave, has played the role of the innocent bystander. Any new U.N. force would have to enforce the peace. As my old UPI colleague, Claude Salhani, has pointed out in his hard-headed commentaries on the war, it would therefore need about 20,000 troops from serious military powers (the French, the Italians), a military intelligence capability, artillery forces, and offshore air power provided by aircraft carriers (probably the U.S. Sixth Fleet.) This is a very tall order for the U.N.
Amir Taheri, the distinguished Iranian commentator, adds that such a force would need to be stationed throughout Lebanon and to disarm all ethnic-cum-religious militias while it was training the Lebanese army. Hezbollah would never consent to be disarmed if other factions in Lebanese politics retained their private militias. An even taller order for the U.N.
And would Hezbollah agree to be disarmed even as part of a general disarmament agreement in Lebanese politics? Such an agreement would mean that Lebanon was becoming a stable country — prosperous, at peace with its neighbors, and linked with the West — in which democratic politics had replaced civil war.
That is not exactly utopian; Lebanon used to be exactly that. But it is not what Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Iran want. They launched the present anti-Israel offensive — and devised the tactic of using Lebanese civilians as “human shields” — in order to unite the Islamic and Arab worlds in a global anti-Western jihad on their terms. It has worked well for them. They are unlikely to sign onto a U.N. peace plan that reverses this success.
If the negotiations at the U.N. produce such a plan, therefore, it will draw a new line of dispute in international politics. It will set the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas radical alliance against “the international community” represented by the U.N., the U.S., France, Italy, other European countries, and (quietly concealed in burkas) most Middle Eastern governments.
The radical alliance may pretend to go along with such a deal and to cooperate with any U.N. force. But it will seek over time to subvert and undermine both. And the time will come when it decides to confront and drive out the U.N. force as Hezbollah confronted and drove out France and the U.S. in 1982.
That is the moment when we will discover if the “international community” is worthy of its name. Or merely a squabbling cabal of paper tigers and weak horses.
– John O’Sullivan is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and editor-at-large of National Review. He is currently writing a book on Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. This first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and is reprinted with permission.