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September 25, 2006
UNIFIL Bigger But Just As Ineffective

The expanded UNIFIL force tasked to implement UN Security Council resolution 1701 has almost no mandate to do so and has received no leadership from the UN, the New York Times reports this morning. The force commander believes that he can do nothing unless authorized by the Lebanese Army -- and so nothing they do:

One month after a United Nations Security Council resolution ended a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, members of the international force sent to help keep the peace say their mission is defined more by what they cannot do than by what they can.

They say they cannot set up checkpoints, search cars, homes or businesses or detain suspects. If they see a truck transporting missiles, for example, they say they can not stop it. They cannot do any of this, they say, because under their interpretation of the Security Council resolution that deployed them, they must first be authorized to take such action by the Lebanese Army.

The job of the United Nations force, and commanders in the field repeat this like a mantra, is to respect Lebanese sovereignty by supporting the Lebanese Army. They will only do what the Lebanese authorities ask.

The Security Council resolution, known as 1701, was seen at the time as the best way to halt the war, partly by giving Israel assurances that Lebanon’s southern border would be policed by a robust international force to prevent Hezbollah militants from attacking. When the resolution was approved, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one of its principal architects, said the force’s deployment would help “protect the Lebanese people and prevent armed groups such as Hezbollah from destabilizing the area.”

But the resolution’s diplomatic language skirted a fundamental question: what kind of policing power would be given to the international force? The resolution leaves open the possibility that the Lebanese Army would grant such policing power, but the force’s commanders say that so far, at least, that has not happened.

We have returned to the same UNIFIL we have known for the past 28 years. Prior to the war this summer, UNIFIL did nothing but observe while Hezbollah built fortified positions adjacent to their own, and did nothing when they saw the terrorists launch attacks on Israel. These attacks violated the Blue Line the UN sent them to defend, but the UN never gave them orders to use force in that defense.

Now we have the same kind of force operating in the vacuum of UN military leadership. The UNSC sent an additional 5,000 troops -- which is supposed to swell to 15,000 at some point -- but failed to send them any orders that would allow them to operate independently. They do not want to be viewed as an "occupier", so they do nothing that would even hint at enforcement of the cease-fire that convinced Israel to end its military operation against Hezbollah. They will not even stop vehicles that openly carry prohibited weapons across the border -- which gives Hezbollah the opportunity to replenish its armaments and threatens the Lebanese sovereignty that UNIFIL supposedly protects with its laissez-faire strategy.

None of this comes as a great surprise. The UN followed its cease-fire resolution with an number of statements explaining why it wouldn't bother enforcing it in the region, except of course as it applied to Israel. The most egregious example of this is the status of the captured Israeli soldiers, whom the resolution required to be returned unconditionally. Hezbollah has refused to do so unless the Israelis release hundreds of Palestinian criminals, and the UN has washed its hands of the issue.

The UN has pushed itself far out on a limb with this limp effort in the sub-Litani region. If the Israelis eject Olmert from office, which seems very likely, the UN will have to deal with Benjamin Netanyahu. And Bibi will view 1701 in an entirely new and critical light, especially if Hezbollah doesn't cough up its prisoners. UNIFIL might find itself in the middle of a shooting war, one they could have avoided by ensuring compliance with the cease-fire its own leadership imposed on both parties but only enforced on the Israelis.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 25, 2006 5:47 AM

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» UN Just As Ineffective In Lebanon As Before from Hyscience
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