Mahmoud Sabit at PostGlobal

Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. Sabit also works as a writer and producer of historical documentaries. Close.

Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. more »

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UNIFIL: A Short to Medium Term Solution

Cairo, Egypt - To begin answering this question, it would be a good idea to review the terms of the ceasefire and the extended mandate for UNIFIL under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, August 2006.

According to the extended mandate for UNIFIL under this extension; UNIFIL is to:
- Accompany and support the Lebanese government through its armed forces in deploying in Southern Lebanon.
- Coordinate an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory and assist the Lebanese army to deploy in the area evacuated by Israel.
- Coordinate its activities with both Lebanon and Israel.
- Assist in humanitarian relief, and ensure its safe passage, and allow all displaced persons to return unhindered to their homes.
- Assist the Lebanese armed forces to ensure that the territory between the Litani River and the Blue Line; which is the line between Israel and Lebanon to be free of any armed personnel, assets, and weapons, other than those of Lebanon's armed forces and UNIFIL.
- Assist the Lebanese government in securing its borders against the entry of war material.

It is the provision that addresses "disarming" Hezbollah. The text of the Resolution simply states that it is to "assist" the Lebanese armed forces in executing this clause, rather than unilaterally applying the terms of the Resolution without Lebanese army agreement. The issue of disarming Hezbollah between the Litani River, and the Blue Line is therefore reliant on a Lebanese army interpretation of whether the area is disarmed or not, and not based on a UNIFIL insistence on disarming Hezbollah.

The issue is also not just to disarm Southern Lebanon but also to make it free of 'armed personnel' their 'assets' and their 'weapons.' Assets I would interpret as their fortifications, their command bunkers, their military infrastructure. Weapons; heavy and light weapons ranging from assault rifles to heavy surface to surface missiles.

I would suggest that the Lebanese army will collaborate with Hezballah in arriving at an interpretation of these clauses, Hezballah is after all not just an armed militia but also the local de facto government in the area, and they are also part of the existing Lebanese government. It comes to the question as to what are Hezbollah intentions in the future? Do they wish to continue their confrontation with Israel? Do they want to engage in future confrontation? Maintain themselves as a well equipped army or will they just become a sort of border patrol village militia? Or are they interested in limiting themselves in the future to their political and social programs?

I think they would want to keep their options open. They would therefore try and interpret these clauses in a way that allows them a discreet presence south of the Litani River and enough equipment to repel any future Israeli incursions into Southern Lebanon. They will make the point that their personnel are local villagers, who would just return to their homes, taking their personal light weapons and storing them near at hand. Their heavy offensive weapons, katyusha's artillery rockets and longer range missiles, could well be transported north of the Litani River. The question lies with their heavier, crew served anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, which they would consider defensive weapons. I would imagine they would bring a portion of these weapons north, but retain a significant proportion in the south under storage, probably in their bunker system.

Another question is in regard to their assets, their infrastructure; would they dismantle their bunkers or hand them over to UNIFIL and the Lebanese army? Possibly neither, they would probably prefer to retain these facilities under their control, meaning that they would either establish local caretakers, or they would lock them up and keep the keys with local commanders, who are local inhabitants.

So long as Hezbollah does not break the ceasefire, engage in raids across the blue line, and defers to the Lebanese military command in the south, or at least maintains good relations with the Lebanese army, the Lebanese government may, and Hezballah would, consider that they have complied with these clauses to 'disarm.'

The other question that would then become relevant is how would Israel react to such Lebanese army/Hezbollah arrangements south of the Litani river? Their retention, albeit in storage, of heavy weapons, retention of their bunker systems, the proximity of Hezballah fighters in their civilian guise? They probably won't be happy, however, no matter how unhappy they are, it is not their call, as it is the Lebanese army who has the onus of determining compliance with this clause. This could change should Hezballah stage commando raids across the Blue Line or launch katyusha attacks on northern Israel. In the meantime Israel may engage in more overt actions to provoke a Hezbollah response; airmobile special forces raids, or air-strikes under one pretext or another.

Although this would become more unlikely once the enlarged UNIFIL forces with their Lebanese army counterparts have completed their deployment in Southern Lebanon. At which point Israel may still launch more 'discreet' operations; car bomb assassination attempts against Hezbollah leaders, and senior commanders, which may provoke a Hezballah response, but these actions are more likely to occur sometime later. It is this last aspect that may threaten Lebanese instability in the future, not from any internal threat of civil war, but rather external threats occurring at some future date, directed against Hezballah from Israel.

I think in the short term once this enlarged UNIFIL mission of 15,000 men and a further 15,000 Lebanese army personnel are fully deployed, it would be very difficult for either party to engage in such overt military action as occurred during July of this year. The main reason being the size of the force deployed; fully 30,000 men, which would be difficult for either Hezballah or the Israeli army to just ignore. In the past the 2,000 men of the original UNIFIL force were just not enough, in fact they became targets themselves, or were just simply bypassed; as for example during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The UN ceasefire has at least stopped the Israeli bombing of Lebanon and so has the tit for tat Hezballah missile attacks on Northern Israel. This is already no small achievement.

In conclusion, this enlarged UNIFIL force should be able to do a better job than the older, and much smaller UNIFIL force, at least in the short to medium term. Ultimately this force may have to be deployed in this area for a very long time, or at least until there is a peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon, and this is unlikely until there has been a definitive peace between the Palestinians and Israel.

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