The NY Times reports that the UN’s Lebanon peacekeeping mission has run into major resistance from some of the European nations expected to contribute forces to it:
The shaky, United Nations-brokered cease-fire in Lebanon suffered another blow on Sunday when the European countries that had been called upon to provide the backbone of a peacekeeping force delayed a decision on committing troops until the mission is more clearly defined…
Haunted by their experiences in Bosnia in the 1990’s, when their forces were unable to stop widespread ethnic killing, European governments are insisting upon clarifying the chain of command and rules of engagement before plunging into the even greater complexities of the Middle East.
“In the past, when peacekeeping missions were not properly defined, we’ve seen major failures,’’ a spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry, Agnès Romatet-Espagne, said Sunday. “There are the bad memories of Bosnia. This time we want the answers beforehand, so we don’t come to the problems when they have happened.’’
In addition, a senior French official said, “Italy, Spain and Finland have raised the same questions as France has.” Following the usual diplomatic practice, the official asked not to be identified. A spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry said Spain was willing to send troops, “but the rules have to be clarified and agreed on.”
It is hard to tell from these statements whether the Europeans see Hezbollah as the party for which they would need more permissive rules of engagement or Israel (or both).
The article notes that Israel’s failed commando raid in the Bekaa Valley may have contributed to the European feeling of malaise about the peacekeeping mission. And this statement from Israel’s prime minister should’ve added to their discomfort:
Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told his cabinet on Sunday that he did not want countries that did not have diplomatic relations with Israel to participate in the force, according to an official in the prime minister’s office. Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh are among the countries that have offered frontline troops but have no diplomatic ties with Israel.
It is preposterous that Israel feels it can dictate the make-up of an entire peacekeeping operation taking place on Lebanese soil by vetoing essentially any contribution by Muslim nations (virtually none of whom recognize Israel). Should Lebanon also get such a power of ‘first refusal’ regarding which peacekeepers it feels comfortable accepting?
Rumors and confusion continue to swirl around the IDF commando raid near Baalbek:
Speculation abounded in the Israeli news media that the commandos were trying to free the two Israeli soldiers whose capture started the conflict, or to kill a Hezbollah leader. One such official, Sheik Muhammad Yazbeck, lives in the area where the operation took place.
The soldier killed was a Lieutenant Colonel, and one of the most senior officers in the Israeli version of the Special Forces (called Sayeret Matkal in Hebrew). Military sources told Haaretz that it was miraculous that the force, numbering about 100 troops, didn’t lose many more in the firefight:
Military sources told Haaretz that the two commando vehicles took heavy Hezbollah fire and that “we were really lucky the operation did not end with 10 commandos killed.”
All of this indicates to me that the group faced a disastrous end to its mission. The Israeli newspaper also indicates that military intelligence raised serious reservations about the group’s ability to remain undetected:
They added that the operation was approved by the political echelon and the General Staff, despite many reservations in the intelligence directorate and the unit itself regarding the chances of succeeding and not being discovered…
If the soldiers participating in the operation had serious reservations about its success even before it got off the ground and the politicians and military brass overruled them, what does this say about the operational effectiveness and cohesion of the vaunted fighting machine?
The IDF, of course, has an entirely different explanation of the mission’s goal:
In Israel, it was widely assumed that the mission was considered highly important and involved something more than interdicting an effort to resupply Hezbollah with standard weaponry. Many of the reports in the Israeli news media centered on speculation that the raid was intended to gather intelligence or evidence about advanced, Russian-made weaponry sold to Syria and being sent into Lebanon for Hezbollah.
In an analysis in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Alex Fishman wrote that Hezbollah had been using advanced Soviet-made antitank weapons. More than 10 days ago, he wrote, a legal opinion was written by lawyers reviewing the United Nations-backed cease-fire agreement “stipulating unequivocally” that attacks on Hezbollah weaponry would be classified as “an act of defense.”
The latter statement is preposterous. A bunch of Israeli foreign ministry lawyers (I presume that’s who Fishman is referring to–though this is not made clear) get out their magnifying glasses and peruse the UN ceasefire resolution and somehow come up with the wild notion that interdicting Hezbollah’s weapons supply is kosher and “defensive” in nature according to the resolution’s language. This reminds me of John Yoo’s famous memo claiming that the Geneva Convention did not apply to our treatment of Arab terror suspects and that torture was somehow a legal form of interrogation. Speaking of torture, I think Yoo and those Israeli lawyers are the ones torturing, though they’re torturing language rather than people.
The Times quotes a journalist from Yediot Achronot pointing out the irony that the Israeli raid, which Kofi Annan and many others state violated the ceasefire, might have been intended to gather evidence against Syria and Hezbollah in order to bolster Israel’s claim that THEY are the parties doing the violating:
Some commentators described the raid as another black mark for the Israeli military, already under severe criticism for its conduct of the Lebanon war.
Writing in Yediot Aharonot, Amir Rappaport said, “The operation was intended to be absolutely secret and the mere fact that it was revealed and even claimed casualties is proof of its failure.
“The skirmish between the commando troops and the Hezbollah fighters, which was not planned, also displays Israel to the world as though it violated the U.N. resolution. Absurdly enough, the mission that ran into trouble was also intended to allow Israel to provide proof later on that Syria, Hezbollah and Iran were not honoring the agreement.”
The ‘subtlety’ of such irony will surely be lost on the entirely humorless and obtuse Olmert and the IDF command.