An important milestone in resolving (at least temporarily) the Israeli-Lebanon conflict: Israel has agreed to lift tomorrow the air and sea blockade which had been strangling Lebanon since the war began. This removes yet another roadblock to a possible resolution of remaining claims between the two sides since lifting the blockade was a major bone of contention for the Lebanese. This may, in turn, facilitate the prisoner exchange to free the two IDF soldiers kidnapped on July 12th. Talk has been rife for days that such an agreement is imminent but we have heard nothing concrete. Let’s hope that the next stage happens soon.
Haaretz reports that Lebanon is also willing to have its coastal zone patrolled by international naval forces to ensure Hezbollah arms are not smuggled in by sea. This too would be a welcome sign to Israel that Lebanon and the world community are serious about interdicting these weapons. This of course does nothing to stop the flow of arms via Syria. I’m afraid the only way to ensure this happens would be for Israel to talk directly to that country and enter into negotiations to resolve their outstanding differences. This will not happen anytime soon since the Israeli right will see any such talk as “weakness” and pounce upon a political weak Ehud Olmert for entertaining it. This will mean that Syria will continue to destabilize the region in any way it can including rearming Hezbollah for the next round of fighting.
Israel’s explanation for its lifting of the blockade of course is not credible. It claims there are now enough Lebanese and UNIFIL forces to guarantee peace on its norther border. Actually, Lebanon and airline companies had threatened to break the blockade unless Israel lifted it:
Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Wednesday that his country would break Israel’s blockade by force if it is not lifted in a 48-hour timeframe indicated by Annan.
“We will wait for the 48 hours given by Kofi Annan, and if the situation is resolved, we will thank him. If it is not, the Lebanese government will take the necessary measures and we will break the blockade with all our might,” Salloukh told journalists on the sidelines of an Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.
Unfortunately, we cannot give Israel any points for doing what it was being forced to do. It did the right thing, but only after it was forced to stop doing the wrong thing. Even Israel admitted it could not enforce the blockade (or wasn’t willing to face the opprobrium that would ensue from shooting down civilian planes and ships:
The DPA German news agency reported on Wednesday that an Israel Defense Forces officer admitted that the army could not enforce an air blockade over Lebanon and prevent civilian aircraft from landing at the Beirut airport.
“We regret the fact, but we have no choice. We do not want to hit civilian planes,” a military official was quoted as telling the German news agency, when asked whether Israel would allow civilian aircraft to break the air blockade.
Meanwhile, an airliner from a British Airways franchise landed in Beirut after taking off from London’s Heathrow Airport earlier Wednesday, in what it said would be a breach of the air embargo imposed at the start of the war with Hezbollah eight weeks ago.
The announcement by British Airways franchise partner BMED also coincided with efforts by Annan to get Israel to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon.
“British Airways/BMED is breaking the air embargo and flying into [Beirut’s] Rafik al-Hariri International Airport tonight,” the company said in a statement.
BMED’s commercial director, Jonathan Grisdale said the airline was resuming flights to Beirut after securing assurances from the British government it was safe to do so.
“The blockade is still in place,” Grisdale said, denying that BMED had sought Israel’s permission for the flight.
“We are a U.K. civil airline trying to operate a lawful service in Lebanon,” he said by telephone from London. “Our government has given us clearance and permission that we can operate safely and securely on that basis.”
Congratulations to those companies and governments which helped force Israel’s hand. Someone has some moxie. Too bad the international community didn’t have a little more of it while the worst of the hostilities raged.
Ehud Olmert isn’t done making promises to Israel he can’t keep. During the war, you’ll recall he promised to eradicate Hezbollah and end rocket fire into the north. Didn’t happen. Now, it seems he promised the families of the kidnapped soldiers that he would not lift the blockade till they received signs of life from Hezbollah:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet on Thursday with the relatives of soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were kidnapped by Hezbollah guerrillas in July, and face the families’ harsh criticism over the decision to lift the blockade.
The families said that Olmert had promised that the blockade would not be lifted until they received a sign of life from the soldiers.
I can understand the temptation to make such a promise. But why would he actually make it? How can you hold an entire nation (Lebanon) hostage for the sake of two Israeli soldiers? The very idea is preposterous as statecraft. But Olmert’s idea of statecraft seems to be promising things he can’t possibly deliver and hoping his constituency will somehow forget when he doesn’t.
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