Helman Guest Editorial Peril In

Helman Guest Editorial: Peril in Lebanon

Ambassador Gerald B. Helman writes:

‘ The momentum that was imparted by the Security Council’s cease fire resolution (1701) on August 11, is in danger of dissipating. The initial deployment of Lebanese troops to the south seems stalled at an inadequate 3,000 men. Potential European troop contributors to a strengthened UNIFIL act reluctant to step forward. Israel has voiced objection to potential contributors from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia. (While Israel has no veto, it would be unusual for the UN to include such contingents over the objections of one of the subjects of the ceasefire.) Israel has attacked Hezbollah on several occasions, claiming they were acting in violation of the ceasefire.

While neither of the principal parties have the stomach now to resume all-out hostilities, a failure to act on the part of those that sought UN intervention will most certainly lead over time to a rearming of Hezbollah, a commensurate response by Israel, and an undermining of any coherent governance in Lebanon.

The way forward does not lie in revising or strengthening the latest Security Council resolution. True, it does not incorporate forceful action under the Charter’s Chapter 7 and represents political compromise. But it’s overall design addresses the crisis in a more useful way: it says to the Lebanese government that it has the responsibility to act as a sovereign over its own territory (para 8) and orders the strengthening of UNIFIL to help Lebanon in that task (para 11).

That said, the problem remains of how to restore momentum to the enterprise. It can’t be done by trying to forcefully disarm Hezbullah. Neither the Lebanese army nor UNIFIL will be willing or able to do what Israel couldn’t. Steps that could be taken in the near term are:

–If Lebanon is to be treated as a sovereign and leader in its own territory, it must act like one by getting on with the deployment of 15,000 soldiers to southern Lebanon.

–There is now a reinforced UNIFIL presence in the south that could be augmented in the next 3-4 weeks if Lebanon and other moderate Arab states press the Europeans to step-up to the challenge. They should not wait for the US to take the lead. It is not clear what is holding the Europeans back. Rules of engagement that permit vigorous self defense are not hard to draft, and would in any event be manifested in the quality of equipment and aggressiveness with which UNIFIL patrols and asserts it’s authority to observe and report. Challenging the Lebanese army to operate in tandem would be an excellent training and policing device.

What is most important is that steps be taken to turn Hezbullah increasingly into a political and social movement at the expense of its military capabilities. Within the immediate context, the international community can assist in that process by helping the Lebanese Government to shut off the flow of sophisticated weapons and training to Hezbullah. Doing so will require action on two fronts:

–strong police work and border patrol. The US should help here with communications, mobile equipment (helicopters, all-terrain vehicles) and intelligence (satellites and communications intercepts). The Europeans can provide maritime interdiction and border guard contingents.

–strong diplomacy. A club consisting of Lebanon, the UN, the EU and moderate Arabs should press a dialogue separately with Syria and Iran to shut off the arms pipeline to Hezbullah.

All of the foregoing is doable, though none of it will be easy. The essential ingredient if for the Lebanese Government to assert itself and show direction now that it has the world’s attention. Otherwise, Syria and Iran will resupply and upgrade Hezbullah, resumed warfare will result, with the Lebanese state its principal victim.’

Ambassador Helman “was United States Ambassador to the European Office of the United Nations from 1979 through 1981.”