AFP, via the Beirut Daily Star reports that the US is to find the Lebanese army $10 million to buy equipment needed to patrol the southern border and, presumably, keep Hezbollah in hand. For one thing, it doesn’t sound much. For another thing, wouldn’t it be an idea to get the Israelis to stop bombing the Lebanese army before trying to rearm it?

Meanwhile, a glimpse of our leaders in action. What with that and Secretary Rice’s recital at ASEAN, it frankly makes Jacques Chirac look like a good example.

Update: Comments on this entry are now closed as the thread has got frankly dreadful.

OK, Scott – hour of Europe not at hand

Well, it now looks as if the window of opportunity for a ceasefire in the Levant has slammed shut on the fingers of its proponents. With the destruction of a UNTSO observation post, the mobilisation of three Israeli reserve divisions (by contrast, the total force employed so far has been one division-plus), Hezbollah’s successful defence of positions close to the Israeli border and their first launch of a long-range rocket, and the Israeli government’s claim that the world has given them permission to fight on, all parties to the conflict now seem to be giving war a chance.

If anything arose from the debate here, it was that the employment of an international intervention force might be useful in the context of a ceasefire and mutual concessions. There is no ceasefire, and even if by accident, the danger such forces would be in has been underscored. Worse, Hezbollah has tasted enough success to want to keep going, and the Israelis seem riled enough by this to escalate further. It is therefore unlikely anything would be achieved by sending NRF-7 to wander around the dry hills of the Litani valley.

Jacques Chirac’s remark that NATO, as the “armed wing of the West”, should not be involved is interesting. It admits both a Scott Martens/Sam Huntington reading-that NATO plus a few others roughly equals “the West”, so getting involved in a fight in the Middle East would be a step perilously close to religious war-and also a more limited one. Chirac may also have meant that any force should sail under the EUFOR or UN banner, or that a so-called “Virtual NATO” solution – a UN force made up of NATO member states’ forces, like KFOR or the intervention in East Timor – might be preferable.

It’s worth putting on record, however, that European forces (NRF7) were indeed available and ready when the crisis erupted.

You say that like it’s a bad thing

Says Scott: Why should outsiders participate in saving face for Israel and in solidifying what will no doubt be perceived in the Middle East as a Hezbollah victory?

Well, if a situation emerges where Israel can save face and Hezbollah is simultaneously able to claim victory, we’d be fools not to seize this opportunity. Put it another way, if both parties can convince at least themselves that they are coming away from the battlefield with their interests advanced, they are likely to stick to the agreement.

Think about it – if the Israelis, as seems possible, settle for a token retreat and an international force whilst giving up the Shebaa farms, thus terminating Hezbollah’s claim to legitimacy, and Hezbollah can meanwhile be satisfied with the feeling that they have beaten off an Israeli onslaught, the northern dimension of the Israel/Palestine conflict is not far at all from solution. There is nothing left to argue about, except disarmament (or something akin to it).

It’s unfortunate that both sides will probably claim they won it by force of arms, but it can’t be helped. In fact, Hezbollah’s extension of its self-declared insecurity zone with bigger rockets and successful delaying action on the frontier probably had more to do with it than the Israeli freakout blitz.

The only problem is the fish, of course. Time for a ceasefire, before the maniacs talking about “doing this for the whole Sunni world” get a hearing in Israel.

Lebanon: So much for a “strong mandate”

According to today’s Haaretz, Israel has abandoned the idea of an international force in Lebanon designed to disarm Hezbollah. What they are now talking about is a 1 km wide “demilitarized zone” along the Israeli border where Hezbollah can’t deploy, enforced by Israeli artillery over the border in Israel.

Since Hezbollah’s rockets go a lot further into Israel than that, this indicates, if the report is true, that stopping rocket attacks is no longer seen as a viable goal for this conflict. And, a demilitarized zone enforced by artillery fire has no impact on Hezbollah’s ability to undertake the kind of border skirmishes that served as pretext for this fight. So, deployment of an international force is becoming not much more than a cover for Israel to declare some form of victory in a conflict they certainly appear to be losing. So much for “strong mandates” and avoiding, in Condoleeza Rice’s words, “temporary solutions”.

Beirut’s Daily Star is offering a more optimistic outlook this morning, suggesting Israel will accept some kind of negotiated trade for its kidnapped soldiers (which it could have gotten in the first place without going to war) and that Hezbollah might agree to stop to rocket attacks on Israel in return for some sort of settlement on the Shebaa farms area, an end to Israeli harassment of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and some other outstanding issues. If either side was going to be honest in making such an agreement, an international force would hardly be necessary to keep the peace. In a true flight of fancy, the Lebanese editorialist sees such an agreement as opening the way to settlements between Israel and Syria, and to addressing Palestinian grievances. Fat chance.

Hezbollah’s chief is openly declaring the intent to continue rocket attacks even while declaring itself open to political discussions to resolve the conflict. He also admits that no one expected Israel to freak out like this. This willingness to discuss options from Hezbollah, and Israel’s apparent willingness to accept reduced demands, might be indicative of an openness to some kind of agreement, as the author of the editorial suggests. But it almost certainly means no meaningful solution.

Again, I have to ask: Why should anyone send troops to Lebanon if the intended outcome is nothing more than a restoration of the status quo ante that led to this war in the first place? If negotiation is supposed to end this conflict without actually undermining either side, then what purpose is served by a peacekeeping force with no mandate to keep the peace? Why should outsiders participate in saving face for Israel and in solidifying what will no doubt be perceived in the Middle East as a Hezbollah victory?

Maybe the hour of Europe is at hand

…this time? The signs do appear to being pointing to a possible employment of European forces in Lebanon, not least with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and others expressing a preference for “EU countries” or NATO – which is mostly the same thing, especially militarily – to supply troops to any peacekeeping/peace enforcement mission there.

The reason why particularly EU forces might be wanted is that the experience with UNIFIL, the existing UN force there, is not great. As what could be termed a “classic” UN force – blue helmets, white AFVs, no Chapter VII authority, and often drawn from neutral and third world armies – it never had a chance of keeping the PLO or Hezbollah out, and neither did it have a chance of standing up to the Israelis. For their part, the Israelis would obviously like any international force sent to the Litani to be effective. And if it is not effective, it won’t protect the Lebanese from the Israelis either!

Unfortunately, effective international forces for this job are in short supply. The US is out of the question, even if it could spare the troops. British armed forces are frantically overstretched. It seems unlikely to say the least that India would get involved, Pakistan would not be welcome, neither would Turkey for different reasons. Vladimir Putin has said that Russia would support a peace force, but its deployable forces are small, and a dose of the Grozny approach to peacekeeping would do everyone a power of bad. That doesn’t really leave anyone else.

Update below the fold.
Continue reading

Vienna: The End of the Beginning

So the latest round of talks on Kosovo begin in Vienna today.

There have already been seven rounds of talks since February. The result: the two sides have utterly failed to reach any agreement on anything whatsoever.

But this is not just an eighth round. No, this is a new “phase” of the talks. Now, instead of special negotiating teams, the political leadership of both Kosovo and Serbia will be coming in. On the Serb side will be President Tadic, Prime Minister Kostunica, and Foreign Minister (sort of) Draskovic. On the Albanian side, President Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku will lead a team that includes representatives from all major Albanian political parties.

What will this accomplish?

Almost certainly nothing.
Continue reading

NATO peacekeepers in Lebanon: Why Europe should just say no

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind – Hosea 8:7

The new American-Israeli proposal for peace in Lebanon is a NATO-led force with a “strong mandate” rather than UN-led blue helmets. “NATO” in this case is a code word for European troops under effective US command, since it must be presumed that American forces are about as welcome in Lebanon as the IDF, and Israel is unlikely to tolerate a strong international force under any independent authority.

It would be an incredibly stupid idea for Europeans to go along with this. The “strong mandate” of such a force would no doubt be the suppression of Hezbollah. Let the Israelis do their own damn dirty work. They lost a war in Lebanon once already, let them lose again. I see no reason why Europeans should have to back Israel up in its campaign of collective punishment against the people of southern Lebanon. “Israel has the right to defend itself” – this has been the mantra of Israeli governments for decades, evoked in defense of every atrocity it commits. So let them defend themselves. Why should Europe intervene in support of a state that targets civilians?
Continue reading

Spy kids

Huge flap in Romania this week, as it’s been revealed that the Communist-era secret police recruited children to spy on parents and classmates.

This should come as no surprise. Nicolae Ceaucescu was a creepy little thug, and his Securitate were the scum of the earth. If you can think of a sleazy, evil activity, there’s a good chance Old Nic was into it. Assassinating troublesome Romanians abroad? Absolutely. Torture? Dude, they had training courses. Rewriting history, complete with forged photographs? They had a building full of people for that. You can argue whether Ceausescu was a “Stalinist” or not, but his regime knew all the tricks, and used them.

So, of course they had kids spying on their parents. For everything from Mom’s habit of listening to foreign radio stations to Dad’s jokes about the Ceausescus. While people may not have known this, exactly, it’s not something that should come as a shock.

So why the fuss?
Continue reading