Friday, August 18, 2006

Strange War, Strange Peace

The 34-day assault of Israel against Lebanon stuns by the lack of objectives that have been achieved. What ostensibly began as a result of the abduction of two soldiers—though it should be said that unlike what the media claims this was not the cause of the conflict but rather the spark—turned into a month-long aggression of a modern and well-equipped army against mostly undefended civilians. The only real battles occurred towards the end after Israel had deployed troops on the ground, where the soldiers met the fierce resistance of Hezbollah fighters. This was a war in which the military forces of the country being invaded stood by, but some of whose soldiers were nevertheless killed by the invader, while others were held against their will by Israeli forces, in their own country, "for their own safety." This also was a war where all the architecture of international law that exists to prevent savage aggressions against civilians failed the people it was intended to protect. Meanwhile, the world stood by, bickering on words, resolutions and meanings of ceasefires but ultimately did nothing to prevent the carnage. Peace-loving democracies like Canada called the response "a balanced one" and started using dehumanizing language of the sort that characterized the worst genocidal regimes in history. This was a war upon whose so-called conclusion all sides claimed victory: Israel claimed that it had sufficiently weakened Hezbollah by killing 400-500 of its members; Hezbollah, for its part, has but confirmed about 100 of them and has gained a popularity it could not have dreamed of, with its leader Hassan Nasrallah turning into a modern "Che" for the Muslim world. The United States joined in, contending that Hezbollah had clearly been defeated. This was a war whose main objectives were the freeing of the two captured soldiers and the destruction of rockets and launch sites used by Hezbollah to attack northern Israel. The soldiers are still in captivity, and after 34 days of Israeli bombing, Hezbollah was able to fire its most intense volley in a single day. This was a war that allegedly had been launched to assist a fledging democracy in Lebanon but whose outcome has left the democratic elements in such a weakened state as to threaten their very political survival. The war so damaged the infrastructures of state (estimated at 3.6 billion, with 15,000 homes) that groups like Hezbollah, which have a good history of providing social assistance, will carry the brunt of the reconstruction—so much so, in fact, that already the U.S. is trying to speed up the aid process to avoid that becoming a reality. Already, Hezbollah has begun handing out cash to families whose homes were destroyed by Israel. This war ended with a ceasefire in which the side committing aggression reserves the right to use force to prevent the other side from rearming (and did Saturday), as open-ended an interpretation of a ceasefire as has ever been allowed to fly.

Then, after weeks of trying to come up with a ceasefire document with which all sides could agree, overt hostilities stopped. Israeli gradually pulled out of southern Lebanon, to be replaced by the Lebanese army. A major component of the ceasefire—and the main reason why Israel agreed to it—was the deployment, within fifteen days, of a well-armed multinational force under UN mandate. France, the former colonial power in the region, was expected to be a major contributor and to take the lead.

But now, less than a week after the guns went silent, the first cracks in the multinational deployment are already appearing. Most likely haunted by what happened to outside forces in Lebanon in the 1980s, it now appears that nobody wants to commit troops to go into Lebanon. Given that, should hostilities resume, such forces would not only be caught in the crossfire but would also be subjected to the all-too-possible occasional Israeli accident, this reluctance is quite understandable. So France has balked, saying that it will only add 200 engineers to the 200 UNIFIL soldiers it already has there. It also said that its 1,700 troops offshore would not come under UN command. Germany, another country that could play a major role in the crisis, has only offered border patrols and border agents, along with vessels to interdict arm shipments into Lebanon. Denmark has offered three ships while Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia have each offered a battalion (600-800 troops). Now by no stretch of the imagination is math my forte, but how these contributions add up to 13,000 troops remains a mystery. We are perhaps on the brink of seeing the first invisible muscular peacekeeping deployment in history, a force that will secure a state not by deploying where it has to deploy, but by avoiding doing so. Let's call that virtual peacekeeping.

All along, the war of July 2006 in Lebanon has been a most unusual one. It is now starting to look like the peace will be perpetuating this Kafkaesque use of force.

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