Thursday, August 31, 2006

UNIFIL 2 - We Need You: Part I

This is the first part of a two (maybe three) part series on the deployment of the UNIFIL 2 force to Lebanon.

In this post, I put issues relating to Hizballah and their disarmament aside, and seek to highlight the (other) advantages that can be derived from the deployment of this international force.
Lebanon has much to gain from the versatile composition of the international force now preparing to land on our shores.
On top of the large numbers of infantry and mechanized infantry battalions being pledged to the newly polished UNIFIL 2 forces, countries such as Greece, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy are also pledging a large number of naval assets.
These naval assets, including at least one carrier group, to be position off the coast of Lebanon are of pivotal importance is the assistance being provided to the Lebanese Army. Although ostensibly there to prevent the transferring of arms to groups within the country other than the Army, these assets could play an important role in the securing of Lebanon’s borders. Take for instance the numerous accounts of fishermen abducted from Lebanese waters and held in both Syria and Israel. In other occasions, fishermen have had their nets cut by both nations’ navies following particularly bad spells in relations with Lebanon. The continual presence of an international naval taskforce would, in theory, provide an adequate deterrence to a continuation of such actions.

The presence of a carrier group off the nation’s coast would also help enforce the Lebanese state’s sovereignty over its air space, violations of which occur on a regular basis (predominantly by the IAF, but also by the Syrian Air Force). Although the UN has proved incapable of this task in the past – even when those violations have resulted in the deaths of several soldiers serving under its command – it has never had the ability to enforce its will on the Lebanese arena as it will have now. If the UN can impose an effective ban on cross-border over flights, it would be the first time in approximately 30 years that Lebanon’s skies would be free of intruders.

A strong international aerial presence would also provide needed assistance to the Lebanese Army in its monitoring of the Lebanese-Syrian border. Although the issue is currently being viewed as an American-Israeli inspired demand, Lebanon has been struggling with this issue since the evacuation of the Syrian army from the country. The porous border is widely seen as a gateway for illegal drug and weapons transfers to groups clandestinely (and sometimes not so clandestinely) supported by the Syrian regime. These groups range from armed Palestinian factions based throughout Lebanon, to the Syrians’ own intelligence and sleeper cells (who’s members also engage in drug smuggling and car theft activities throughout Lebanon), and finally to Hizballah.

On the ground, the UNIFIL 2 force will also be expected to support the Lebanese Army in ways not (yet) highlighted by the media or governments in play. These activities will primarily consist of a forced disarmament of armed Palestinian factions both inside and outside the refugee camps. For the most part, the government expects little resistance from those Palestinian factions allied to current PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as extensive contacts and dialogues with the groups have led to positive results.

With respect to the Palestinian groups allied to Syria, there already seems to be a growing will to move against these groups quickly and effectively. As in all the operations to be conducted on the ground, the Lebanese Army will be expected to take the lead in any move against the groups while heavily armed UNIFIL 2 forces provide backup and support. On the political level things might be a bit more risky. The moves against these armed groups might provide enough cover for the Syrian regime to renew its murky assassination campaign against prominent anti-Syrian political figures, thereby laying the foundations for an aggressive campaiged aimed at internally destabilizing Lebanon.

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