Tuesday, August 22, 2006

They will come to Beirut (maybe)

One of Agatha Christie’s better spy thrillers is called “They Came to Baghdad” and deals with a rather villainous organization led by a man who sees himself as a superman, intending to destroy what exists and build a completely new world structure. Not all that far-fetched really. At the centre of the novel is a projected conference between the Soviet and the American leaders in Baghdad and, therefore, all sorts of people, important and otherwise descend on that city.

Well, if not Baghdad, then Beirut (maybe) as the discussions continue about that international contingent that will, together with the Lebanese army, ensure peace on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The line-up seems to be: 200 French of whom some have begun to arrive with the Minister of Defence insisting that a better mandate is needed. True enough but who co-sponsored Resolution 1701 and insisted on a speedy agreement in the Security Council? France has also called for a meeting of EU ministers to “co-ordinate” the European part of the projected UN force as has Italy's Prime Minister, Romano Prodi. When in doubt, call a conference to co-ordinate something or other.

Germany will probably send a naval contingent but no land or air ones and is likely to concentrate on humanitarian aid to Lebanon to which the United States has already given $230 (£121) million.

The current favourite to lead the international force is Italy, who has promised 3,000 soldiers but there is a caveat.

“But Italy's offer to lead the force appears to be conditional on an agreement being reached on a new UN resolution, the AFP news agency reported.

The agency quoted Mr Prodi as saying a new resolution should provide "a specific mandate, specific contents and a very clear definition of the alliances".”

Again, fair enough but was this not clear from the moment Resolution 1701 appeared on the negotiating table? The right-wing opposition in Italy is likely to play on the general dislike of foreign military adventures in that country (at the moment, anyway) and on there being little support from other European countries. As Reuter’s reports through Al-Jazeera:

“Italy's centre-right opposition, mindful of the public sensitivity to military casualties, said Rome's enthusiasm was unmatched by its neighbours.

"Chirac will send a few generals, Germany a launch or two, while we have to send troops dressed as kamikazes in the Italian flag," said Francesco Storace of the rightist National Alliance.”

What a lovely picture that presents. The Italian Foreign Minister Massimo d’Alema has emphsised that, although disarming Hezbollah was quite a good idea, it was more important that Israel must not break the truce. Otherwise the Italian troops cannot go in. Whether they can go in if Hezbollah breaks the truce remains a moot point.

“On Monday, the Shia militant group's deputy leader rejected calls for it to disarm. Sheikh Naeem Kassem reportedly told the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera: "I say it clearly: the resistance will continue. We must remain in a state of readiness with this enemy [Israel]."”

This does not bother our own super-tranzi, Mark Malloch-Brown (or, needless to say, SecGen Kofi Annan) whose biggest worry is that Israel should have no say in the make-up of the international force. Israel, as our readers will recall, expressed some concern about countries with whom it had no diplomatic links and who did not acknowledge the country’s existence, being part of the international force.

“"Yes [the force] must enjoy the confidence of Israel, but that doesn't give them a right to blackball individual contributions," he said.

"We'll expect them to look at... the totality of the force and whether it represents a broad multilateral balance."”

I dare say Mr Malloch-Brown expects Santa Claus to come down the chimney every Christmas Eve as well.

Meanwhile, Salim Mansur has had a look at Resolution 1701 and has come to the conclusion that it is under Chapter 6 (Pacific Settlement of Disputes) rather than Chapter 7 (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression). This is important. Chapter 6 Resolutions leave it to the participants to sort the problems out with the UN looking on and generally guiding procedures. Chapter 7 Resolutions give the UN power to enforce them.

“Resolution 1701 calls for "cessation of hostilities" between Hezbollah and Israel and, thereby, establishes an outrageous equivalence between a terrorist organization and Israel, a member state with a democratically elected government.

It reiterates earlier resolutions (1680, of this past May, and 1559, of September 2004) that called for all "foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon" and for "the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias."

But what has happened since those resolutions? Israel withdrew completely from Lebanon by June 2000. The effort to get Syria to withdraw as well culminated instead with the still-unsolved murder in February 2005 of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was instrumental in securing the passage of Resolution 1559.

As for the disbanding of militias, Hezbollah has only gathered strength with the full backing of Iran and Syria.

The war started by Hezbollah on July 12 illustrated, as if any further proof was needed, that Lebanon has little more than an empty shell of a government. It lacks any meaningful authority over its territory, and de facto power rests with a terrorist group that does the bidding of Tehran and Damascus.

Since Resolution 1559 has remained unenforceable, there is no reason to think that Resolution 1701 will fare any better.”

It is, perhaps, just as well that as far as any of us can tell, the Armageddon promised for August 22 by Iran does not seem to be happening. The UN might decide to pass another Resolution.

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