Peacekeepers in Lebanon

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The Los Angeles Times has a good piece on the wholly ineffective 2,000-strong UN peacekeeping force that has been in southern Lebanon for a long while. Most notable, the peacekeepers currently have to worry about Hezbollah fighters who sidle up beside UN bases and fire off rockets towards Haifa and Nahariya in the hopes that Israel will retaliate and blow up some peacekeepers, as happened on Tuesday. But this part, explaining why the existing UN force never reined in Hezbollah in the first place, seems important:

The U.N. observers sat by while an unchecked Hezbollah consolidated political control over the south, built up its arsenal and girded itself to do battle once again with the nemesis across the border.

They had no choice, they say: Hezbollah could be tamed only with the use of force, which is not part of their mandate.

“You have to be able to impose international will,” Pellegrini said. “You need heavy weapons and strong rules of engagement.”

But this is the bind that will face any military that tries to tangle with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon: The organization will fight fiercely to keep its guns, and its widespread grass-roots popularity makes the militia capable of mounting a fierce insurgency.

The peacekeepers couldn’t be here, U.N. officials acknowledge, if Hezbollah didn’t tolerate them. And if they were cracking heads, they would no longer be tolerated.

That seems believable. These days, everyone seems to be calling for a more effective international force to come in and stabilize southern Lebanon. But a “more effective” force that tried to tame Hezbollah could well mean war against the group’s militia—and if the United States can’t defeat an insurgency in Iraq, what makes anyone think that, say, European troops can pacify Hezbollah in southern Lebanon? Some sort of negotiated peace will likely be the only way forward, but that possibility seems quite distant at the moment.


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