After a month of standing by, while Lebanon was reduced to an "accumulation of rubbles", to paraphrase Walter Benjamin's description of history, the United Nations has adopted a so-called ceasefire resolution that may bring a temporary respite from the fighting followed, ironically, by a whole new chapter in the war - by internationalising it.
UN Resolution 1701, adopted unanimously recently, calls for Israel's withdrawal "at the earliest" and not immediately, as demanded by Hezbollah, which has rejected several key aspects of this resolution, insisting that as long as Israel remains in Lebanon the fighting will go on.
Ironically, since the resolution's adoption, Israel has committed its largest incursion inside Lebanon, up to the Litani River, the justification being "in order to protect the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] soldiers", to paraphrase Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. But in light of the heavy fighting and mounting IDF casualties after the massive invasion of Lebanon, Livni's logic leaves a lot to be desired.
Israel has yet to implement the UN's call in 1967 under Resolution 242 for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict". In comparison, Resolution 1701 is more vague and indeterminate, as Israel can perpetuate its prized conquests in south Lebanon indefinitely with one excuse or another, as can be already discerned from Livni's press statement, that Israel will only withdraw when a robust international force arrives, together with Lebanese forces, and that the arrival of "a few Lebanese soldiers" will not suffice. But waiting for the "international force" may prove to be "waiting for the Godot".
On a related note, in his latest article in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh has written that the US government was in collaboration with Israel on the air campaign against Hezbollah, even prior to the July 12 border incident that set off the war. Their aim was to destroy Hezbollah's military infrastructure as a prelude for a future attack on Iran.
Their failed expectations, giving rise to a severe crisis of confidence on Israel's army within Israel, portending a coming political crisis, might have also affected the Bush administration, had the latter not benefited enormously from the foiled terror plot in London.
But the wounds of President George W Bush's presidency run deeper than can be bandaged by such good news on the "war on terror" front, which may turn out to be exaggerated - given the shocked reaction of some of the apprehended suspects and the contradictory news surrounding this plot, eg, Pakistan's initial report of arrest of some plotters several days prior to the London raid, subsequently revised to make it "simultaneous". Given the poor reputation of Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and their prior lies on the Iraq war, one must keep a healthy dose of skepticism until all the facts are crystal clear.
According to the new resolution, the UN peacekeeping operation in Lebanon (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon - UNIFIL) has been given a new mission with an expanded scope to assist the Lebanese army to "exercise authority" throughout Lebanon. Potentially, the stage has been set for a new phase in the Lebanese theatre of conflict, with the US and Israel hoping that the Lebanese army, backed by the UN, can now finish the job they have failed to achieve themselves, that is, to defang Hezbollah.
Thus the double-edged-sword potential of Resolution 1701: it can induce peace as much as it may prove a catalyst for a future civil war in Lebanon, pitting the Lebanese army against Hezbollah.
Deputy IDF chief of staff Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky was quoted in US media on the weekend as saying that there was a chance that the IDF would begin withdrawing from Lebanon by the end of this week after the arrival of the multinational force. Several factors, however, militate against the fragile ceasefire, including the possibility of Hezbollah's rearmament, much dreaded by Israel.
The resolution also calls on the UN secretary general to take the appropriate measures to make sure UNIFIL's new role is fully implemented in Lebanon. Easier said than done, because of the following: first, the UN is at present "stretched very thin" in terms of money and resources for its far-flung peacekeeping operations, swallowing up to half of the UN's budget annually, per a recent interview of Kofi Annan's assistant for policy planning, Robert Orr, with this author.
Second, the UN is already suffering a major image problem in the Muslim and developing worlds as a superpower pawn, which will be augmented if it turns out that its peacekeepers in Lebanon are doing Israel's "dirty job" of trying to disarm a popular group successfully standing up to the mighty Israeli army, indeed an unprecedented achievement in the annals of Arab-Israeli conflict.
Third, as Gideon Levy put it in the liberal Israeli paper Ha'aretz, Israel's spectacular failure in Lebanon may not be such a bad thing, as it makes Israel think twice about any future "military adventurism".
And yet if the UN now commits itself to enter into action practically on Israel's side, seeing how the resolution calls for Hezbollah's disarmament and the "unconditional release" of two Israeli soldiers without calling for a quid pro quo prisoner exchange, it is bound to suffer grievously in the realm of its global perceptions, a potential setback it can ill afford right now.
Fourth, it remains to be seen which countries will volunteer forces to the UN mission in Lebanon - Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign-policy chief, has promised a "robust" EU contribution. Yet this may be wishful thinking, as the EU countries, variously grappling with the blowback of home-grown Muslim terrorism as a result of their bandwagoning with the US and Israel, may think twice before committing their troops to harm's way in south Lebanon.
Consequently, the chances are good to excellent that a viable international force to implement Resolution 1701's laundry list of objectives will not materialise any time soon, and this will, in turn, translate into Israel's continuous occupation of South Lebanon.
By courtesy : Asia Times On-line. The writer is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu.