Lebanese reject French-US plan

A UN cease-fire draft relies on the Lebanese Army. Can it control Hizbullah?

Arab leaders are rejecting the US-French draft UN Security Council resolution that would bring a "full cessation of hostilities" but enable Israeli forces to stay in southern Lebanon until deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

The UN is expected to vote on the draft within days, and the US is pressing for a second resolution to establish the international force that would patrol a buffer zone between Lebanon and Israel.

But while the US hails the plan as a necessary first step, initial reaction in Lebanon Sunday was one of disappointment about a deal that few here see as an acceptable path to peace.

"What was agreed is not in Lebanon's interests but against them. This will open the door to never-ending war," said Nabih Berri, the Lebanese parliament speaker and veteran Shiite leader who is the interlocutor with Hizbullah. "There will be operations against this army that is not on its own soil, that is occupying here.

"Their resolution will either drop Lebanon into internal strife or will be impossible to implement," said Mr. Berri.

Israeli airstrikes continued pounding Hizbullah targets for the 26th straight day, killing 11 soldiers and raising the death toll to at least 748. Hizbullah guerrillas also fired more rockets into northern Israel, killing at least 12 soldiers in one attack, and taking the Israeli toll to at least 90.

As night fell Sunday, six explosions rocked Beirut's southern suburbs and a volley of six Hizbullah rockets landed on the northern Israeli city of Haifa, killing at least three people and wounding more than 40.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the resolution was a first step toward "ending large scale violence," that is to be followed by a second resolution that she says will shape a "sustainable peace."

"It's a good basis for beginning to flow the authority of the Lebanese government into the south so this can't happen again," said Ms. Rice, speaking at President Bush's ranch at Crawford, Texas.

But the result of weeks of diplomatic negotiations – during which the US has given Israel a tacit green light to pursue its destructive asymmetrical military bombardment of Lebanon, and against Hizbullah – remains far from the Beirut government's own seven-point peace plan.

Besides an immediate cease-fire, complete Israeli withdrawal, and a UN stabilization force, Lebanon's plan calls for a return home of up to 900,000 displaced Lebanese mostly from the south, a prisoner swap, and a return to Lebanon of the disputed Shebaa Farms.

But both plans depend on one crucial ingredient for long-term success: Deployment of the long-weak Lebanese Army to the southern border, for the first time in decades. Underscoring its importance, US officials last week approved plans to train and equip the army.

So how prepared is a force of some 25,000, that has so far not engaged in the Hizbullah-Israel fight, but lost more than at least 34 officers and soldiers to Israeli strikes?

Early Saturday, a Lebanese Army soldier engaged Israeli commandos that landed for a raid in the southern city of Tyre. The soldier and his armored vehicle were destroyed; six more soldiers died Sunday.

"If we have a UN cease-fire, the army is the perfect tool to play the role ... If Hizbullah is disarmed," says a Lebanese general who once held broad intelligence responsibilities, and who asked not to be named. "But if Hizbullah is not disarmed, the army is not capable."

The Lebanese peace plan of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora includes Hizbullah disarmament, though all here recognize that the militarily efficient Hizbullah – which has so far confounded Israeli officials and commanders with the quality of its frontline resistance, in the face of overwhelming Israeli firepower – can't be disarmed by force.

The army reflects Lebanon's own sectarian mosaic and ethnic balance, with roughly one-third each of Shiite, Sunni, and Christian troops. But analysts say the Shiites are close to Hizbullah, and that any enforced effort to disarm the Shiite militia – the last to keep its weapons after Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war – could cause the army to disintegrate.

"Even their movement depends on peace resolution ... they just don't have the means, the capability, or the equipment," says Timur Goksel, a 24-year veteran senior adviser and spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, who now teaches conflict resolution at the American University of Beirut.

The Lebanese Army "is a very respectable internal security force ... their capability is very high, [but] we should not test the loyalty or cohesion of that army by putting it in an impossible role," says Mr. Goksel. "It can't take on the Israelis, and can definitely not take on Hizbullah."

Still, the scale of devastation wrought across Lebanon by Israeli military firepower – sparked when Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid – means that Hizbullah will also be making adjustments.

"There is a realization by Hizbullah that they are not anymore going to plant their flags on this side of the border, as they have before," says Goksel. "Hizbullah knows they have to give something to this country, and the minimum you can give is to allow the national army – with all its shortcomings – to represent Lebanon on the border."

Those shortcomings include the need for "significant spare parts," according to a US military visit before the current flare-up, Gen. John Abizaid, head of the US Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.

The army "needs a significant upgrade of equipment and training capability that I believe the Western nations, particularly the United States, can assist with," said General Abizaid. "It will never work for Lebanon if, over time, Hizbullah has a greater military capacity than the Lebanese armed forces."

But such an outcome, experts say, requires Hizbullah to accept the terms of any cease-fire. Sources close to Hizbullah say the militia will accept the presence of an expanded UN force to support the Lebanese Army, but that a newly minted international force would not be acceptable.

Disarming Hizbullah is yet another issue, and one that is not likely to be accepted under current circumstances.

A post-civil war plan 15 years ago to boost army capabilities, to present at least a credible deterrence to any Israeli military incursion – to make the price in casualties high, with 12 mechanized tank brigades – was devised by senior army staff. But that plan was eventually undermined by Syria, whose own forces in Lebanon feared an eventual military push to free Lebanon from Syrian control.

Syrian forces left Lebanon last year, on a wave of popular anger ignited by the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many Lebanese blame on Syria. But it left behind a neglected national force.

"The army is outstanding to perform such a mission of stabilization and counter-penetration; they could collect all the information and intelligence ... if there is a decision accepted by Hizbullah," says Gen. Nizar Abdel-Kader, a retired Lebanese general who writes a military strategy column for Addyar newspaper in Beirut.

Hizbullah will examine UN resolutions, he says, and assess the state of the battlefield – and the mind-set of both Syrian and Iranian backers – before making final decisions about army deployment, and possible disarmament.

"If Hizbullah is against this [army] deployment, I would go tomorrow to the Chief-of-Staff of the army, and say: 'Don't send your army, because you are sending it into an environment of great risk of dismantling the army,' " says General Abdel-Kader.

"Any force could be successful. The Lebanese Army does not need an international force, unless to tell the Israelis not to violate the airspace, the blue line, or the territory of water of Lebanon," says Abdel-Kader. "The Lebanese Army can do it in one week ... the south of Lebanon could be a peaceful haven, if Hizbullah did not object."

UN Resolution

Following are excerpts from the operative parts of a draft UN resolution on the Middle East conflict negotiated by the United States and France, which the 15-member UN Security Council may vote on early next week.

The Security Council ...
– Emphasizing the need for an end of violence, but at the same time emphasizing the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers,
– Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue of prisoners and encouraging the efforts aimed at settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel,

• Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbullah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations;

• Reiterates its strong support for full respect for the Blue Line (marking the border between Israel and Lebanon);

• Also reiterates its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders ... ;

• Calls on the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people ... and calls on it also to consider further assistance in the future to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon;

• Emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory ... ;

• Calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements:
– strict respect by all parties for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Israel and Lebanon;
– full respect for the Blue Line by both parties;
– delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including in the Shebaa Farms area;
– security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani River of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed and security forces and of UN-mandated international forces deployed in this area;
– ... the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that ... there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state;
– deployment of an international force in Lebanon ... ;
– establishment of an international embargo on the sale or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by its government;
– elimination of foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government ... ;

• Invites the (UN) Secretary General (Kofi Annan) to support efforts to secure agreements in principle from the government of Lebanon and the government of Israel to the principles and elements for a long-term solution ... ;

• Requests the secretary-general to develop, in liaison with key international actors and the concerned parties, proposals (for) ... disarmament, and for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa Farms, and to present those proposals to the Security Council within thirty days; ...

• Expresses its intention ... to authorize in a further resolution under Chapter 7 of the Charter (of the United Nations) the deployment of a UN-mandated international force to support the Lebanese armed forces and government in providing a secure environment and contribute to the implementation of a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution;

• Requests UNIFIL (the UN Interim Force in Lebanon), upon cessation of hostilities, to monitor its implementation and to extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the safe return of displaced persons;

• Calls upon the government of Lebanon to ensure arms or related materiel are not imported into Lebanon without its consent and requests UNIFIL, conditions permitting, to assist the government of Lebanon at its request;

• Requests the secretary-general to report to the council within one week on the implementation of this resolution and to provide any relevant information in light of the council's intention to adopt ... a further resolution ...

– Reuters

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