August 7, 2006

Lebanese Army to Move South?

The Lebanese government agreed today to deploy 15,000 soldiers to the southern border region - once Israeli troops have withdrawn from Lebanese territory. This follows an announcement that the Lebanese army has called up reservists for service once a ceasefire is reached in the almost month-long confrontation between Hizballah and the Israeli forces.

What is driving these announcements? First, we need to look at the government of Lebanon. The government of Lebanon is fairly weak. It has a Christian president (Amil Lahud), a Sunni prime minister (Fu'ad Sinyawrah) and a Shi'a speaker of the parliament (Nabih Bary'). I would consider the president and speaker to be completely under the control of the Syrians. The prime minister, who is thought of very highly in most circles, is caught in the middle, as they say in Lebanon, bayn narayn - between two fires. Although initially he appeared to hold Hizballah responsible for the conflict, he has since changed his rhetoric and has praised the Hizballah chief Hasan Nasrallah for his leadership of the "resistance" to "Israeli aggression."

Now a look at the Lebanese armed forces. They have virtually no air force and navy, and the army is inadequate to extend Lebanese sovereignty to the entire country. This is obvious in the south. The army is organized into five regional commands, yet the Southern Region's most southern deployment is a token force in Tyre. According to senior American military officers, it would take two years of training to get them up to minimum proficiency. In its current state, it is no match for the highly motivated, disciplined and trained forces of Hizballah.

Why now the push to deploy the army to the south? The government, along with Hizballah and its Syrian and Iranian sponsors, do not want the deployment of a well-armed international force (as opposed to ineffective United Nations observers) into the region. Such a deployment will likely lead to the one thing Hizballah, Syria and Iran do not want - the disarming of Hizballah's militia. By deploying the Lebanese army to the region, Hizballah will be able to survive intact. There is no confidence among anyone that the Lebanese army will even try to disarm Hizballah.

I think this is all just rhetoric. Note that the announcement contained the phrase "when Israeli troops have withdrawn from Lebanese territory." In other words, they do not want to interpose themselves between Israeli forces and Hizballah, understandably so. The chance of Israeli forces withdrawing in the absence of either an international force, or possibly the Lebanese army, is slim to none.