August 8, 2006

Lebanon-Israel: Shake-up in the IDF; France caves in

August 8

As the diplomatic efforts progress to reach a ceasefire agreement acceptable to all parties in the Middle East conflict, events this evening threaten to fan the flames of war rather than bring us closer to peace.

Yesterday, the Lebanese government offered to deploy 15,000 Lebanese army troops to the south, if Israel withdraws from Lebanese territory. (See my piece:
Lebanon - Lebanese Army to Move South?) As I stated, this deployment is an attempt to blunt calls for a well-armed international force that would, among other tasks, oversee the disarming of Hizballah. This is a position anathema to Hizballah and its sponsors, Syria and Iran, and several factions of the Lebanese government.

Representatives of the Arab League met yesterday in Beirut to develop an alternate resolution than that proposed by the United States and France. Today, they presented their united position to the United Nations Security Council. They believe that the Lebanese army deployment, combined with an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory, will negate any other United Nations or international force than that now present, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). UNIFIL has been "interim" since 1978 and has been ineffective since it was deployed. It has never stopped any Hizballah (or Israeli for that matter) military operation in the area.

It comes as no surprise that this afternoon, after listening to the Arab ministers, that France - nominally an ally of the United States - has reversed itself and has withdrawn support of the draft resolution that it had authored. The French ambassador now is calling for an immediate Israeli withdrawal and does not believe that in light of the promise of a Lebanese army deployment an additional international force is required. France has caved in and basically adopted the Arab League position.

Meanwhile, the military situation continues to intensify. The Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, has named his deputy, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, as the overall coordinator for Israeli military operations in Lebanon. In essence, he has fired the chief of the IDF Northern Command, Major General Udi Adam. This comes just hours before the Knesset is to vote on additional reserve force callups and expansion of the ground campaign in Lebanon. There is a growing loss of confidence in how the IDF is conducting the ground war.

This comes at a time when the IDF is stepping up its attacks on the Lebanese coast between the Israeli border and Sidon, located about 30 miles south of Beirut. Although many of the Israeli naval, air and special forces attacks are focused on the Tyre area - about 15 miles north of the border and the location of many of the rocket attacks on northern Israel - Israeli helicopter gunships have also attacked what they claim are Hizballah targets inside the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the Middle East, the sprawling 'Ayn Al-Hilwah camp.

If we're heading towards a resolution, this seems like the long way to get there.