September 6, 2006

Israel Agrees to Lift Blockade of Lebanon???

Israeli warship on patrol off LebanonIsrael announced that it will lift its almost eight-week old air and sea blockade of Lebanon on Thursday. This comes a part of a series of steps called for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 14. Israel has been withdrawing its troops from southern Lebanon as Lebanon troops and an augmented United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon UNIFIL)takes up positions in the area. In this case, "interim" is a loose term - this ineffective organization has been in place since 1978 and done little but spend money and build nice facilities for themselves.

One has to ask why Israel agreed to lift the blockade. First, its major concerns is the resupply and rearming of Hizballah by Iran and Syria via the long and porous border with Syria. Although UNSCR 1701 (and UNSCR 425 and UNSCR 1559 - is there a pattern here?) call for the disarming of Hizballah, it is obvious that neither the Lebanese Army nor UNIFIL is willing or capable of the task. Lebanese Army officers said they will not disarm their Hizballah "brothers," and UNIFIL says that is not its mandate (why am I not surprised?). Hizballah itself says it will not disarm, stating that the time is not right, and reiterating the worn-out claim that Israel still occupies the Lebanese area known as the Shaba' Farms - which the United Nations and Israel agree is part of Syria. Given this, I would assess that Hizballah will not disarm, nor will it be disarmed.

Perhaps Israel believes that it has damaged Hizballah to the point that if it is not resupplied or rearmed it is not a significant threat. Personally, I do not think that is the case - Hizballah still retains a sizeable arsenal of long and medium-range rockets, thousands of which it fired at Israeli cities during the month-long war. It also believes that it held its own with some of the world's best armed forces.

Perhaps Israel correctly assesses that maintaining the air and sea blockade will have no effect on Hizballah's status. Syria and Iran do not move weapons and supplies into Lebanon by sea or air - they come overland from Syria, mostly on the Beirut-Damascus highway, which just happens to service the Damascus International Airport. The airport has been Iran's preferred port of delivery to Syria for Hizballah's weapons since 1982.

Israel finally bowed to world opinion and pressure from the United States. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice assured the Israelis that UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army were in place and ready to prevent the resupply and rearming of Hizballah.

Color me skeptical.

Israel wanted international (even UNIFIL) troops on the Syrian border, however Syria stated that the presence of international forces on its border would be considered a foreign "occupation" of Lebanon and would be "resisted." Thus, we have the pitiful Lebanese Army on the border where it counts - the same troops who do not want to disarm their Hizballah "brothers."

To dispel our doubts about the Lebanese Army, Syria claims to have beefed up security on its side of the border. Really? These are the people that have in the past trained and supplied Hizballah, and allowed the Iranians to do the same from their territory.

So, now Israel has agreed to withdraw from southern Lebanon despite the fact that Hizballah will not disarm and will not be disarmed, it has agreed to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon while the Lebanese Army and Syrian troops guard the overland resupply routes, and agreed that the two captured Israeli soldiers - the reason this all began back on July 12 - really don't have to be released unconditionally, but might be part of a prisoner swap after all.

Who's in charge in Tel Aviv and what are they thinking?