January 6, 2009

An international force for Gaza?

International efforts to arrange a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip are taking place at a variety of venues, including the United Nations in New York. One of the provisions in almost every version of a proposed ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel is the presence of an international force of some kind deployed to the area to monitor and/or enforce any arrangement.

The composition and mission of that force will be key in getting both the Israelis and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire. Israel has stated that an international force is a requirement, and that it must be charged with preventing Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel, as well as preventing Hamas from smuggling weapons via the tunnel-ridden Egyptian border.

Hamas has not yet agreed to the presence of an international force in the Gaza Strip. It is hoped that Egypt might be able to convince the group that acceptance of such a force may be the only way to end the relentless attacks on the Palestinian territory. At some point, international pressure for a ceasefire will be so great that refusal to accept the presence of an international force will turn public opinion against Hamas. Continued refusal for such a presence will rob Hamas of its perceived moral high ground. Egypt would also have to agree to the presence of the international force since the tunnels are partly in Egyptian territory.

What will constitute an acceptable international force? Will it be a civilian observer force, or a military force with a mandate to enforce ceasefire provisions?

Unfortunately, any international force will likely have to be authorized by the United Nations. The United Nations has an abysmal record of conducting successful or effective observation operations in the Middle East. Look at the multiple "temporary" observer organizations already in existence in the Middle East - they have been there since the first war between the Arabs and the new state of Israel in 1948.

There already are hundreds of military observers in Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt - and they have yet to stop a war. The observer groups require large amounts of money and resources to sustain, and as far as I can tell, their only actual function is to perpetuate a rather comfortable existence.

Israel must insist that any new UN force be mandated with not only observing Hamas trying to rearm itself and attempting to fire rockets at Israel, but that the force actually take preventive action. Merely reporting violations of the ceasefire agreement to New York is worthless - ask the Israelis on the Lebanese border.