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The UN's failed mission
National Post - Editorial
July 19, 2006

At the United Nations and in Europe, there is a clamour for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to Southern Lebanon. The hope is that, by physically separating the two warring sides, peacekeepers can make continued war between Hezbollah and Israel impossible.

Peacekeeping is a nice idea in theory, and it has even worked once or twice in various parts of the world. But in the context of southern Lebanon, the concept is not only laughably naive, but dangerous as well.

As informed observers know, there already is a peacekeeping force in the area, and it's been there since 1978. But all the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has done is preside over the establishment of a de facto Hezbollah terrorist statelet on Israel's northern border. Given the United Nations' historic antipathy toward Israel, there is little reason to suspect that even a larger, better-trained force would rouse itself to offer the Jewish state any better protection.

The origins of UNIFIL can be traced to a deadly March, 1978, terrorist attack on Israel by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) gunmen. This prompted a small-scale invasion by Israel, and the establishment of UNIFIL soon followed.

With Israel's complete withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the onus fell on UNIFIL, and the government of Lebanon, to step in and secure the border areas on the Lebanon side. Nothing remotely like this happened. To its discredit, Lebanon took the view that -- to quote the United Nations -- "so long as there was no comprehensive peace with Israel, the army would not act as a border guard for Israel and would not be deployed to the border."

In effect, Lebanon opted to cede the border region to Hezbollah terrorists.

What has followed was predictable: a seemingly endless succession of missile and mortar attacks by Hezbollah on Israel -- even before the attack that precipitated the current crisis. Such is Hezbollah's disdain for the powerless UNIFIL observers that it also restricted their freedom of movement and on one occasion even stopped a UN patrol at gunpoint and assaulted the observers with rifle butts. In other words, the UN presence was an irrelevance long before full hostilities broke out again. The fact that none of the major news reports about the current situation in Lebanon even mention UNIFIL should tell us something about their effectiveness.

Despite the hallowed status of "peacekeeping" in this country, it is actually a geopolitical tool that works only in limited circumstances -- namely, when both parties to a dispute seek peace in good faith and consent to the deployment of foreign troops as a buffer. But of course, peace is the last thing Hezbollah wants. Like Hamas, its leaders seek to destroy Israel and build an Islamic state on its ashes. Moreover, the group is influenced heavily by the despots in Tehran and Damascus who pay the group's bills and supply its weaponry. These people see themselves as being on a holy jihad to cleanse the Middle East of Jews. Does anyone really think a bunch of Bangladeshis in blue helmets and ill-fitting uniforms are going to keep them from their "martyrdom"?

A peacekeeping force is not the answer to the current conflict. What has been required all along is for the government of Lebanon to fulfill its domestic and international responsibilities by sending its army into the lands occupied by Hezbollah. On the weekend, Fuad Sanoria, Lebanon's Prime Minster, said the country might finally be prepared to do just that. But until then, Israel can't afford to entertain woolly-headed plans devised by naive internationalists. With its soldiers being killed and abducted by terrorists, with Hezbollah missiles raining down on its cities, Israel is right to take matters into its own hands and attack the source of the aggression.

At the very least, this will make Mr. Sanoria's job that much easier.