Earlier this month, Southern Lebanese villagers, controlled by Hezbollah, disarmed and attacked French UNIFIL soldiers. According to France 24, reporting on July 3, 2010, “Residents of the village of Tuline as well as some villagers from nearby Kabrikha attacked a patrol with sticks and threw stones and eggs,” a military spokesman told AFP. “The citizens disarmed the soldiers and briefly took control of their vehicle before the [Lebanese] army intervened and made them move away from the patrol.”
At present, a verbal confrontation is taking place between Israel, France, the UN, Hezbollah, and the Lebanese army. At issue is whether Hezbollah — with its 20,000 fighters, 160 bases erected in South Lebanon (its border with Israel), and their stockpile of 40,000-80,000 missiles– will forcefully and permanently replace the Lebanese army, or will the U.N. and the Europeans apply enough pressure on the Lebanese government to compel Hezbollah to move from the border and allow the Lebanese army to take control?
Odds are that it is far more likely that Hezbollah will prevail. The 2008 Arab-brokered deal to end the fighting in Beirut following Hezbollah’s takeover of West Beirut, gave Hezbollah a veto power in the Lebanese Parliament. And last May, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said that Lebanon “cannot and must not tell Hezbollah to disarm before reaching a deal on a defense strategy that would also address any future Israeli attacks.” The June 2009 elections reduced Hezbollah’s political representation in parliament but not its power. In the current Saad Hariri government there are 30 cabinet ministers, 15 are from Hariri’s coalition of Sunni-Muslims and Christians, and 10 are from the opposition, including two ministers from Hezbollah. President, Michel Suleiman (a Maronite Christian) appointed 5 ministers, one of whom is Ali al-Shami, a close associate of Nabih Berry, Speaker of Parliament, and the Shiite leader of Amal and close Hezbollah ally. In December 2009, the Lebanese Parliament voted to allow Hezbollah to retain its arms.
Since becoming Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has done little more than rely on the UN, UNIFIL and France to reduce the threat of Hezbollah’s heavily armed forces to the 1.5 million Israeli civilians living on its northern border. The lukewarm rebuke of Hezbollah (mentioned above) by the UN has done little to deter Hezbollah. On the contrary, Hezbollah has recently revealed that it plans various operations to kill or kidnap Israeli citizens throughout the world, apparently in retaliation for the alleged 2008 Israeli liquidation of Hezbollah’s chief-of-operation Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus.
As the Iranian opposition increases pressure on the repressive Islamic theocracy in Tehran, and Western sanctions begin to impact heavily on the Iranian economy, the Islamic Republic of Iran is more likely to engineer a diversion much like that of 2006, that precipitated the Second Lebanon War between Hezbollah and Israel. The questions are: When will the next Hezbollah-Israeli confrontation occur? And where it will take place? Will it be in the region or in a terror attack against Israelis overseas?
Clearly, neither the Obama administration’s Middle East policies (which have failed), nor UNIFIL are positioned to tackle these precarious possibilities. Israel has increased its troop presence on the Lebanese border in recent weeks, but is that enough to propel the Lebanese government to act or deter the Hezbollah? Only time will tell.
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