Palestinian “refugees” from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, and Lebanon—the Palestinians being the only people on the planet with fifth-generation “refugees”—have been trying to storm Israel all day. Their rioting comes as part of the Palestinians’ annual Nakba Day celebrations, during which they violently indulge in the fantasy of eradicating Israel while fawning global media outlets write about “the uprooting they suffered at the time of Israel’s founding on May 15, 1948” (actual Associated Press phrasing).
On the Lebanese border rioters got all the way to the Israeli border at two different spots. Lebanese troops used light weapons to disperse one riot, but at Marun Aras the LAF was a non-presence—Lebanese soldiers literally stepped aside—and IDF soldiers had to open fire, killing as many as four. On the Syrian border thousands of people, including women and children, rushed the border fence to tear it down. The IDF commander on authorized only selective fire, and the result was that almost one hundred infiltrators managed to enter Israel.
It’s possible that the IDF got caught flat-footed, with Israeli intelligence relying on the Syrian army to maintain calm. Apparently unanticipated was that Assad would try to distract his people from how he’s been killing them, and that he would order his troops to allow a border incident. The Israelis will now start working on where and why they failed to properly anticipate the coordinated riots.
While that’s happening, U.S. policies in Lebanon and on the Golan Heights should also come in for some reevaluation. It’s not that the U.S. is charged with assuring Israel’s security, although that’s the rhetoric we use when we’re pushing the Israelis to give up badly needed strategic depth. It’s that we contribute weapons and money to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and to UN peacekeeping missions, and those policies have costs, and those costs are supposed to be outweighed by stability-enhancing benefits. And yet this morning it’s been mostly costs and not many benefits. Across the board. Again.
In Lebanon we’ve been vigorously pouring weapons into the LAF since late 2007, with justifications running from “it will shame Hezbollah into disarming” to “it will allow Lebanon to secure its territory.” The subsequent half-decade has seen Hezbollah take over the Lebanese government, something that was explicitly and easily predictable when we embarked on the scheme, while the Lebanese army is still apparently torn over the need to secure their border. Lebanese soldiers have been more than willing to use US weapons to launch sniper attacks against Israelis and destabilize the region. But as far as keeping their own citizens from launching de facto invasions of neighboring countries? Not so much.
Now to the UN peacekeeping missions. Writing in one of his many retrospectives, former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban mused about the “unparalleled speed” with which UN forces stationed in the Sinai Peninsula stepped aside in May 1967, the request to evacuate having been made by Egypt so its forces could wage war against Israel. Plus ça change.
The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights is supposed to maintain “overall supervision” of the Israeli-Syrian buffer zone—that’s one of the few reasons they’re suffered to exist, and they’ve recently had their mandate extended—and it doesn’t seem like they did very much. Israeli radio says that UNDOF is even refusing to comment on the incidents. Money well spent, trust well-placed.
The performance of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon—which the Bush-era State Department insisted would secure southern Lebanon if Israel backed off Lebanon II—was even worse. UNIFIL has 12,000-plus troops and a budget of almost half a billion dollars. Where UNDOF is mostly just a useless money pit, however, UNIFIL actively works to destabilize the region. UNIFIL troops have broken up Israeli intelligence gathering operations, have leaked Israeli intelligence to Hezbollah, have threatened to open fire on Israeli military assets, have hidden evidence of Hezbollah attacks on Israel, have provided Hezbollah with human shields during wartime and then lied about it, have dressed terrorists in UN uniforms to smuggle them away from the IDF, and were almost certainly complicit in the Hezbollah operation that triggered Lebanon II.
UNIFIL backers justify the mission’s massive presence in the broadest terms, and peacekeepers are charged with “restoring international peace and security.” In light of their functional absence during multiple, severe border intrusions today, that doesn’t seem like a tenable rationalization.
Of course maybe preventing civilian cross-border rioting isn’t what the Lebanese army and those UN missions are supposed to prevent. Maybe, for instance, they’re supposed to block Israel and Hezbollah from tangling. But since they’re utter failures when it comes to doing that, basic crowd control was really the only justification left. And now it seems absurd too, raising the question of what exactly our policies are supposed to be accomplishing.