Commentary Magazine


Topic: United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon

The UN Wants its Own Drones?

A friend on the Hill alerted me to this story which should raise red flags for any number of reasons:

The United Nations is weighing the possibility of using unmanned airplanes (drones) in intelligence operations and to searching for information… The issue was submitted to a committee of the UN General Assembly by the peacekeeping operations department, according to the organization’s official joint spokesman, Eduardo del Buey. Del Buey said that the United Nations is analyzing the potential use of that technology, including the support that the organization needs from the member countries if its use were recommended. The unarmed drones would be used for surveillance operations and to gather information, said the spokesman, adding that no conclusions or recommendations have been made on the matter.

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A friend on the Hill alerted me to this story which should raise red flags for any number of reasons:

The United Nations is weighing the possibility of using unmanned airplanes (drones) in intelligence operations and to searching for information… The issue was submitted to a committee of the UN General Assembly by the peacekeeping operations department, according to the organization’s official joint spokesman, Eduardo del Buey. Del Buey said that the United Nations is analyzing the potential use of that technology, including the support that the organization needs from the member countries if its use were recommended. The unarmed drones would be used for surveillance operations and to gather information, said the spokesman, adding that no conclusions or recommendations have been made on the matter.

The Obama administration unwisely puts the UN on a pedestal on a number of issues, but hopefully will quash any request that the United States share its drones with UN peacekeepers. Putting aside the question of what mandate or authority the UN has to conduct intelligence work in the first place, any UN drone capability—even in the name of peacekeeping—could greatly undermine U.S. national security. Even innocuous missions like the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire include personnel from countries such as China, Russia, and Pakistan, each of which would like to get their hands on the latest American technology.

Providing autonomous surveillance capabilities can provoke conflict rather than prevent it. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been, for nearly 35 years, an unmitigated disaster. As Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, the Israeli army handed its positions over to UNIFIL to transfer to the Lebanese army. UNIFIL chose instead to provide the posts to Hezbollah. Then, less than five months later, Hezbollah guerrillas—dressed in UNIFIL regalia—kidnapped three Israelis from the Israeli side of the border. UNIFIL personnel were conducting surveillance at the time. They videotaped Hezbollah operatives dressed in UNIFIL uniforms and driving vehicles with UNIFIL markings but, for nine months, refused to acknowledge a video that could have provided the information necessary to identify the perpetrators and rescue the Israelis. Only after the outcry grew too loud to ignore did UN Secretary General Kofi Annan order an investigation. The results were damning.

Too many UN personnel are corrupt, venial, and untrustworthy. To offer them independent surveillance capability when they have so often abused their positions would be unwise and a danger to American national security. Alas, that makes the possibility that Obama would oblige even greater.

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Planting the Flag: Starting Gun in the Race to Jerusalem

If you need proof that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to plant the Revolutionary Iranian flag in Jerusalem, consider this. A replica of the Al-Aqsa mosque is being constructed by Iran in southern Lebanon as a prop for Ahmadinejad’s visit next week. The Iranian president will officially open the mosque for business and be photographed in front of it throwing stones toward Israel. And the mosque, according to Israeli reports, has the flag of Iran flying over it.

Hezbollah has flown Iranian flags in southern Lebanon for some time. The terrorists operate an Iran-sponsored fiefdom there; UNIFIL has been unable for months to conduct patrols in towns denied to it by Hezbollah, a pattern repeated this past weekend when the UN force sought to investigate a Hezbollah weapons cache in its patrol zone.

But Iran and Hezbollah have chosen to take advantage until now of the minimal independent news coverage in southern Lebanon. Little gets into the Western press about the situation there, and when it does, it doesn’t come from Hezbollah or Iran. What Ahmadinejad plans to do next week, with media coverage and pointed images, marks a major “informational” break. It’s a plan to draw back the veil and clarify Hezbollah’s loyalties and Iran’s involvement. And the central theme is the Iranian flag symbolically aloft over Jerusalem.

This blatant signal is something Ahmadinejad should be prevented from sending. It will be as much a shot across Saudi Arabia’s bow as across Israel’s: a symbolic announcement that the “race to Jerusalem” is on. As discussed here, the Saudis — default leaders of the Arab world — already show signs of preparing to compete in that race.

Unfortunately, the fecklessness of the UN extends beyond an impotent UNIFIL. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, British diplomat Michael Williams, met with an Iranian envoy last week to discuss the visit by Ahmadinejad and approved it as a “significant event.” He went on to hail “Tehran’s balanced approach and inclusive relations with all political and religious parties in [Lebanon].” The UN will not be a source of responsible diplomacy; neither will Russia, which is positioning itself to back the winner of the race to Jerusalem. The EU remains mired in domestic constituency tending, and therefore focused on the legal status of Gaza flotillas and the arguing of anti-Israel resolutions in Brussels.

Among the Middle East Quartet, only the U.S. retains such a posture as would make it possible to take action against the beginning of a “race to Jerusalem.” The pressure point is the government in Beirut, which, if it accepts Ahmadinejad’s visit, must exercise its formal sovereignty over the southern territory and ensure that no Iranian flags are flown over anything but Ahmadinejad’s official convoy. Israel is pressing the Lebanese to cancel the visit; if the U.S. cannot bring itself to do that, our diplomats should at least embolden the Lebanese to get the Iranian flags out of there. This is not meaningless symbolism. The fact that it’s Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah who feel emboldened at present is the most meaningful one of all.

If you need proof that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to plant the Revolutionary Iranian flag in Jerusalem, consider this. A replica of the Al-Aqsa mosque is being constructed by Iran in southern Lebanon as a prop for Ahmadinejad’s visit next week. The Iranian president will officially open the mosque for business and be photographed in front of it throwing stones toward Israel. And the mosque, according to Israeli reports, has the flag of Iran flying over it.

Hezbollah has flown Iranian flags in southern Lebanon for some time. The terrorists operate an Iran-sponsored fiefdom there; UNIFIL has been unable for months to conduct patrols in towns denied to it by Hezbollah, a pattern repeated this past weekend when the UN force sought to investigate a Hezbollah weapons cache in its patrol zone.

But Iran and Hezbollah have chosen to take advantage until now of the minimal independent news coverage in southern Lebanon. Little gets into the Western press about the situation there, and when it does, it doesn’t come from Hezbollah or Iran. What Ahmadinejad plans to do next week, with media coverage and pointed images, marks a major “informational” break. It’s a plan to draw back the veil and clarify Hezbollah’s loyalties and Iran’s involvement. And the central theme is the Iranian flag symbolically aloft over Jerusalem.

This blatant signal is something Ahmadinejad should be prevented from sending. It will be as much a shot across Saudi Arabia’s bow as across Israel’s: a symbolic announcement that the “race to Jerusalem” is on. As discussed here, the Saudis — default leaders of the Arab world — already show signs of preparing to compete in that race.

Unfortunately, the fecklessness of the UN extends beyond an impotent UNIFIL. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, British diplomat Michael Williams, met with an Iranian envoy last week to discuss the visit by Ahmadinejad and approved it as a “significant event.” He went on to hail “Tehran’s balanced approach and inclusive relations with all political and religious parties in [Lebanon].” The UN will not be a source of responsible diplomacy; neither will Russia, which is positioning itself to back the winner of the race to Jerusalem. The EU remains mired in domestic constituency tending, and therefore focused on the legal status of Gaza flotillas and the arguing of anti-Israel resolutions in Brussels.

Among the Middle East Quartet, only the U.S. retains such a posture as would make it possible to take action against the beginning of a “race to Jerusalem.” The pressure point is the government in Beirut, which, if it accepts Ahmadinejad’s visit, must exercise its formal sovereignty over the southern territory and ensure that no Iranian flags are flown over anything but Ahmadinejad’s official convoy. Israel is pressing the Lebanese to cancel the visit; if the U.S. cannot bring itself to do that, our diplomats should at least embolden the Lebanese to get the Iranian flags out of there. This is not meaningless symbolism. The fact that it’s Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah who feel emboldened at present is the most meaningful one of all.

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Hezbollah’s “Soviet” Southern Lebanon

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

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RE: Western Inaction on Lebanon

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

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No U.S. Cash for Hezbollah’s Lebanese Army Allies

Last week, the Lebanese army, apparently acting in concert with Hezbollah terrorists, launched a sneak attack on Israeli soldiers who were clearing away a tree on their own side of the border. One Israeli officer was killed in cold blood, and another was wounded. Israel’s response to this provocation was restrained; it merely returned fire on the Lebanese army, killing two soldiers and one Hezbollah-affiliated “journalist” who had come to the border specifically to observe the hit on the Israelis. But while even the anti-Israel United Nations peacekeeping force Unifil agreed that the Lebanese fired first and attacked Israelis on Israeli soil, the international community had little to say about this incident. Western nations, including the United States, are worried that speaking up about this will undermine the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Syrian agents murdered Hariri’s father in 2005, and protests against this act led to the Cedar Revolution, in which the Syrians were chucked out of the country. But since that signal victory for the West, the Syrians and their Hezbollah allies have won back control over the country. Hariri is now forced to accept a role that his father rejected: a vassal of Damascus and an ally of Hezbollah, which now has a place in his cabinet. As last week’s incident proved, the Lebanese army, once thought to be the lever by which the country could be pried from the grip of Syria, is now in cahoots with Hezbollah. Yet it is still in line to be the recipient of U.S. aid, approved in the days when Lebanon and its army were thought to be allies of the West against Islamist terrorism.

The State Department says it is still trying to investigate the incident and whether it is true that the Lebanese used weapons sent by the United States to shoot at Israel. But at least some members of Congress are paying attention.

Rep. Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, announced today that she is putting a hold on the $100 million allocated to be sent to the Lebanese army in 2010 but which has not yet been disbursed. Lowey says she wants to see how Lebanon and the Hariri government respond to the incident before this money or the $100 million Lebanon is supposed to get in 2011 is sent to Beirut. House Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor called for the aid pipeline to the Lebanese army to be stopped altogether, noting rightly that the line between that army and the Hezbollah terrorists had become blurred.

Instead of pretending as if the Cedar Revolution had not been annulled while both the Bush and Obama governments slept, the administration should be following the lead of Lowey and Cantor. As Evelyn noted, not only did Hariri falsely claim that Israel fired first but his government is also now not even recognizing the international border with Israel. Rather than playing along with the fiction that U.S. aid to Lebanon would fund an army that would be a check on Hezbollah, under the current arrangement Washington is helping to pay for the terrorist group’s fellow killers. That must end, and Lebanon — and Hariri — must be put on notice that there is a price to be paid for carrying out cross-border murders at Hezbollah’s behest.

Last week, the Lebanese army, apparently acting in concert with Hezbollah terrorists, launched a sneak attack on Israeli soldiers who were clearing away a tree on their own side of the border. One Israeli officer was killed in cold blood, and another was wounded. Israel’s response to this provocation was restrained; it merely returned fire on the Lebanese army, killing two soldiers and one Hezbollah-affiliated “journalist” who had come to the border specifically to observe the hit on the Israelis. But while even the anti-Israel United Nations peacekeeping force Unifil agreed that the Lebanese fired first and attacked Israelis on Israeli soil, the international community had little to say about this incident. Western nations, including the United States, are worried that speaking up about this will undermine the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Syrian agents murdered Hariri’s father in 2005, and protests against this act led to the Cedar Revolution, in which the Syrians were chucked out of the country. But since that signal victory for the West, the Syrians and their Hezbollah allies have won back control over the country. Hariri is now forced to accept a role that his father rejected: a vassal of Damascus and an ally of Hezbollah, which now has a place in his cabinet. As last week’s incident proved, the Lebanese army, once thought to be the lever by which the country could be pried from the grip of Syria, is now in cahoots with Hezbollah. Yet it is still in line to be the recipient of U.S. aid, approved in the days when Lebanon and its army were thought to be allies of the West against Islamist terrorism.

The State Department says it is still trying to investigate the incident and whether it is true that the Lebanese used weapons sent by the United States to shoot at Israel. But at least some members of Congress are paying attention.

Rep. Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, announced today that she is putting a hold on the $100 million allocated to be sent to the Lebanese army in 2010 but which has not yet been disbursed. Lowey says she wants to see how Lebanon and the Hariri government respond to the incident before this money or the $100 million Lebanon is supposed to get in 2011 is sent to Beirut. House Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor called for the aid pipeline to the Lebanese army to be stopped altogether, noting rightly that the line between that army and the Hezbollah terrorists had become blurred.

Instead of pretending as if the Cedar Revolution had not been annulled while both the Bush and Obama governments slept, the administration should be following the lead of Lowey and Cantor. As Evelyn noted, not only did Hariri falsely claim that Israel fired first but his government is also now not even recognizing the international border with Israel. Rather than playing along with the fiction that U.S. aid to Lebanon would fund an army that would be a check on Hezbollah, under the current arrangement Washington is helping to pay for the terrorist group’s fellow killers. That must end, and Lebanon — and Hariri — must be put on notice that there is a price to be paid for carrying out cross-border murders at Hezbollah’s behest.

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Western Inaction Makes Another Israel-Lebanon War More Likely

After last Tuesday’s incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Western states hastened to call for calm and restraint on both sides. The implicit message was that the West sought to avoid another Israel-Lebanon war. Yet war is precisely where Western inaction is inexorably leading.

By Wednesday, UNIFIL had already announced its unequivocal findings: not only did the Lebanese shoot first, with no provocation, but the Israeli soldiers they targeted — killing one and seriously wounding another — were all on Israel’s side of the border. At no point did any Israelis stray, as Lebanon had claimed, into Lebanese territory. Moreover, the attackers were regular Lebanese Army soldiers, not Hezbollah terrorists for whom the government could disclaim responsibility.

But the border is unmarked at that point, lying some 70 meters north of the fence Israel built, and the Israelis were clearing vegetation between the fence and the border. So had Lebanon simply apologized and said it was an honest mistake — that its soldiers erroneously thought the Israelis were violating its sovereignty — there might have been justification for letting the incident slide.

But that isn’t what Beirut said. Instead, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri announced that Lebanon doesn’t recognize the international border (the so-called Blue Line) at that point; it claims additional territory south of the line. In short, far from apologizing and promising to respect the Blue Line henceforth, Lebanon’s government announced that its policy is to ignore the international border wherever it disputes the UN demarcation.

As UNIFIL noted, both Israel and Lebanon dispute this demarcation at various points, but both had pledged to respect it until those disputes were resolved. Now Beirut has essentially renounced that pledge.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that the shooting was planned in advance — namely, the presence of numerous Lebanese journalists, including the one from the daily Al-Akhbar who was killed when Israel returned fire. Mainstream Lebanese journalists don’t normally flock to the border to watch Israeli soldiers do routine tree-trimming. That so many were there last Tuesday indicates they had been told to expect action.

To sum up, Lebanon’s official army launched a planned, unprovoked attack on Israel. Lebanon’s government not only endorsed the attack but also proudly proclaimed its contempt for the international border. This stance elicited predictable cheers from radicals like Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and even “moderates” like Jordan backed it.

But from the West, there has been nothing except evenhanded calls for restraint on both sides: no blistering condemnations, no urgent Security Council deliberations, no demands for an international investigation, no threats of, say, reducing Western military aid to Lebanon.

Thus the lesson for Beirut is that such incidents are all gain, no pain: by attacking Israel, it can earn credit and breathing space from the radicals — a serious concern for a government that exists only at their mercy — without incurring any penalties whatsoever from the West. That gives it a strong incentive to launch additional attacks.

Eventually, it may well go too far, sparking another Israel-Lebanon war. And the West will have only itself to blame.

After last Tuesday’s incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Western states hastened to call for calm and restraint on both sides. The implicit message was that the West sought to avoid another Israel-Lebanon war. Yet war is precisely where Western inaction is inexorably leading.

By Wednesday, UNIFIL had already announced its unequivocal findings: not only did the Lebanese shoot first, with no provocation, but the Israeli soldiers they targeted — killing one and seriously wounding another — were all on Israel’s side of the border. At no point did any Israelis stray, as Lebanon had claimed, into Lebanese territory. Moreover, the attackers were regular Lebanese Army soldiers, not Hezbollah terrorists for whom the government could disclaim responsibility.

But the border is unmarked at that point, lying some 70 meters north of the fence Israel built, and the Israelis were clearing vegetation between the fence and the border. So had Lebanon simply apologized and said it was an honest mistake — that its soldiers erroneously thought the Israelis were violating its sovereignty — there might have been justification for letting the incident slide.

But that isn’t what Beirut said. Instead, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri announced that Lebanon doesn’t recognize the international border (the so-called Blue Line) at that point; it claims additional territory south of the line. In short, far from apologizing and promising to respect the Blue Line henceforth, Lebanon’s government announced that its policy is to ignore the international border wherever it disputes the UN demarcation.

As UNIFIL noted, both Israel and Lebanon dispute this demarcation at various points, but both had pledged to respect it until those disputes were resolved. Now Beirut has essentially renounced that pledge.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that the shooting was planned in advance — namely, the presence of numerous Lebanese journalists, including the one from the daily Al-Akhbar who was killed when Israel returned fire. Mainstream Lebanese journalists don’t normally flock to the border to watch Israeli soldiers do routine tree-trimming. That so many were there last Tuesday indicates they had been told to expect action.

To sum up, Lebanon’s official army launched a planned, unprovoked attack on Israel. Lebanon’s government not only endorsed the attack but also proudly proclaimed its contempt for the international border. This stance elicited predictable cheers from radicals like Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and even “moderates” like Jordan backed it.

But from the West, there has been nothing except evenhanded calls for restraint on both sides: no blistering condemnations, no urgent Security Council deliberations, no demands for an international investigation, no threats of, say, reducing Western military aid to Lebanon.

Thus the lesson for Beirut is that such incidents are all gain, no pain: by attacking Israel, it can earn credit and breathing space from the radicals — a serious concern for a government that exists only at their mercy — without incurring any penalties whatsoever from the West. That gives it a strong incentive to launch additional attacks.

Eventually, it may well go too far, sparking another Israel-Lebanon war. And the West will have only itself to blame.

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UN Acknowledges Lebanon’s Culpability in Border Clash

Miracles will never cease. The United Nations, of all organizations, is actually backing Israel’s account of the border clash with Lebanese troops:

The United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, Unifil, said on Wednesday it had concluded that Israeli forces were cutting trees that lay within their own territory before a lethal exchange of fire with Lebanese Army troops on Tuesday, largely vindicating Israel’s account of how the fighting started.

A Lebanese Army spokesman had said on Tuesday that the skirmishes started after Israeli soldiers crossed into Lebanese territory to cut down a tree. Israel said that its forces were clearing brush, as part of routine maintenance work, in a gap between the so-called Blue Line, the internationally recognized border, and its security fence, and that it had coordinated its actions in advance with Unifil.

That should settle the issue of culpability, but it still leaves open the question of why this happened — why did the Lebanese army open fire? I hesitate to contribute to the incessant conspiracy-theorizing in the Middle East, but it does strike me that this incident has happened just as Hezbollah has raised fears that some of its members might be indicted by a UN prosecutor investigating the murder of Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri in 2005. The Lebanese army is amply infiltrated by Hezbollah.

One wonders if this provocation isn’t designed to distract attention from what Hezbollah fears will be a real legal problem.

Miracles will never cease. The United Nations, of all organizations, is actually backing Israel’s account of the border clash with Lebanese troops:

The United Nations peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, Unifil, said on Wednesday it had concluded that Israeli forces were cutting trees that lay within their own territory before a lethal exchange of fire with Lebanese Army troops on Tuesday, largely vindicating Israel’s account of how the fighting started.

A Lebanese Army spokesman had said on Tuesday that the skirmishes started after Israeli soldiers crossed into Lebanese territory to cut down a tree. Israel said that its forces were clearing brush, as part of routine maintenance work, in a gap between the so-called Blue Line, the internationally recognized border, and its security fence, and that it had coordinated its actions in advance with Unifil.

That should settle the issue of culpability, but it still leaves open the question of why this happened — why did the Lebanese army open fire? I hesitate to contribute to the incessant conspiracy-theorizing in the Middle East, but it does strike me that this incident has happened just as Hezbollah has raised fears that some of its members might be indicted by a UN prosecutor investigating the murder of Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri in 2005. The Lebanese army is amply infiltrated by Hezbollah.

One wonders if this provocation isn’t designed to distract attention from what Hezbollah fears will be a real legal problem.

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The Trouble with International Forces

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter.

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter.

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Shut Up, Ban Ki-Moon Explained

The UN’s shameless appeasement of terrorists is a well-worn story, but it’s always instructive to take note when it happens. The UN has issued a report on heightened Israel-Lebanon tensions, and it’s not surprising who gets blamed. What is surprising is the UN’s reasoning: it’s Israeli complaints about Hezbollah’s illegal weapons smuggling — not the smuggling itself — that is risking war:

“Rhetoric escalated rapidly, creating a perception in the public that a resumption of conflict was imminent,” the secretary-general wrote in the report. …

The UN chief wrote in his report that the heightened tensions were stoked by Israel’s claims of Hezbollah’s arms acquisitions. He said this “raised the specter of a miscalculation by either party leading to a resumption of hostilities, with potentially devastating consequences for Lebanon and the region.” …

Israel’s disappointment was compounded by the fact that Ban’s report did not mention Hezbollah’s involvement in a series of attempts by Lebanese in the south to interfere with UNIFIL’s operations over the past month. … In his report, Ban said UNIFIL enjoys “freedom of movement” in all of southern Lebanon. He also cited five unusual incidents in which UNIFIL troops were injured and a UN vehicle was stolen, but he refused to blame Hezbollah.

In other words, the UN secretary-general is saying that if war breaks out — even if Hezbollah starts it — it will not be Hezbollah’s fault, even though the group has been illegally importing massive quantities of rockets, and it will not be Syria’s and Iran’s fault, which have been supplying the weapons. It will be Israel’s fault — for talking about it. This would be merely appalling and ridiculous if it weren’t so dangerous: with the UN having already assured Hezbollah that future hostilities will be blamed on Israel, war has become more likely.

The UN’s shameless appeasement of terrorists is a well-worn story, but it’s always instructive to take note when it happens. The UN has issued a report on heightened Israel-Lebanon tensions, and it’s not surprising who gets blamed. What is surprising is the UN’s reasoning: it’s Israeli complaints about Hezbollah’s illegal weapons smuggling — not the smuggling itself — that is risking war:

“Rhetoric escalated rapidly, creating a perception in the public that a resumption of conflict was imminent,” the secretary-general wrote in the report. …

The UN chief wrote in his report that the heightened tensions were stoked by Israel’s claims of Hezbollah’s arms acquisitions. He said this “raised the specter of a miscalculation by either party leading to a resumption of hostilities, with potentially devastating consequences for Lebanon and the region.” …

Israel’s disappointment was compounded by the fact that Ban’s report did not mention Hezbollah’s involvement in a series of attempts by Lebanese in the south to interfere with UNIFIL’s operations over the past month. … In his report, Ban said UNIFIL enjoys “freedom of movement” in all of southern Lebanon. He also cited five unusual incidents in which UNIFIL troops were injured and a UN vehicle was stolen, but he refused to blame Hezbollah.

In other words, the UN secretary-general is saying that if war breaks out — even if Hezbollah starts it — it will not be Hezbollah’s fault, even though the group has been illegally importing massive quantities of rockets, and it will not be Syria’s and Iran’s fault, which have been supplying the weapons. It will be Israel’s fault — for talking about it. This would be merely appalling and ridiculous if it weren’t so dangerous: with the UN having already assured Hezbollah that future hostilities will be blamed on Israel, war has become more likely.

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Lebanon Recriminations

To add to Eric’s great post below, and to the thoughts of Michael Young and David Schenker, I think it’s appropriate, in the midst of the false denouement of the latest crisis, to take a moment and look at the dreadful behavior of the United Nations.

Remember UN Security Council Resolution 1559? It was passed way back in 2004, and it required the disarmament of Hezbollah. It was ignored. Then there is UNIFIL, the special UN blue-helmet force that, since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, has sat in southern Lebanon doing little other than timidly dissuading Hezbollah from rebuilding its infrastructure in plain view on Israel’s border. When Hezbollah wants UNIFIL to leave, UNIFIL will leave. Before the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL did even less, and in one famous case actually collaborated with Hezbollah in the murder of Israeli soldiers. The 2006 war ended under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorized an “enhanced” UNIFIL that was tasked with preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament. That resolution was violated before its approval made it into the morning papers, and continues to be ignored with impunity by everyone from Iran and Syria to UNIFIL itself; Hezbollah today is better-armed than it was before the 2006 war.

Whatever else one wants to say about the Doha meeting, at least it didn’t involve the United Nations.

To add to Eric’s great post below, and to the thoughts of Michael Young and David Schenker, I think it’s appropriate, in the midst of the false denouement of the latest crisis, to take a moment and look at the dreadful behavior of the United Nations.

Remember UN Security Council Resolution 1559? It was passed way back in 2004, and it required the disarmament of Hezbollah. It was ignored. Then there is UNIFIL, the special UN blue-helmet force that, since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, has sat in southern Lebanon doing little other than timidly dissuading Hezbollah from rebuilding its infrastructure in plain view on Israel’s border. When Hezbollah wants UNIFIL to leave, UNIFIL will leave. Before the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL did even less, and in one famous case actually collaborated with Hezbollah in the murder of Israeli soldiers. The 2006 war ended under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorized an “enhanced” UNIFIL that was tasked with preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament. That resolution was violated before its approval made it into the morning papers, and continues to be ignored with impunity by everyone from Iran and Syria to UNIFIL itself; Hezbollah today is better-armed than it was before the 2006 war.

Whatever else one wants to say about the Doha meeting, at least it didn’t involve the United Nations.

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Hitting the Streets in Jenin (and Nablus)

When the vast quantities of baroque rhetoric that accumulate around the peace process are distilled, a basic formula for progress remains: Israel must cease building settlements, and the Palestinian Authority must field a non-corrupt, non-terrorist, non-incompetent police force in the Palestinian territories. If the day arrives when the PA security forces become crack anti-terror squads, the Israeli security presence in the West Bank, the argument goes, will be rendered unnecessary, and the creation of a Palestinian state will quickly follow. The PA will have fulfilled Max Weber’s basic definition of a state: it will have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

It is regrettable that this linchpin of Palestinian statehood–the competence of the security forces–is the subject of only desultory attention. But if you look closely you can discern a little bit of what’s happening in the realm of PA security on the West Bank. Nablus has been since late 2007 a test case for the PA security effort, and what appears to be happening there is similar to the longstanding relationship between UNIFIL and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon — a tacit agreement between terrorists and western-backed security forces not to create problems for each other. From an LA Times story on two brothers from Nablus, we learn that

There is another explanation for the calm [in Nablus], according to Palestinians informed about security matters: a quiet understanding that police will not pursue militant groups that pose a threat to Israel as long as they lie low and do not challenge the Palestinian Authority.

And when such “militant groups” decide to put on a show of arms, the PA seems helpless to stop them. After a group of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades gunmen battled the PA police two weeks ago, they “held a parade in Nablus in which they carried weapons, promised not to give in to the PA and vowed to continue to fight the Israeli occupation.”

The PA’s security efforts were extended this week to the Jenin area, provoking more clashes. In Qabatya, a village outside of Jenin, a firefight between the PA police and militants left a bystander dead. Thus, the PA “had planned to remain in Qabatya for a few days in a show of force but withdrew to the entrance of the town fearing tension after the killing.”

And so it goes. All of this is not to ridicule the PA effort, which actually I think deserves some limited praise. What’s going on today in the West Bank is unprecedented, inasmuch as it is something that Yasser Arafat certainly never attempted to do — his creation and manipulation of Palestinian security forces revolved entirely around solidifying his own rule and preparing for a terror war against Israel.

The current Palestinian Authority, though, is attempting to impose a western-style centralized order on a land that has been home for centuries to a traditional Arab pattern of social organization, in which families and tribes exist as the arbiters of power across territories and villages. Palestinian terror groups have been adept at operating from within and around this power structure, and Yasser Arafat was a master of playing Palestinian groups and interests off each other. What the PA is attempting today, though, is different — it is a kind of intra-Arab clash of civilizations. And it is one, alas, that the Palestinian Authority is not likely to win.

When the vast quantities of baroque rhetoric that accumulate around the peace process are distilled, a basic formula for progress remains: Israel must cease building settlements, and the Palestinian Authority must field a non-corrupt, non-terrorist, non-incompetent police force in the Palestinian territories. If the day arrives when the PA security forces become crack anti-terror squads, the Israeli security presence in the West Bank, the argument goes, will be rendered unnecessary, and the creation of a Palestinian state will quickly follow. The PA will have fulfilled Max Weber’s basic definition of a state: it will have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

It is regrettable that this linchpin of Palestinian statehood–the competence of the security forces–is the subject of only desultory attention. But if you look closely you can discern a little bit of what’s happening in the realm of PA security on the West Bank. Nablus has been since late 2007 a test case for the PA security effort, and what appears to be happening there is similar to the longstanding relationship between UNIFIL and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon — a tacit agreement between terrorists and western-backed security forces not to create problems for each other. From an LA Times story on two brothers from Nablus, we learn that

There is another explanation for the calm [in Nablus], according to Palestinians informed about security matters: a quiet understanding that police will not pursue militant groups that pose a threat to Israel as long as they lie low and do not challenge the Palestinian Authority.

And when such “militant groups” decide to put on a show of arms, the PA seems helpless to stop them. After a group of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades gunmen battled the PA police two weeks ago, they “held a parade in Nablus in which they carried weapons, promised not to give in to the PA and vowed to continue to fight the Israeli occupation.”

The PA’s security efforts were extended this week to the Jenin area, provoking more clashes. In Qabatya, a village outside of Jenin, a firefight between the PA police and militants left a bystander dead. Thus, the PA “had planned to remain in Qabatya for a few days in a show of force but withdrew to the entrance of the town fearing tension after the killing.”

And so it goes. All of this is not to ridicule the PA effort, which actually I think deserves some limited praise. What’s going on today in the West Bank is unprecedented, inasmuch as it is something that Yasser Arafat certainly never attempted to do — his creation and manipulation of Palestinian security forces revolved entirely around solidifying his own rule and preparing for a terror war against Israel.

The current Palestinian Authority, though, is attempting to impose a western-style centralized order on a land that has been home for centuries to a traditional Arab pattern of social organization, in which families and tribes exist as the arbiters of power across territories and villages. Palestinian terror groups have been adept at operating from within and around this power structure, and Yasser Arafat was a master of playing Palestinian groups and interests off each other. What the PA is attempting today, though, is different — it is a kind of intra-Arab clash of civilizations. And it is one, alas, that the Palestinian Authority is not likely to win.

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Lebanon III?

Today Israeli radio reported a massive effort underway to contact IDF reserve soldiers and verify their contact information. Yesterday, Israel deployed Patriot missiles next to the northern city of Haifa, for the first time since the 2006 Lebanon war. Inside Lebanon, anti-Hizbullah rhetoric is heating up, with Prime Minister Fouad Seniora blaming Hizbullah for bringing war upon Lebanon, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warning of a possible civil war against the Iranian-backed organization. And today’s Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is deeply concerned about the possible collapse of UNIFIL, the 15,000-man strong UN force which has been in southern Lebanon since the end of hostilities in 2006. Things have not looked so unstable along the Israel-Lebanon border since the war ended.

Hizbullah, having taken a massive blow with the killing of its top military commander and terror architect, Imad Mughniyeh, is not likely to take its humiliation lying down. Hassan Nasrallah has declared an “open war” against Israel and Israeli targets around the world. The pundits are busily speculating how Hizbullah might respond — with an assassination attempt against an Israeli leader, with a massive terror attack on a Jewish or Israeli target somewhere in the world, or possibly with the launching of chemical missiles or unmanned aircraft at Israeli population centers. But we should assume Israel will not sit back and wait for the response, either. The next move may be Israel’s.

Neither Hizbullah nor Israel really wants full-scale war right now, however. Israel is unlikely to get the kind of diplomatic air cover from Washington the way it did in 2006, if for no other reason than because of the instability it might bring to John McCain’s campaign. Hizbullah, too, stands to lose a great deal, not just from defeat, but even from another stand-off, which would likely hurt its public image in Lebanon even further, and possibly bring on civil war. So the most likely outcome is saber-rattling, and possible surgical strikes.

But if war does break out, Hizbullah should be prepared for a far more costly adventure: The IDF today is not the IDF of 2006. Not just the replacement of the labor union leader Amir Peretz (who heard of a “strike” against Hizbullah and took out his megaphone) with the former IDF chief-of-staff and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the position of defense minister; and the replacement of Dan Halutz as IDF chief-of-staff with Gabi Ashkenazi; but a lot of money, training, and equipment has built up the IDF, which did not wait for the Winograd Commission’s report to start learning the lessons of Lebanon II. Rebuilding the IDF was Ehud Barak’s excuse for remaining in the government, despite promises to the contrary, after the report came out. The man wants to be Prime Minister. And Ehud Olmert, whose party is looking at a massive drubbing in the next election, needs to save his own political career. This is a war that neither of the Ehuds can afford to lose — and anything less than decisive victory, for these purposes, would be a loss.

For the people in charge on both sides, in other words, the stakes have never been higher.

Today Israeli radio reported a massive effort underway to contact IDF reserve soldiers and verify their contact information. Yesterday, Israel deployed Patriot missiles next to the northern city of Haifa, for the first time since the 2006 Lebanon war. Inside Lebanon, anti-Hizbullah rhetoric is heating up, with Prime Minister Fouad Seniora blaming Hizbullah for bringing war upon Lebanon, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warning of a possible civil war against the Iranian-backed organization. And today’s Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is deeply concerned about the possible collapse of UNIFIL, the 15,000-man strong UN force which has been in southern Lebanon since the end of hostilities in 2006. Things have not looked so unstable along the Israel-Lebanon border since the war ended.

Hizbullah, having taken a massive blow with the killing of its top military commander and terror architect, Imad Mughniyeh, is not likely to take its humiliation lying down. Hassan Nasrallah has declared an “open war” against Israel and Israeli targets around the world. The pundits are busily speculating how Hizbullah might respond — with an assassination attempt against an Israeli leader, with a massive terror attack on a Jewish or Israeli target somewhere in the world, or possibly with the launching of chemical missiles or unmanned aircraft at Israeli population centers. But we should assume Israel will not sit back and wait for the response, either. The next move may be Israel’s.

Neither Hizbullah nor Israel really wants full-scale war right now, however. Israel is unlikely to get the kind of diplomatic air cover from Washington the way it did in 2006, if for no other reason than because of the instability it might bring to John McCain’s campaign. Hizbullah, too, stands to lose a great deal, not just from defeat, but even from another stand-off, which would likely hurt its public image in Lebanon even further, and possibly bring on civil war. So the most likely outcome is saber-rattling, and possible surgical strikes.

But if war does break out, Hizbullah should be prepared for a far more costly adventure: The IDF today is not the IDF of 2006. Not just the replacement of the labor union leader Amir Peretz (who heard of a “strike” against Hizbullah and took out his megaphone) with the former IDF chief-of-staff and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the position of defense minister; and the replacement of Dan Halutz as IDF chief-of-staff with Gabi Ashkenazi; but a lot of money, training, and equipment has built up the IDF, which did not wait for the Winograd Commission’s report to start learning the lessons of Lebanon II. Rebuilding the IDF was Ehud Barak’s excuse for remaining in the government, despite promises to the contrary, after the report came out. The man wants to be Prime Minister. And Ehud Olmert, whose party is looking at a massive drubbing in the next election, needs to save his own political career. This is a war that neither of the Ehuds can afford to lose — and anything less than decisive victory, for these purposes, would be a loss.

For the people in charge on both sides, in other words, the stakes have never been higher.

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A Lebanon War Postmortem

Since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war, the enormity of Israel’s bungling has become increasingly clear. A new after-action review has just been released, this one by Amir Kulick of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The piece analyzes Hizballah’s military strategy, which “rested on the assumption that Israeli society was weak and incapable of absorbing a large number of casualties…. Hizballah believed that undermining Israel’s resilience would perforce lead to an end to the fighting on terms favorable to the organization.” Of Hizballah’s efficacy in battle, the report states: “the operational logic that directed Hizballah proved militarily correct.” The author has interesting things to say about Hizballah’s rebuilding effort since the end of the war, how UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army affect its freedom of movement, how the war changed its relationship with Syria and Iran, and what the next conflict might look like.

It is a nicely-done and informative analysis, but I’d like to add two points: First, the report misses one of the central, and most successful, pillars of Hizballah’s strategy, which was to use civilian casualties in Lebanon and the sensational media images resulting from them as a means of undermining the Israeli war effort. And second, Israeli strategists must think about a rather unconventional way to respond to Hizballah in the next outbreak of hostilities, which is to bypass fighting in Lebanon and go directly to Hizballah’s local source of weaponry, money, and support: Syria.

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Since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war, the enormity of Israel’s bungling has become increasingly clear. A new after-action review has just been released, this one by Amir Kulick of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The piece analyzes Hizballah’s military strategy, which “rested on the assumption that Israeli society was weak and incapable of absorbing a large number of casualties…. Hizballah believed that undermining Israel’s resilience would perforce lead to an end to the fighting on terms favorable to the organization.” Of Hizballah’s efficacy in battle, the report states: “the operational logic that directed Hizballah proved militarily correct.” The author has interesting things to say about Hizballah’s rebuilding effort since the end of the war, how UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army affect its freedom of movement, how the war changed its relationship with Syria and Iran, and what the next conflict might look like.

It is a nicely-done and informative analysis, but I’d like to add two points: First, the report misses one of the central, and most successful, pillars of Hizballah’s strategy, which was to use civilian casualties in Lebanon and the sensational media images resulting from them as a means of undermining the Israeli war effort. And second, Israeli strategists must think about a rather unconventional way to respond to Hizballah in the next outbreak of hostilities, which is to bypass fighting in Lebanon and go directly to Hizballah’s local source of weaponry, money, and support: Syria.

Regarding my first point, about Hizballah’s strategy: its rocket fire sought to accomplish more than just the bombardment of the northern third of Israel. The fire reliably provoked Israeli return fire, which, tactically speaking, allowed Hizballah to call down Israeli munitions on its preferred targets in Lebanon. Consider the places from which Hizballah fired many of its rockets: neighborhoods, apartment buildings, anywhere civilians could be found. The rocket fire was thus intended to have two effects for Hizballah, the first and obvious being the placement of a large part of Israel under Hizballah’s missile umbrella, and the second and less obvious—but ultimately more important—being the moral delegitimization of the Israeli war effort. We see Hamas today employing the exact same tactic in Gaza, where Palestinian children are sent on suicide missions to retrieve rocket launchers after they’ve fired their payloads toward Israel. For Hamas, the tactic is a win-win—they either get their launchers back, or the children are killed by Israeli return fire and Hamas enjoys the moral absolution that derives from international condemnation of Israeli self-defense. Cynical, but very smart.

For Hizballah, this tactic worked better than the limited success Hamas has had with it in Gaza. The war in 2006 was not so much a vindication of the weakness of the Israeli home front as it was a demonstration of Israel’s inability to wage war in contravention of the wishes of the “international community,” primarily the United States and the UN. As soon as pictures of Lebanese children killed in Israeli air strikes began appearing on the front pages of newspapers around the world, Hizballah had set in motion an end to the conflict on terms largely favorable to it.

Israel’s benighted pursuit of an air campaign to the almost total exclusion of a sustained ground effort contributed to the civilian-casualties calamity—but is it really plausible that a large-scale ground war would have spared civilian lives? Not likely. Israel simply has no good options in fighting a group that intentionally operates from among a sympathetic civilian population and that intentionally tries to get its own civilians “martyred” by the IDF.

This leads back to my second point. The INSS report says correctly that Syria and Iran “are Hizballah’s financial, logistical, and military lifeline.” By fighting in southern Lebanon, Israel plays directly into Syria and Iran’s hands, allowing them to remain isolated from the fighting, and enables their support for Hizballah to be largely cost-free. But terrorism—especially Hizballah’s—has a return address. As far as Israel is concerned, that address is Damascus.

The next time around, Israel should refuse to fight Syria and Iran’s war. It should bypass Lebanon and go straight to the source. Hizballah exists largely as a means for Syria and Iran to wage war against Israel without having actually to fight Israel, and Israel has continuously reinforced the wisdom of this strategy by refusing to include Syrian targets in its war plans. I do not expect that in the next conflict we will see Bashar Assad’s palaces in ruins, but it is an interesting thought to entertain.

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The Do-Nothing UN

In a development certain to shock nobody, the UN has released a report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, the cease-fire agreement that paused the Israel-Hizballah war last summer. The new report confirms what most sentient people predicted: that Resolution 1701 would accomplish nothing. Ban Ki-moon’s report assents to what Israeli intelligence and military officials have been saying since the end of the war, namely that Iran and Syria have encountered few obstacles to rearming Hizballah with better weapons.

Detailed in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, the report says that, in addition to the establishment of surface-to-air missile capacity and the tripling of Hizballah’s arsenal of land-to-sea missiles,

Hizballah’s long-range missile teams are deployed north of the [Litani] river, and . . . most of the new missiles include [the Iranian-made] Zelzal and Fajr missiles that have a range of over 250 kilometers and are capable of hitting areas south of Tel Aviv.

Resolution 1701 and the “robust” UNIFIL that has been “patrolling” southern Lebanon for the past year have not been total non-entities in affecting the situation on the ground. Since the arrival of UNIFIL, Hizballah has focused its reconstruction and re-armament on the area of Lebanon north of the Litani, where UNIFIL does not enforce its paltry and symbolic suppression of Hizballah. Hizballah’s activity in this region, which also involves buying up land for Shia settlement, is actually quite strategically valuable—it allows the creation of physical contiguity between Hizballah’s two strongholds in Lebanon, the Bekaa valley/Syrian border area in the east and the Shia south. Creating this contiguity, and planting Shia civilians throughout this territory, are vital to Hizballah’s ability to deter encirclement by Israel in another round of war, and to wage war from among, and with the help of, Shia civilians.

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In a development certain to shock nobody, the UN has released a report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, the cease-fire agreement that paused the Israel-Hizballah war last summer. The new report confirms what most sentient people predicted: that Resolution 1701 would accomplish nothing. Ban Ki-moon’s report assents to what Israeli intelligence and military officials have been saying since the end of the war, namely that Iran and Syria have encountered few obstacles to rearming Hizballah with better weapons.

Detailed in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, the report says that, in addition to the establishment of surface-to-air missile capacity and the tripling of Hizballah’s arsenal of land-to-sea missiles,

Hizballah’s long-range missile teams are deployed north of the [Litani] river, and . . . most of the new missiles include [the Iranian-made] Zelzal and Fajr missiles that have a range of over 250 kilometers and are capable of hitting areas south of Tel Aviv.

Resolution 1701 and the “robust” UNIFIL that has been “patrolling” southern Lebanon for the past year have not been total non-entities in affecting the situation on the ground. Since the arrival of UNIFIL, Hizballah has focused its reconstruction and re-armament on the area of Lebanon north of the Litani, where UNIFIL does not enforce its paltry and symbolic suppression of Hizballah. Hizballah’s activity in this region, which also involves buying up land for Shia settlement, is actually quite strategically valuable—it allows the creation of physical contiguity between Hizballah’s two strongholds in Lebanon, the Bekaa valley/Syrian border area in the east and the Shia south. Creating this contiguity, and planting Shia civilians throughout this territory, are vital to Hizballah’s ability to deter encirclement by Israel in another round of war, and to wage war from among, and with the help of, Shia civilians.

Ban Ki-moon says that the situation revealed by the UN report is “grave.” That is correct, but he obscures the UN’s culpability for today’s situation. What is equally grave is the demented state of the United Nations, whose central ambition of preventing Israel from defeating its enemies has provided aid and comfort to terror groups like Hizballah and terror states like Syria. And when the next round of this war arrives, Ban Ki-moon will no doubt be found before the cameras, pleading for a UN-brokered cease-fire instead of apologizing for the role that his organization has played in endangering the lives of innocents on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border.

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Forked Tongues

What difference will it make now that Ali Larijani is no longer Iran’s nuclear negotiator? None, at least to Italian PM Romano Prodi. After welcoming Larijani and his successor, the ardent Mahdist Saeed Jalili, to the governmental offices in the heart of Rome, Prodi declared that,

With regard to Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran could contribute in easing tensions and finding fair and satisfactory compromises for all, confirming its ability to play a role in constructing regional stability.

Prodi has great timing! While he was complimenting Iran for its constructive role, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was submitting his biannual report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, in which he reveals that Hizballah’s military capacity has climbed again to its prewar levels—an implicit admission that the UNIFIL mission has so far failed to fulfill its mandate under those resolutions. Ban Ki Moon said, in reference to the need for all Lebanese parties to disarm, that

I also expect the unequivocal cooperation of all relevant regional parties who have the ability to support such a process, most notably the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which maintain close ties with the party, for the sake of both Lebanon’s and the wider region’s security, stability, and welfare.

It wouldn’t be wrong to read these two apparently very similar statements in vastly different ways. The UN is saying that Iran and Syria have rearmed Hizballah, and is warning (whatever a UN “warning” may be worth) the countries against continuing to do so. Prodi, whose adventurism made him send 3,000 Italian soldiers to Lebanon in August 2006 without the proper mandate to implement the Security Council resolutions his own government helped draft, is, yet again, ignoring the destabilizing role Iran is playing across the region.

What difference will it make now that Ali Larijani is no longer Iran’s nuclear negotiator? None, at least to Italian PM Romano Prodi. After welcoming Larijani and his successor, the ardent Mahdist Saeed Jalili, to the governmental offices in the heart of Rome, Prodi declared that,

With regard to Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran could contribute in easing tensions and finding fair and satisfactory compromises for all, confirming its ability to play a role in constructing regional stability.

Prodi has great timing! While he was complimenting Iran for its constructive role, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was submitting his biannual report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, in which he reveals that Hizballah’s military capacity has climbed again to its prewar levels—an implicit admission that the UNIFIL mission has so far failed to fulfill its mandate under those resolutions. Ban Ki Moon said, in reference to the need for all Lebanese parties to disarm, that

I also expect the unequivocal cooperation of all relevant regional parties who have the ability to support such a process, most notably the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which maintain close ties with the party, for the sake of both Lebanon’s and the wider region’s security, stability, and welfare.

It wouldn’t be wrong to read these two apparently very similar statements in vastly different ways. The UN is saying that Iran and Syria have rearmed Hizballah, and is warning (whatever a UN “warning” may be worth) the countries against continuing to do so. Prodi, whose adventurism made him send 3,000 Italian soldiers to Lebanon in August 2006 without the proper mandate to implement the Security Council resolutions his own government helped draft, is, yet again, ignoring the destabilizing role Iran is playing across the region.

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A Failing UNIFIL

Noah Pollak of Azure has an informative summary of the problems with UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, whose ostensible mission is the disarmament of Hizballah and the pacification of southern Lebanon. UNIFIL was expanded to 14,000 troops last summer, but, as Pollak writes:

The new UNIFIL has of course done nothing. Actually, worse than nothing: In the year since the end of the war, Iran and Syria have been rearming Hizballah at a torrid pace, this time with better weaponry than before, and UNIFIL has barely even pretended to be interested in disrupting the arms flow. UNIFIL’s rules of engagement prevent the border with Syria from being patrolled, and UNIFIL blue-helmets have neither the desire nor the means to confront Hizballah.

UNIFIL is but one of many of the United Nations’ failed efforts around the world—which do not need to be elaborated upon for readers of COMMENTARY. But the gravest failure among the U.N.’s initiatives in the Middle East has to be UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which for over five decades has kept the Palestinians in perpetual refugeehood when the vast majority of those Palestinians deemed “refugees” (the children and grandchildren of those who were displaced by the 1948 war) would not actually classify as such by the United Nations’ very own definition. I explored the problem of UNRWA—and suggested another source for its hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid money—several months ago here.

Noah Pollak of Azure has an informative summary of the problems with UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, whose ostensible mission is the disarmament of Hizballah and the pacification of southern Lebanon. UNIFIL was expanded to 14,000 troops last summer, but, as Pollak writes:

The new UNIFIL has of course done nothing. Actually, worse than nothing: In the year since the end of the war, Iran and Syria have been rearming Hizballah at a torrid pace, this time with better weaponry than before, and UNIFIL has barely even pretended to be interested in disrupting the arms flow. UNIFIL’s rules of engagement prevent the border with Syria from being patrolled, and UNIFIL blue-helmets have neither the desire nor the means to confront Hizballah.

UNIFIL is but one of many of the United Nations’ failed efforts around the world—which do not need to be elaborated upon for readers of COMMENTARY. But the gravest failure among the U.N.’s initiatives in the Middle East has to be UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which for over five decades has kept the Palestinians in perpetual refugeehood when the vast majority of those Palestinians deemed “refugees” (the children and grandchildren of those who were displaced by the 1948 war) would not actually classify as such by the United Nations’ very own definition. I explored the problem of UNRWA—and suggested another source for its hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid money—several months ago here.

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Hizballah’s Racket

While Lebanon’s army is busy completing the “urban restructuring” of the refugee camp at Nahr el Bared (no doubt in full compliance with international and human rights law), UNIFIL forces in the South have sought to avoid future surprises by “turning to Hizballah for protection.”

According to reports quoting UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hezbollah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were “escorted” on some of their patrols by Hizballah members in civilian vehicles. Too bad there were no such escorts on the day six members of the Spanish contingent were blown to bits by a roadside bomb. But not to worry—UNIFIL/Hizballah collaboration continues. After the attack, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos promptly spoke with his Iranian counterpart Manucher Mottaki, and (according to the same reports) Spanish UNIFIL officers and Hizballah officials have met once at least since the bombing took place.

Why should this surprise anyone? After all, this practice goes beyond the confines of Lebanon. Mme. Sarkozy’s trip to Lybia involved the same kind of logic, which is in line with a time-honored Mediterranean tradition. Protection has its price, after all, and extortion sooner or later yields dividends for all involved. The extortionists get what they want (money for a hospital, trade with Europe, docile peacekeepers). And those who pay them, in whatever currency, stay alive.

While Lebanon’s army is busy completing the “urban restructuring” of the refugee camp at Nahr el Bared (no doubt in full compliance with international and human rights law), UNIFIL forces in the South have sought to avoid future surprises by “turning to Hizballah for protection.”

According to reports quoting UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hezbollah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were “escorted” on some of their patrols by Hizballah members in civilian vehicles. Too bad there were no such escorts on the day six members of the Spanish contingent were blown to bits by a roadside bomb. But not to worry—UNIFIL/Hizballah collaboration continues. After the attack, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos promptly spoke with his Iranian counterpart Manucher Mottaki, and (according to the same reports) Spanish UNIFIL officers and Hizballah officials have met once at least since the bombing took place.

Why should this surprise anyone? After all, this practice goes beyond the confines of Lebanon. Mme. Sarkozy’s trip to Lybia involved the same kind of logic, which is in line with a time-honored Mediterranean tradition. Protection has its price, after all, and extortion sooner or later yields dividends for all involved. The extortionists get what they want (money for a hospital, trade with Europe, docile peacekeepers). And those who pay them, in whatever currency, stay alive.

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Parisi’s Ignorance

Italy’s defense minister Arturo Parisi, interviewed last week on a morning show about Hizballah’s activity in southern Lebanon, dismissed any concern about its arms smuggling. “I am not aware [of any arms smuggling],” he said, “at least not to the extent that it requires a change of behavior by the UN.”

Parisi did recognize Lebanon’s difficult situation—given the ongoing battle between the Lebanese army and Fatah-al-Islam in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, near the Syrian border, it would be hard to deny it. But he stated that the real trouble in the region stems from “actors coming from abroad and present in the Palestinian camps, whose links lead both to Sunnis and Shi’as”—and not, apparently, to Hizballah.

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Italy’s defense minister Arturo Parisi, interviewed last week on a morning show about Hizballah’s activity in southern Lebanon, dismissed any concern about its arms smuggling. “I am not aware [of any arms smuggling],” he said, “at least not to the extent that it requires a change of behavior by the UN.”

Parisi did recognize Lebanon’s difficult situation—given the ongoing battle between the Lebanese army and Fatah-al-Islam in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, near the Syrian border, it would be hard to deny it. But he stated that the real trouble in the region stems from “actors coming from abroad and present in the Palestinian camps, whose links lead both to Sunnis and Shi’as”—and not, apparently, to Hizballah.

Parisi’s statement is baffling, in light of mounting evidence to the contrary. After all, he should know better. He is not merely the defense minister of Italy. Commanding the largest single contingent of troops in Lebanon and the UNIFIL forces in general, Parisi has access to privileged information about the situation on the ground. How, then, can one reconcile his recent statements with this one, from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:

I have received information from Israel on arms trafficking. This information has been detailed and substantial, as outlined in my recent report. In addition, I have also received reports from other Member States detailing that illegal transfers of arms do occur. According to such reports, some weapons produced outside the region arrive via third countries and are brought clandestinely into Lebanon through the Syrian- Lebanese border. Such transfers are alleged to be taking place on a regular basis.

Ban wrote this in an interim report to the Security Council on the implementation of UNSCR 1559, which demands the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. A news report by IRIN, the news network affiliated with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), went further still. IRIN’s report offered specific details, interviews with foreign fighters, and eyewitness accounts of arms smuggling in Lebanon:

The two most significant reported violations of Resolution 1559’s demand for disarming militias over the past six months were weapons seized from members of the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP) in north Lebanon and a truck full of rockets and mortars seized in the eastern Bekaa Valley, which Hezbollah said was bound for its fighters.

Arms smuggling has also been reported in the international press and media. In a recent article in the French daily Le Figaro, Georges Malbrunot quoted a UN official close to the Secretary General saying that “This time the satellite photos that the Israelis showed us seem conclusive.” Malbrunot’s piece continues:

During their six months patrolling southern Lebanon its bloodhounds have discovered over a hundred bunkers, some of them cunningly established alongside UNIFIL positions, and a great many arms caches concealed under mosques and soccer pitches. To coordinate their attacks on Tzahal, militiamen have even established a telephone network independent of the Lebanese postal service! “How could the Beirut government have been unaware of all that?” one senior UNIFIL official asked; he suspects Hizballah of concealing weapons in the cellars of homes in southern Lebanon, to which blue helmets do not have access. “We could be unaware of many things,” this UN official complained.

Judging by his statements, one can only conclude that Parisi is also unaware of these developments, despite the wealth of information available even in the public domain. Unlike the UN Secretary General, who, at least, is “deeply worried” about the Lebanese crisis and the role played by Iran and Syria in arms smuggling, Parisi has dismissed any concern. And perhaps he genuinely doesn’t know.

But Parisi may simply be loath to embarrass his colleague Massimo D’Alema, Italy’s foreign minister, who is expected to visit Damascus soon. The purpose of this trip, as D’Alema reportedly claimed in a recent phone conversation with his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni, is “to lecture” the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Given the evidence (and D’Alema’s foreign policy record), it’s tempting to assume he will pretend that all is business as usual—as Parisi did last week in front of the cameras.

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Via Romana

Until April 2006, Italy was America’s staunchest ally in Europe after Tony Blair’s Great Britain. The Italian government supported the war in Iraq, despite its unpopularity in Italy, and sent troops there to participate in the post-war efforts to stabilize the country. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi was a regular guest at the White House, and even visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas—a privilege extended only to the nation’s closest allies. But in April of last year a Center-Left coalition unseated Mr. Berlusconi; now, scarcely a year later, the once-friendly relations between Italy and the U.S. have gravely deteriorated.

First, Prodi’s government made good on its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Then came last summer’s war in Lebanon. Though Italy pledged troops for the new UNIFIL, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s excessive display of affection for Hizbullah MP Hussein Haji Hassan during a visit to Beirut did not help matters between Italy and the U.S. Italy was elected to one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council with America’s blessing, but the U.S.-backed candidate from the Latin American bloc—Guatemala—failed to obtain Italy’s support in the face of Venezuela’s challenge. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s personal call to D’Alema to express American concern, Italy abstained. Thus, while a constant stream of Europe’s other Center-Left ministers has visited Washington, Prodi and D’Alema have been left to wait in Rome.

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Until April 2006, Italy was America’s staunchest ally in Europe after Tony Blair’s Great Britain. The Italian government supported the war in Iraq, despite its unpopularity in Italy, and sent troops there to participate in the post-war efforts to stabilize the country. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi was a regular guest at the White House, and even visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas—a privilege extended only to the nation’s closest allies. But in April of last year a Center-Left coalition unseated Mr. Berlusconi; now, scarcely a year later, the once-friendly relations between Italy and the U.S. have gravely deteriorated.

First, Prodi’s government made good on its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Then came last summer’s war in Lebanon. Though Italy pledged troops for the new UNIFIL, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s excessive display of affection for Hizbullah MP Hussein Haji Hassan during a visit to Beirut did not help matters between Italy and the U.S. Italy was elected to one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council with America’s blessing, but the U.S.-backed candidate from the Latin American bloc—Guatemala—failed to obtain Italy’s support in the face of Venezuela’s challenge. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s personal call to D’Alema to express American concern, Italy abstained. Thus, while a constant stream of Europe’s other Center-Left ministers has visited Washington, Prodi and D’Alema have been left to wait in Rome.

The refinancing of Italy’s mission in Afghanistan proved to be another point of contention. Though Italy’s presence in Herat and Kabul is appreciated, Americans have been growing resentful of the unwillingness of the Italian government to commit troops to the fight against the Taliban in the south. Italy is not alone in its reluctance—Germany and Spain also have not committed military resources to the south. But a recent article by the ambassadors to Italy of six NATO countries whose troops are fighting—and dying—in southern Afghanistan irked the Italian foreign minister. The article called on Italy not to disengage. D’Alema called it “inopportune.”

In the last three weeks, Italy further tarnished its government’s credibility with the U.S. Under pressure from Rome, the Afghan government agreed to let five Taliban terrorists loose in exchange for an Italian hostage, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a correspondent for La Repubblica. The Prodi government’s deal with the Taliban did nothing for Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan driver and interpreter, who were beheaded.

In a twist of fate, Kabul then arrested Rahmatullah Hanefi, the local point man of an Italian NGO called Emergency, headed by the renowned leftist radical Gino Strada, who had mediated the hostage release. The Afghan government accused Hanefi of double-dealing with the Taliban. Defending his associate, Strada retorted that Hanefi was beyond reproach: he had performed honorably last fall, when he delivered the Taliban a substantial sum of money for the release of another Italian hostage. Relying on Strada—who equates Bush with Osama bin Laden and considers the U.S. the chief perpetrator of international terrorism—proved to have been a terrible error. Italy now stands accused of bringing about the release of terrorists, of having sacrificed two Afghans to rescue one Italian, of having damaged Hamid Karzai’s government, and of having emboldened the Taliban.

Even outside the theater of the global war on terror, Italy’s government shows a new hostility to America. When a joint venture of AT&T and Mexico’s America Movil sought to buy a stake in Italian telecommunications giant Telecom, government ministers raised the banner of the “national interest” to prevent the company from falling into foreign hands. Prodi said he would be happy if Telecom were to remain under Italian ownership, though he promised no interference. D’Alema went a little farther, expressing his hope for an “Italian initiative” to keep Telecom from a foreign take-over and hinting that the parliament could override market considerations.

In less than a year, Prodi and D’Alema have caused, more or less, a complete breakdown in Italo-American relations. Is it any wonder that they are still waiting for an invitation to the White House?

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