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What to Watch for in the Middle East II

Given the experience, we have to be skeptical that any UN-led international force will do better the next time around.
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Let us assume that Israel is successful in disrupting and disarming Hezbollah enough that it can create a relatively Hezbollah-free zone within twenty miles of the border with Lebanon-- and keep in mind that this was not just about the Hezbollah incursion into Israel proper that killed some soldiers and made two others hostages, but the presence and use of rockets into Israeli cities from an area that was supposed to be Hezbollah free according to Security Council Resolution 1559. Then come the next tough questions: what will keep the border area Hezbollah-free, and what will keep Syria from resuming shipments of highly sophisticated and destructive weapons coming from it and Iran to return Hezbollah to the dominant military force in Lebanon and a renewed deadly threat to Israel?

On the first question: less than a week before that Hezbollah incursion, I was standing at the border point, looking across at a Hezbollah bunker barely a stone's throw away. Right next to it-- and I mean right next to it-- was a UN observation post. The UNIFIL forces there were presumably in place to fulfill the terms of 1559, which was supposed to have the Lebanese Army in charge of the border. There are no Lebanese Army bunkers or observation posts, much less any Lebanese Army soldiers. The sight of the bunker and UN post cheek by jowl underscored the utter impotence and irrelevance of the UN here. The UN blue helmets have regularly been intimidated by the Hezbollah forces if they pay too much attention to them, and sometimes slapped around if they get nosy. Given this experience, we have to be skeptical that any UN-led international force will do better the next time around. It will have to be much stronger, and it will require a kind of tough-minded leadership that escapes Kofi Annan.

On the second question, the great Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland made two excellent points in his column this morning. The first is that Bashir Assad was on the ropes a short while ago, clearly implicated in the brutal murder of Lebanese patriot and former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. But the UN investigation flagged, the US failed to hold Assad to account, and he got a second wind to continue to make mayhem in Iraq and Lebanon. It again raises serious questions about how much the UN can be a player here that truly matters. But it is the logical place to turn not just for the Israel-Lebanon border but the Lebanon-Syria border. By the way, to Syria, there is no such border-- its maps show Lebanon as part of Greater Syria. It is essential that a real border be reestablished, one that can police air and ground shipments across the border to keep those drones, rockets, missiles and other armaments from coming in to resupply Hezbollah. (Iran can't get the stuff in directly; it needs Syria and its direct access to Lebanon to cement its supply link with Hezbollah.) And at some point, the US and the UN have to take action to hold Syria and Assad to account for their crimes.

The most fascinating-- and little-noticed story of the past ten days has been the response by Saudi Arabia to the Lebanon situation. In every previous incident where Israel was involved-- including when Israel has been bombed or attacked-- Saudi Arabia's reflexive response has been to blame Israel for it. This time: not a word about Israel, but a strong condemnation of Hezbollah for instigating this crisis. READ MORE