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Feinstein: Necessary to Engage Syria, Iran to Ensure Cease-fire Works

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
August 14, 2006

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Lee Feinstein, an expert on U.S. foreign policy and the United Nations, says the current cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel, while a "positive" development, is unlikely to last unless regional powers like Syria and Iran are brought into a dialogue on ways to maintain it.

"What is going to be needed are regional buy-ins, and getting that is going to be really difficult and is going to require long and sustained and difficult critical work with regimes that the United States doesn't like to deal with" such as Syria and Iran, says Feinstein, CFR senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy and international law and a former Defense and State Department official in the Clinton administration.

We're talking on Sunday, after both the Israeli and the Lebanese governments have approved U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for an end to the fighting in Lebanon and Israel, but before the actual cease-fire is supposed to take place. So let's focus on the resolution itself, and what led up to it. Is it in fact a worthy resolution?

The fact that you have both governments endorsing it obviously is positive. And the fact that there is a resolution is itself positive. The ambiguities in the resolution, and the unresolved issues in the resolution, speak to the areas where there is not agreement, and where there are likely to be problems in the future.

What do you think the odds are of a cease-fire actually taking place on time?

It is never a good sign when the fighting keeps continuing after the agreement in principle takes place. And there will be a very difficult period even after a cease-fire between that time and when Lebanese forces move into the south, ostensibly accompanied by some expanded UN forces.

The resolution took what most people thought was a very long time to be approved. The fighting started on roughly July 12 and it wasn't approved until the second week in August. What caused that delay?

The delay was a function of the fact that the parties to the conflict did not feel like their concerns had been addressed, and neither thought it in its interest to agree to halt the hostilities immediately. In particular, the Israelis were concerned that as soon as they stopped fighting Hezbollah would move back in, which is exactly what happened—first in the case of the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] and then later with Hezbollah—dating back to 1978 [when the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL was created].

And this time, of course, the Lebanese government is giving its guarantee that Hezbollah will not move back with arms, isn't that right?

There are two things that are positive and different from the past. The Israelis say they want a strong international force before [they] depart from southern Lebanon. The Israelis are not getting exactly that, and their attitude toward an international force has been marked by a lot of uneasiness with the role of UNIFIL until now. From the Lebanese perspective, the Lebanese were also, dating back to 1978, supposed to extend their sovereignty—that's the way the resolution [425] put it—into southern Lebanon, but they were not able to do it and did not do it. The fact that they've specifically offered 15,000 troops is a positive sign of some tangible effort this time to fill the vacuum.

And the U.S. role?

Well the U.S. role has been, I would say, very tentative, much like the Israeli role. In Israel, there is a new prime minister who was uncertain of how to accomplish his goals, and an American administration which has not been actively involved in Middle East negotiations until now and has been acting, I would say, without experience and therefore without a lot of confidence about how to move all the parties towards a solution.

But doesn't it look as if the United States got what it was looking for, in effect supporting Israel's desire for a more robust UN presence? In other words this enhanced UNIFIL body is actually the international force the United States and Israel were initially calling for, right?

The force that is proposed is less than what the Israelis said they wanted. It is also questionable whether you will get a 15,000-troop UNIFIL force in support of a 15,000-troop Lebanese deployment. So the agreed force is less than what the Israelis and the administration said they wanted, and it's also doubtful you will really get 30,000 troops there. And even if you do, it's going to take a lot of time.

Under Resolution 1701, Israel is allowed to stay in southern Lebanon until this total force is there, or are they supposed to pull out in parallel with the entry of some forces?

I think the two statements you just made are not contrary to each other. Basically Israel is meant to withdraw as these forces come in. There is meant to be coordination between the United Nations and Lebanon on the one hand, and the United Nations and Israel on the other, about the status of the deployment. So the Israelis are supposed to leave as the others come in. That is my understanding of how this is supposed to work.

And of course the world's press will be watching on Monday to see actually how quiet it is. Most cease-fires generally don't happen necessarily on the zero hour, but it's usually in effect soon thereafter, right?

Yes. I think what happens exactly at one a.m. (EST) is less important and less interesting than how this transition works. The UN peacekeeping chief said last week it would take at best months for him to deploy a sizeable peacekeeping force along the lines that have been agreed to. Right now there are just under 2,000 troops that are part of UNIFIL, and they've really been operating in a humanitarian role, not in any kind of enforcement role. The French have the capability to deploy quickly. The other countries I've seen willing to commit forces were the Italians, who also have a rapid deployment capability, and New Zealand, which also has capable forces but not with the kind of experience the other forces have. But it is hard to see reaching 15,000 troops very quickly unless the French decide they're going to provide the lion's share of the troops.

There's no sign that Germany or other NATO countries besides Italy are going to send in troops, is there?

Well it's still early. Germany has a role in Afghanistan as does NATO, which is in the lead now in Afghanistan, and this is a really difficult and unappealing mission. The French and the Italians have political reasons to do this. The French have internal reasons [dealing with its Muslim population] as well as reinforcing its perception of a leadership role in resolving the crisis. And the Italians are looking to balance out the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq that coincided with the change of government there.

On the question of internal politics, I suspect this is going to lead to a big storm in Israel over what many observers there are already calling a defeat for the Israelis. On Sunday there were more than two hundred rockets fired into Israel. And in the Arab world, Hezbollah has gotten a lot of support for its action. On the other hand, they did it without any real warning to the other Arab states, so I don't know how that's going to play out. Do you have any thoughts on that?

First of all, the problem is that a military solution, absent a protracted war of major proportions, is not possible, and it's not clear that war with a major protracted occupation could solve the problem either. It didn't work for the Israelis before 2000, when they withdrew their forces from Lebanon, and there's no reason to think it would work now. So if the criticism is that Olmert didn't achieve the military objectives he wanted, it's not clear what would have achieved those military objectives. It's an extremely difficult political problem, and military options, including the deployment of a stabilization force, can be a part of the political solution, but they're not the answer to the problem.

In terms of Hezbollah, obviously it is much more popular than it was. But it also has to be eye-opening that the French and the Americans agreed on a resolution that took Israeli security concerns very seriously and did not require Israel to get out immediately. That will send an important message, at least to Arab governments if not to the street, that there is a lot of concern about terrorist activity and that it's not just the United States that has that concern.

What do you think the chances of the cease-fire working are?

The problem with this force is not how robust it is, but that a military solution is not going to address this problem. The military problems include the fact that there is a very odd command structure. It's going to have Lebanese forces operating side by side with UN forces. That is complicated. And then you have a UN force which is operating technically under Chapter Six [of the UN charter] rules, which means essentially a noncoercive force, so there are real questions about whether this force will have the authority to shoot. Then you have the whole question of securing the border. There are a couple of places in the resolution where there is first a request that the government of Lebanon take steps to secure its borders and prevent the rearming of Hezbollah or others, and second a call on other nations not to provide arms that are not authorized by the Lebanese government. But enforcing this point will be extremely difficult. And this just reinforces the point that what is going to be needed are regional buy-ins, and getting that is going to be really difficult and is going to require long and sustained and difficult critical work with regimes the United States doesn't like to deal with.

Do you think the United States should be more diplomatically involved with Syria on this?

In the past it was absolutely necessary, and going forward, it's absolutely going to have to find a way to deal with Syria because if Syria does not support this, you will have questions about the rearmament of Hezbollah. And you can't secure the border without the acquiescence of the Syrians.

And what about the Iranians, who many people blame for starting this?

There are a lot of different ways you could deal with the Iranians if the United States doesn't want to deal directly with them. But they've got to be brought into the process somehow or other, if only to be sternly warned. They need to be communicated with, so they understand where the red lines are and what the consequences are.

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