Israel’s military response to Hizbullah’s provocations, replete with images of humanitarian catastrophe and pregnant with the risk of wider war, has now ensured that major powers cannot evade another opportunity to repair Lebanon’s broken government.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, unanimously approved last Friday night, moves in the right direction. The resolution imposed a cease-fire, which began on Monday, and facilitates the voluntary withdrawal of Israeli troops from South Lebanon by authorizing a 15,000-strong multinational force to deploy in the area alongside a Lebanese Army contingent of equal size. The multinational force will have robust rules of engagement, by their terms sufficient to enforce peace, and will be responsible for policing transport routes to ensure that Iran and Syria do not rearm Hizbullah. The major powers cannot count on the multinational force to guarantee Israeli quiescence, and the resolution does not establish a clear framework for political negotiation. To stabilize Lebanon, large-scale diplomatic mobilization is required, and key world and regional powers must take the initiative on their own.
The multinational force is not likely to be a reliable deterrent. In 1982-84, a force of roughly 5,000 troops (including 1,800 US Marines) was unable to prevent aggression between Lebanese militias, facilitate the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces, and help restore a stable Lebanese government. Hizbullah suicide truck bombs killing 241 US Marines and 58 French soldiers in October 1983 prompted the withdrawal, within four months, of all foreign forces. Lebanon was left an enfeebled geopolitical pawn of Syria and Israel. At that time, military intervention had to be an order of magnitude larger to be effective. The conditions that imposed that requirement have not significantly changed: The Lebanese armed forces are still weak, Hizbullah is still armed, and Israel remains determined to protect its northern flank.
Steven Simon is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Jonathan Stevenson is a professor of strategic studies at the US Naval War College.