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UN Force Forming in Lebanon

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
Updated: September 11, 2006

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To the dismay of many Israelis, Tel Aviv lifted its sea-and-air blockade of Lebanon despite not having first secured the release of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in July (Bloomberg). The end of the blockade is expected to help the Lebanese economy recover from the month-long war. It also coincides with the arrival of an international naval presence capable of blocking arms shipments to Hezbollah.

The first elements of a UN peacekeeping force are already arriving. The initial 2,000-strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been bolstered by 1,000 Italian troops and a steady influx of French soldiers (Daily Star). That’s still well short of the 15,000 peacekeepers authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, a troop level that may not be reached until some time next year. As the United Nations finalizes the details of its Lebanon force, it received a major boost when the Turkish parliament recently authorized a deployment (FT) of up to 1,000 soldiers. Turkey is the only Muslim nation with ties to Israel to have pledged support for the peacekeeping mission, though some experts worry about this contingent’s neutrality (JPost). The New Anatolian, a Turkish newspaper, sums up the different pledges by nations contributing to the force, and Lebanon’s Daily Star speculates on the possible roles of the different units.  

Of course, experts say the presence of UN peacekeepers is hardly a guarantee of peace and security. As this Backgrounder recounts, previous multilateral interventions in the region have had little success. But Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN undersecretary for peacekeeping operations, tells TIME this operation will be different and “we are not going to be humiliated anymore.” The UN force will have help from the multiethnic Lebanese army, which is already patrolling much of the country. Speaking in Beirut, British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to help train and equip the Lebanese force. A Backgrounder explains that, historically, such forces can help foster national unity.

The Israeli army is also patrolling southern Lebanon, though perhaps not for much longer. Israeli officials have indicated a withdrawal will take place once the UN force reaches 5,000 troops, which could happen in one or two weeks (Haaretz). One of the reasons Israeli forces have lingered is the concern that in the absence of a robust force, Hezbollah would restock the thousands of rockets it fired at Israel during their month-long war. New munitions could come in across the border with Syria, and Damascus has loudly opposed a troop presence in the area, though the Lebanese army is reportedly running patrols there. On September 9, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi announced Syria had agreed to an international military deployment along its border, but Syrian officials denied the report (JPost). An enhanced troop presence might not make much of a difference: NPR’s Peter Kenyon describes the frontier as “classic smugglers’ terrain.” How to go about disarming Hezbollah is another tricky subject. Writing in the Daily Star, CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon offers some ideas, including a multinational weapons inspection regime that would prevent Hezbollah from having rockets but would allow the group to keep its small arms.

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