Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Conflict in the Middle East is Mission Implausible

The UN troops claim they are in Lebanon to protect the Shia. The Shia think they're there to protect Israel from Hizbollah. Is this because the peacekeepers are really a Nato army in disguise?

By Robert Fisk
The Independent

"But these are incidents, not politics. The reality is that the people of southern Lebanon - Shia Muslims and a few Christians - know very well that the new force is there for Israel's protection, not for theirs. If it was to protect Lebanon as well as Israel, it would be on both sides of the border - in Israel as well as in Lebanon - which it is not. It is, in the words of one Lebanese landowner who stands to profit from the UN's presence, "placed here to do what Israel failed to do during its military operations - to keep the Hizbollah away from the frontier".

So what is Unifil here for? As a symbol of the West's earnest desire, no doubt, to bring "peace" to the Middle East (whatever that means). As an attempt to "defang" Iran by disarming its protégés in the Hizbollah. But it will not do that. "You mustn't have this fixation about asking all the time if Unifil is going to disarm the Hizbollah," Pellegrini snapped at a Lebanese reporter this week.

Hizbollah remains well-armed, south of the Litani river, and, according to its leadership, ready to fight the next war against Israel. Which is why Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah commander, is demanding more seats in the Lebanese government.

And this mission is not beginning well. The Israelis are daily over-flying Lebanon because, they say, they want to know what Unifil is doing to prevent the flow of arms to Hizbollah. The French have asked George Bush to end the flights, but Mr Bush hasn't the political will to do this. So the Lebanese Shias are asking why Unifil does not protect them from the Israeli aircraft which killed so many of their loved ones this summer. But there are other, more dangerous signs for Unifil.

The UN's inquiry into the assassination is slowly disintegrating. The latest judge - a Belgian - is tacking away from the Syrians. Assad is no longer mentioned in UN reports. Is the way being cleared for Syria's assistance to America in Iraq? Does Damascus have enough power over the resistance to US forces in Iraq to make it powerful again in Lebanon? Answer: probably, yes.

And the Hizbollah - here is a fact which will not sit happily with the John Boltons of this world at the UN - are watching every car that drives south of the Litani river. For they know that if a suicide bomber attacks the French, they - the Hizbollah - will be blamed. They will not be to blame. It will be the Sunni Muslim al-Qa'idists to the north who wish to attack Nato. So Hizbollah will be the most powerful defenders of the European armies in southern Lebanon. Now there's something to think about."

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