Several key pieces of the Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire puzzle need more ink and air play than they're receiving.
First among them is the somewhat blurry line between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah. Thanks to the spread of democracy, Hezbollah has a healthy share of Lebanon's parliament, including two seats in the cabinet. The forces presently fighting the Israelis are often referred to as the "militant arm" of the organization, but don't kid yourself into thinking that the guys with guns and the guys in parliament are two completely different outfits that just happen to have the same name.
So when we talk about removing Hezbollah from southern Lebanon and establishing government control of the entire country, what are we really talking about? And was it any real surprise that parliament speaker Nabih Berri, Hezbollah's de facto negotiator, rejected the U.S.-French cease-fire resolution on Sunday? And is there any reason to think he'll accept a resolution that doesn't favor Hezbollah?
War is Peace is War is Peace…
General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, outlined another odd shaped piece of the puzzle in his testimony before Congress on Thursday. (Abizaid's area of responsibility encompasses Israel and Lebanon as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Abizaid told Congress he believes the Lebanese government can extend control over the entire country with, among other things, the help of an international peacekeeping force operating under "robust rules of engagement," which he described as the force commander's ability to have "capabilities that are just not minor, small arms, but would include all arms."
"Rules of engagement" is a somewhat murky concept, but it isn't really so much about what kinds of arms a force can use. It's about what the force can use those arms to accomplish. And "robust" rules of engagement don't generally apply to self-defense. They apply to offensive operations. If Abizaid's proposed international peacekeeping force has authority to conduct offensive operations, against whom will they conduct them? Hezbollah? If that's the case, the international force will be taking a side, and that sort of thing isn't a peacekeeping operation. It's a "peace enforcement" operation, which is a military art euphemism for "fighting a war."
Under whose authority would Abizaid's force operate? The Lebanese government, whose parliament speaker is a member of Hezbollah? It's not unreasonable to expect that the Lebanese government would be more inclined to sic the international force on the Israelis than on Hezbollah.
If the international force doesn't operate under authority of the Lebanese government, to whom will it answer? Most likely, it will operate one of those convoluted UN sanctioned multi-national command and control maze-like wire diagrams that lead to the ultimate authority of a U.S. four-star in charge of a unified command, which in this case would be Abizaid himself. How would that play with the Hezbollah influenced Lebanese parliament and the rest of the Muslim world? Abizaid led military operations in the Middle East aren't exactly the toast of the Islamic town as things stand already.
Stand Up Stand Down II
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have reportedly agreed on a program to help equip and train the Lebanese army. State has asked Congress to add $10 million to the $1.5 million in annual military aid it already gives to Lebanon.
In other words, Condi and Uncle Don want to beef up a military that's already, in theory, under control of the Hezbollah-centric Lebanese government. And the guy ultimately in charge of the project--Abizaid--is the same guy who presided over the "stand up, stand down" debacle in Iraq.
As a career naval officer, I had a fair amount of damage control training. I'm no expert at fire fighting, but I know that you don't try to put out a conflagration by smothering it with dry wood, or cooling it off with kerosene, or blowing it out with a fan.
And yet, those are precisely the kinds of measures the Bush administration is applying to the Israel-Hezbollah crisis, and to the Middle East situation in general.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.