I really, really hope that today’s developments prove my skepticism about the efficacy of Israel’s coercive pressure on Lebanon wrong.
BEIRUT, Lebanon – Hezbollah politicians, while expressing reservations, have joined their critics in the government in agreeing to a peace package that includes strengthening an international force in south Lebanon and disarming the guerrillas, the government said.
The agreement — reached after a heated six-hour Cabinet meeting — was the first time that Hezbollah has signed onto a proposal for ending the crisis that includes the deploying of international forces.
The package falls short of American and Israeli demands in that it calls for an immediate cease-fire before working out details of a force and includes other conditions.
A big caveat. One that raises some significant questions.
First, will a ceasefire disproportionately benefit one side–say, by giving Hezbullah a breather to redeploy?
Second, do the Israeli’s have reason to believe that Hezbollah’s agreement is credible? After all, the agreement calls for them to disarm, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to come up with ways that Hezbollah could scuttle the post-cease-fire negotiations to get out of having to do so. Even if they agree to disarm, one has to have doubts about the UN’s and Lebanese army’s likely effectiveness as monitors and enforcers of the settlement?
But European Union officials said Friday the proposals form a basis for an agreement, increasing the pressure on the United States to call for a cease-fire.
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday they too want an international force dispatched quickly to the Mideast but said any plan to end the fighting — to have a lasting effect — must address long-running regional disputes.
“This is a moment of intense conflict in the Middle East,” Bush said after his meeting with Blair in Washington. “Yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for broader change in the region.”
By signing onto the peace proposals, Hezbollah gave Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora a boost in future negotiations.
Going into Thursday night’s Cabinet session, Hezbollah’s two ministers expressed deep reservations about the force and its mandate, fearing it could turn against their guerrillas.
“Will the international force be a deterrent one and used against who?” officials who attended the Cabinet meeting said in summing up Hezbollah cabinet ministers concerns. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the debate.
This kind of statement should set off alarms. If Hezbollah is, in fact, willing to disarm, then why would they be concerned about the international force being “used against” them?
But afterward, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi announced that the package had been agreed on by consensus in a rare show of unity by a divided administration.
I’m not sure why the consensus agreement should lead us to discount what I just wrote. It is one thing to agree to back the proposal, another to desire to see it actually implemented.
While all sides seemed to be looking for a way to stop the fighting, details of plans taking shape on all sides were still fuzzy. And it was not at all certain Hezbollah would really follow through on the Lebanese government plan that would effectively abolish the militants’ military wing. It may have signed on to the deal convinced that Israel would reject it.
If Hezbollah, as the reporter suggests, might be backing the plan as a public relations move and hoping to reap the rewards when Israel rejects it, should Israel take the bait?
Interestingly, I can’t find any indication of the story right now (10:09 PM, EST) on either the Jerusalem Post’s or Ha’aretz’s website. I know its very early morning, but surely one would expect some sort of report.
Filed as: Lebanon