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The abundance of declarations by government officials, first and foremost among them Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in favor of bring an international force into Lebanon, may signal the politicians' distress. For years, visisting statesmen and foreign diplomats were used to having their Foreign Ministry colleagues cut them off with the words "Lebanon" and "UNIFIL" before they even finished utterning the words "international force."

True, this time the talk is of "something completely different" - not an observer force engaged primarily in protecting itself, but rather an armed international force with widespread authority. But even the top brass of the international forces in the region knows that Israel has good reason to be traumatized by anything that reeks of foreign soldiers across the hot northern border.

A senior officer in one of the international forces related that on a visit to southern Lebanon, he discovered that a new Hezbollah facility shared a wall with the local UNIFIL base. It is a shame, he says, to have to lose more human lives until the opponents kindly agree to invite a third party and agree on its mandate. It is also a pity to waste precious time on reaching an international consensus in the United Nations Security Council on a resolution to compel Lebanon to accept an armed force that will disarm Hezbollah. Instead of that, he proposes the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, invite representatives of the Quartet to help him implement Security Council Resolution 1559 and assist in rebuilding the ruins. This force would be at the disposal of the Lebanese army and under its command. Removing Israel and its patron, the United States, from the equation will make it easier for Hezbollah and Syria to digest the deal.

Rarely armed

Peacekeeping forces in the world have been around as long as the State of Israel has. The first UN observer force, UNTSO (the United Nations Truce Supervision Observer Force) was established after the War of Independence in order to supervise the cease-fire. As part of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the parties agreed to the deployment of a multinational force under American command in the Sinai Peninsula. Thus far, Israel has been for the most part satisfied with its functioning. These forces do not carry weapons and are permitted to use force only for self-defense.

Only after the end of the Cold War was there a significant change in the nature of peacekeeping missions around the world. "The second generation" of peacekeeping forces (1988-1998) included 35 missions, most of them involving internal conflicts and human rights issues in Somalia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Yugoslavia. The forces did not engage in fighting and are not set up or funded to do that.

Dr. Efrat Elron, an organizational psychologist from the Hebrew University and Tel Hai Academic College, who is researching the UN multinational peacekeeping forces, explains that even though a UN mandate enables military enforcement operations under section 42 of chapter seven, it is fully exercised only on rare occasions. This is due to the perception of the UN's role in conflicts as well as the limited capabilities and political considerations of the participating armies. Such missions were not led by the UN, but were approved by the Security Council.

Dr. Liora Sion, who researched the Dutch NATO forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, notes that in recent years, many countries have embarked on peace missions under the command of the UN or as part of a coalition or alliance among several countries. They did so with or without a mandate from the UN, with or without the consent of the countries or organizations involved in the conflict. Peacekeeping missions have expanded from maintaining order to defending refugees and protected areas, to disarming armies engaged in conflict, and removing mines, training police forces and supervising democratic elections. According to the modern approach, a peacekeeping mission requires not only full implementation of agreements to end the conflict between the parties. Success is dependent on economic rehabilitation, proper functioning of the justice system, the government and the education network as well as resolution of refugees' problems.

Elron and Sion agree that the formation of a force to maintain peace in south Lebanon is dependent on an agreement between Israel and Lebanon, the stated consent of Hezbollah and the support of Syria and Iran. According to them, missions where the UN enters an area of conflict without the consent of the parties is destined to resounding failure. This requires Israel and Hezbollah to make substantial concessions and the Lebanese government to be willing to take steps to thwart operations against Israel from its territory. "It is necessary to have a mandate that is as precise as possible," say the researchers. "It must be ascertained that responsibility for resolving the conflict will not be imposed on the peacekeeping force, so long as there has been no guarantee of cooperation from the parties involved and assurances provided for the safety of the peacekeeping forces by the parties in conflict."

According to them, in order for the force to succeed in carrying out its mission, it is not enough to have soldiers and military equipment. The mandate must be backed up with economic resources, manpower and sufficient military capabilities. Therefore, it must gain full political support from the Security Council and support, at least partial, from the regional players involved in the conflict, which in the present case means Syria and Iran.

The UN vs. NATO

Over the last few days, the decisionmakers in Jerusalem have tossed out a number of variations of the international force. One spoke of just a "multinational force," another spoke of NATO force, yet another of a UN force and then there was someone who mentioned a European Union force. As a service to the confused politician, Sion and Elron outline the relevant options:

b A NATO force comprised of soldiers from members of the European Union;

b A UN coalition force specially coordinated for the mission in Lebanon;

b A NATO force acting in conjunction with Third World countries and possibly including forces from Arab and Muslim countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Indonesia, Nigeria (central control and command must be NATO hands);

b And a mixed force of NATO (military) and UN peacekeeping (civilian) forces.

Other regional organizations that could be part of the peacekeeping forces, under the NATO umbrella, are the European Rapid Reaction force that is comprised of European Union members and took part in a peacekeeping mission in Macedonia; SHIRBRIG, a rapid reaction force created in Denmark comprised of 16 countries, including Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Poland, Jordan and Chile. The organization operated on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border and assisted UN forces in Sudan.

The researchers also agree that NATO displays greater willingness than the UN to use military forces. "These are Western forces that for the most part are trained and well-equipped and experienced in working together. The UN does allocate funds for training and equipping its peacekeeping forces, but the units from many Third World countries tend to use this money for other purposes." According to them, the UN's decision-making and control procedures are more complicated than NATO's. So, for example, while the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia did not succeed in preventing the 1994 massacre at Srebrenica, the NATO force that replaced the UN ended the war and led to the Dayton Agreement.

The big disadvantage of NATO lies in its image as a Western force that is not neutral when it comes to anything related to Arab or Muslim countries. The fact that the UN is an international organization, that includes all the world's countries and whose declared objective is to preserve world peace, gives its peacekeeping force greater legitimacy in the Arab world. The UN has also gained more experience in building peace and in managing multi-dimensional missions.