The deployment of the Lebanese Army along the Israeli border has not been completed, the composition of the multinational force is lagging, the military liaison between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government is in preparation and the Lebanese Army's mandates need further clarification. Against this background, the Israel Defense Forces operation near Baalbek yesterday is liable to undermine the stabilization of the cease-fire.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's declaration that it was a significant violation of the cease-fire, coupled with threats by his defense minister Elias Murr to recommend that the government suspend the army's deployment, show how seriously the operation is viewed in Lebanon.
Regarding the Israeli claim that the operation was intended to prevent arms deliveries to Hezbollah, it should be noted that the Bedouin village was the target of an IDF raid on August 14.
Cease-fire violations by Israel, whether ground maneuvers or flights over Lebanon, will be a major issue for Hezbollah and the Lebanese government before the deployment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. They will focus on how to respond and who should do it, but it is obvious that only Hezbollah is capable of responding militarily to the IDF. The Lebanese government, however, is attempting mightily to deprive Hezbollah of any pretext for resorting to force. Hezbollah agreed to Siniora's principle that the Lebanese Army has sole responsibility for defending the state when it consented to refrain from public shows of military prowess in exchange for a suspension of the debate on its disarmament.
These agreements, however, were based on the assumption that the cease-fire would be upheld in full by both parties and that the Lebanese government would respond, at least diplomatically, to any violation on Israel's part. If Israel's violation of the cease-fire were extreme, pressure on the Lebanese government could lead it to collaborate with Hezbollah in a military operation within Lebanon's borders. Hezbollah's successful counter of an IDF raid would, of course, add weight to the organization's argument that it must retain its weapons as long as the Lebanese army is operating as a policing force only.
Israel, the UN and Lebanon must create a liaison committee to prevent a further deterioration in an already delic ate situation.
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