A Ridiculous Idea

Israeli diplomacy has neglected everything that isn't related to Washington and has found itself unable to wield any influence with respect to at least half of the American-French formula.

If there is a general who is entitled to be pleased with the results of the war in the north, his name is Alain Pellegrini. Pellegrini has experienced the reversals of the Middle East in general and of Lebanon in particular in his previous positions as military attache in Beirut and advisor on the region to the French defense minister.

Since 2004, the French general has been the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) - an "interim" that has already gone on for 28 years. A month ago UNIFIL was a scorned and impotent carcass, and Israel Defense Forces officers ridiculed Pellegrini, who has been sitting in his headquarters in Nakoura, near Rosh Hanikra, complaining that in the heat of war, no one pays attention to him and his people. On the French holiday of Bastille Day, on July 14, there was no reason to rejoice.

Only four weeks went by and on Saturday, his 60th birthday, Pellegrini received a fine gift - a miracle of the resurrection of UNIFIL, upgraded to force of 15,000 soldiers that will in effect bypass the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. A millstone has become the force that will prevent the firing of Katyushas on Rosh Pina.

Israeli diplomacy has neglected everything that isn't related to Washington and has found itself unable to wield any influence with respect to at least half of the American-French formula. Had a new international force been established, a different commander would have been appointed for it. In preserving UNIFIL under Pellegrini's command, the French have achieved an important means of leverage. At the same time, Israel is losing an excellent French ambassador, Gerard Araud, perhaps the most talented of the foreign diplomats stationed in the country. In September Araud will be appointed the policy director of the foreign ministry in Paris - third in importance after the foreign minister and the director general.

"You are prisoners of the myth of the Foreign Legion," a smiling French official said over the weekend, upon hearing a question as to whether the legion will send a battalion to UNIFIL. "We have units that are very good and prepared for action - paratroops, marines and more."

These, the Italians and all the rest of the forces are supposed to separate Hezbollah to the north of the Litani River and the Lebanese army to its south. A wonderful idea, but fundamentally ridiculous. It is not tough fighters that will deter the Hezbollah. One of two things will happen: If there will be skirmishes between UNIFIL and the Hezbollah, the countries that have contributed to the foreign force will be hit far from Lebanon, in attacks on their cities or against their airplanes and their citizens. And if Hezbollah decides to ignore and bypass UNIFIL, the foreign legionnaires will be unemployed while Israel is being attacked from the flanks - from the sea, in the territories, with missiles and more abductions along the lines of Elhanan Tennenbaum, far from home.

The great desire to send the Lebanese army southward is very strange. An army is not supposed to operate with its back to the border: Its job is to defend against invasions by the neighbors. Thwarting attacks on them by rebellious relatives is a matter for the police, the gendarmerie, for Lebanon's internal security force. The military forces will turn into weapons storehouses and intelligence agents in the service of the Hezbollah - local branches of Al-Qaida and Palestinian organizations, real or fictive, in the refugee camps of Tyre and Sidon.

Until now UNIFIL has been tantamount to a "unifilter" - a one-sided sieve penetrable by the Hezbollah, impenetrable by Israel. Henceforth it is supposed to provide insulation for the Israeli border area against those who explicitly aim to destroy it and for friends in the government of Lebanon. In terms of routine security, the line of contact was indeed the threshold for abductions and attacks on military positions and civilian locales, but separating Bint Jbail will not impede the strengthening of Hezbollah in Beirut.

A formula that is acceptable to Hassan Nasrallah intrinsically contradicts what should be acceptable to Israel. Similarly, UN forces are effective only when there is no need to prove their effectiveness. The UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights and the multinational force in Sinai are exempt from facing the test, as long as the regimes in Damascus and Cairo do not want war. A weak government, like the one in Beirut, is a recipe for the failure of the double security zone of its army and of a UN force.

The French and the others knew that their bargaining chips vis-a-vis Washington are good ones, because the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has attributed supreme importance to the passing of Resolution 1701, even if the contents and the formulation are flawed. Bush's logical calculation is that the Hezbollah issue is complicating the worst problem of all, the nuclearization of Iran, within the Israeli-Arab dimension.

Therefore it is essential to put out the fire in Lebanon to make room for the Security Council discussion of the Iranian atom, in about two weeks. Then the members will also brandish at the Iranians the model of Israeli and Lebanese obedience to the council's resolutions - and, alternatively, in accordance with developments on the ground, the negative model of the Hezbollah's rebelliousness.

An Iranian challenge to the embargo on arms for the Hezbollah could enter this tangle, in the form of a shipment of missiles, directly or by means of Syria, for example, via a civilian plane. If the Israel Air Force were to down such an aircraft, it would reignite the whole war all over again.