Ground Ops to Continue

The UN cease-fire resolution currently looks like an undated check: All the parties have received it and recognize its nominal value, but its redemption date, as well as the currency in which it will be paid, are still unclear.

That is why the Lebanese government, which met yesterday to discuss the resolution, adjourned with no decision: A dispute erupted between Hezbollah's representatives and the cabinet majority over Hezbollah's disarmament. The issue is not the movement's complete disarmament at some time in the future, but rather its immediate disarmament south of the Litani River, as called for in the cease-fire that is due to take effect this morning.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's position is clear: He will comply with that element of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 only after the Israel Defense Forces withdraws from south Lebanon and the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL take its place. Until then, he is willing to accept only the 1996 Operation Grapes of Wrath understandings, under which both sides will keep fighting, but will not target each other's civilians. In other words, Hezbollah will not fire rockets at Israel if Israel does not bomb Lebanon, but the ground war in south Lebanon will continue - and if Israel's bombing continues, so will Hezbollah's Katyushas.

In Hezbollah's view, there is no point in discussing disarmament now, because it believes it currently has the only force capable of expelling the IDF and protecting Lebanon's citizens. And the Lebanese government has trouble rejecting this view, because it knows that its army cannot deploy until the fighting stops. Otherwise, it is likely to become embroiled in a fight with the IDF itself. Therefore, the cabinet decided to defer discussion of Hezbollah's disarmament until it becomes clear how the cease-fire takes shape on the ground.

Both Hezbollah and the government know that the political battle over this issue will determine the status of both bodies: Will the government indeed be the only entity capable of using armed force in south Lebanon, and will its authority henceforth extend throughout the country - or will it continue to be threatened by an armed Hezbollah?

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora understands that at present, there is no force, domestic or foreign, capable of disarming the Shi'ite organization. Therefore, he needs political support - including from those who have previously backed Hezbollah - in order to make the group disarm.

There are various scenarios for obtaining such support, including a deal with Syria and/or the Syrian-backed Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, or granting Hezbollah control either over important ministries or over the reconstruction funds that Lebanon is expected to receive. Each of these, of course, carries a high price tag for Siniora, but when disarming Hezbollah is the highest priority, the price is secondary.

However, time is also critical - because the longer Hezbollah retains its weapons, the harder it will be to disarm it. Therefore, it is vital that the IDF leave Lebanon quickly. The fate of Resolution 1701 depends on it.