Forced Agreement Died at Rafah

Influence is not intervention, and those who have amused themselves for decades with the idea of an agreement that will be forced on the Israelis and Arabs will have to shelve it once and for all.

Udi Adam, the GOC Northern Command, speaks French and studied two years at the war college in Paris. In recent weeks these details have become significant. Adam, whose colleagues describe him as a strict officer who is willing to listen, has tightened the discourse with the French General Alain Pellegrini, the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) - "interim" for 28 years.

It is emerging that a positive attitude toward UNIFIL, which was marked out as an enemy by the late Rafael Eitan, the first Israel Defense Forces chief of staff who had to evince restraint at the force's establishment following Operation Litani, can also prove beneficial. Last week UNIFIL helped locate the launchers of the katyushas on Kiryat Shmona. Last month, after the failure of the Hezbollah attack on the IDF dollhouse in the village of Ghajar, Pellegrini played an important role in persuading the Lebanese government to request officially the return of the Hezbollah dead and to change their description from "freedom fighters" to persons killed in a terrorist action.

The appointment as commander of a peacekeeping force is generally just a convenient promotion to general before retirement, but Pellegrini has a suitable background: He was military attache in Beirut, head of the Middle East and Africa department at Military Intelligence and deputy to the French chief of staff for the region. His appointment reflects an up-to-date decision by the French government to implement its active policy in Lebanon, coordinated with U.S. policy, against the Syrian involvement. Since the Israel Defense Forces withdrawal from Lebanon, the size of the UNIFIL force has decreased from 7,500 sluggards to 2,000. Its efficacy is still less trustworthy than that of the Egoz unit, but its character as a slack collaborator of Hezbollah has changed somewhat, because of the new circumstances in the Lebanese arena.

The change in the attitude toward UNIFIL, a joint effort by the Northern Command and the foreign relations division at the General Staff, is another sign of a change in thinking in the IDF. Senior officers are daring to express what until five years ago was considered heretical: Certain aspects of the internationalization of the Israeli-Arab conflict, they are saying, also hold advantages for Israel. Governments, armies and organizations familiar with the region from up close are peeling away the slogans and learning on their own the frustrating reality of Sidon and Jabalya. Even if they still take pity on the miserable and the backward, it can be expected that they will become wise to simplistic solutions.

The freshest example of this is the flight of the European inspectors from the Rafah crossing point. In the defense establishment they predicted even before the crossing point opened, on the order of United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that there would be a show there; they just did not know whether it would be a comedy or a tragedy. The appearance of European supervision evaporated the first time the Palestinian police ran amok; the inspectors lost their marbles and ran away, but kept enough of their wits about them to flee to the IDF base at Kerem Shalom.

The international force in Sinai, to which the crossing point inspectors do not belong, has to some extent changed its pattern of action, for the first time since its establishment in 1982, following the IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip: Now it is also supposed to supervise the Egyptian Border Police force that has deployed to block the Philadelphi Route. Just as for the past two years UNIFIL has been under the influence of France, the only one of the seven participating Asian and European countries that aspires to shape the reality, only American influence matters for the multinational force in Sinai. The director general of the force is acting under the direction of the U.S. Department of State and is appointed from among its pensioners, the Americans provide an essential third of its budget (about $20 million; Israel also pays a similar sum, but most of it returns in local purchases) and the Egyptian border guards are supervised only by civilian observers, a team that consists entirely of former American army personnel.

But influence is not intervention, and those who have amused themselves for decades with the idea of an agreement that will be forced on the Israelis and Arabs will have to shelve it once and for all. Anyone who comes without an invitation will encounter Iraq-style terror attacks, and anyone who is invited will do little, as long as dud Arab regimes in Beirut and Gaza do not impose their authority on the armed organizations in their territories.