The Lebanese Proposal / Salvation Army

The proposal that the Lebanese Army be deployed in southern Lebanon has given rise, with a great deal of justification, to the question of whether this small army of some 61,000 soldiers is up to the task and whether Hezbollah will allow it to serve a policing function.

The answer lies in the realm of Lebanon's domestic politics, rather than the strictly military sphere. The speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, both of whom had vehemently rebuffed the French-American proposal, came to recognize that they could not reject the idea of stationing the Lebanese Army along the border if they didn't want to see a powerful multinational force in Lebanon. This is especially true when the move relies on the agreement of the nation, as per the Taif Accords of 1989.

Nasrallah - who, like Syria, rejected for years the deployment of the Lebanese Army along the southern border - did not want to be seen as the one pressured into suddenly implementing UN Security Councuil Resolution 1559, which demands such a deployment, or the 1949 Lebanese-Israeli cease-fire agreement, which he sees as a deal for surrender. The Taif Accords, then, are the safe haven, which is why Beri and the other Lebanese government officials have agreed to deploy troops in the south after an Israeli withdrawal.

The problem with the resolution is that it is not clear what the army's mandate will be, as it is subject to the orders of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, as well as army chief Michel Suleiman, who is known to have good relations with Syria. In the foreseeable future, at least, the army will not demand that Hezbollah disarm, nor will it collect weapons from Lebanese who acted for Hezbollah.

But will the Lebanese army be able to prevent the rearmament of the "Hezbollah villages" in the south of the country? Will the army be allowed to fire at Israel Defense Forces planes if and when they continue aerial sorties in Lebanese airspace?

The assumption at the moment is that the Lebanese Army will operate in accordance with the mandate governing the UN force, which will be bolstered ahead of the Israeli withdrawal. This mandate is the subject of a dispute at the UN. All the parties involved recognize that any attempt to rehabilitate Hezbollah's military force will result in a harsh Israeli reprisal.

The Shaba Farms pose an obstacle, since Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is now saying that the army will not be able to deploy in southern Lebanon unless Israel withdraws from Shaba Farms. Siniora has been informed that Israel will not agree to link a withdrawal from the area to a cease-fire package.

Siniora needs the Shaba Farms so that he can show he has accomplished something in the war, appease Hezbollah and take away from the Syrians one of the cards they have been using to influence politics in Lebanon, thereby strengthening the ability of his government to face Hezbollah.