The New UNIFIL / Trouble for Israel

The repeat of the World Cup final - Italy vs. France, this time in the UNIFIL Cup - reflects an updated international attitude to Lebanon: no longer is it a trouble stop from which the West should keep away, but a rare opportunity to shape, reconstruct and influence. The UNIFIL commander, Major General Alain Pellegrini told an Israeli friend last week that he is convinced the new force - some call it NUNIFIL - will succeed in its mission quickly. Pellegrini thinks six months, by which time he will be replaced by an Italian general.

Pellegrini, whose headquarters are in Naqoura, in southern Lebanon, has a colonel in Beirut on his staff. He has also decided to assign two colonels, both Irish, one in Safed at the Northern Command headquarters and the other in Tel Aviv, as liaisons for strategic planning at the General Staff.

However, once again the IDF fell short, and just when coordination with the UN is becoming important, the external relations command has been canceled.

The combination of the Lebanese army and UNIFIL has a chance of stabilizing southern Lebanon, but this will only involve day-to-day operations, not dealing with the root of the problem, as President George W. Bush had promised.

There will be no searches for stocks of Katyusha rockets, the demilitarization of Hezbollah, as is detailed in Security Council Resolution 1701, will not be carried out, but there will be no shooting at Israel. If Hezbollah manages to avoid clashes and take advantage of the time to build up its strength on both sides of the Litani River, it will keep the initiative in its favor. If not, it will have 15,000 targets to choose from.

The makeup of the multinational force means trouble for Israel. The European Union refuses to include Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations. Three Muslim countries from Asia who are willing to join the Europeans in the force are Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, which do not recognize Israel. Such a force will not be keen to confront Hezbollah. In Israel they hope Turkey will be willing to participate in the force.

The original UNIFIL force includes units from France, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Ireland, China and Ghana. The new structure will include Europe on the UN side, and the U.S. on the side of the Lebanese army. The Americans will provide the force with logistical support, command and control, communications and intelligence.

Bush, who considers Lebanon to be one of the three fronts in the global war against terror (Iraq and Afghanistan being the other two), has committed $42 million for equiping and training the Lebanese army.

Following talks on Friday, the Italians won out with their contribution of 3,000 soldiers, 1,000 more than France. In return, Italy will get a new assignment - head of military planning at the UN headquarters in New York - and in six months will take over command of UNIFIL.

The nationality of the force commander is less important than its makeup and mandate. The UN secretary general, the Security Council and the states contributing forces to the force, will all affect the day-to-day operations alongside the Lebanese army and Hezbollah; a lot more than official agreements.

In the original UNIFIL, the one set up in 1978, there was an Iranian battalion that rushed to leave following the Khomeini revolution. In UNEF (United Nations Emergency Force), the force in the Sinai between 1956-1967, there were units from India and Yugoslavia, Egypt's colleagues in the non-aligned movement.

Even before UN secretary general U Thant acceded to Nasser's demand that UNEF evacuate its forces, India and Yugoslavia had already done so.