It has been argued that wars create opportunities for security and political changes. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 proved this saying in the negative sense. In fact, Lebanon was plunged into a period of chaos that was later exploited by Syria, which gained full control over the country for over two decades.
After the Syrian withdrawal in 2005 the situation in Lebanon changed dramatically, providing hope that the country would be able to regain its sovereignty and deploy its armed forces along its international borders. The July-August war of 2006 created a strong will among the Lebanese population and the government to replace the paradigm of violence with one of political and security dialogue, and to achieve a permanent ceasefire with Israel. Hezbollah, too, gave its consent to this. Actually, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 offers a great opportunity for achieving a truce. But the final outcome still depends on the will of the parties to consolidate the current ceasefire into a more stable security management process. For the past six months, the Lebanese authorities and the United Nations have successfully deployed thousands of Lebanese soldiers and UN troops to the area south of the Litani River, all the way to the Shebaa Farms.
The international community has also committed a naval task force to control the Lebanese shores, and Lebanese army troops have deployed all along the border with Syria to stop any potential attempts to rearm Hezbollah. Both the Lebanese Army and UN forces have accomplished their tasks with great efficacy. Israel, on the other hand, has not been fully cooperative with the UN forces in implementing Resolution 1701; the Israeli withdrawal on the ground was slow and incomplete in the Ghajar sector, and its violations of Lebanon’s airspace have not ceased. Indeed, the Seniora government demonstrated its determination from the beginning of the summer hostilities to come forward with a plan to achieve not only a ceasefire but also permanent arrangements. These reflected its commitment to regaining full control in South Lebanon and establishing a secure zone all along the international border with Israel.
The government’s will was evident in Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s seven-point plan: to achieve an immediate and complete ceasefire and invite the United Nations, in cooperation with Israel, to undertake the necessary measures to revive the Armistice Agreement signed in 1949. The seven-point plan reflected the Lebanese government’s willingness to adhere to the provisions of the Armistice Agreement as well as to explore the possibility of amending it to include the new security management system provided by the deployment of the Lebanese army and the UNIFIL forces in accordance with the provisions of Resolution 1701. By calling for adherence to the Armistice Agreement, the Lebanese government committed itself to respond to all Israeli security needs as defined by Article III, paragraph two of the agreement, which states: “[N]o element of the land, sea or air military or paramilitary forces, including non-regular forces, shall commit any warlike or hostile act against the military or paramilitary forces of the other Party, or against civilians in territory under the control of that Party; or shall advance beyond or pass over for any purpose whatsoever the Armistice Demarcation Line set forth in Article V of this Agreement. The maintenance of these provisions, in addition to the vast military deployment in the South and the establishment of the mixed Armistice Commission (Article VII of the Armistice Agreement), would provide northern Israel with security arrangements as effective as the ones provided by the separation agreement with Syria on the Golan Heights. With respect to successful security arrangements, it is essential that Israel’s government collaborate and coordinate with the UN secretary general to bring about the necessary amendment and implementation of the Armistice Agreement.
Although the present arrangements with Hezbollah allow confiscation of larger and more sophisticated weapons found south of the Litani, the current tacit agreement between Hezbollah and the Lebanese authorities is unsustainable in the long term. Most importantly, the opportunity exists to deal effectively with Hezbollah and implement a systematic, phased disarmament process. The disarmament of Hezbollah has now become a central issue in Lebanese politics and the Lebanese national debate. The current crisis between Hezbollah and the Siniora government is one aspect of the government’s drive to control Hezbollah and its allies.
The government will most likely succeed in containing Hezbollah’s movements on the streets of Beirut, thereby enhancing the government’s move to consolidate its authority and to attain a stable and peaceful future. The Israelis, for their part, can play a constructive role by allowing the Lebanese government to exercise its sovereignty in the South and by collaborating with the international community regarding the amendment and implementation of the Armistice Agreement. Israel and the international community should not push too far or too quickly to disarm Hezbollah, as such a move would exacerbate sectarian tensions in Lebanon and would ultimately be counter-productive. The final article of Resolution 1701 stresses the need to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Indeed, renewing the peace process would constitute a leap forward toward consolidating the achievement of peace in South Lebanon. Israel should make a concerted effort to reopen peace negotiations, not only on the Palestinian track, but also with both Lebanon and Syria.
Six months after the war, it is legitimate to ask Israel to address the challenge of achieving a lasting peace.
Nizar Abdel-Kader is a political analyst and columnist at Ad-Diyar newspaper in Beirut and a member of the board of editors of Lebanese Defense Magazine. This commentary first appeared at bitterlemons-international.org, an online newsletter.