For Israel, Patience is No Virtue

By: Greg C. Reeson

It has been a full three months since United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, passed in early August, was unanimously agreed upon as a mechanism for ending the Israel – Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon. Key provisions of the cease-fire deal included the immediate cessation of hostilities, an increase in the size of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the unconditional release of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on July 12, and the phased withdrawal of the IDF in parallel with the deployment of the Lebanese Army and the beefed-up UNIFIL contingent in southern Lebanon.

So, just what has been accomplished these last ninety days?

To begin, direct combat between Israel and Hezbollah has come to a halt, although there have been reports of minor engagements near the U.N.’s blue line, beginning almost immediately following the cease-fire agreement. Tensions remain extremely high, though, as strong evidence surfaces that Hezbollah is being rearmed and re-supplied by Syria and Iran, and as Israeli aircraft continue to fly combat air patrols over Beirut and Hezbollah strongholds. Such provocative actions by both sides make an already fragile agreement even more tenuous.

The mandated increase in the size of UNIFIL, which was first deployed to Lebanon in 1978, has not materialized as expected, with less than 8,000 peacekeepers on the ground as of November 1st. The cease-fire resolution called for a force of 15,000 to be deployed in southern Lebanon, leaving the current grouping of forces from some dozen or so countries woefully under strength. A hollow-force of 8,000 will find it extremely difficult to maintain control of Hezbollah guerrillas determined to bring about the destruction of the Israeli state.

The two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Edad Regev, who were to be “unconditionally” released as part of the cease-fire agreement, have still not been returned to the Israeli military. Their whereabouts, and their physical condition, remain unknown. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said October 31st that “serious negotiations” were underway to secure the release of the two soldiers. Negotiations were not part of the U.N. demands and the continued detention of the soldiers is a violation of the cease-fire deal.

Finally, Israeli military forces have pulled completely out of Lebanon, with the exception of one outpost position at Ghajar, near the Israeli border. This withdrawal was conducted without the simultaneous and parallel deployment of Lebanese and UNIFIL soldiers, as called for in the Security Council resolution. The Israelis put their trust in the United Nations, and the United Nations has not delivered.

So Israel has complied with the demands of the cease-fire agreement by halting offensive operations and withdrawing from Lebanese territory. In return, the Lebanese Army has only partially deployed to the south of the country with under strength UNIFIL forces lacking a real mandate. The captured Israeli soldiers are still being held and the Israeli government has suffered serious political damage at home.

One has to wonder how long Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will continue to exercise patience and restraint. His personal conditions for a cease-fire (release of the soldiers, elimination of the Hezbollah rocket threat, and the destruction of Hezbollah as a military force) have not been met and rumors are circulating in Israel and around the world about the inevitable collapse of his government.

Within Israel, time and tolerance must be running out. Nearly four months after hostilities began there has been no measurable progress on key demands contained in the Security Council Resolution. Israel bowed to international pressure only to see its efforts go unmatched by Lebanon, Hezbollah, and the United Nations. So far, Prime Minister Olmert has exercised considerable patience as he has maneuvered politically at home to shore up his government. But patience has thus far proven to be no virtue for Olmert and Israel. Sooner or later, something will have to give.

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