by Shlomo Avineri*
Today’s crisis in Lebanon is a crisis of the Lebanese
state. It is this structural crisis that must be addressed if the violence is to
When Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, the international
understanding was that the Lebanese government would re-assert its authority in
the evacuated area. Hezbollah, which led the armed struggle against Israeli
occupation, was to disarm and re-invent itself as a political force,
representing the Shiite community that was historically marginalized by
Lebanon’s ruling Maronite, Sunni, and Druze elites.
None of this happened. Instead of deploying its forces in southern Lebanon, the
weak government in Beirut acquiesced in Hezbollah’s determination to turn the
area into a staging ground for attacks against Israel. Over the last six years,
Hezbollah established a virtual state-within-a-state: its militia became the
only military force in southern Lebanon, setting up outposts along the frontier
with Israel, sometimes only a few meters away from the border. Occasionally,
Hezbollah shelled Israel, and its leader, Hassan Nassrallah, continued his
blood-curdling invective, not only against Israel and Zionism, but against all
UN Security Council resolution 1559, which explicitly called for the disarming
of all militias and the reassertion of Lebanese government authority in the
south, went unheeded. After the much-heralded “Cedar Revolution” of 2005,
Hezbollah even joined the Lebanese government, while at the same time
maintaining its armed militia and control of the south.
Israel, for its part, still reeling from the trauma of its ill-begotten war in
Lebanon in 1982, chose not to respond to Hezbollah’s attacks and hoped that the
attacks would not escalate. Yet such absurd situations tend to explode, as
occurred with Hezbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers within Israeli
The continued existence of Hezbollah’s illegitimate state-within-a-state can no
longer be tolerated. Yet Lebanon itself is too weak to assert its sovereignty.
On the other hand, Israel will not allow Hezbollah to re-establish itself along
its border, or to maintain its missile capability.
To achieve any reassertion of effective Lebanese sovereignty in southern
Lebanon, a robust international effort is needed, beyond the current hand
wringing and rhetoric. The main elements of such an international solution are
- Hezbollah is to free immediately, and without
conditions, the two Israeli solders;
- Israel is to stop its military activities in Lebanon;
- Lebanon’s government is to ask for international
assistance in implementing resolution 1559;
- For this purpose, a robust and adequately armed
international implementation force is to be established.
To succeed, this force must act very differently from
the UN’s previous failed efforts in Lebanon. The existing UN force in southern
Lebanon, UNIFIL, is a sad joke. Like the UN presence in Srebrenica during the
Bosnian war, UNIFIL has given the UN a bad name: it never stopped terrorists
from attacking Israel, nor did it stop the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
What is needed is a military delegation that has a clear
mandate to use force. It should be international, with the UN’s blessing, but it
should not be a UN force. It could be based on NATO capabilities, with a strong
European ingredient. To add legitimacy for its delicate mission within an Arab
country, soldiers from Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Pakistan, should be
The mission of such a force should be to help deploy – by force, if necessary –
the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon, to participate in disarming Hezbollah,
and to patrol the Israeli-Lebanese border, ensuring that no incursions take
place from either side.
Last but not least: it is not widely known that one anomaly of Lebanon’s status
until this very day is that Syria has not fully recognized its existence as a
sovereign nation (in Syrian school textbooks, Lebanon figures as part of Greater
Syria). Consequently, there are no normal diplomatic relations between the two
countries – no Syrian embassy in Beirut and no Lebanese embassy in Damascus.
This is absurd and dangerous, and the hapless Arab League has never truly
addressed it. To bolster Lebanese independence and security, and in line with UN
resolution 1559, which brought about the withdrawal of Syrian forces from
Lebanon, Syria should be pushed to recognize Lebanon’s sovereignty and
Hezbollah’s existence as a mini-state in southern Lebanon is a flagrant
violation of Lebanese sovereignty. That vacuum of legitimate authority created
the present crisis, and it must be extirpated. Lebanon itself cannot establish
its sovereignty in the country’s south, and Israeli military force is incapable
of doing it. Empty words from St. Petersburg, Brussels, or UN headquarters will
not suffice, nor will a mere ceasefire, as that would simply return the area to
Instead, fundamental change is needed. Only an effective military force, with
international legitimacy, can supply it. Otherwise, we are all condemned to the
continuation of the present cycles of violence.
*Shlomo Avineri, a former Director-General of Israel’s Foreign
Ministry, is Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.