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Middle East: Analyst Discusses International Reaction

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy arrives in Lebanon on July 21 (epa) PRAGUE, July 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Despite repeated appeals by the Lebanese prime minister, the international community continues to sit on the sidelines -- reluctant or unable -- to intervene in the Israel-Hizballah conflict. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has admitted that an immediate cease-fire probably cannot be achieved. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten spoke with Yossi Mekelberg, an expert on Middle East politics at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), about the motivations of the United States, Europe, and regional Arab states as they watch this conflict.

RFE/RL: At the first sign of conflict in the Mideast, previous U.S. administrations would invariably dispatch envoys to the region for rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Sometimes they were successful in stopping hostilities, sometimes not. This time, the White House is not intervening. Why?

Yossi Mekelberg: The United States sees Syria and Hizballah as responsible for this crisis and they would like Israel -- if not once and for all -- then at least to weaken Hizballah in such a way so that eventually, when there is a cease-fire, when there is an agreement, it will be weak enough for an agreement, which will enable the Lebanese government to exert its authority on a larger part of Lebanon. For now, that doesn't seem to be the case. Hizballah is still determined to keep hitting Israel and this is not a good basis for an agreement, as the Israelis and the Americans see it.

RFE/RL: Major Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan also appear less than enthusiastic about intervening to stop the bloodshed. They have even publicly criticized Shi'ite Hizballah for provoking the conflict. Are the leaders of these Sunni regimes hoping Israel prevails in this confrontation?

Mekelberg: As much as Hizballah is quite a big nuisance for Israel, in the long run, movements like Hizballah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the jihadis in Iraq, are long-term threats for these governments, more than for Israel. So in this sense, at least tacitly, they wouldn't mind seeing Hizballah coming out of this conflict defeated. I'm not saying that it's necessarily possible. But the defeat of Hizballah would also be the defeat of Iran. And neither the Saudis, nor Egypt, nor other regimes [in the region] would regret something like that happening.

RFE/RL: What about Europe? Why has it been seemingly sidelined?

Israeli artillery firing on Lebanon on July 21 (epa)

Mekelberg: Europe, as in any international crisis, never can show a united front and form a common front on security policy. They would like to see, probably more than the others, a quick cease-fire. But even in Europe, [some leaders] and definitely [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair, understand that this crisis was provoked by Hizballah, which has no territorial basis to their claims. And as a result, they also understand that Israel, as a state, has to reassert and reestablish its deterrent vis-a-vis this group. And how long this is going to take -- another week or another two weeks -- is very difficult to know.

RFE/RL: Are you saying, then, that this conflict -- which is claiming mostly civilian lives -- could go on for a long time with world and regional powers simply watching?

Mekelberg: As the casualties mount in Lebanon, it will be difficult for the international community to give a blank check for Israel to continue its operation."

RFE/RL: Achieving a cease-fire will of course depend not only on pressuring Israel but Hizballah, as well. How can this be achieved?

Mekelberg: The Lebanese government is not strong enough. The Lebanese Army is not strong enough. It has to be a combination of international pressure that will go through Iran and Damascus with an international force deployed along the border between Israel and Lebanon and pushing Hizballah fighters over the Litani River -- which is 40 kilometers from the border -- and a verifiable process in which the rockets are dismantled. So it's a complicated agreement in which you have a non-state actor [that] basically defies the central government.

RFE/RL: Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and its subsequent occupation, which was aimed against the PLO, helped spawn Hizballah. Does Israel run the risk of breeding even more Muslim militancy and radicalism through its actions in Lebanon?

Mekelberg: This is always the danger of such an operation, which in the process of trying to achieve certain foreign-policy goals, such as weakening Hizballah -- Israel in an ideal world would like to bring Hizballah to its knees -- mainly kills Lebanese civilians. Innocent lives are lost on a daily basis. This can't be good for the moderate forces in the Middle East and in this sense, it can be another breeding ground for more militancy, more fundamentalism. The mounting casualties might become the recruiting officer for this movement.

UN Peacekeepers

UN Peacekeepers
UN peacekeepers in Haiti in February 2006 (AFP)

MISSION In cases in which international intervention in regional conflicts is deemed necessary, peacekeeping missions authorized by the UN Security Council provide legitimacy by demonstrating the commitment of the international community to address such crises.

MANDATE UN peacekeeping missions are prepared, managed, and directed by the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The unique mandates of peacekeeping missions falls under the authority of the UN's Security Council and General Assembly, and under the command of the UN secretary-general.

MONEY Funding for UN peacekeeping missions is provided by UN member states. All are legally obliged to pay a share under an established formula. The leading financial providers as of 2006 were: the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, China, and the Netherlands.

MORE All UN peacekeeping missions share the goals of alleviating human suffering and creating conditions for self-sustaining peace. Missions can consist of armed or unarmed military components, depending on their mandate, and various civilian tasks.

Military operations can include:
· Deploying to prevent the outbreak of conflict or the spillover of conflict across borders;
· Stabilizing conflict situations after a cease-fire in order to create an environment for the parties to reach a lasting peace agreement;
· Assisting in implementing comprehensive peace agreements;
· Leading states or territories through a transition to stable government, based on democratic principles, good governance, and economic development.

HISTORY There have been 60 peacekeeping operations since 1948. Fifteen peacekeeping missions were in operation in mid-2006, employing more than 60,000 troops, 7,000 police, and over 2,500 military observers. Peacekeeping operations in 2006 were supported by uniformed personnel provided by 109 countries.

(source: UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations)


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