Lebanon’s proposal to deploy 15,000 troops in the south of the country alongside an international force is historic. The Lebanese people have waited 40 years for such a symbolic gesture from their government, and Beirut hopes this will tip the scales in its favour at the UN.
Israel expresses prudent optimism. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said “We will study this, it looks interesting and we will examine it closely and we will take council with other parties that are interested in the situation and who are working towards the resolution of the United Nations and we will make up our mind about it.”
Lebanon’s prime minister Fouad Siniora was near to tears earlier in the week as he spoke to Arab foreign ministers and obtained almost unanimous Arab League support, however Syria remains opposed to the disarming of Hizbollah. The others support the Lebanese troop deployment in the south, even Hizbollah’s two ministers within Prime Minister Siniora’s government. “Two council members representing Hizbollah agreed to it. For us it is very clear. There is an unanimity in the country about giving the Lebanese army a chance to exercise its duty and responsibility,” said Lebanon’s UN special envoy Tarek Mitri.
The Lebanese army is small and weak and in the past its role has been restricted to policing. It must now take control of the entire country and assume full sovereignty. That is the alternative to Israel’s position, supported by America, to keep its army in the country until an international force moves in.
The Franco-American plan is to impose an immediate cessation of hostilities followed by a joint Lebanese-International peacekeeping deployment in the south, after which the Israeli army would withdraw. Lebanon wants the Israelis out immediately, and the French, who until now have been the flagbearers for the Lebanese cause, find themselves in a delicate situation, trying to amend a resolution they co-authored.
French Foreign minister Phillipe Douste-Blazy said: “France is, according to President Chirac’s wishes, a point of stability between the Arab nations – the moderate Arab nations – and Israel and the Americans. Why are we playing this role? Because a strong Lebanese state is needed.”
However a total resolution to the conflict depends on settling the Sheba Farms issue, the French government has pointed out. That is a tiny patch of land on the border between Syria and Lebanon that is occupied by Israel and which Hizbollah cites to justify its armed struggle.