Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Oslo Replay: Hezbollah Trying to Cheat and Keep Arms Caches

During the early days of the Oslo Accords, Israel's leaders such as Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres repeatedly turned a blind eye toward flagrant Palestinian violations of the treaty. The very plane that flew Yassir Arafat from Tunis to Gaza also smuggled in weapons in violation of the Oslo Accords, and Israel knew that. Arafat was making speeches in Arabic to Palestinian audiences, saying that Oslo was only a tactic in the phase-by-phase strategic campaign to destroy Israel, and Israel knew that as well. Not only were these violations ignored, but those critics, such as Benjamin Netanyahu, who called attention to them were labeled "enemies of peace" by the Israeli Labor-Left governing coalition, the Clinton Administration and the Israeli and American media elites.

In the incipient days of the ceasefire under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, a simliar pattern may be developing. According to this report in the Washington Post, under the compromise emerging out of all-day negotiations yesterday between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, "Hezbollah indicated it would be willing to pull back its fighters and weapons in exchange for a promise from the army not to probe too carefully for underground bunkers and weapons caches." This later story from A.P. first quotes the Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, who said "There will be no authority or weapons other than those of the state." However, it also quotes the Hezbollah commander in south Lebanon as hinting that hinted that the guerrillas would not disarm or withdraw but would keep its weapons out of sight. "Hezbollah will have 'no visible military presence,' Sheik Nabil Kaouk told reporters in the southern port city of Tyre."

So we already see how it is going to go down. Hezbollah's fighters wear no uniforms in the first place, and they live in the villages of south Lebanon. They will simply blend back into the local population. The Lebanese army will take over the positions of the Israeli army, which will withdraw, with the secret bunkers and caches of Hezbollah rockets, missiles and other weapons remaining intact. The U.N. international force, if and when it arrives, will certainly not go looking for those weapons, and probably will ignore new shipments from Syria that resupply spent or destroyed armaments. Lebanon and the U.N. will assert that Hezbollah has complied with Resolution 1701.

How the Olmert government and the Bush Administration react to this subterfuge will be a major test of their integrity. The easy path is the one followed by Prime Minister Rabin and President Clinton regarding Oslo, the one followed by all the Israeli Prime Ministers who ignored the buildup of Hezbollah's military power in the south for six years after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. That would be to disregard the violations and leave dealing with Hezbollah to future Israeli and American governments, no doubt at a great cost of money and lives. Then there is the hard choice of insisting on the actual disarmament of Hezbollah, even if it means an immediate return to hostilities. What will be the fateful choice?

UPDATE: This story from the Jerusalem Post may give us an answer as to how the Israeli government will react, and it is certainly not the answer that I had hoped for (although I am not surprised). "Despite the public reappearance of armed Hizbullah gunmen in southern Lebanon, senior IDF officers said Wednesday that Israel would uphold the cease-fire and begin to gradually withdraw its forces ahead of the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south. "


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