The French response to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah has been characteristic: to condemn Israel’s attempts to defend its borders, and to propose a multi-national force, under the command of the UN, instead. This solution has been adopted. But when it came to offering the necessary troops, France backed off, promising 200 at most, while Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh each offered 1,000 men. The latter are Islamic states which, like Hezbollah, wish to abolish the old Lebanon, with its Christian ascendancy and its belief in the European idea, and which, moreover, refuse to recognize Israel, and concur in the view that it should be wiped from the map. France’s recourse to the UN seemed like another gesture in its long-drawn out suicide, another way of siding with the Islamists against the West.
It was only when Italy pledged to send 3,000 troops, prompting Israel to suggest that the Italian government take the lead in the “impartial” operation of the UN, that Jacques Chirac, the President of France, announced the delivery of approximately 2,000 troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) on condition that a French general become the commander of the UN “peacekeeping force.”
When questioned over the change in foreign policy, President Chirac argued: “I wonder how it would have been judged if I had raced off like a mad dog without securing minimum guarantees.” Eager not to be seen as a mad dog, quiet words from behind the smokescreen of UN diplomatic channels somehow turned Chirac from offering almost nothing to a situation of pledging 2,000 troops.
The British appear to be sending nothing, since all their troops are otherwise engaged in larger brawls. Spain pledged 1,200, Belgium 300-400 and Poland 500. Up to 9,000 troops have been pledged by European nations. Although many commentators have questioned if this predicament has meant that the EU is now beginning to work as an effective multilateral military force, it is more the case that each nation – like Chirac’s old-colonial France, like Blair’s otherwise-engaged Britain, like Prodi’s democratically revised Italy – acted in their own independent and national interests to determine how many troops to send and for what reasons.
Although a ceasefire has been agreed – albeit, un-gentlemanly and with Israeli soldiers still in southern Lebanon – the predictions are that the peace will not last. The promise of a peacekeeping force, at the very least, will be needed to safeguard a thirteen mile territory in southern Lebanon, below the Litani river. At the time of writing, the UN seems bound to provide a strictly peacekeeping operation, refusing to take any part in the disarmament of Hezbollah.
In the midst of the key political debates, some very important concerns have been displaced: firstly, that Israel provides the only sense of reasoned political stability in the region, secondly, that Hezbollah are an illegitimate political force who are difficult to take seriously beyond the concerns of Israel, and thirdly, that the commitment of independent European nations to the Israeli state should have been more definite and forthcoming for long-term peace to be established.
Israel’s immediate acts of “disproportionate violence” have been justified to some degree – it has grown nervous of turning its back on Hezbollah, since when it usually turns its back, it later finds the group murdering Israeli citizens, and it has been equally concerned of placing the trust of real military power in a bureaucratic UN Security Council Resolution 1701 since August 11th, which will not be able to deliver adequate peacekeeping troops for Unifil in a timely manner. The Jewish state is awaiting the full implementation of the Security Council Resolution and until that Resolution is delivered upon, it is right to remain in southern Lebanon, it is right to persist in the air and sea blockade in Lebanon, it is right to pursue aggressive surveillance on the most dishonourable terrorist force plighting its territory. If the Lebanese were truly interested in peace, they would invite the UN to its borders with Iran and Syria – the fact that it has expressed no such interest can only mean that Hezbollah are rearming through open border channels to Iran and Syria. Certainly, Israel’s defence policy does seem shaky and timorous in its actions, but this is a consequence of protecting its frightened citizens. The foremost function of a Western state is the self-protection of its citizens. Israel is therefore fulfilling its most fundamental obligations of the state (and not pursuing an aggressive foreign policy).
The 34-day war began immediately after the abduction of two soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in early July, followed by Hezbollah slaughter of Northern Israeli citizens. Since Israel is already threatened internally by a hotchpotch diversity of Arabs and Palestinians, its obvious reaction was to clear the sinister group from its borders (up beyond the Litani river in Lebanese territory). A group whose remit – overtly or clandestinely – entails the destruction of the Israeli state is not a legitimately acting political entity, but a pillar of populist barbaric militancy. Israel justifiably reacted to its enemy, cradled in the neighbouring Arab states, out of evidence-based and legitimate fears of a persisting ruthless invasion. Europe ought not to have stumbled in supporting the Jewish state’s conduct, nor its negotiation for a peaceful future.