A Test for the UN

(November 27, 2000) - Yesterday's explosion that killed St.-Sgt. Halil Taher and wounded two other soldiers almost a kilometer inside Israeli territory was not just an attack on Israel, but a challenge to the United Nations. UN Security Council members should be told that they can forget about sending an international force to separate Israelis and Palestinians if the UN-drawn "blue line" becomes another symbol of UN impotence and anti-Israel bias.

Yesterday, the cabinet correctly decided to lodge a formal complaint with the Security Council and to place the blame for Hizbullah's attack squarely on Lebanon's doorstep. Though Israel complaining to the UN might be thought to be as effective as talking to a wall, the Lebanese case was supposed to be different.

In the case of the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, Israel worked with the UN hand in glove to implement a resolution that was initially considered a typical lopsided action against Israel. Security Council Resolution 425, after all, was a paean to the "territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of Lebanon" that ignored the incessant terrorism that precipitated Israel's action.

Now the tables are turned. Israel has fulfilled Resolution 425 to the letter, having spent millions of dollars to move bases and construct a border along the line that UN surveyors proclaimed is the proper separation line. The line, all sides agree, is not a permanent border, since a border must be negotiated between Lebanon and Israel as part of an eventual peace agreement. But in international legal terms, it is now Israel's "territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence" that is being brazenly violated.

In a future negotiation, Israel might well press its claims for a slightly different border, just as the peace treaty with Jordan produced a slightly different border than the cease-fire line that existed along the Jordan River. But Hizbullah, with Lebanese and Syrian backing, has unilaterally decided not to recognize the UN's blue line and to press its claims by force.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy to Lebanon, Rolf Knutsson, seems to understand the implications of the UN not rising to the challenge of standing by the line it has drawn. In response to a similar, less deadly Hizbullah attack 11 days ago, Knutsson stated, "Such breaches of international peace and security in the south threaten to ignite a new spiral of violence with tragic consequences for the civilian population still trying to rebuild their lives after many years of occupation." Israel has lodged dozens of complaints with UNIFIL since completing its withdrawal. In structural terms, the most significant gap in implementation of Resolution 425 is the Lebanese government's continued refusal to deploy along its southern border, allowing Hizbullah to exercise de facto control.

Now, as Knutsson warns, the UN must choose between taking its own actions and resolutions seriously and forcing Israel to, once again, defend itself militarily. There can be no guarantees that Lebanon and Syria will implement a Security Council resolution condemning their support for aggression against Israel and demanding that Israel's territorial integrity be respected. Absent such a resolution, however, Israel would have to be somewhat masochistic to even consider further international involvement in the current crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Having invested so much in an attempt to take the UN seriously, Israel should not retaliate massively for the recent attacks from Lebanon before giving the UN a chance to act. All parties should understand, however, that once Israel is forced to retaliate, it would make no sense to do so primarily against Hizbullah.

Hizbullah is attacking Israel partly for its own reasons, related to internal Lebanese politics, and partly at the behest of its sponsors, Syria and Iran. As far as Israel is concerned, however, responsibility for the attacks lies with the Lebanese government for allowing its territory to be used to attack Israel, and with Syria because of its controlling power over the Lebanese government.

It should be no mystery by now how Israel will be forced to defend itself if the UN does not act as if Israeli sovereignty is worthy of defending. It would be a shame if Israel's experiment of putting faith in the UN failed, not just for Israel, but for the United Nations and the people of Lebanon as well.

© 2000 Jerusalem Post

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