The international community needs to keep its goals in Lebanon modest lest it renew the conflagration that Security Council Resolution 1701 has put a temporary lid on.
Israel/Hizbollah/Lebanon: Avoiding Renewed Conflict, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the fragile stability, but not sustainable peace. Resolution 1701 has held but temptation to overreach could trigger new fighting or a domestic showdown in Lebanon. The greatest threats would be attempts by Israel or UN forces (UNIFIL) to use 1701 as a blunt means to disarm Hizbollah or by Hizbollah to test UNIFIL resolve. 1701 is a transitory tool to stabilise the border until bolder action is taken to reform Lebanon’s political system and build a strong state and to address regional issues like re-launching the Syrian track and engaging Iran.
“The international community must be modest in implementing 1701 for as long as it is not prepared to be ambitious in its regional diplomatic efforts”, says Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group’s Middle East Project Director.
The aftermath of the war triggered by Hizbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers in July produced surprising consensus: an enhanced UN role, an expanded UNIFIL mandate, the Lebanese army’s (LAF) deployment in southern Lebanon and the need to strengthen the state. But it would be wrong to expect too much from 1701. Collective exhaustion produced an ambiguous outcome that nobody whole-heartedly endorsed but all reluctantly accepted.
“1701 cannot resolve underlying Israeli-Lebanese problems”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “It elevates Hizbollah’s armed status to a core international concern but entrusts its resolution to a process incapable of dealing with it and defers the key political step - progress toward an Arab-Israeli peace - that is a precondition for settling it”.
For the sake of stability, achievable, short-term objectives should be pursued:
Hizbollah’s status will have to wait until the international community is prepared to engage in serious Arab-Israeli peacemaking and Lebanon to tackle its internal political order.