Analysis: Mideast cease-fire not imminent

By JOSHUA BRILLIANT, UPI Israel Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel, July 18 (UPI) -- Israel began considering United Nations' proposals Tuesday on how to end the fighting with Lebanon, but a cease-fire is not imminent.

A U.N. team headed by its secretary-general's special adviser, Vijay Nambiar, presented its ideas to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and then met Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. They came to Jerusalem after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.


The U.N. officials did not detail their ideas. Terje Roed Larsen, who has years of experience as a former senior U.N. envoy to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, told reporters they had presented "concrete ideas."

"We are not at liberty to share with you the ideas... at this point because they will be counter-productive," he said as he left for Olmert's office.

A major issue that will have to be resolved is the return of the three Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping -- one by the Palestinian militant group Hamas and two by Lebanese Hezbollah -- sparked the flare-up.


Olmert and Livni demanded the soldiers' "unconditional release." Amid devastating bombardments in Beirut and elsewhere the prime minister told the U.N. officials Israel "would continue to strike at its targets until the abducted soldiers are returned and until the security of Israeli citizens is assured," an official statement said.

Olmert initially opposed a prisoner swap but in his address to the Knesset, Monday, he seemed to leave the door open for a deal. He said Israel will make "every effort to bring them home... but not in a pattern that will encourage more kidnappings."

This could still mean objection to a swap. However, it could also mean readiness for an arrangement in which Hezbollah would suffer such a crippling setback that it would realize the kidnapping was a terrible mistake. Releasing prisoners as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who wants peace with Israel, could be a way of denying benefits to the Hamas-led government.

Another major issue is the formation of an international force that would move into the area.

Leaders of the Group of Eight industrial states discussed the matter during last weekend's summit in St. Petersburg, issuing a final statement that they would welcome "an examination by the U.N. Security Council of the possibility of an international security/monitoring presence." The British, German and French prime ministers, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly favor deploying an international force in the area.


The Lebanese army is considered to be too weak to cope with the smaller, but more determined, Hezbollah. Israeli analysts believe it needs international support to assert its sovereignty along the border.

Still, its army is much bigger than Hezbollah. According to the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies its ground forces comprise 13 battalions with 60,000 soldiers and the police force has 13,000 men.

Hezbollah has 600 to 800 active members and 3,000 to 5,000 in the reserves. However a senior Israeli officer Sunday indicated the Lebanese army lacked "motivation and mentality," and retired Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said some of the soldiers are believed to sympathize with Hezbollah.

Israel has a mixed experience with international peacekeeping forces. The mission in the Egyptian Sinai and another that separates Israel and Syria on the Golan have a good reputation, but that is partly because the three countries want to keep the agreement and control their territories.

A U.N. mission, UNIFIL, had been deployed in the Sinai until then Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser ordered it out in 1967, prompting it to redeploy on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel where it failed to prevent hostilities. UNIFIL did not stop Hezbollah from erecting border posts right near its positions nor foil the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. U.N. forces on the ground "have a cooperative situation with Hezbollah," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Wednesday. "It is not a model for anything positive," he added.


Brom noted that peacekeepers that do not belong to the United Nations -- such as NATO in the Balkans and the Australians in East Timor -- have been effective.

UNIFIL spokesmen often said their mandate restricted them, which means the future forces mandate would have to be different; Brom advocated the force comprise soldiers of countries who understand they may have to fight and face risks.

Israel has traditionally been wary of international forces, fearing they would not prevent terror attacks against it, but would prevent retaliations.

Livni alluded to that when she said, "If there is a temporary problem, or a need to strengthen the Lebanese army... so that the force that would be in southern Lebanon will be effective and will prevent Hezbollah from returning, we shall consider the options... (but) Israel would want to preserve its ability to react in the future."

"The right thing is to have two states, where each one exercises its sovereignty on its side and if something happens the... other side has the right, and ability, to react," she told reporters.

Observers say Israel finds itself in a better situation than it has been used to in decades: The fighting in Lebanon followed a guerrilla attack across a United Nations' sanctioned international border. It is not another case of fighting a foreign occupier but a provocation, and Israel feels the international community is backing it.


Livni said she frequently talks to foreign ministers "and many of them offer help if needed, be it in mediating, pressuring," she said. The G8 and the European Union's announcements over the past two days "demonstrate that Israel and the international community share a common understanding of the situation and want to achieve the same goals," she noted.

Like the G8, Israel insists on "full implementation" of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 that calls for "disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias," which include Hezbollah. The resolution also supports "the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory;" in other words, also along the border with Israel.

Yet Israel seems to understand it would be difficult to disarm Hezbollah, and cannot be done immediately. Hence Livni talked of "an absolute need to dismantle Hezbollah in the future."

All this means that arranging a cease-fire will take time. On Sunday, Military Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dani Halutz told the Cabinet the army needs more time to weaken Hezbollah and create conditions for a new arrangement.

The continued rocket attacks on Israeli cities, despite devastating Israeli blows, shows the Shiite Islamist movement is not yet on its knees.


How much longer will fighting last then? "Everything can happen," head of the Northern Command Maj. Gen. Udi Adam said. "It could take days and it could take weeks."

Livni noted that "the diplomatic process is not intended to reduce the time available for the (Israel Defense Forces') operations, but as an extension of it in order to avoid the need for additional operations in the future."

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