After thirty-one days of war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, more than 1,000 dead and a week of haggling between France and the United States, the United Nations Security Council finally approved a cease-fire resolution on Friday.
With visible exasperation, Kofi Annan, beyond American retaliation as his term finishes at the end of this year, told the Council, “my disappointment and sense of frustration are shared by hundreds of millions of people around the world. For weeks now, I and many others have been calling repeatedly for an immediate cessation of hostilities, for the sake of the civilian population on both sides who have suffered such terrible, unnecessary pain and loss. All members of this Council must be aware that its inability to act sooner has badly shaken the world’s faith in its authority and integrity.”
And that that was just frustration over the time it took to get the resolution. An actual cease-fire will take longer. One reason is that acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his American friends want to disguise the unpalatable truth that they have achieved nothing that could not have been done within days of the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, which sparked the conflict.
While the US delegation included the Israelis, the Lebanese surrogate was France, which ironically was one of the major movers of earlier UN resolutions designed to hobble Hezbollah. Israeli actions in Lebanon, however, have created such a constituency for Hezbollah in Lebanon that Paris ended up negotiating on its behalf.
The tie-breaker in the deadlocked negotiations was the Lebanese offer to send in 15,000 troops to match a phased Israeli withdrawal, although Friday’s attack on a refugee convoy under Lebanese Army escort–yet another murderous “accident”–seems designed to show what the Israeli Defense Forces really think of them.
In the same insensitive vein, knowing that an agreement was near in New York, Olmert’s government launched a new offensive on the very day the draft was coming to fruition. Even as he professed support for the resolution, he announced that the offensive would continue until the Cabinet could meet on Sunday to decide whether to call it off. Olmert called Bush early Saturday morning “to thank him for the concern he showed for Israel’s interests in the Security Council.”
The Israeli leader has reason to be grateful for the Bush Administration’s callous and foolish procrastination of a cease-fire in order to give time for Israel to “finish the job” with Hezbollah. However, beyond the ruined infrastructure of Lebanon and hundreds of new graves, it is difficult to see what the Olmert administration achieved. Hezbollah now enjoys immense prestige across the Arab and Muslim world for standing against Israeli arms longer than any of the national armies of the region.
UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown, due with Annan to finish his term at the end of the year, also showed that lame ducks have teeth by drawing attention to the almost irreparable damage that George W. Bush and Tony Blair have done to both American and British diplomatic standing by making themselves subservient to Olmert’s political interests. Bush could have rescued Olmert from his own folly by supporting a cease-fire, but caught up in the same Manichean mindset, encouraged him in his folly. In a concentrated version of Vietnam, the Israeli military almost daily claimed impending victory, declared free-fire zones, and lost the hearts and minds of a nation as it shattered their bodies. And the Katyushas kept coming.