Increased risks to UN Soldiers in S. Lebanon if reports of Golan-South-Bekaa offensive pan out; What will come of 1701?
Over these four years of the Syria revolt and conflict, there have been several points where the dynamics of violence and extreme bloodshed within the country threatened regional war and ever widening violence. The most notable of these points is probably the decision by the Obama administration not to open a major confrontation with Syria et al. in September 2013. Thankfully, that point was passed “successfully,” with a major victory for the Americans (and Israelis) seen in the removal of Assad’s strategic WMDs. [This fact, sadly, is a routinely overlooked victory for Obama, although the consequences are far -reaching.]
The push by ISIS through Syria and Iraq – of course – is but one prominent example where the great power and regional state actors have NOT been able to keep the lid on the Pandora’s Box that Syria has become, and the result has increased instability and the threat/likelihood of a far wider conflict/violence.
I would argue that ahead (in order of importance) of this possibility is the increasing prospect that the axis of South Lebanon-Golan-Southern Syria could become the locus of a grinding/expanding series of battles which also have the elements of a far wider, regional war.
If the “reports,” rumors and discussions among different invested actors (of a rebel or a nusrah and/or an ISIS military offensive, perhaps aided and abetted in some way by an Israeli desire to contain/provoke Hizbullah and Iran, from south syria into S. lebanon or via the Masna/Majdal Anjar corridor) do materialize in a more verifiable, concrete way in the coming weeks and months, then what we will all have is an exceedingly dangerous new element added to the four year old syria conflict – one that swiftly rekindles the mostly dormant dynamic of a “final” war between Hizbullah (and therefore to some extent Iran and certainly the wider geography of Lebanon) and Israel (though perhaps this time with less initial backing/support from the US administration).
As but one part of this story – but one with wide geo-political dimensions – unfortunately, after years of relative calm, UNIFIL is basically standing smack in the middle of this gathering storm. UNDOF in the occupied golan already experienced violence, captivity and pull-back, now the questions become:
1) What role will/should/can UNIFIL play in holding back this increasingly possibility? Should it/can it politically play the role that Western intelligence is playing i.e. a Symbiotic relationship with Hizbullah as I wrote here. This means a different interpretation of 1701.
2) Is 1701 still appropriate (if one accepts it in the first place!), should the Syria conflict push into south lebanon? I.e. would not Hizbullah have a different legal stance in such an eventuality, perhaps mitigating or negating some/all of 1701?
3) What can and should be said about the Israeli role, especially by UNIFIL and the UN in general, if – and I stress if – there seems to be a push for a security belt/alliance via the Syria rebels, including Nusrah-Al-Qaeda? What can be said by the UN if a military offensive is launched with Israeli support/aid/coordination? How would this relationship interact with 1701?
4) Doesn’t the destabilization of South Lebanon – linked in this case to the wider spine of instability and conflict that would effectively run the length of the anti-lebanon mountain range – greatly aggravate the dynamics of another conflict between Hizbullah and Israel?
These are difficult questions for the UN and UNIFIL – as well as member states and the combatants involved. Nothing of course is particularly clear as yet, but these weeks seem pivotal.
A final point: At this point doesnt a somewhat reasonable Israeli position hold that Hizbullah can and should be pressured by increasing rebel-isis-nusrah thrusts into and along all of the anti-lebanon mountain range and within the southern syria zone-south lebanon zone in general? Israel could reasonably calculate (though I disagree) that instability in Lebanon may matter to the US and France etc, but the Israelis dont really care or gain via Lebanon’s stability in the new context of the last four years.
As many of us have observed over the years – and as hizbullah has variously acknowledged – the greatest threat to Hizbullah has always been from within – within the sectarian context, within lebanon and then from within the great power deal making of course…. Mapping the Israeli pressure on top of (or in coordination with) sectarian-based military power via ISIS-Nusrah-Rebels could be seen by the Israelis as a reasonable strategy going forward – perhaps even for meeting the often raised Israeli goal of “ending” hizbullah – especially now that the Syrian WMD threat is gone and the Iranian nuclear program is likely delayed/contained etc.
This is a frightening prospect – one that certainly cares little for Lebanon as a whole – and I think it would fail, of course on the moral plane, but also on the strategic plane as well.