Truce is a fragile one

It’s a relief that a cease-fire has taken effect after more than a month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. Despite sporadic clashes, the death and destruction on both sides of the border appear to be over for now.

But the current calm will be short-lived unless responsible members of the international community maintain the collective will to enforce the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution that imposed the cease-fire.

That resolution calls for Lebanon’s army, backed by an expanded United Nations force of up to 15,000, to wrest control from Hezbollah in the southern part of the country. It’s essential that objective be met quickly to preserve the fragile truce and protect civilians in Israel and Lebanon.

Hezbollah has thrived in the power vacuum in southern Lebanon left by the country’s weak government, and with the active support of Iran and Syria. The more that the international community can do to strengthen Lebanon’s government and diminish the influence of Iran and Syria, the less likely that Hezbollah will make a comeback.

Rapidly deploying the expanded United Nations force is a key first step. Ideally, it will give Lebanon’s army the support it needs to reclaim control of the entire country.

But the international community can take other steps to strengthen Lebanon’s government. That includes providing humanitarian relief and reconstruction aid, and stepping up pressure on Iran and Syria not to back Hezbollah or otherwise interfere in Lebanon. Realistically, Syria is more likely to respond to that pressure.

With the guidance and support of the international community, Lebanon could become a new model in the Middle East of a multi-ethnic democracy. Its success could undermine the influence of extremists across the region.

The United States and France moved beyond their bitter dispute over the Iraq war and worked together to craft and win passage for the Security Council’s resolution. That shows what dedicated and energetic diplomacy can achieve.

Hezbollah is now trying to maintain its influence in Lebanon by distributing aid provided by Iran. This is a cynical exercise, given that Hezbollah’s practice of stationing fighters and weapons in civilian areas intensified the destruction and suffering in Lebanon.

Almost two years ago, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution to disarm Hezbollah and extend the Lebanese government’s control to its southern border. That resolution was never carried out.

If the international community lacks the will to enforce the latest resolution, the next flare-up in fighting will be much harder to extinguish.

From the Tampa Tribune