Robert Fisk: No wonder the UN can't find volunteers

Europeans are sick and tired of paying to keep the peace between Israelis and Arabs
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The Independent Online

Israel is keen to see the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, which demand the disarmament of Hizbollah - an organisation which Israel so dismally failed to disarm over the past six weeks after wrecking Lebanon and slaughtering more than a thousand Lebanese civilians.

And I have to say that there is a certain irony in watching Israel's diplomats paying such close attention to the wording of these resolutions and the need to abide by them after they have spent years trashing the very same UN force in Lebanon that is supposed to protect them in future.

Unifil, the so-called United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon, has been sitting in the south of the country for 28 years and has been the butt of Israel's jokes and slander and calumny for all of that time. I recall how the Israelis claimed that the Irish battalion - since withdrawn - were drunk or anti-semitic, how UN officers lied, how a Fijian commander was spreading syphilis among the women of Qana, the town whose inhabitants have just been massacred by Israel's forces for the second time in a decade.

But now, the new, reinforced Unifil is supposed to provide the buffer behind which Israel - whose army so dismally failed to protect its people in this latest war - can feel safe.

One cannot but wish the Israelis always paid such attention to UN resolutions. If only they would be so keen to adhere to UN Security Council Resolution 242, for example, as they are anxious to ensure Hizbollah and the Lebanese army abide by 1559 And 1701. Few readers will need to be reminded that 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from territory occupied in the 1967 war in return for the security of all states (including Israel) in the area.

Now of course, Hizbollah is also playing fast and loose with the UN. It illegally crossed the UN Blue Line in southern Lebanon on 12 July to kill three Israeli soldiers and capture two others. They have already made it clear that they do not intend to be disarmed and their members - "schoolteachers, builders, university undergraduates" (I particularly admired the latter conceit) - would remain south of the Litani river, arms out of sight but not out of mind. And if 1701 is meant for Hizbollah's rubbish bin, then what is 242 worth for the Palestinians?

But there is something far more dangerous on the loose in southern Lebanon, something intimately linked with the hell-disaster into which we have turned Iraq. The famous 3,000 French troops that were supposed to arrive in Lebanon to support the Lebanese army have suddenly been reduced to 400 French engineers.

And the Spanish and the Italians, it transpires, would like to know a little bit more about the mysterious UN mandate under which their troops would be operating before sacrificing their young men's lives in Lebanon. The Spanish have not forgotten the price they paid for supporting the "coalition of the willing" - so soon to become the "coalition of the unwilling" - in Iraq. They don't want more bombs on the Madrid railway system. And the Italians are a little tired of state funerals for their fallen in Iraq.

True, the French have not forgotten their 58 murdered soldiers at the Drakkar building in Beirut on 23 October 1983, when suicide bombers associated with the Hizbollah struck them as part of the "Multinational Force" in Lebanon, another American creation. But France has watched the collapse of the American project in Iraq and is suspicious that its soldiers - despite the prospect of renewing in ghostly form the mandat français of the 1920s and 1930s in Lebanon - could end up in the same predicament as those armies which decided to follow George W Bush's into Iraq's bloody swamp.

Who is actually going to disarm Hizbollah? Will they in fact be disarmed? And what will we do if they are not? I could not help smiling when I heard Israel's Dan Gillerman announcing on the BBC yesterday that if the UN failed to disarm Hizbollah, Israel would have to do the job - despite the fact that it has patently proved itself militarily incapable of any such task. And the latest extraordinary demand by Israel is that Muslim nations who do not recognise the State of Israel will not be allowed to join the expanded Unifil force in southern Lebanon.

What in the name of God is going on? Well, I will hazard a terrible guess. The Iraq fiasco - and the growing débâcle in Afghanistan has drained the will of Nato nations to commit troops to peacekeeping operations, certainly for missions which may involve confrontations and violence with Muslims. And those Muslim nations which might be persuaded to join such a mission - Turkey excluded, of course - are going to be rigorously excluded. Which means that despite the deployment of Lebanese troops to southern Lebanon, the famous ceasefire in the south of the country is doomed.

And I'll hazard another guess. Europeans are getting sick and tired of funding and sacrificing their lives to keep the peace between Israelis and Arabs. Repeatedly in European capitals, I sense a growing anger that America should wreck all chances of peace by its uncritical support of Israel, while European taxpayers are told to hand over billions of euros to rebuild the cities of Gaza and Lebanon, which Israel has vandalised.

One European diplomat in Beirut has put forward the idea that the UN should open some form of internationally controlled escrow account into which Arabs and Israelis would contribute in order to pay for their repeated and dirty wars. Let the Arabs pay for the damage to Haifa. Let the Israelis (which I suppose means the US) pay for the billions of dollars squandered by the riff-raff of the Israeli air force in smashing Lebanon's infrastructure. Why should we go on paying for these filthy conflicts?

Maybe it is our guilty conscience. Heaven knows, we should have one. It was Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara who supported Bush's decision to delay a ceasefire in Lebanon - support which cost the lives of hundreds of Lebanese civilians who would otherwise be alive today. In Qana, they have just buried 29 of the civilians killed in Israel's murderous attack on the town. No doubt our dear Prime Minister was thinking of them yesterday.

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