Robert Fisk: A Nato-led force would be in Israel's interests, but not Lebanon's

Tuesday 01 August 2006 00:00

Every foreign army - including the Israelis - comes to grief in Lebanon.

So, how come George Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara - after their inevitable disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq - believe that a Nato-led force is going to survive on the south Lebanese border? The Israelis would obviously enjoy watching its deployment - it will be time for the West to take the casualties - but Hizbollah is likely to view its arrival as a proxy Israeli army. It is, after all, supposed to be a "buffer" force to protect Israel - not, as the Lebanese have quickly noted, to protect Lebanon - and the last Nato army that came to this country was literally blasted out of its mission by suicide bombers.

How blithely the US and British governments have erased the narrative of the old Multinational Force - the MNF - which arrived in Beirut to escort Palestinian guerrillas out of Lebanon in August of 1982 and then, after the massacre of up to 1,700 Palestinian guerrillas at the Sabra and Chatila camps by Israel's proxy Lebanese militia, returned to protect the survivors and extend the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.

Does that sound familiar? And they also came to train the Lebanese army - one of the missions being foisted on the new Bush-Blair army - and they failed. Blown up by suicide bombers at their Beirut headquarters with the loss of 241 American lives, the US Marines retreated into the ground, digging earthworks beneath Beirut airport.

And there they lived until the newly-trained Lebanese army broke apart in February 1984 - at which point, President Ronald Reagan decided to "redeploy" his troops offshore. Like other famous historical redeployments - Napoleon's redeployment from Moscow, for example, or Custer's last redeployment - it represented a national disaster, a colossal blow to US prestige in the region and a warning that such Lebanese adventures always end in tears. The French left shortly afterwards. So did the Italians. A company of British troops had been the first to scuttle out.

So, how come anyone believes that the next foreign army to arrive in the Lebanese meat-grinder is going to be any more successful? True, the MNF was not backed by a UN Security Council resolution. But since when were Hizbollah susceptible to the UN? They have already failed to disarm - as they were required to under UN resolution 1559 - and one of the world's toughest guerrilla armies is not going to hand over its guns to Nato generals. But most of the force will be Muslim, we are told. This may be true, and the Turks are already unwisely agreeing to participate. But are the Lebanese going to accept the descendants of the hated Ottoman empire? Will the the Shia south of Lebanon accept Sunni Muslim soldiers?

Indeed, how come the people of southern Lebanon have not been consulted about the army which is supposed to live in their lands? Because, of course, it is not coming for them. It will come because the Israelis and the Americans want it there to help reshape the Middle East. This no doubt makes sense in Washington - where self-delusion rules diplomacy almost as much as it does in Israel - but America's dreams usually become the Middle East's nightmares.

And this time, we will watch a Nato-led army's disintegration at close quarters. South-west Afghan-istan and Iraq are now so dangerous that no reporters can witness the carnage being perpetrated as a result of our hopeless projects. But, in Lebanon, it's going to be live-time coverage of a disaster that can only be avoided by the one diplomatic step Messrs Bush and Blair refuse to take: by talking to Damascus.

So when this latest foreign army arrives, count the days - or hours - to the first attack upon it. Then we'll hear all over again that we are fighting evil, that "they" - Hizbollah or Palestinian guerrillas, or anyone else planning to destroy "our" army - hate our values; and then, of course, we'll be told that this is all part of the "War on Terror" - the nonsense which Israel has been peddling. And then perhaps we'll remember what George Bush senior said after Hizbollah's allies suicide-bombed the Marines in 1982, that American policy would not be swayed by a bunch of "insidious terrorist cowards".

And we all know what happened then. Or have we forgotten?

Day 20

* Lebanese dead - at least 577 confirmed, could be up to 750. Israeli dead - 51.

* Israel bombs and shells southern Lebanon despite announced halt in air raids.

* Rescue workers find 28 bodies buried for days in destroyed buildings in three Lebanese villages.

* UN postpones a meeting on Lebanon peacekeeping force indefinitely.

* Bush says he will seek UN action this week to end the fighting.

* Clashes near Aita Al-Shaab leave four Hizbollah fighters dead and three Israelis wounded.

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