Cease-fire urgently needed to stop Mideast bloodshed
France and the United States are asking the U.N. Security Council to call for a cease-fire in Lebanon.
APPROVAL of a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah is needed by the United Nations Security Council as the bloodshed enters its fifth week. An international force will have to be assembled quickly to replace Israeli troops in southern Lebanon and prevent the rearming of the Hezbollah militant forces.
The United States and France had agreed on a resolution calling for "a full cessation of hostilities" based on "the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." However, it made no mention of an Israeli withdrawal.
Essentially, that would have allowed the Israeli troops to remain in southern Lebanon until a French-led international force could take its place. Lebanese Prime Minister Frouad Siniora rejected the plan, insisting that Israeli troops immediately leave the country, and he received backing from other Arab states.
Siniora's suggestion that the Israeli troops are infringing on Lebanon's sovereignty is a stretch. The southern part of Lebanon has been under Hezbollah control, with Syria and Iran acting as its patrons. The Beirut government has ignored repeated calls to assert its sovereignty, including a Security Council resolution nearly two years ago.
Unfortunately, Israel's disproportional defense against Hezbollah has gained support for the terrorist group in Lebanon and other Arab states. A country that cheered the departure of Syrian troops from its soil last year has grown resentful of Israelis and begun to identify with Hezbollah, Syria's proxy.
President Bush said a cease-fire is needed "in order to address the root causes of the problem." One of those causes, of course, is Lebanon's failure to exercise control over the southern part of the country, now a state within a failed state.
Israel is not likely to remove its troops until it is satisfied that their departure will not create what Bush described as "a vacuum into which Hezbollah and its sponsors are able to move more weapons."
The United Nations created an "interim" force in Lebanon in 1978, but its role has been to monitor the restoration of peace and security, and it now numbers about 2,000 soldiers. A force five to 10 times that strength is being discussed to enforce a cease-fire in Lebanon, prevent Iran and Syria from rearming Hezbollah and train the Lebanese army.
France is the logical head of such a peacekeeping force, having governed Lebanon from 1919 to 1943, when it gained its independence. The Lebanese government should have no reason to oppose French leading the force in the southern region until it can exercise control.