Issue 147: Lebanon and the Many Faces of the UN

World powers gathering today in Rome agreed in principle to establish an international force in Lebanon, to be authorized by a UN mandate. While this does not preclude the force being commanded by NATO or an ad hoc alliance (as in the Sinai), most countries support a UN-run mission. The problem, however, is that the world body has shown at least two faces in Lebanon, and it is fair to ask which one we are being asked to choose.
Will it be the resolute UN of Resolution 1559, the one that helped lift the Lebanese people toward the beginnings of sovereignty and democracy after years under the Syrian jackboot?
Or will it be a force haunted by memories of UNIFIL past—the peacekeeping force that, since 1978, never kept a day of peace, utterly failing to prevent terrorists, starting with Yasser Arafat and ending with Hassan Nasrallah, from destroying Lebanon in pursuit of their stated goal of eliminating Israel?
We wish it would be the first. Indeed, the UN’s adoption of Security Council Resolution 1559 showed the organization at its best. In late August 2004, Syria’s Bashar Assad summoned Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to his palace only to humiliate him by dictating a fait accompli: Lebanon’s constitution would be altered to extend the term of President Emile Lahoud, Assad’s Quisling in Beirut.
While several independent-minded cabinet members struggled to resist the Damascus diktat—for which they would be soon killed off by Syrian agents—the UN sent a powerful message. The Security Council, energized by a renewed French-U.S. unity, called for “the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon.”
In case the message was not sufficiently clear, the UN demanded the withdrawal of “all remaining foreign forces”—i.e., the thousands of Syrian occupation forces, as well as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Further, Hezbollah, the terrorist group directed by Tehran, was subject to “disbanding and disarmament.”

By adopting 1559, the UN provided critical international encouragement to Lebanese patriots, many of whom bravely resigned to protest Syria’s tightening grip. Assad’s response was to murder them. When Hariri’s turn came in February 2005, his assassination shocked the world—no one more than the billionaire’s close friend in Paris, President Jacques Chirac.

The Security Council immediately launched an independent criminal investigation into the killing of Hariri and his aides. Vigorously prosecuted by German jurist Detlev Mehlis, the UN inquiry pointed the finger of guilt at Syria’s highest officials and their Lebanese allies, conclusions adopted by the Security Council. It is hard to recall another occasion, especially in the Middle East, when the UN so forcefully challenged the criminal actions of a despotic regime.
The results were remarkable: Syria’s occupation troops withdrew from Lebanese soil, free elections were held, and a Parliament emerged with an anti-Syrian majority. The UN had taken on a Middle East dictatorship with alacrity, determination and effectiveness, and the results were astounding—even if, in the end, bellicose Hezbollah, guided by a witch’s brew of nihilistic martyrdom and genocidal anti-Semitism, sought to drag the country down into its own abyss.
If it will be this kind of UN to head the new multinational mission—a UN guided by joint U.S.-French concern for Lebanese peace and development, assertive and constructive—then more power to it.
But there are other possible faces, like that of UNIFIL. Tragically, this mission turned into an obstacle to peace, in at last three different ways:
  • By holding monitoring posts next to Hezbollah positions, UNIFIL gave effective shelter to Nasrallah’s terrorists, as it had done before for the PLO. For years, Hezbollah fired Katyusha rockets at Israeli civilians with impunity, under the watchful eyes of their blue-helmeted neighbours, while frustrating Israel’s response through their proximity to the UN blue flags. Only in the context of the current war to defend its major cities did Israel feel obliged to take out Hezbollah firing positions even at the risk of hurting bystanders, which resulted in the errant shells yesterday that claimed four monitors as victims (albeit from UNTSO, a similar but different mission).

  • UNIFIL’s presence provided the international community with a false sense of confidence while a terrorist organization methodically built up an arsenal of deadly rockets—imported from Iran with Syrian help—and stored them in arms caches in civilian homes, mosques and hospitals.

  • When Hezbollah disguised themselves as UNIFIL personnel to attack and kidnap Israeli soldiers, UNIFIL covered up the crime. In 2001, after UNIFIL discovered two vehicles used by Hezbollah in the raid, stained with the blood of the injured Israeli servicemen, they promptly surrendered the evidence to Hezbollah upon its request. Worse, as it later acknowledged, the UN lied by denying its possession of videotape that shed light on the abduction.
Rather than fulfil its mandate to “assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring its effective authority” in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL gave Hezbollah free rein. Rather than “restore international peace and security,” it became the handmaiden of terror and destruction. If this is the kind of UN force being contemplated, better to have nothing.
To be sure, it is too early to predict which side of the UN will emerge in Lebanon. Recent actions at key UN bodies, however, suggest the international organization is in the grip of a one-sided mindset that is sharply biased against Israel.
Meeting in Geneva this week, the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has seen its agenda on humanitarian and women’s issues hijacked by virulent anti-Israel denunciations, with Algeria and others implicitly comparing the Jewish state with Nazi Germany.
Similarly, last week saw many of the UN’s top human rights officials falling over each other in a competition to see who could censure Israel more often and in harsher language, for actions taken in its war against Hezbollah missiles.
There was the group of seven appointees who claimed a litany of violations by Israel and described at length the suffering of Lebanese, yet begrudged barely a sentence about Israelis forced to hide in bomb shelters. The words “Hezbollah” or “Katyusha” were entirely omitted, as were their victims: more than 1200 Israelis wounded, and 52 killed. Of Israeli casualties the experts said nothing.

Among the signatories to the manifesto were veteran Israel-bashers Miloon Kothari, the Special Rapporteur on housing, and Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, best known for being the 1989 co-founder of the “Moammar Khaddafi human rights Prize,” a distinction he went on to win himself in 2002, together with French Holocaust-denier Roger Garaudy.  In the rush to condemn, no one seemed bothered that several of the signatories lacked any conceivable legal mandate to speak on the issue. After all, is the Lebanon crisis really a matter for the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, or the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Mr. Vernor Muñoz? At the UN, no one really seems to care.

Far worse, though, were the statements of Louise Arbour, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights. Though in her entire two years in office she has criticized only a handful of countries, Ms. Arbour found cause to slam Israel no less than twice in one week.
Arbour’s first statement employed the old UN favorite, the wily “while.” That is, she began a sentence with the throwaway line of “while Israel has legitimate security concerns…”, and then—you know the routine—proceeded to deny Israel any possible way of defending those concerns.
Still, few could have predicted what was to come in her second statement. Arbour threatened Prime Minister Olmert and other Israelis with indictment on war crimes  charges, the first such claim ever made against a democracy fighting a terrorist organization that deliberately launches rockets from civilian areas. As Harvard University profesor Alan Dershowitz noted in his article “Arbour must go,” the commissioner failed to note that when terrorists use civilians as human shields, it is the terrorists who are criminally responsible for the deaths of the civilian shields.
Strong critiques of Arbour followed in Canada’s newspapers, from the National Post (“Arbour’s Folly”), to the London Free Press, and even to the French-language La Presse (“Me Arbour et son conseil“), published out of Arbour’s hometown of Montreal.
Among other things, Arbour accused Israel of violating the principle of “proportionality.” This carried some irony coming from the high representative of the UN’s Human Rights Council.
After all, last month, when the new council had excluded only one country in the world, Israel, from any of its five regional groupings, Arbour was silent, because, presumably, she thought it proportional. When the council dedicated a special day of debate to censuring only one country in the world, Israel, Arbour was silent, because, presumably, she thought this, too, was proportional.
When the council’s resolution to renew the independent human rights experts singled out the Special Rapporteur on Palestine—whose instructions allow for examination of only Israeli, but not Palestinian, violations—as the sole investigation lacking an express year of expiry, Arbour thought this was proportional.
When the council adopted only one resolution denouncing a specific country, Israel, Arbour thought this was proportional, too. When the council ordered reports on Israel that prejudge it as guilty, and decided that a special item on “Israeli violations” would be written on the agenda at all future sessions, Arbour thought this was proportional. And when the council then convened a “Special Session” to censure Israel yet again, Arbour thought this, too, was proportional. If not, she would have said something. She never did. On the contrary, when asked, Arbour has no difficulty justifying this kind of treatment of Israel by the UN human rights apparatus.
If these are the same scales being used by Justice Arbour to weigh Israel’s struggle with Hezbollah terror, then her concept of “proportionality” takes on, well, some more understandable proportions. And if this will be the UN spirit that will animate the Lebanon force, better to have nothing.
Until the UN demonstrates that it can be more like Resolution 1559, and less like UNIFIL and the Human Rights Council, it will be difficult to imagine the organization bringing peace to Lebanon, or to the Middle East as a whole.

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