UN Default on Korea Spells Trouble in Lebanon

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The New York Sun

UNITED NATIONS — Responding to combative provocations with meek diplomacy, the West is allowing North Korea and Iran to further arm themselves and their proxy armies, risking a much more serious military confrontation in the next rounds.

Meeting the American-led United Nation command today at a village in the Korean demilitarized zone, mid-level Pyongyang military officials began negotiating a return to diplomacy that would eventually lead to a renewal of the Six Party talks. Those talks, a diplomatic forum much coveted by the West, have yielded little results since their inception in 2003. Now we are on the cusp of renewing them on the heels of a clear North Korean act of war – the March sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan.

In southern Lebanon, Iran’s proxy army, Hezbollah, is further rearranging the political grounds, reaching new tacit agreements with the command of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The unwritten pact, which will allow Hezbollah operatives to accelerate the illegal military buildup on Israel’s border, comes on the heels of clear Hezbollah acts of provocation against UNIFIL.

Yesterday the U.N.’s Secretary General’s special representative in Beirut, Michael Williams, underplayed the recent attacks by “villagers” on French peacekeepers. Those attacks were clearly designed to bar UNIFIL access to areas where weapons are illegally present.

But UNIFIL troops on the ground only do what they are told to by their U.N. higher-ups: Last week Israel released several reconnaissance photographs of missiles and other armaments deployed in southern Lebanon. Nevertheless, in a periodic report, which was presented yesterday to the Security Council, Mr. Williams wrote that UNIFIL was unable to find any evidence of illegal arms in the area under the U.N. command.

The cases of North Korea and Lebanon were taken up by the U.N. Security Council last Friday. In the morning, its 15-member body “condemned” the March sinking of the Cheonan; in the evening it “deplored” the attacks on UNIFIL. But in its morning statement the council failed to mention North Korea, which sank the Cheonan, and in the evening it declined to name Hezbollah, which was behind the attacks on the French peacekeepers.

North Korea immediately declared victory, saying it was all but exonerated by the Council’s statement. And for good measure: it isn’t clear whether the attack on South Korea was ordered by Kim Jong-il, his son Kim Jong-un, a lower level North Korean military commander, or a rogue faction trying to gain an upper hand in Pyongyang’s internal succession struggle. What’s clear is that North Korea escaped any serious punishment. So did Hezbollah. And just like the Kim regime, the Iranian-backed Shiite organization has long learned how to play the game.

The arrangements put in place after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah “have allowed the longest period of stability between the parties since the 1970s,” Mr. Williams boasted to reporters yesterday. “No one, on either side of the [Israeli-Lebanese] border, has been killed by hostile military action from the other side.”

True enough, but those arrangements, set out by Security Council Resolution 1701, were sold to Americans and Israelis as an assurance that Hezbollah would cease to be a military force. As part of that resolution, UNIFIL got a new, robust mandate and was bolstered by French, Italian and other European troops. Along with the Lebanese Army, the force would assure that no weapons are present on Israel’s northern border.

But, as the recent incidents show, any time UNIFIL troops get close to uncovering any Hezbollah weapons caches, local “villagers” harass and attack them. Lebanon’s border with Syria remains unguarded, assuring that weapons could pour in from Damascus and Tehran. With more than 40,000 missiles and rockets, according to Israeli estimates, Hezbollah is now much better armed than it was on the eve of the Second Lebanon War.

Technically, Mr. Williams is correct: The destruction Israel inflicted on Hezbollah has made its leaders think twice before launching a new provocation. Israel is not eager to repeat the 2006 war either. But Iran has reasons for rearming Hezbollah. If and when Tehran orders its proxy to re-launch hostilities, the war is bound to be bloodier – on both sides of the border – than all of the local skirmishes that characterized that period “since the 1970s.”

Arms buildup in the Korean peninsula and southern Lebanon are dangerous. But rather than using crises like the sinking of the Cheonan and the provocation against UNIFIL to highlight that danger and begin a process of disarmament, the West opts to appease the aggressors. There is no
better recipe for future bloodshed.

The New York Sun

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