Now that talks with Syria on a permanent settlement have
broken down -- and even prime minister Barak has admitted
that he sees no chance of renewed talks anytime soon -- the
parties in the region are moving ahead on implementing the
Israeli withdrawal within the next three months. Israel plans
to make the move as an implementation of Security Council
Resolution 425, originally passed in March 1978. Doing so
will, it hopes, bring in a UN peacekeeping force, and also
bring in its wake international support for any subsequent
Israeli moves that are necessary to keep things quiet on its
Lebanon has indicated repeatedly that it has no plans to
cooperate with Israel's withdrawal, and Syria has made no
clear statements on the matter.
The South Lebanon Army (SLA) is also an important factor.
Rumors have suggested that they will leave south Lebanon for
Israel or for a European country. However, on Monday South
Lebanese Army commander Gen. Antoine Lahad said that his
militia will continue to operate after the IDF pulls out of
The fighters of the SLA are native residents of the region
and have no wish to leave, according to Gen. Lahad. He said
that no one had consulted them about their plans for the
future after an Israeli withdrawal, and they want to stay. As
indigenous Lebanese, their presence is in conformity with UN
resolutions that call the all foreign troops to leave
"My organization and myself, as well as the residents of the
zone, will continue to live in the border region even in the
event of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal," Lahad said.
"We have no quarrels with Israel, which for its own reasons
wants to leave Lebanon. If Israel wants to withdraw without
ensuring peace and security in the north then it is an
internal Israeli problem. But we will protect our interests
and defend ourselves from any aggressors," Lahad said.
Arab leaders, including Lebanese leaders, the Hizbullah and
even Arab members of Knesset, have called the SLA fighters
traitors to the Arabs and have threatened them with
punishment. The Lebanese government has even passed a death
sentence on some SLA members. "The only thing left for us is
to defend ourselves," Lahad said bitterly.
An IDF spokesman said that Israel did not expect the SLA
soldiers to join Hizbullah or otherwise turn against Israel.
Observers expressed skepticism about the SLA's ability to
hold its ground without strong support from Israel. "The
entire Israeli public appreciates the efforts of the SLA and
sees them as Lebanese patriots fighting for their rights to
living in the sovereign state of Lebanon," said an official
Israeli government statement.
Likud MK Ayoub Kara, with the backing of his party, called on
Barak to give autonomy to the SLA in the areas they control.
This, said Kara, should be done with the full backup of
In Europe, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the French
government are working to adjust Security Council Resolution
425 to provide a current basis for the deployment of
international peacekeeping forces in South Lebanon after the
Foreign Minister David Levy met in Geneva with Annan telling
him that the withdrawal will comply with Resolution 425, and
asking for international cooperation in determining the
northern border, and also that for a mechanism to be put in
place which would forestall a violent escalation in Lebanon
after the IDF's departure.
Israel is trying to win international support for its present
and future polices in the North, in particular for
retaliatory measures it may take in response to violence
against residents of the Galilee.
Israel Foreign Ministry officials believe that the UN's
decision to update the long-standing 425 resolution and
provide a new mandate for the international peacekeeping
force would be in Israel's interest.
Yet officials in Jerusalem suspect that Syria will try to
thwart a bid to deploy a new international force in Lebanon,
fearing that it might undermine its authority in Lebanon. The
Israeli officials believe that during the next meeting of
Arab foreign ministers, Syria will try to mobilize a pan-Arab
front to block any such move to deploy new peacekeepers in
Before he left for Switzerland, Levy met with the U.S. and
French ambassadors to Israel, Martin Indyk and Jacques
Two alternatives have been discussed for the international
force that would be deployed in south Lebanon after the IDF
pullout: 1] Continued presence of UN Interim Force in Lebanon
(UNIFIL) troops, which have been stationed in Lebanon since
1978, in new positions along the Israel-Lebanon border.
UNIFIL today has 4,500 soldiers from nine countries (France,
Fiji, Finland, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy, Nepal and
Poland); its mandate is extended every six months by UN
Security Council decisions. 2] Dismantling of UNIFIL and
establishing a new peacekeeping force not under the UN. The
new force could possibly be controlled by the European Union;
and it would rely heavily upon French involvement, in accord
with President Jacques Chirac's vow that France would play a
part in new security arrangements in Lebanon.
In view of France's heavy (and heavy-handed) tilt toward the
Arabs, Israel will probably insist on the first of these two
options, partly because of strong U.S. influence in the UN.
Israeli officials also believe that France itself prefers the
Prime minister said on Monday that the deployment of the
current UNIFIL contingent, under the auspices of the Security
Council, could suffice "to solve the problem" left by an IDF
withdrawal from the security strip.