The Lebanese Government and UNIFIL
Abdullah Iskandar Al-Hayat - 22/10/06//
As we approach the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan, which represented something of a deliberate internal truce from some and an opportunity to ponder for others in Lebanon nears its end, talk is resurfacing about the possibilities of an escalation after a period of calm, and the language of confrontation displacing the dialogue environment.

As with the situation on the southern front, which has not made the transformation from the cessation of hostilities to a permanent ceasefire, active efforts by Speaker Nabih Berry have not been fruitful beyond the toning down of the confrontational rhetoric without establishing ground rules to manage, find and resolve differences.

There also seems to be a direct relation between the domestic situation in Lebanon and the directions it is to take, which shall be decided in the coming months, and the situation in the South, which swings between peace and the return of war.

Accordingly, the days following the Eid (Lesser Bairam) holiday are expected to witness a major offensive against the Fouad Siniora government by Hezbollah and the Aoun bloc and its allies.

While the offensive is expected to take the shape of demands for a national unity government, Siniora and the majority supporting him in the March 14 Forces are both expected to realize that the target of the offensive is the clauses of the government's program, which domestically call for backing the investigation into Hariri's assassination and the formation of an international tribunal to try those implicated in the crime.

Another target is the clauses that guarantee the government's backing of the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, including the revised UNIFIL mandate, toward ceasefire and peacemaking in the South.

Information spreading across Beirut points to an attempt to reach a formula for a comprehensive deal, entailing a consensus on the republic's next president in exchange for a new government, in which Hezbollah and its allies are expected to secure a third of the seats as the opposition.
The draw back of this formula is that it is a shortcut to destroy the current government's program, since the main function of this opposition third would be to impede on the main clauses of the government's program.

Therefore, all eyes are moving southward, particularly toward the fact that Israel is continuing to violate Resolution 1701, which allows Hezbollah to announce that it reserves the right to respond to these violations, even as it meticulously avoids any violations from its own side.

This is where French discussions of the UNIFIL's rules of engagement take on increased significance, since, on the one hand, the discussions are aimed at Israel, the source of repeated violations, and on the other, the source of these discussions is Maj. Gen. Pellegrini, the UNIFIL commander and an officer in the army of a country determined to conclude the international tribunal investigation into Hariri's case.

Calls for the establishment of new rules of engagement to be implemented to respond to threats, whether from the Israeli or the Hezbollah side, means that the international consensus and the broad international contribution in the UNIFIL - which brought in troops from all of Europe, with the exception of Britain - is a reflection of a desire to protect the situation in southern Lebanon from the possibility of a recreation of the July War.

However, this desire would not be achievable without the continued political backing by the Lebanese government.

Within this context, the Lebanese government's stability is not subject to the game of threats and to domestic pressures, but rather to the need to guarantee the continuation of the Lebanese government's backing for the UNIFIL's revised mandate. Therefore, demands for a government change are not only viewed as demands to broaden the participation in domestic affairs, but also as attempts to blow up the Lebanese official agreement to the UNIFIL's mandate, and a withdrawal of the backing of these troops, currently described by Hezbollah and its allies as a representation of the subjection of Lebanon's sovereignty to an international occupation.