Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lebanon 2006-Respect for Humanitarian law vs. right to exist

On 12 July 2006 in the morning Hezbollah, Iran and Syrian sponsored terrorist organization used the territory of Lebanon to attack Israel’s territory and its army, sever soldiers were killed and two abducted. Israel attacked mounting bombardments an ground offensive on Lebanon that for the moment counts more than 500 civilian victims. Hezbollah on its own part continues to counter the humanitarian norms of international law by continuous launching of inaccurate missiles into the territory of Israel. We are currently facing numerous potential conflicts related to the situation in Lebanon, first and most obvious conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and the Lebanese army, second diplomatic (although uneven) tug of war between the US and certain EU states over the strategy for the resolution of the conflict, thirdly a conflict between the terrorist organizations over popularity in the Arab World, Al Kaeda seem to feel its popularity being under threat vis-à-vis Hezbollah, fourthly conflict between the Suni Arab World (Saudis, Egypt) and Iran and Syria etc.

Antonio Cassese, a prominent Professor of international law, and an ex-judge and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993-2000), in an article, “Beyond every legal principle”, published in the print edition of the Italian daily newspaper “La Repubblica”, analyzes the situation in Lebanon from the point of view of international law and gives a generally interesting twist to the debate on the present conflict in this country.

Cassese writes, that in normal circumstances, attack on the border patrol of one country from a territory of a neighbouring country would require immediate negotiations and the state from which the attacks occurred would have to immediately act in order to repatriate the hostages and to conduct a thorough inquiry to punish the guilty party. Israel’s immediate bombardments of Lebanon, were nevertheless justified because, in the case of Lebanon, Cassese writes, the actions of Hezbollah do not represent actions of a State, “but came from Armed Forces that operate in Lebanon escaping the control of the Lebanese government. Therefore it would not have served anything to demand from the authorities of Beirut the repair the damages inflicted by the illicit acts.” Yet, Cassese adds, initial justified reaction of Israel, went beyond the rules of international humanitarian law.” Then Cassese carries on to name several incidents in which Israel tried to justify each of its actions while bombarding Lebanon (e.g. bombarding of the Beirut international airport was necessary in order to prevent Hezbollah receiving more arms etc.) These justifications are not convincing for this eminent Italian jurist, he says, “if a singular military operation may appear justified, the ensemble of actions exposes the radical disproportion between the evident aim (to place term to the attacks of Hezbollah and to obtain the restitution of the hostages) and means used (the immediate destruction and on immense scale of all the Lebanese infrastructure, with most serious effects on the civil population). For Casssese, and most of the ‘international community’ bombardments of Cana and the murder of children is undoubtedly an example of such excess.

On the other hand, Cassese obviously does not seem close to the political sensibility of Giuliano Amato, his colleague professor and Italian Minister of the Interior and ex-Prime Minister, who argued that it is absurd to talk about proportionality, “as if we were talking about accountancy and not about the survival of a state [hinting at Israel].” (according to Cassese’s commentary) In another article in the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera Amato argued similarly, “Israel is, for nth time in the history, facing the same troubles, to know itself surrounded by enemies who deny its right to the existence ".

Facing the probability of sending a massive international peace keeping force to South Lebanon, Amato’s arguments seem weak. However, facing the low probability of mounting an effective (politically and militarily) international force, it can be argued that Israel has the right to be worried (which still does not justify the excessive victims caused by the collateral damage of Israeli bombings).

Arguably, if effective, this international force would also, to a certain extent, contribute to the feeling of security of the state of Israel. It is for the moment politically unrealistic but worth considering of sending such a force on the divisive line between Israel and Palestine, such a solution would not be without benefits for the people of Israel. Israel’s politicians are sceptical, they are asking for more time and they seem to be ready to accept international involvement only if NATO (read the US, not the UN) plays the leading role in this.

Recent Italian attempt to reach an international agreement on resolving the present Middle Eastern Crisis for the moment failed. American administration still seem reluctant (although the situation is changing) to put the pressure on Israel to accept the terms offered by some other international actors. Today the Council of the European Union met to discuss the situation in Lebanon and there is a likelihood that some agreement, amongst other thins, on the international force will be reached. Simultaneously, in the US, a prominent Republican Senator Hagel in an eloquent speech, challenged President’s current stance on Lebanon, urging President Bush to turn all U.S. efforts toward "ending this madness," and calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Mideast.

Numerous US based think tanks seem to be critical of the US lenience towards Israel, among which International Crisis Group in its brand new report Israel/Palestine/Lebanon: Climbing Out of the Abyss and the Brookings Institution.

It remains unclear how can this international force be constituted (will US be playing a significant role in the military contingent – which seems extremely unlikely bearing in mind the current situation of extreme global military overstretch) and what are the prospects for Hezbollah agreeing to international demands to accept the Lebanese government's authority and begin the process of disarming? Can the conflict between the Palestinian Authority and Isreal be resolved in a simmilar manner?


Unknown said...

Nice post Srdjan. Why do you think Israeli politicians would not accept the intervention of the UN?

Srdjan Cvijic said...

Not that they would not accept but they seemed to prefer having the US somehow on board, NATO would be more suitable in this sense, maybe NATO-led operation with the UN mandate, like in Kosovo...