Israel Demands UN Troops on Syria-Lebanon Border
Israel has thrown yet another wrench into the struggle to maintain a cease-fire with Hezbollah by insisting that UN peacekeepers patrol Lebanon’s border with Syria in addition to the border with Israel.
Israel is demanding that U.N. troops patrol the Syria-Lebanon border to prevent Hezbollah from receiving arms shipments. But even if Israel overcomes Syrian objections to the idea, policing the mostly mountainous frontier could prove nearly impossible.
The controversy has developed as the United Nations tries to muster enough peacekeepers to serve as a buffer force between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon’s south. Israel, which accuses Syria of supplying arms to Hezbollah, refuses to lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon unless U.N. troops also deploy to the far larger Syria-Lebanon border.
It’s a tall order. Syria borders Lebanon both to its east and north, with four official crossings, including one on the road between Beirut and Damascus. But there are dozens of dirt tracks running between the countries through a mountain range, routes that have been used for centuries by smugglers and many of them able to carry modern-day vehicles.
It’s unclear, moreover, how much Hezbollah is in need of a weapons resupply. Although Israel said Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets into northern Israel during the 34-day war, the guerrillas were believed to have an arsenal of more than 12,000 of the weapons when the fighting started. There has also been wide speculation that the Syrian army left behind a huge weapons supply for Hezbollah as it withdrew from Lebanon in April 2005. Hezbollah draws primary backing from Syria and Iran, which established the guerrilla group and its political arm in the Bekaa Valley in 1982.
Syrian President President Bashar Assad on Thursday called Israel’s demand a “hostile” move aimed at damaging relations between the neighbors. He said it was unprecedented for international forces to police a border between two countries that have not been at war.
One understands Israel’s concern here, given that there is no denying that Syria and Iran are the chief backers of Hezbollah. Still, not only would such a patrol be unprecedented, as Assad rightly notes, but it was not part of the agreement to which Israel entered.