There are very good reasons why the French would like to take the lead in forming the peacekeeping force that will be needed to help embolden the Lebanese army as it takes over from Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon, creating a demilitarized buffer zone along the Israeli border.
The French have historic ties to Lebanon.
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When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled at the end of World War I, the League of Nations carved up the Middle East, giving the area that is now Syria and Lebanon to the French in 1920, making France the mandatory power there — much like Britain was made the mandatory power of what was then Palestine. The French then carved Lebanon out of Syria — placing the Lebanese Christians, who were the majority, into positions of power.
As a result of France's commitment to Lebanon, French President Jacques Chirac teamed up with the U.S. nearly two years ago to sponsor U.N. Security Council resolution 1559. The first diplomatic unity exhibited between the U.S. and France since relations were strained over the Iraq War, 1559 had two key parts: 1) Syrian forces — soldiers and intelligence had to leave Lebanon after 26 years of occupation. 2) That Hezbollah be disarmed. Syria was forced to withdraw a year ago. Hezbollah was never disarmed.
France would also like to lead the peacekeeping force and push through a cease-fire at the U.N. to gain stature with its Arab allies, raising its stance as a defender of Arab interests as compared with the U.S., which is perceived by Arab states to be always siding with Israel.
I have now seen a copy of the U.N. Security Council resolution as drafted by France. The U.S. and France are still wrangling over the wording.
But the key points are as follows:
• An immediate cessation of hostilities agreed to by Israel and the Lebanese government. Most significantly the agreement is not with Hezbollah — and it is not clear whether it will sign on or whether its Syrian and Iranian backers will place any pressure on it to stop fighting.
• The release of the abducted Israeli soldiers and a “settlement of the issue of Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel” — a prisoner exchange of some sort. It is not clear whether it will be simultaneous, or down the road, or whether either side will agree.
• The disarmament of all militias and a demilitarized zone from the Israeli border up until the Litani River inside Lebanon. Only the Lebanese army and the new international force being deployed in the buffer zone will be allowed to carry arms there.
What the resolution fails to say is when this “robust international peacekeeping force” will deploy and what the Israeli forces will be expected to do until they deploy — especially if the Israelis manage to take and hold ground all the way to the Litani River in the coming days as is expected.
Will Israel be expected to withdraw before the French-led international force arrives, which could take weeks? That would create a vacuum likely filled again by Hezbollah. That mechanism hasn’t been worked out. We understand that another resolution will have to be hammered out next week. That takes time and it may drag on if there is not agreement — and without agreement there will be no ceasefire.
The biggest problem is that we already have a U.N. Security Council resolution that deals with disarming Hezbollah and asserting Lebanese sovereignty over the South — it’s called 1559. It so threatened the Syrians that many presume it served as the impetus for the Syrian regime to order the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
You need Iran and Syria onboard if this is going to be any different from past resolutions.
The French will lead the force, but they don’t want to shoot at Hezbollah fighters — that wouldn’t play well among its Arab allies.
Therefore the U.S. has concerns about the mechanism being put into place to insure that there isn't a vacuum when Israel's forces pull back and this "international force" deploys. Unless the international community comes up with that mechanism, the only mechanism to disarm Hezbollah at this point seems to be Israel's military.
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Jennifer Griffin is a Jerusalem-based correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). Griffin joined FNC in 1999 and covers foreign policy and breaking news from Israel and across the Middle East.
Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel . She joined FNC in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenGriffinFNC.