analysisIsrael at War

Multinational force in Gaza will fail if history is any guide, report says

As if to underscore the report’s conclusions, Hezbollah fired a rocket just 20 meters from a U.N. compound in Lebanon on Dec. 9.

The IDF and UNIFIL coordinate activity on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Credit: IDF.
The IDF and UNIFIL coordinate activity on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Credit: IDF.
David Isaac
David Isaac

Disagreement has sharpened between the U.S. and Israel over Gaza’s post-Hamas future. The U.S. favors the Palestinian Authority taking over, an idea to which Israel is adamantly opposed.

Israel wants to retain security control for an “indefinite” period. The U.S. talks of “international agencies” providing transitional “security and governance.”

Judging from experience, the latter idea is doomed to failure.

“In the Middle East, these missions have proven to be futile, and in the rare cases where they were effective, they served the aggressor rather than regional or international peace,” says a new report by the Kohelet Policy Forum, titled “Chronic Failure Without Accountability: International Peacekeeping and Security Forces in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”

As if to underscore the report’s conclusions, Hezbollah fired a rocket just 20 meters from a United Nations compound in Southern Lebanon on Dec. 9. Hezbollah has repeatedly used UNIFIL positions as human shields, firing on Israel from nearby.

UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), created in 1978, is one of a dozen examples given in the report of peacekeeping missions that failed to live up to their billing.

Eugene Kontorovich, director of Kohelet’s international law department, who co-wrote the report with Adi Schwartz, a research fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy, told JNS that the main reason Israel would agree to a U.N. or multinational force would be due to international pressure.

“We see with these peacekeeping forces that often the way they’re inserted is not really to provide security but to provide a kind of face-saving way out a crisis,” Kontorovich said.

‘The U.S. and U.K. promptly removed their personnel’

International peacekeepers tend to leave or stand aside when threatened. The report shows this was the case with several Middle Eastern peacekeeping missions, including the European Union Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point (EUBAM Rafah) and the U.S.-U.K. Jericho prison guards.

The last were police officials that Britain and the U.S. agreed to place as supervisors at the Al Muqataa prison in Jericho after the 2001 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in Jerusalem. Israel wanted assurance the guilty terrorists were indeed imprisoned. In 2006, when Hamas threatened to forcibly break the prisoners out of jail, “the U.S. and U.K. promptly removed their personnel to keep them out of harm’s way,” the Kohelet report says.

The report also provides examples outside the Israel-Arab conflict. Particularly disturbing was the behavior of international peacekeepers during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. “As U.N. peacekeepers stood on the sidelines, more than eight hundred thousand Rwandans were killed in just three months,” the report notes.

As if telegraphing its own view of the likely success of a multinational mission in Gaza, the U.S. on Nov. 1 announced that no American troops would be put on the ground there as part of any peacekeeping force post-conflict, “now or in the future.”

Washington and Jerusalem are closer to agreement on civilian affairs in Gaza after the war. Both have floated the idea of a multinational group to manage non-security issues and help in reconstruction. (Although the U.S. initially envisioned an international coalition handling “interim security measures” as well, the White House has since conceded that Israel will need to keep security in hand for an initial period.)

However, Israel may face resistance in gaining help to rebuild the Strip. The United Arab Emirates, one of the countries whose support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will “harness” for reconstruction efforts, balked at stepping in without the agreed-upon end goal being a Palestinian state.

“The message is going to be very clear: We need to see a viable two-state solution plan, a road map that is serious before we talk about the next day and rebuilding the infrastructure of Gaza,” UAE Ambassador to the U.N. Lana Nusseibeh told The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 12.

“The road map is: the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority and a grouping of countries that have leverage on the both of them sitting around the table and saying, ‘That’s the endgame we’re going to work to. The work starts here. This is the timeline, and it starts now,’” she said.

That would be a “double whammy” against Israeli interests, in which a multinational force transitions to Palestinian Authority control, said Kontorovich. “All the P.A. needs to do is pressure the countries to leave early, which is very likely what they’ll do. If they can simply abscond, then the P.A. is left to fill in. And history shows these groups have very little perseverance under adversity.”

As the report says, “History, and especially Israel’s experience, shows that foreign troops or personnel, even with countries or institutions who have expertise in peacekeeping, cannot be trusted to provide security for Israel.

“This is true even in straightforward contexts like policing a demilitarized zone or guarding a jail, and would be all the more true for the daunting task of rebuilding Gaza without Iranian, Islamist or other hostile influence,” the report concludes.

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