Skeptics doubt UN resolution will work in Lebanon

By Scott McDonald

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair backed a U.N. bid to end fighting in Lebanon, but the plan was greeted with skepticism by some on Saturday who wondered whether it could be implemented.

The draft U.N. Security Council resolution completed by the United States and France seeks to end fighting that began when the Iranian-backed group Hizbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters calls, for a "full cessation of hostilities." It also tells Hizbollah to end attacks immediately and for Israel to stop "all offensive military operations."

The text of the resolution, which calls for a framework for a political settlement between Israel and Lebanon, must still be reviewed and accepted by the full 15-member council.

"This is a first step. There is still much to be done," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "But there is no reason why this resolution should not be adopted now and we have the cessation of hostilities … within the next couple of days."

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush, who is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, knew details of the resolution and "he’s happy about it."

But getting the parties to stop fighting may not be easy, as seen by the statement by Hizbollah cabinet minister Mohammed Fneish, who said the guerrilla group would stop only when Israel ended its bombardment of Lebanon and withdrew its troops.

"Israel is the aggressor. When the Israeli aggression stops, Hizbollah simply will cease fire on the condition that no Israeli soldier remains inside Lebanese land," he said.

Francois Gere, head of the French Institute for Strategic Analysis, said the U.N. effort was a first positive signal "but I don’t expect the situation to stabilize in the coming week."

He added he did not see Hizbollah giving up the battle soon unless pressured by Iran.

"The big test is not the Lebanese government, it’s really Hizbollah," said Ousama Safa, head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

"Hizbollah will probably drag its feet because Hizbollah sees that its fortunes on the battlefield are on its side, so it will drag its feet and up the ante as much as possible to get a resolution that is acceptable on its own terms."

The conflict has killed at least 734 people in Lebanon and 78 Israelis. Hizbollah has fired 2,600 rockets into Israel.

Other analysts also said the U.N. bid would be difficult to put into practice.

"There’s going to be a huge gap between the content of this resolution and the military and psychological reality on the ground (which) will make it hard to implement," said Middle East expert Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Telhami said one problem was that Hizbollah has not been involved with drafting the resolution.

"And it isn’t clear that they have any input in this. And it’s hard to see how you’re going to implement something like this (without the input)," Telhami said.

Israeli Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog said time was running out for Israel’s military campaign.

"We have the coming days for lots of military moves. But we have to realize the timetable is getting shorter," he said.

© 2006 Reuters