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Midnight Skulduggery

January 02, 1986

A victim of last-minute maneuvers on the budget in the rush by Congress to go home for Christmas was funding for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Without hearings, without policy review, indeed without the knowledge of most members on the conference committee, $18 million was dropped from the bill in what smacks of midnight skulduggery.

The effect of this move will be to make impossible an extension of the peace force when its present mandate expires in April. The elimination of that option has brought expressions of concern from both the State Department and the White House, with a promise to seek a supplementary appropriation. But that funding effort will face the increasingly hostile atmosphere created by the controversial mandatory deficit-reduction bill also adopted in the last hours before Congress adjourned for its Christmas recess.

Some in Israel, including forces within the right-wing Likud, and many in the radical right in the United States, which views all U.N. operations with hostility, will rejoice in the demise of UNIFIL. But they are wrong. The force, since its creation in 1978, has been, as the State Department recently said, a "stabilizing influence" playing a "positive role" in southern Lebanon, trying to limit the infiltration of terrorists into Israel. It was the fashion in Israel to belittle the force as ineffective and unfriendly until the Israelis themselves discovered the complexities of controlling the volatile region after their 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

There may be no need to renew the mandate of UNIFIL. But that option should be left for the U.N. Security Council to decide, not foreclosed by congressional staff tricks. The amount of money is a small price to pay for a contribution to stability that could prove a major instrument for peace in the region. The U.S. share is about one-third of the total, and the total American contribution, $38 million a year, is a drop in the bucket compared with the $3 billion in military assistance going to Israel and Egypt.

From the beginning, the United States has been a major contributor to the 13 peacekeeping operations of the United Nations, and with good reason. The Cyprus operation, still under way, is an example of the stability that an international force can bring to an explosive situation. There is a good possibility that UNIFIL could itself play a similar role in its tense position in southern Lebanon.

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