Since the 1982 Lebanon War, the United Nations has repeatedly demanded that all foreign forces leave Lebanese territory.
This evacuation of outside agents provocateurs was rightly seen as the prerequisite for the pacification of the volatile Israel-Lebanon border. When Israel completed its withdrawal from its southern security zone in 2000, one might have expected that this international principle would have been asserted, and a concerted UN effort begun to rid Lebanon of the Syrian army and other foreign forces -- notably those of Iran.
Unfortunately, the situation in Lebanon was totally neglected, and ominous developments followed. Israel's withdrawal to what the UN called the "blue line" was recognised by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a full Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory. His ruling was confirmed by the UN Security Council on July 27, 2000, with the adoption of Resolution 1310.
But the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hizbollah claimed that Israel actually had more to give to Lebanon. In particular, it wanted a tiny sliver of Golan territory that had been disputed between Israel and Syria. This outstanding grievance, which had no international backing, was used to justify Hizbollah's continuing war against Israel.
What made this dispute particularly dangerous was Iran's decision to deploy medium-range missiles in southern Lebanon, aimed at Israel's northern cities. In 2002, Lebanese media reported the arrival of Iranian Revolutionary Guards to train Hizbollah in the use of these new weapons, known as the Fajr 3 and Fajr 5 -- which, unlike the older Soviet-made Katyusha rockets, had a range of some 45 miles. Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon. In return, it acquired a more powerful Hizbollah, with Iranian forces also taking up positions directly on its borders.
The situation was eerily reminiscent of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Then, the Soviet Union had only unreliable intercontinental ballistic missiles for striking the U.S., so they positioned shorter-range missiles in nearby Cuba instead.
Today, the Iranians have an 800-mile-range Shahhab missile for striking Israel, and are working feverishly to improve its capabilities while investing in longer-range missiles aimed at western Europe. Teheran doubtless calculates that, if the West tries to take measures against its nuclear programme, its Lebanese arsenal could hold Israel hostage. The difference between 1962 and 2006 is that, while President Kennedy made sure that the Soviets withdrew their missiles from Cuba, the international community has done nothing about the growing missile threat in Lebanon.
International attention was drawn again to Lebanon in 2005 after the assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri by Syrian agents and the "Cedar Revolution" that followed. The UN Security Council called again for non-Lebanese forces to leave Lebanon. It called "for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias." It also reminded the Lebanese government of the Security Council's previous call, in 2004, "to ensure its effective authority throughout the south, including the deployment of Lebanese armed forces". The UN Security Council wanted the Lebanese Army sitting on the Israeli-Lebanese border -- not Hizbollah.
Had UN resolutions on Lebanon been implemented, no Israeli soldiers would have been kidnapped in northern Israel this month and there would be no Hizbollah rockets raining on Israeli civilians in Haifa, Nahariah, Safed and Tiberias.
So what is to be done? First, it is important to identify what should be the aims of the entire Western alliance -- including Israel -- in the current conflict. The chief goals are simple: full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that call for dismantling Hizbollah and the deployment of the Lebanese Army along the Israeli-Lebanon border instead. Second, the removal of all Iranian forces and equipment from Lebanese territory, along with any lingering Syrian presence.
This is a regional war. Iran is seeking to dominate Iraq, particularly its southern Shia areas - the provinces where British troops are deployed. Iran's aim is to dominate oil-producing areas by agitating the Shia populations of Kuwait, Bahrain and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia.
Finally, there is a second front in this war: the Gaza Strip. The Hamas movement, which came out of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, has decided to throw in its lot with Shia Iran and Hizbollah. Like Hizbollah, Hamas has embedded its military capabilities in civilian areas. Leaflets can help warn civilians, even if they give the terrorists advance warning that they are about to be attacked.
Israel must protect its civilians from these ongoing missile attacks, whether from Lebanon or the Gaza Strip. The first duty of any government is the defence of its citizens -- a domestic duty which is also an international obligation, enshrined in law. But primary responsibility for what is happening rests squarely with Iran and its local proxies. The international community must see the UN resolutions on Lebanon implemented, and international security restored. That is the first step towards securing a pluralist Middle East, founded on representative government and human rights.
Reprinted with permission from the London Telegraph.