The current discussion surrounding an international force for southern Lebanon has focused almost exclusively on which countries and organizations -- NATO, the EU, the UN -- will provide the troops. This is an important issue, to be sure, but the real question concerns the changes that Israel must make in exchange for this force being put in place and assuming the risk of such a mission.
No international force will simply protect Israel from Hezbollah rockets while Israel continues its current strategy. After all, the recent military escalation in the region is at least partly due to that strategy. If an international force simply allows Ehud Olmert's government to pursue its plans further, the countries that provide troops for the international force will not only be seen as rubber-stamping Israeli policy, but will also be dragged into its failure.
To criticize Israel's strategy as flawed is not to condone the acts of Hamas or Hezbollah or to deny Israel's right to self-defense. It is merely to point out what should be obvious: Israel's efforts to find a unilateral solution to its security problems -- whether occupation, withdrawal, or separation -- have failed.
Unilateral occupation without commitment to a viable Palestinian state has produced only the intifada and suicide bombers. Unilateral withdrawal from Gaza without the prior establishment of a local authority to maintain order has only led to renewed intervention. And the "security fence," which was to allow for unilateral separation, may hold back suicide bombers, but won't protect against modern missiles of the kind currently employed by Hezbollah.
So far, the only lesson Israel seems to have drawn from its failed strategies is that it must extend and intensify the use of unilateral force: re-invade Gaza, devastate Lebanon, and threaten Syria -- and, by implication, Iran, which the Israeli government hints had a hand in orchestrating the recent crisis.
It takes little foresight, however, to predict that more force will not produce more security for Israel. The policy, reminiscent of the terrorist stratagem of bombing civilians in order to force the hands of their leaders, will only strengthen the radicals and boost their popular support. It will not hide the fact that Israel has run out of unilateral options.
Israel has so far been unwilling to accept this fact. Instead, its leaders hope that a robust international force in southern Lebanon will provide protection for northern Israel, leaving them with a free hand to deal unilaterally with Gaza and the West Bank, while committing the international community to Israel's failed unilateralism.
To join such an international force under such conditions would be totally irresponsible. Countries that contribute troops would appear to be siding unequivocally with Israel, thereby losing all of their credibility with Israel's adversaries. They would also risk being drawn into renewed Israeli operations against Hezbollah and its backers. Most important, they would forego what may be the last chance to promote a consensual peace.
The prior condition for setting up and joining an international force for deployment in southern Lebanon must be that Israel renews its commitment to the "road map" and negotiations with the Palestinians for a viable Palestinian state. With this aim in mind, it must enter into talks with democratically elected Palestinian representatives. True, such talks will be difficult, and they may not succeed. But that can no longer be an argument against diplomacy now that Israeli unilateralism has once again proven to be a strategic blind alley.