As the death tolls in Lebanon and Israel rise, calls for a robust international peacekeeping force are increasing. But history should serve as warning. As we all know, the United States and France learned the cost of a poorly planned presence in 1983 when Hezbollah suicide bombers blew up their barracks, killing 300 troops. More to the point, there has been a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon since 1978 (paradoxically named the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or Unifil) charged with confirming Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, restoring “international peace and security” and helping the Lebanese government restore its authority. The force, 2,000 strong, has failed in all but the first task, instead focusing on humanitarian aid. (...)
Now the United Nations and European Union officials are urging a strengthened force to “sort out the question of disarmament of the militia” in southern Lebanon and “guarantee sovereignty and freedom for Lebanon.” These are goals so ambitious that no peacekeeping force, not even NATO, could achieve them. In any case, one cannot deploy a peacekeeping force until the questions of disarmament and sovereignty have been addressed. Unless the path forward is agreed upon, the peacekeeping troops are at best without a clear mandate and at worst can become pawns in the negotiations.
The way forward in Lebanon is clear. First, the Syrians, the Lebanese and the Iranians must give up the fiction that Israel did not fully withdraw from Lebanon in 2000. (...) Second, no cease-fire will hold unless the root cause of the current crisis is addressed: the continuing presence of armed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon. Any solution will require a new security arrangement that not only disarms the Hezbollah militia but also mandates the deployment of Lebanese forces to the south, as well as a return of prisoners on both sides. Without such a deal, it would be folly to send in peacekeepers.
See also Arkin's Washington Post Blog analysis of the situation from an operational perspective: ceasefire is not likely anytime soon.