Can an “Arab force” save Lebanon? (Hint: No).

After 35 years on the job, it’s a fair bet that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has some tricks up his sleeve. However, the WikiLeaked revelation that Prince Saud supported the establishment of an "Arab force" in Lebanon to combat Hezbollah has left many in Beirut and Washington wondering exactly what the world’s longest-serving foreign ...

Joshua Roberts/Getty Images
Joshua Roberts/Getty Images
Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

After 35 years on the job, it's a fair bet that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has some tricks up his sleeve. However, the WikiLeaked revelation that Prince Saud supported the establishment of an "Arab force" in Lebanon to combat Hezbollah has left many in Beirut and Washington wondering exactly what the world's longest-serving foreign minister had in mind. Here's the prince's recommendation, as relayed by Ambassador David Satterfield:

What was needed was an ‘Arab force' drawn from Arab ‘periphery' states to deploy to Beirut under the "cover of the UN" and with a significant presence drawn from UNIFIL in south Lebanon ‘which is sitting doing nothing.' The US and NATO would be asked to provide equipment for such a force as well as logistics, movement support, and ‘naval and air cover.'

The concept of an "Arab force" has been tried before, during one of the first episodes in Prince Saud's long tenure. The 1976 Arab League summit in Riyadh, meant to resolve the nascent Lebanese civil war, resulted in the establishment of something called the "Arab Deterrent Force." Saudi Arabia and other Arab states provided troops to the new peacekeeping effort, but the bulk of the soldiers were contributed by Syria. Troops from the other Arab countries soon lost interest and abandoned the peacekeeping force -- but Syria remained, using the endeavor to legitimize its occupation of Lebanon.

After 35 years on the job, it’s a fair bet that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has some tricks up his sleeve. However, the WikiLeaked revelation that Prince Saud supported the establishment of an "Arab force" in Lebanon to combat Hezbollah has left many in Beirut and Washington wondering exactly what the world’s longest-serving foreign minister had in mind. Here’s the prince’s recommendation, as relayed by Ambassador David Satterfield:

What was needed was an ‘Arab force’ drawn from Arab ‘periphery’ states to deploy to Beirut under the "cover of the UN" and with a significant presence drawn from UNIFIL in south Lebanon ‘which is sitting doing nothing.’ The US and NATO would be asked to provide equipment for such a force as well as logistics, movement support, and ‘naval and air cover.’

The concept of an "Arab force" has been tried before, during one of the first episodes in Prince Saud’s long tenure. The 1976 Arab League summit in Riyadh, meant to resolve the nascent Lebanese civil war, resulted in the establishment of something called the "Arab Deterrent Force." Saudi Arabia and other Arab states provided troops to the new peacekeeping effort, but the bulk of the soldiers were contributed by Syria. Troops from the other Arab countries soon lost interest and abandoned the peacekeeping force — but Syria remained, using the endeavor to legitimize its occupation of Lebanon.

The outcome of the 1976 force hints at the problem with reviving the idea of an "Arab force" today. Syria was only able to establish its preeminence in Lebanon after another 14 years of fighting and thousands of casualties. Today, none of the Arab states that would contribute troops to limit Hezbollah’s power — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan — are conceivably in a position to make a similar sacrifice. Hezbollah fought the vastly superior Israel Defense Forces to a standstill for more than a month in 2006; the militant group would be an ever harder nut to crack for Washington’s Arab allies.

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