Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Maria Sanminiatelli, "Europe balks at Lebanon troop commitment," AP, Aug 21, 2006.

ROME - An Italian coalition leader said Rome would be willing to lead the military peace mission in Lebanon should the United Nations ask it to, while Germany's chancellor said Monday she is confident that Europe will contribute ground troops.

With the United States viewed by many as too closely allied to Israel, Europe is uniquely positioned to take the lead to help end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants. But so far, no European countries have stepped up with a large contribution of troops.

European Union diplomats will meet on Wednesday to consider the number of troops the 25 EU nations will contribute to an expanded U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday she believes "there will and should be a European contribution with ground troops" in Lebanon.

"However, all the countries are saying what Germany is saying: We need the right rules for the deployment" and the approval of the Lebanese government, she said.

President Bush on Monday called for quick deployment of an international force to help uphold the fragile cease-fire.

"The international community must now designate the leadership of this new international force, give it robust rules of engagement and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace," the president told a news conference.

Piero Fassino, who leads the largest party in Premier Romano Prodi's center-left coalition, told Rome daily Il Messaggero in an interview published Sunday that Italy "will not refuse, even though it is not seeking it."

"The Middle East is close to us, and a great nation like Italy cannot shirk its duties," Fassino was quoted as saying. "You cannot only invoke peace and security, you have to build them."

A U.N. cease-fire resolution has authorized up to 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to help an equal number of Lebanese troops extend their authority into south Lebanon, which has been controlled by Hezbollah, as Israel withdraws its soldiers. The U.N. wants 3,500 troops on the ground by next Monday.

Italy did not commit itself to specific numbers, but has indicated it would be prepared to send 3,000 soldiers, the largest contingent to date.

Germany has said it would not send troops, but will offer naval forces to help patrol the country's coastline. With their country's Nazi-era past in mind, German officials have expressed concern about deploying German troops in any situation that might bring them into confrontation with Israeli soldiers.

A key worry for many countries is whether the force will be called on to disarm Hezbollah fighters, as called for in a September 2004 U.N. resolution. Analysts also said the latest cease-fire resolution is unclear and open to interpretation.

"Europe has an aversion to sending troops to places where long-term stability is not ensured," said Jana Hybaskova, the European Parliament's main expert on the Middle East. "There is a major difference between peacekeeping and peace enforcing, and peace enforcing is something the Europeans may not be so keen on."

France, which commands the existing force U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL, had been expected to make a significant new contribution that would form the backbone of the expanded force. But Chirac disappointed the U.N. and other countries last week by merely doubling France's contingent of 200 troops.

French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne said Monday that France "was waiting for details about the means granted to this force to guarantee security."

Finland said it would send up to 250 peacekeepers to Lebanon, but said they would not be deployed until November. Turkey has indicated it will contribute troops but wants to study the forces' mandate before making any decisions.

Spain has discussed sending troops but is yet to make a concrete offer and Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland have made no offer at all.

"It's pretty self-evident that nobody wants to send troops if they think they are going to have to do peacemaking rather than peacekeeping, or if they think they are going to get caught in the crossfire," said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based think tank. "And given how many French soldiers died in Lebanon in the '80s, I think that kind of reluctance is understandable."

At a meeting last week of 49 potential troop-contributing nations, the only countries to offer mechanized infantry battalions, which will be the front line of the expanded force, were three Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel — Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia — and Nepal, which is predominantly Hindu.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that countries which don't have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state should not participate in the force, further complicating the effort.

Analysts blame Europe's weak response in part on France's unexpectedly meager offer.

As leader of the UNIFIL force in Lebanon, France had a critical role to play, said Michael Kerr, an expert in Lebanese politics at the London School of Economics.

"Whatever France does will create confidence — or vice versa," he said. Its disappointing contribution "sends the message that the French have grave concerns about the stability of the cease-fire."

Grant, of the Center for European Reform, said Europe's slow response was reasonable.

"I don't think the fact that Europeans are unwilling to send forces unless certain conditions are met means they're wimpish or not in favor of a European defense policy or foreign policy. It just means they're being prudent and sensible," he said.

"I think there's going to have to be a peace to be kept, or nobody — Europeans or anybody — is going to want to send troops."


Associated Press Writers Paul Ames and Jan Sliva in Brussels, Belgium, Raphael Satter in London, Geir Moulson and David McHugh in Berlin, and Angela Doland in Paris contributed to this report.

[Most often, the press appears to believe Merkel, that "all the countries are saying what Germany is saying." But really, there are at least three camps: those prepared to act as peacekeepers but who recognize there is no peace to keep; the "robust rules of engagement" wing which believes the UN's job is to disarm Hezbollah; and the unacceptable non-recognizers of Israel who are the only ones to have offered mechanized infantry. No one has uttered the obvious that, absent a peace to keep, "robust rules of engagement" means someone will have to expel the Israelis. That job, it seems clear, will eventually fall to Hezbollah. What is really needed is a diplomat with "robust rules of engagement" including the power to help the Lebanese government integrate Hezbollah and the Lebanese forces. Of course, the argument will be made that this would only confer legitimacy on Hezbollah. But Hezbollah is already legitimate. Meahwhile, Bush is yapping from the sidelines that he wants the international force depolyed quickly and Hezbollah gets out the Iranian cash and helps with reconstruction. -jlt]
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