Who will make up the UN force for
Barry Thorne and Claire
Italy is now the most likely candidate to lead the United Nations'
peacekeeping force for Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has
asked his Italian counterpart Romano Prodi if his country will head the
multinational force which would attempt to maintain a ceasefire between
Israel and Hizbollah following their month-long conflict. Italy is now
the frontrunner, after France indicated a reluctance to send more than
200 extra troops to participate in the force, which the UN hopes will
eventually number 15,000. The matter of which countries will
participate and how many troops they're prepared to send has become
something of a battle itself, with Israel unhappy about countries
taking part if they have no diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv.
While the discussions continue about the peacekeeping force, Israel has
already caused consternation in the UN with its raid on Hizbollah
guerillas in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon on Saturday. UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned Israel's action, describing it
as a violation of the ceasefire. However, Tel Aviv insists that its
troops were trying to prevent the supply of arms from Syria and Iran to
Hizbollah, and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Zalman
Shoval told Radio Netherlands that they had no choice but to attack:
"One of the primary conditions
of the ceasefire which was arranged by the [UN] Security Council is
that there must be an immediate stoppage of smuggling of arms from
Syria and Iran to Hizbollah. And this is not happening. Unfortunately,
the Syrians are still making an effort to transfer arms, sophisticated
arms to Hizbollah and we have no choice but to try to stop this, at
least until there is a UNIFIL force in place."
The UN would like 3,500 peacekeepers on the ground in Lebanon by the
end of August, but that could depend on the outcome of tricky
diplomatic negotiations, with countries either unwilling or unable to
commit troops. In Europe, France has already expressed its reticence
about sending a large contingent, Spain has said it could supply 700 to
800 troops and Germany has already been flying humanitarian aid to
Lebanon, though it's unclear whether Berlin will agree to a long-term
deployment of military personnel. The Netherlands won't be
participating as the Dutch military are already heavily committed to a
reconstruction force in southern Afghanistan.
There's been some irritation at Israel's reluctance to accept
participation from countries with whom it has no diplomatic ties, with
critics pointing out that it should be the UN, and not Israel, which
has the final say on the make-up of the mission. But Zalman Shoval says
the issue of diplomatic relations has to be considered.
"The idea to have Muslim
countries included was first raised by [Israeli] Prime Minister Olmert.
We want Muslim countries, but obviously we're not going to accept
countries which don't recognise Israel, they can't be neutral and I
think that's generally accepted, and if we're talking about Malaysia
and Indonesia, we would welcome their participation just as we're going
to welcome the participation of Turkey which does, of course, recognise
Israel, but they [the participating countries] will have to recognise
Israel first, just as they recognise Lebanon."
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