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Who will make up the UN force for Lebanon?

Barry Thorne and Claire Cavanagh 21-08-2006

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."

See also

Is UN Tough Enough
Role for Germany in peace force
Hezbollah seizes initiative
Israel doomed to destruction
Will Israel die?
What was achieved?
Israel's war verdict - we lost