Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.N. Force in Lebanon Said to Have "Limited Possibilities"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.N. Force in Lebanon Said to Have "Limited Possibilities"

Article excerpt

Most European newspapers welcomed the EU's Aug. 25 decision to contribute 7,000 troops to a United Nations mission to police the Israeli-Lebanon cease-fire. "It demonstrates that the EU is now more capable of playing a role in the world," commented Germany's Financial Times Deutschland on Aug. 28.

"This is a big opportunity for the entire EU, keen to flaunt its aspirations for global clout, to do something significant to realize them in its volatile Middle Eastern backyard," wrote Britain's Guardian of Aug. 25. "Europe may be reluctant, but it has a truly indispensable role to play," it concluded.

"The EU should take the initiative over the country's reconstruction and become a top contributor," editorialized France's Le Monde on Aug. 29. "The EU must quickly help the government in Beirut not to let [Hezbollah] have the monopoly on the country's reconstruction."

As a result of squabbles over troop numbers, however, the U.N. mission had been in danger of falling apart before it had even been dispatched. After taking a lead in drafting the U.N. Security Council resolution that brought about the cease-fire, France offered only 200 troops toward the 15,000-member U.N. force. But in the face of scorn, President Jacques Chirac increased that offer to 2,000.

Writing in Britain's Sunday Times of Aug. 27, former Conservative MP and commentator Michael Portillo accused France of "wasting valuable time."

"Whatever criticisms [Chirac) may have of George W. Bush, the American does not fail to put his troops where his mouth is," Portillo wrote. "That is where Chirac has been caught out. In the case of Lebanon, grandstanding was not enough. He has now stepped forward to do his duty with all the relish of a man slipping into a quicksand. French forces may be ineffective, or suffer casualties, or both. Washington cannot wait to see what happens," he concluded.

However, pointed out France's Libération of Aug. 22, the country has not forgotten the 58 French soldiers killed in Beirut in October 1983, or the 84 it lost in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. It is torn between "the risk of seeing the entire edifice of U.N. Resolution 1701 collapse because of international inaction and of plunging into a dangerous, if not suicidal, mission," the daily noted.

There also was debate in Germany over the country's contribution, given the sensitivity of its relations with Israel.

The Aug. 22 edition of Der Tagesspiegel questioned the argument that, for historical reasons, German troops sent to Lebanon should be forbidden from shooting at Israeli soldiers.

For 40 years during the Cold War, the newspaper pointed out, German troops could have shot East Germans, Poles and Russians "even though around 20 million people were killed by Germans in the Soviet Union in World War II." German troops can also be deployed in Kosovo, it added, even though they once caused terrible devastation in Yugoslavia.

"So what is the rule?" the paper asked. "A German bullet can be fired at the grandson of a Serb resistance fighter, but not at a Jewish Holocaust survivor?"

But, according to the Aug. 1 Sueddeutsche Zeitung, those who accuse the Berlin government of inaction have no understanding of the dilemma facing Germans in the Middle East. Describing Germany's dealings with Israel as "tricky," it went on to argue, "History has still not by any means absolved Germans of their special responsibility for Israel. Germans, above all, must ask themselves how strong their criticism of Israel can be."

In the opinion of the Aug. 18 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, however, the U.N. resolution stipulating that the force's aim is to prevent illegal weapon transports to southern Lebanon and Hezbollah is "sufficient to answer the question of what sort of activities German troops should undertake in the region.

"Namely, none that would require the use of force on the ground," the paper elaborated, "but every conceivable function to do with providing support, reconstruction and backup. …

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