Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lebanon Force Uncertainties

There seems to be mounting uncertainities concerning the building up of the UNIFIL force in Lebanon towards 15 000 persons.

A meeting in Brussels tomorrow will - at French request - look at the combined European contribution.

It's not difficult to see the reasons for the hesitancy that is there in different countries concerning the sending of soldiers.

Exactly what the force is expected to do is not entirely clear. It will be under great pressue to disarm Hezbollah, but that does not really seems to be in its mandate, although the requirement that it will be done is very clear in the UN Security Council resolution.

Then there is the situation that has been demonstrated in the last few days, with Israel claiming that it has the right to undertake different military operations in Lebanon. If this continues, it's not difficult to see the cease-fire starting to deterioate even before a proper UN force is in place.

A third consideration - not publicly expressed, as far as I have seen - concerns the risks associated with a coming possible military confrontation with Iran.

If - at some point in time - the US decides to take military action against Iran, it is highly likely that Western forces in Lebanon will immediately be in the firing line, being caught up in a war over which they have no control whatsoever.

For all the complaining in Washington about France not supplying more troops, there are solid reasons beyond availability of force why neither the US nor Britain is keen to put boots on the ground in the area.

One consequence of the uncertainty is that we now see a rush to provide naval forces to UNIFIL. Germany will do it, Norway will do it and others are also certain to do it. I bet we'll soon have someone offering submarines to UNIFIL.

It's a way of minimizing risks as well as providing a very quick exit possibility - but it does not really contribute that much to the uncertain mission of the UN in Southern Lebanon.