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Jung can expect a warm welcome from his Israeli counterpartImage: AP

Warm Welcome in Israel

John Kluempers interviewed Gil Yaron (rar)
November 3, 2006

In an interview with DW-RADIO, Middle East analyst Gil Yaron talks about German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung's visit to Israel on Friday, where he is meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Amir Peretz.


DW-RADIO: Can Jung expect a warm welcome from Peretz, despite the recent "misunderstandings" between the Israeli air force and German ships patrolling off the Lebanese coast?

Gil Yaron: The Germans enjoy one of the highest credits and are the most trusted by Israel. Most of the Israeli spokespeople are very sorry about the misunderstandings and the incidences that have occurred in the week before. So they will make sure to make their guests comfortable, and one of the purposes of this visit is to establish a mechanism that will prevent such incidences in the future.

Many Germans parliamentarians are upset about the unclear nature of the UN mandate in Lebanon and off its coast. What must Jung and Peretz do to make this more robust?

It is up to Jung and Peretz to make this mandate more robust and it is something that is much bigger than just the two of them -- it is something that the international community has to enforce.

Indeed there is a lot of room for interpretation for the UN mandate which actually enables the UN force in Lebanon to do everything in its capacity to stop Hezbollah from using military force against Israel. The question is: what really is its capacity. When you ask different people, you get different answers and that is exactly the problem.

Hezbollah supporters wear yellow T-shirts and carry yellow flags, Hezbollah's color, as they rest in front of a poster showing Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah
Hezbollah should be stopped from using force against Israel, Yaron saidImage: AP

It has been reported that the Lebanese people are wondering just what purpose the UN troops are serving in Lebanon. Is this also a question in Israel and is the Israeli population thinking a lot about the UN mandate?

Definitely, it is one of the essential questions because this will determine who has, in the end, won this Lebanon war, which both sides claim to have won to some extent. But signs at the moment are not very encouraging. For the Israelis, there are several incidences in which international troops have been turned back by Hezbollah troops in southern Lebanon, and no one allowed them to use force in order to force their way through. So the freedom of movement for UN troops has been limited.

There are talks that even the freedom of movement of the war ships in the waters off Lebanon has been restricted because of Hezbollah's influence over the Lebanese government. Probably the most concerning issue in the arms shipments that are coming through the Syrian and Lebanese border. That is actually re-arming Hezbollah to its pre-war levels and even higher.

Should more pressure then be put on the UN to also secure this border?

Well, yes, but they made it very clear they would only be doing that if the Lebanese government asks them to, and since there are Hezbollah ministers within the Lebanese government, it's very unlikely that the Lebanese government, or Hezbollah in effect, is actually going to authorize someone to hinder its rearmament after the war.

A French U.N. peacekeeper drives a Leclerc tank that was painted white at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon
The UN must take a firmer stance in the conflict, according to YaronImage: AP

In the past few days the topic of Israeli air force flights over Lebanon has been raised. Will this just raise tensions?

Tensions are high as we speak and the Israelis say that they will continue and keep up their flights as long as UN resolution 1701 is not implemented. One has to remember, this whole war broke out because Hezbollah actually attacked Israel and abducted two of its soldiers. Now the end resolution, even in its preamble, is asking for those soldiers to be returned to Israel, which hasn't actually happened yet. The other thing that the UN resolution is talking about is the enforcement of the arms embargo and the disarmament of Hezbollah. The Israelis are saying that as long as those three key points have not been implemented, they will not stop their flights over Lebanon simply to ascertain that should Hezbollah strike out again they know where to strike.

Is an armed conflict a distinct possibility in the near future?

A think an armed conflict is more likely than continuation of the calm. Both sides are now preparing for the next round, with Hezbollah and Israel saying it's coming simply because the last round of violence did not lead to a conclusion and simply because the international force, the UNIFIL force and the UN are not doing a good enough job in order to prevent both sides from arming themselves again and becoming interested in the next round.

Are the Lebanese right to think that the UN is being used by Israel to achieve Israeli goals?

It depends who you ask, because when you ask Israelis they say the UN is actually helping Hezbollah to fulfill its goals. That is exactly the problem: when you get into a war and get into the middle and don't help one side very, very clearly, you get accusations.

Gil Yaron is a freelance journalist and Middle East analyst based in Tel Aviv. He writes regularly for the Israel news Web site www.ynetnews.com and several German and Austrian newspapers.

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