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Lebanon Signals Delay in Requesting German Troops

Uwe Hessler (sp)
September 5, 2006

The Lebanese government has set preconditions for the deployment of a German naval peacekeeping force, saying Israel must first lift its air and sea blockade.

The German navy may face a limited mandate for patrolling Lebanon's coastImage: AP

Confusion gave way to frustration in Berlin on Tuesday as government officials tried to make sense of the latest news from Beirut.

The office of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said earlier in the day that the Lebanese government had decided to approve the deployment of a German naval force to secure the Lebanese coast as part of a UN-led peacekeeping force. The German government has offered to lead the naval component of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Libanesischer Premier Minister Fuad Siniora
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad SinioraImage: picture-alliance

Even as Berlin awaited a formal written request to the same effect, it emerged that Beirut would only send a written request for troops to both Berlin and the UN only after Israel lifted its air and sea blockade of the region.

The move is largely interpreted as a tactic to step up pressure on Israel to end its blockade. Beirut considers the blockade as illegal under United Nations resolution 1701 governing a fragile ceasefire with Israel. According to observers, the Siniora government has been under pressure from Hezbollah ministers in his cabinet not to make too many concessions to the United Nations and Israel.

Germany wants clear and robust mandate

Another cause for concern in Berlin is the news from Beirut that the German naval force can only be deployed seven miles off the Lebanese coast. That would make an efficient search for arms smugglers difficult, according to experts.

Defense minister Franz Josef Jung attempted to put a brave face on the Lebanese government’s decision.

"We haven’t received an official request so far which after all has to come through United Nations channels," Jung said. "It‘s crucial that we get a mandate from the world body and maybe we’ll hear more from its New York headquarters in the course of the next few days."

In the meanwhile, the French government on Tuesday said Lebanon has asked that its navy patrol the coast while other nations prepare their participation in the mission. Paris was considering the request, made via the United Nations, "very favourably," the French foreign ministry said.

Angela Merkel bei der Bundesmarine U-Boot
German Chancellor Merkel visits a submarine at the marine base in Rostock-WarnemündeImage: AP

Germany insists on a clear request from Beirut coupled with a robust mandate from the United Nations. Pending approval by the German parliament, up to 3,000 troops and some 13 vessels are then planned to be sent to the troubled region. They are to prevent sea-based arms smuggling mainly from Syria to Hezbollah militants.

The German defense ministry has said it would take about two weeks to deploy in the Middle East once the mission is formally approved by the German parliament. The country has ruled out sending ground troops, wanting to avoid any confrontation with Israeli soldiers because of Germany's role in the Holocaust.

Germany, once loathe to send troops abroad because of its World War II history, is currently taking part in 10 international military missions. There has been public resistance to some of the interventions, notably Germany's decision to the lead the European Union peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Hope for lifting of Israeli blockade

German Foreign Minster Frank Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday he was confident that Beirut would change its mind.

"I believe the Lebanese government will eventually come to realize that their ultimate goal of lifting the blockade can only be achieved in the wake of the deployment of a strong international force," Steinmeier said on Tuesday.

In the meantime, German government members have said they can only sit on their hands and keep prepared for a speedy decision once an official request has been made.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was already forced to cancel a special cabinet meeting on Monday scheduled to pave the way for a parliamentary decision later this week.

But there may also be fresh hope according to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. In the Egyptian port city of Alexandria on Tuesday, he said that Beirut would be receiving good news from Israel within

the next 48 hours -- the strongest indication yet that Israel could indeed lift its blockade.

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