Opinion: Plenty Left Undecided for UN Peacekeeping Force | Current Affairs | DW | 29.08.2006
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Current Affairs

Opinion: Plenty Left Undecided for UN Peacekeeping Force

Pledges were made to send the first set of troops to strengthen the UN's mission in Lebanon on Monday, but a number of questions for the international community remain unanswered, says DW's Peter Philipp.

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In the past Israel has been suspicious and dismissive when it comes to putting an international force into place to reduce violence, but seems to have fundamentally changed.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has formally called for a strong United Nations force for southern Lebanon and can even imagine that it could become a model for dealing with the Palestinians. Only in the case of failure, Livni warned, would Israel be forced to take matters into its own hands.

Behind the change of opinion lies, at least partially, a disenchantment in Jerusalem, which did not deliver the war against Hezbollah it had hoped for and promised its population. But there has also been a noticeable change in Israel's basic position -- namely the sudden willingness to be integrated in international solutions.

Who will se n d what, where a n d whe n ?

This is certainly a positive development. If only it were accompanied by a truly determined and demonstrative negotiations with the international community. Despite all the optimistic statements coming out of New York, this is exactly what has been missing.

Even with new pledges of additional troops to beef up the 2,000-man UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 3,500 additional soldiers, it is still unclear which countries will be sending troops where and when. Still, at the beginning of the fragile ceasefire put in place two weeks ago, even the first steps to build UNIFIL up seemed far away.

However, there are still more undecided than decided. The troops' exact mandate has not been established, and most of the countries -- including Germany -- would rather send their navies to patrol Lebanon's Mediterranean coast. Beirut, which believes UNIFIL should help the Lebanese army on the ground in the country's south instead of turning into a maritime force off the Lebanese coast, isn't excited about the plan.

Leba n ese hold o n to sovereig n ty

The Lebanese government is not interested in giving up more sovereignty, which is why it insists on remaining responsible for the country's eastern border with Syria and cutting off arms smuggling there. That is the reason why Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora repeatedly said he is not considering a violent disarming of Hezbollah, which runs the danger of provoking fights the army would not win.

Instead the prime minister wants the slow integration of Hezbollah into the regular military. Hezbollah is not a foreign element but a part of Lebanon. But it can no longer be a state within a state and uncontrolled militia and needs to change and integrate itself into a political power.

But this will not be achieved with military force -- neither on the part of Beirut nor from UNIFIL. Expert political tactics are necessary and quick solutions are not to be expected. That is why it is not absurd to plan the process -- when it finally begins -- not for weeks and months but for years. That's one more reason why most countries are not warming up to a substantial commitment in Lebanon.

Middle East expert Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspo n de n t (sms).

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