Europeans wary of shaky cease fire


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

August 21, 2006

Europeans Delay Decision on Role Inside Lebanon

PARIS, Aug. 20 ‹ The shaky, United Nations-brokered cease-fire in Lebanon 
suffered another blow on Sunday when the European countries that had been called
upon to provide the backbone of a peacekeeping force delayed a decision on 
committing troops until the mission is more clearly defined.

Their reservations postponed any action on the force at least until Wednesday, 
when the European Union will take up the issue.

Haunted by their experiences in Bosnia in the 1990¹s, when their forces were 
unable to stop widespread ethnic killing, European governments are insisting 
upon clarifying the chain of command and rules of engagement before plunging 
into the even greater complexities of the Middle East.

³In the past, when peacekeeping missions were not properly defined, we¹ve seen 
major failures,¹¹ a spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry, Agnès 
Romatet-Espagne, said Sunday. ³There are the bad memories of Bosnia. This time 
we want the answers beforehand, so we don¹t come to the problems when they have 

In addition, a senior French official said, ³Italy, Spain and Finland have 
raised the same questions as France has.² Following the usual diplomatic 
practice, the official asked not to be identified. A spokesman for the Spanish 
Foreign Ministry said Spain was willing to send troops, ³but the rules have to 
be clarified and agreed on.²

Some countries, like Australia, which has placed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan,
have refused to commit troops. ³We have no intention of making any significant 
contribution,² said a senior Australian government official, who was not 
authorized to speak publicly on the matter. ³We don¹t have any confidence in it.
It is not going to have the mandate to disarm Hezbollah.²

The confusion over the peacekeeping force, coming just a day after an Israeli 
commando raid, added to fears that the cease-fire could easily break down. 
³Unfortunately, there is a tilting edge where things very easily, within the 
next weeks or months, can slide out of control,² a top United Nations envoy, 
Terje Roed-Larsen, said at a news conference in Beirut on Sunday, after two days
of meetings with Lebanese officials. Finland, which holds the rotating 
presidency of the European Union, scheduled the Wednesday meeting in Brussels, 
where diplomatic and military experts were expected to address questions that 
they believed have still not been properly answered.

³We need to know what are the material and legal means at our disposal,² the 
French defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, said Friday. ³You can¹t send in 
men and tell them: Observe what is going on, but you don¹t have the right to 
defend yourself or shoot.¹¹

In a further complication, Israel¹s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told his 
cabinet on Sunday that he did not want countries that did not have diplomatic 
relations with Israel to participate in the force, according to an official in 
the prime minister¹s office. Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh are among the 
countries that have offered frontline troops but have no diplomatic ties with 

Mr. Olmert spoke by telephone with Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy and 
called on Italy to take a leading role in the international force, according to 
a statement released by Mr. Olmert¹s office. Italy has offered to send up to 
3,000 troops while France, which helped broker the cease-fire, has so far 
refused to commit more than 200.

While the troubled peacekeeping force dominated discussion in Europe, 
repercussions from a commando raid in Lebanon on Saturday night were still being
felt in Israel.

Israeli officials defended the risky nighttime operation, which they said was 
aimed at stopping the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah and was fully justified,
since the United Nations truce calls for an end to the rearming of the militant 
group. Officials hinted that the Israeli military would act again if it 
suspected new weapons were flowing to Hezbollah.

³The resolution has very clear directives on limiting the transfer of weapons 
from Syria and Iran into Lebanon,² said Isaac Herzog, the tourism minister and a
member of Israel¹s security cabinet. ³The directives speak of a full embargo. As
long as it is not enforced, we have the full right to act against it.²

Israel gave few details about the raid, and speculation abounded in the Israeli 
news media that the commandos were trying to free the two Israeli soldiers whose
capture started the conflict, or to kill a Hezbollah leader. One such official, 
Sheik Muhammad Yazbeck, lives in the area where the operation took place.

In Lebanon, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, touring the ruins on the Shiite 
southern edge of the capital, where apartment buildings were flattened for 
blocks, called the Israel bombing raids ³a crime against humanity.²

³What we see today is an image of the crimes Israel has committed,² he said. 
³There is no other description other than a criminal act that shows Israel¹s 

The Lebanese defense minister, Elias Murr, who on Saturday threatened to halt 
the deployment of Lebanese troops to the south if Israel carried out any more 
raids, warned Sunday that anyone who fired rockets toward Israel from southern 
Lebanon would be treated as a ³traitor² for giving the Israelis an excuse to 
resume hostilities. The warning appeared to be directed not toward Hezbollah, 
which he said had pledged to honor the cease-fire, but to fringe groups, 
particularly those in Palestinian refugee camps.

Speaking at a news conference at the Defense Ministry in the hills overlooking 
Beirut, Mr. Murr also had harsh words for the Israelis, saying the commando raid
showed ³the whole world² who was violating ³international resolutions.²

While the Israeli military is normally quick to publicize its successes ‹ 
sometimes even providing videos of the raids through eerie green night-vision 
lenses ‹ scant details of the commando raid near the Hezbollah stronghold of 
Baalbek were disclosed.

An official statement released by the army said, ³The goals of the operation 
were achieved in full.²

But in the Lebanese village of Boudai, residents gave graphic accounts yesterday
of a commando force, wearing Lebanese Army uniforms and shouting in Arabic, that
was chased down by local guerrillas and forced to evacuate by helicopter.

The commandos were from the Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli news media reported, the
country¹s most elite, legendary and secretive unit, one that carried out, among 
other operations, the famous Entebbe raid to free hostages held on an airliner.

Lt. Col. Emanuel Morano, who was apparently the leader of the force, put at 
about 100 men by the Israeli news media, was killed and another officer and a 
soldier were wounded.

In Israel, it was widely assumed that the mission was considered highly 
important and involved something more than interdicting an effort to resupply 
Hezbollah with standard weaponry. Many of the reports in the Israeli news media 
centered on speculation that the raid was intended to gather intelligence or 
evidence about advanced, Russian-made weaponry sold to Syria and being sent into
Lebanon for Hezbollah.

In an analysis in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Alex Fishman wrote that 
Hezbollah had been using advanced Soviet-made antitank weapons. More than 10 
days ago, he wrote, a legal opinion was written by lawyers reviewing the United 
Nations-backed cease-fire agreement ³stipulating unequivocally² that attacks on 
Hezbollah weaponry would be classified as ³an act of defense.²

Whatever the purpose of the raid, most agreed it never would have been disclosed
if the commandos had not run into serious difficulties.

³Nobody was supposed to hear about the secret operation two days ago deep inside
Lebanon, one of the secret operations the public is not told about,² the 
newspaper Maarivsaid. But, the paper added, ³the mission got in trouble on the 

The daily Haaretz quoted an unidentified military source as saying, ³We were 
really lucky the operation did not end with 10 commandos killed.²

Some commentators described the raid as another black mark for the Israeli 
military, already under severe criticism for its conduct of the Lebanon war.

Writing in Yediot Aharonot, Amir Rappaport said, ³The operation was intended to 
be absolutely secret and the mere fact that it was revealed and even claimed 
casualties is proof of its failure.

³The skirmish between the commando troops and the Hezbollah fighters, which was 
not planned, also displays Israel to the world as though it violated the U.N. 
resolution. Absurdly enough, the mission that ran into trouble was also intended
to allow Israel to provide proof later on that Syria, Hezbollah and Iran were 
not honoring the agreement.²

European hesitation over committing troops to the peacekeeping force is to some 
extent rooted in bitter memories of the Continent¹s experiences in Bosnia, where
foreign troops were not only unable to prevent large-scale ethnic killing but 
were themselves held hostage at times by the warring parties. Some of the 
peacekeepers¹ ineffectiveness was attributed to unclear rules of engagement and 
to conflicting chains of command between national defense ministries and the 
United Nations.

But some critics say the delay may indicate that military chiefs of staff are at
odds with their diplomats who helped write the peacekeeping resolution and 
planning documents.

The United Nations has said it is looking for at least 3,500 troops to arrive by
Sept. 2. So far France has promised 200 soldiers. Fifty military engineers 
landed in Lebanon this weekend and the rest are to arrive later this week. But 
France¹s initial contribution has fallen far short of the 2,500 to 4,000 
soldiers that it had been expected to offer. France had also been expected to 
assume leadership of the entire international force, which was intended to 
number about 15,000 troops and would join 15,000 Lebanese Army troops in 
patrolling southern Lebanon.

Meeting in Cairo on Sunday, Arab foreign ministers expressed their ³readiness² 
to contribute to the reconstruction of Lebanon.

³The United Arab Emirates will rebuild the schools and hospitals in southern 
Lebanon and help remove landmines, Qatar will rebuild the town of Bint Jbail, 
and Kuwait will set aside $800 million,² said Hesham Youssef, adviser to the 
secretary general of the Arab League. ³This is in addition to the $500 million 
already promised by Saudi Arabia for reconstruction efforts.²

Marlise Simons reported from Paris for this article, and John Kifner from 
Beirut. Reporting was contributed by Greg Myre from Jerusalem, Ian Fisher from 
London, Raymond Bonner from Jakarta, Indonesia, and Renwick McLean from Madrid.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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