The Turkish government once again has tripped itself on the issue of sending troops to UN Peace Force for Lebanon. It has pulled itself into trouble without the intervention of an outsider. Obviously, the opposition also acts very opportunistic about the issue. Neither those who favor sending troops nor those who oppose it have sufficient information regarding the problem. Unfortunately, we recently see the best examples of foul-playing in Turkey.
What I find the most bizarre is those who say “The Middle East is a quagmire; we must keep ourselves away from this region.” It gives you the surmise that Turkey is not in the Middle East. It gives you the surmise that Turkey is contemplating to send troops to Paraguay. However, Lebanon is only two-hour drive away from the most southern border of Turkey. Iraq is our neighbor and Iran too. We share the longest border with Syria. All the terrorist organizations operating/operated in Turkey once have used the Beqaa Valley and have had some kind of link with the Palestinian-Lebanese armed organizations. In short, you cannot run away from the Middle East. This would be luxurious. If we run away from the Middle East, it will run towards us with all its problems. Turkey can run away from the Middle East as much as a tree can do from the garden it was planted. We have to admit: We are Middle Eastern, Balkanian and Caucasian. We have other characteristics too and we cannot avoid them.
Now let’s move back to Lebanon: Turkey is not the only country having reservations on sending troops there. The EU countries particularly are concerned and have postponed the decision to send troops numerous times. Even France, which seemed the most willing country for sending troops, did not send the expected number and quality of troops. The EU will extensively discuss the issue on Wednesday (23 August). The countries which hesitate to send troops have the common concern whether Israel will keep its promise not to use weapons. There is a cease-fire, but Israel violated it only after a couple of days it was enforced. The Israelis talk of staying in Lebanon for months. It seems that the troops in the peace force will remain under the fires. Therefore, each country anticipates the redefinition of the mandate of the peace force in Lebanon. Nobody wants to incur the burden which actually belongs to Israel. However, the US and Israel persistently demand a quick deployment of troops. The US wants the troops to be robust in quality and quantity and maintains that France send more troops. It stresses that there is an urgent situation which necessitates quick deployment of troops. Apparently, the US hopes that Hizbullah will be stopped by this force. Israel grows impatient as well because it will be the winner in any case: If the peace force will be able to stop Hizbullah, then Israel will have got rid of a great burden. If the UN force fails to achieve this, then Israel will have the legitimate ground to carry out any kind of operation. It will say “since you cannot stop it, you cannot criticize me.” In this case, the reinforcement of the UN force with NATO or the US troops, which will mean de facto occupation of Lebanon by the US, will be more likely. This is the plan. Many countries are aware of this plan and hesitate to be part of it.
The French particularly say that the Bosnian experience was a bad one, and hence, they demand that the mandate of the peace force to be clearer, and its objectives and means be reshaped according to their suggestions. The Italians and the Spanish share the same concerns with France. Germany declared that the international community should not expect a notable German contribution to the force. The Germans are only willing to take a role in naval patrolling and the training of the Lebanese army. Australia, unlike its contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan, declined to contribute to the UN force in Lebanon. The main reason of the Australian rejection is the unclear objectives of the force and lack of confidence.
The US President George W. Bush says that the problem was initiated by Hizbullah and acquits Israel. Moreover, he implies that Hizbullah should be disarmed by the multinational force. The most striking point of Bush’s statements is his demand that transfer of weapons to Hizbullah from Syria and Iran should be prevented. Apparently, the to-do-list is expanding to include the control of the Lebanese borders. However, it is obvious that none of the countries, including Turkey, are willing to achieve such broad objectives.
Most recently, Israel declared that it did not want the troops of countries with which it had no diplomatic relations. As known, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh have declared that they would send troops to Lebanon though they do not have any diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel’s demand shows that it wants a multinational force consisting of countries close to Israel rather than an impartial one. This is one reason why Israel insists on the deployment of Turkish troops. Turkey is one of the acceptable Muslim countries to Israel. Israel also wants significant contingencies from the European powers. The Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has made a phone call to Italian PM Romano Prodi and asked Italy’s leadership for the force. Italy suggested sending 3.000 troops and it is obvious that it will have a very important role in the UN force if that many Italian troops are sent. Prodi has already stated his country’s willingness to lead the force and said that it was the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who would decide on that. Italy is trying to take the advantage while France is lagging behind.
Israel, just like the US, demands the UN force to “guard” the Lebanese borders. For example, the Israeli Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog says “The [UN Security Council] resolution has very clear directives on limiting the transfer of weapons from Syria and Iran into Lebanon. The directives speak of a full embargo. As long as it is not enforced, we have the full right to act against it.”
On the Lebanese part, though the Lebanese army is being deployed in the South, it doesn’t seem to be a “real army”. What is more, many places, most prominently the capital, have been devastated. It is certain that the damage to the infrastructure and other areas has exceeded $10 billion. There are some who estimate larger amounts. This gloomy picture strengthens Hizbullah on the side and hinders the funding of the Lebanese army on the other. In fact, the Bush Administration pledged to channel $42 million for the training and equipment of the army. But this amount is worthless compared to the actual needs of the Lebanese army. The US further pledged to donate $50 million and another $230 million in the future for humanitarian assistance. But this amount is insignificant when compared to Hizbullah’s billion-dollar funds.
Briefly, Turkey is not the only hesitant country. Many countries like Italy, Spain and France also want to take part in the UN force in Lebanon, however, Israel’s conducts up to now leave many countries with reservations.
22 August 2006
Translated by: A. Noyan Özkaya
Sedat LACINER: Director of the USAK (International Strategic Research Organization)