Nations Reluctant to Commit Troops to Lebanon
By ELAINE SCIOLINO and STEVEN ERLANGER
Published: July 24, 2006
PARIS, July 24 — Support is building quickly for an international military
force to be placed in southern Lebanon, but there remains a small problem:
where will the troops come from?
The United States has ruled out its soldiers participating, NATO says it is
overstretched, Britain feels its troops are overcommitted and Germany says
it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia which
it would police, agrees to it, a highly unlikely development.
“All the politicians are saying, ‘Great, great’ to the idea of a force, but
no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground,” said one senior
European official. “Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics
There has been strong verbal support for such a force in public, but also
private concerns that soldiers would be seen as allied to Israel and would
have to fight Hezbollah guerrillas who do not want foreigners, let alone the
Lebanese Army, coming between themselves and the Israelis.
There is also the burden of history. France — which has called the idea of a
force premature — and the United States are haunted by their last
participation in a multinational force in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion
in 1982, when they became belligerents in the Lebanese civil war and tangled
fatally with Hezbollah.
They withdrew in defeat after Hezbollah’s suicide bombing of a Marine
barracks in Beirut in October 1983, which killed 241 Marines and 56 French
Israel’s own public position toward an international force has been
welcoming, but skeptical, insisting that the force be capable of military
missions, not just peace-keeping.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggested that the force, with military
capability and fighting experience, could be made up of soldiers from
European and Arab states, while his defense minister, Amir Peretz, spoke of
soldiers from NATO countries.
But Israel senses no great willingness among leading European countries to
take part, and Israeli officials emphasize that they will not accept an end
to hostilities until clear policy goals are met.
For the moment, at least, Israel is laying out an ambitious, if perhaps
unrealistic, view of what the force would do. Israel wants it to keep
Hezbollah away from the border, allow the Lebanese government and army to
take control over all of its territory, and monitor Lebanon’s borders to
ensure that Hezbollah is not resupplied with weapons.
Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, laid out the goals in a meeting on
Sunday with a British Foreign Office minister, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter
Steinmeier of Germany and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy of France.
Ms. Livni told them that Israel’s goal was to disarm Hezbollah and that
either the Israeli Army or an international force would have to do it, said
officials familiar with the meeting.
The Europeans, by contrast, including Britain, France and Germany, envision
a much less robust international buffer force, one that would follow a
cease-fire and operate with the consent of the Lebanese government to
support the deployment of its army in southern Lebanon.
Such a scenario would mean that Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese
government, would have to be part of a decision that led to its own
disarming and the protection of Israel, a scenario that European officials
see as far-fetched.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who began a trip to the region today
with a quick first stop in Beirut, will host an international meeting on the
crisis in Rome on Wednesday, when an multinational force will be a prime
topic of conversation. But she already has ruled out the participation of
Today, Germany’s defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, said that Berlin would
be willing to participate if both Israel and Hezbollah requested German
participation and if certain tough, and potentially insurmountable,
conditions were met. These include a cease-fire and the release of the
captured Israeli soldiers.
“We could not refuse a peace mission of this nature if these conditions were
met, and if requests were directed to us,” Mr. Jung told German television
In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he hoped a plan, including an
international force, a mutual cease-fire and the release of the captured
soldiers, could be negotiated and announced in the next few days.
“If someone’s got a better plan, I’d like to hear it,” he said. “It’s the
only one I’ve got and I’m trying to make it happen.”
But Britain has also made clear in private diplomatic exchanges that with
thousands of its troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, it could not
be counted on to send troops into still another theater.
As for France, which already has troops in Lebanon as part of the United
Nations peacekeeping force known as Unifil, Mr. Douste-Blazy left his
meetings with Israeli leaders on Sunday convinced that the idea of a new
international force for Lebanon was “premature,” French officials said.
The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said today in
Brussels that an international force would not be “an easy force to deploy,”
but added that talks were under way about such a force under a United
Nations Security Council mandate.
“I think several member states of the European Union will be ready to
provide all necessary assistance,” he said, but did not name the countries
or what they might be prepared to do.
Mr. Solana is said to be wary of a NATO-led force, another senior European
Union official said. “NATO is too identified with the United States,” the
official said. “It would be Iraq all over again.”
At NATO headquarters, officials said they were taken by surprise by comments
of Israeli officials that they would welcome a NATO-led force to secure
“No request has been made to NATO,” said James Appathurai, the NATO
spokesman. “The possibility, the shape, the structure of any international
force — none of them has been seriously addressed.”
In an ambitious new mission, NATO is due to take over military operations
from the American-led coalition in Afghanistan at the end of the month.
The challenge of creating a viable international force to secure Israel’s
border with Lebanon was captured by Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the
Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot. The European foreign ministers were
enthusiastic, he said.
“They only had one small condition for the force to be made up of soldiers
from another country,” Mr. Barnea wrote. “The Germans recommended France;
the French recommended Egypt, and so on. It is doubtful whether there is a
single country in the West currently volunteering to lay down its soldiers
on Hezbollah’s fence.”
Elaine Sciolino reported from Paris for this article and Steven Erlanger
from Jerusalem. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London.