Israel is concerned that Indonesia could take up command of UNIFIL’s naval force, making it difficult for the IDF and particularly the Israel Navy to maintain a high level of coordination with the peacekeeping force.
Italy is currently in charge of the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force after taking over command from the German Navy last November. Germany, Greece, Italy and Turkey all contribute to the force.
Since the task force began operations following the Second Lebanon War and the decision to beef up UNIFIL, the task force has hailed some 30,000 ships and referred several hundred to the Lebanese authorities for further inspections.
Italy, however, is scheduled to step down from command of the task force in June and Israel has received word that Indonesia is being considered as one of the possible candidates to command the naval force. Germany is also being discussed as a potential candidate.
While Israel does not play an active role in UNIFIL operations, the IDF does enjoy close ties with the peacekeeping force. The Mediterranean Sea is also a known route used by Iran to smuggle weapons to Hizbullah, as demonstrated by Israel’s seizure last year of the Francop, a ship that was carrying over 300 tons of weaponry for Hizbullah.
Israel’s concern is that if Indonesia takes command of the force, coordination and ties will deteriorate, since Israel and Indonesia do not have formal diplomatic or military relations. Indonesia already contributes to UNIFIL 1,300 soldiers who are deployed in the eastern sector near the southern Lebanese village of Tayba.
The concern about Indonesia joins preexisting IDF fears that European countries may pull out of UNIFIL. The maritime task force, which when established included 12 ships, is now down to six.
In addition, Poland last year withdrew its contingent from UNIFIL due
to growing pressure from the United States to contribute more forces to
NATO operations in Afghanistan. The Israeli defense establishment’s
fears focus on the prospects of pullouts by Spain, Italy and France,
which are the primary contributors to UNIFIL and have done a relatively
effective job of restricting overt Hizbullah activities in southern
Milos Strugar, a UNIFIL spokesman, said in response to the report,
“Italy is currently in command and the United Nations is in contact
with the contributing troop countries about handing over the command to
another country which will take place at the end of Italy’s mandate.”