france unifil 298 88.
(photo credit: AP)
High-ranking IDF officers said "good riddance" this week after reports emerged from UN headquarters in New York that UNIFIL's commander, French Maj.-Gen. Alain Pellegrini, will be replaced by February.
According to UN plans, the French will turn over command of UNIFIL to the Italian armed forces. Pellegrini's successor has yet to be named but Italian defense sources said Thursday that three well-respected top generals were competing for the position. One candidate is Gen. Paolo Geromatta, who currently commands Italy's 2,500-strong UNIFIL contingent.
"We are happy to see Pellegrini go," said a high-ranking IDF officer in Tel Aviv, who noted the French general's anti-Israel comments since he took up his post in January 2004. Most recently, Pellegrini said UNIFIL forces were allowed to shoot down IAF jets patrolling Lebanon, sparking harsh criticism from the IDF.
"After being in Lebanon for so long, he must have forgotten whose side he is on and has turned pro-Hizbullah," said an officer in the Northern Command.
Pellegrini also caused a stir within the IDF when said in an interview to The Jerusalem Post in September that the multinational force would not automatically open fire on Hizbullah guerrillas if they were on their way to or in the midst of an attack on Israel.
UNIFIL's head count rose this week to 11,512 with the deployment of a Malaysian infantry company and the reinforcement of the Indian contingent. The peacekeeping force is made up of soldiers from 26 countries and includes 1,756 naval personnel.
The new Italian commander of UNIFIL will be taking over at a sensitive time in the region and amid predictions by the IDF that a new round of violence with Hizbullah will erupt in the summer.
The Italian contingent has been instrumental in destroying nearly 20,000 explosive devices - bombs and mines - left behind from this past summer's war.
Senior officers in the Northern Command praised the Italian contingent on Thursday, saying they were doing a good job enforcing Security Council Resolution 1701 and preventing Hizbullah from returning to its outposts on the border. IDF sources said that Italy was one of a few countries - along with Spain and France - whose UNIFIL contingents physically confronted Hizbullah.