Israel fears UNIFIL's power might shrink

Defense officials: Troops said to be busier protecting themselves than tackling Hizbullah.

Unifil post with soldier (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Unifil post with soldier
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Concerns are mounting in the Israeli defense establishment over the possibility that European countries which contribute military forces to UNIFIL might begin to gradually reduce their participation in the peacekeeping force over the coming year, defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post. According to the officials, the political instability in Lebanon on the one hand, and the growing threats in southern Lebanon against the UN force by Hizbullah as well as al-Qaida elements on the other, could cause European countries to reconsider the extent of their participation in the peacekeeping force. UNIFIL was significantly enlarged - from a force of 2,000 troops to over 13,000 - following the Second Lebanon War Israel fought against Hizbullah in the summer of 2006. Germany, for example, is scheduled to concede command of the UNIFIL naval contingent in February. While Germany will continue to serve as a UNIFIL member, Israeli officials said they were concerned that the move was the first step in the country's plan to downsize its involvement. Defense officials from a number of European countries confirmed that their governments were currently debating the issue and that it was possible that the UNIFIL force would not remain at its current strength in the years to come. Some officials went as far as to predict that if the political situation in Lebanon resolved itself and stabilized, there may "no longer be a need for UNIFIL at all." The concern over the fate of UNIFIL was reportedly recently raised by the force commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano, who was quoted as warning Lebanese leaders he met in Beirut last week that the tension in the south and a deepening political crisis in the country might prompt European countries "to withdraw from UNIFIL within less than four months." In addition to the concerns over the future of UNIFIL, the IDF has recently lodged informal complaints with several European countries over the fact that their forces are, according to Israel, involved more in protecting themselves from terror groups in southern Lebanon than in fulfilling their mission of preventing weapons smuggling and Hizbullah buildup. On Tuesday, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of Military Intelligence's research division, told a Knesset committee that Hizbullah was learning to adapt to the new reality in southern Lebanon where UNIFIL operates. According to defense officials, since the deaths of six Spanish soldiers in a terror attack in June, UNIFIL has been investing most of its resources in self-protection at the expense of conducting its missions. "Hizbullah is gaining from this situation," an official said.