Israel fears Afghanistan surge could sap UNIFIL's strength

Israeli defense official to 'Post': US pressuring Europe to transfer troops to Afghanistan.

US afghanistan 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
US afghanistan 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Fears are mounting in the defense establishment that US pressure on European countries to expand their contribution to the war in Afghanistan could lead these countries to downsize their participation in UNIFIL in southern Lebanon, senior defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post. Last Friday, US President Barack Obama announced a revamped strategy for Afghanistan that included the deployment of an additional 4,000 US troops as well as a substantial increase in civilian aid efforts. Israeli defense officials said Washington was also "laying the pressure" on European countries and other NATO members to increase their own involvement in Afghanistan. "These countries are already spread thin in operations around the world," one senior official said. "To be able to transfer forces to Afghanistan, these countries may need to downsize forces in other countries, such as Lebanon." The defense establishment's fears focus on Spain, Italy and France, which are the primary contributors to UNIFIL. One defense official said it was possible that these countries would begin pulling troops out of Lebanon even before UNIFIL's mandate comes up for renewal in August. UNIFIL is made up of over 12,500 military personnel from just over 20 countries. Diplomatic officials said there had been concern for some time that the three European countries were beginning to show signs of fatigue regarding participation in multinational forces. According to the sources, Spain, for domestic reasons, had considered pulling out of a peace-keeping mission in the Balkans - a worrisome sign of what it might want to do in Lebanon. According to the sources, Italy was not accustomed to taking part in long-term military missions so far from its borders, while France had suffered losses in Afghanistan, leading to a national debate. The Israeli sources said, however, that considering France's historic ties to the region, it was not expected to withdraw troops from Lebanon. In any event, the sources said Israel had yet to receive any concrete messages or signs from these countries that they were on the verge of pulling out, and that if this were their intention, it would not become apparent until after elections were held in Lebanon this summer.