Now comes the hard part for France
Tuesday August 22, 2006
By Catherine Field
But the feel-good surge has yielded to fears that the deal could unravel as
To secure the backing of
Taking the field by November, the troops would work with around 15,000 Lebanese soldiers to restore peace after more than a month of fighting between Israeli forces and Hizbollah's Shiite militia.
But with the cessation of hostilities badly tested by fresh bursts of violence, the task of cobbling together the beefed-up Unifil have been hampered by reluctance from leading countries to commit troops, driven by concern over the force's exact role.
In France itself, signs of doubt surfaced abruptly last week, when at the last minute Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie stepped back from announcing, as had been expected, that France would send 3500 troops.
She gave no figure for France's commitment, but promised it would lead the UN force until February at least, provided the force was given a clear mandate - the UN must spell out what Unifil is expected to do, give it the means to intervene if need be as well as the right to defend itself.
While the UN hammers out these rules,
"You have to tell the troops why they are there. To support the Lebanese army, certainly, but to what extent? In what fields? Secondly, we also need to know what the material and judicial means at our disposal are," Alliot-Marie said.
"You can't send in men and tell them: 'Look at what is going on [but] you don't have the right to defend yourselves or shoot'."
Behind the scenes, Jacques Chirac is working the phones, pressing the leaders of friendly countries to get involved, French sources say.
The French president is especially targeting European Union (EU) countries as well as
So far, only two EU countries -
In 1983, when
That operation has been linked to Hizbollah, as was the subsequent kidnapping of French citizens and journalists in
Thus, if Unifil lacked a clear mandate, the political support from the United Nations or the
The risk to Unifil is not exclusively from Hizbollah. Last month, four Unifil troops were killed in an Israeli airstrike that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said was "apparently deliberate". Tim Williams, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, describes the new Unifil task as "a mission with significant complication" with a mandate that would lie somewhere between peacekeeping and peace enforcement and require excellent cooperation from its patchwork of units.
"A peacekeeping mission would be insufficient as the situation on the ground will demand the credible threat of force to secure the sanctity of the buffer zone and to deter aggression," writes Williams.
"Once in theatre, the success of the force will depend, in large part, on how effectively contributing countries can work alongside each other and whether robust 'rules of engagement' have been put in place."
The political weekly Le Nouvel Observateur said: "After its diplomatic coup,
The conservative daily Le Figaro, defending the Government's decision, commented: "This is a highly dangerous mission. If
"However, the rest of the world cannot step aside and leave