Monday, June 18, 2007

Still no common European policy in Lebanon

While we wallow in discussions about whether Blair or Brown will be signing the next treaty when and if it appears, important events are taking place in Lebanon as well as one or two other countries in that region.

Last Wednesday there was another assassination in Lebanon. This time it was the anti-Syrian politician Walid Eido, a close ally of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The bomb also killed his son, two bodyguards and six bystanders. For some reason, many in Lebanon are blaming Syria while Baby Assad is denying all connection. Well, he would, wouldn’t he.

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has asked the UN Security Council to authorize the investigators of the previous political assassinations in Lebanon (all of anti-Syrian politicians and commentators) to extend their work to include Walid Eido’s killing. The authorization will probably be granted but it might be a good idea to speed up the work before they lose everyone who has ever spoken up against Syria and its control of large stretches of Lebanese territory and political life.

Meanwhile, YaLibnan reports that the Lebanese army is close to crushing Fatah al-Islam but only, it seems on the outskirts of the Paelstinian refugee camp, Nahr al-Bared. As the agreement is that the army does not enter the camps, it will not do so. Though, it could be argued that there will not be much of the camp left by the time this is all over. I am still waiting for the outraged demonstrations and the human shields of the International Solidarity Movement to become active.

One comment in the report has intrigued me:
The army is currently focusing its bombardment on the UNRWA building which has 7 underground floors, in which many of the terrorists of Fatah al Islam are hiding.
Not alleged to be hiding, you understand, but actually are hiding. I wonder how that came about. Come to think of it why does UNRWA need no fewer than 7 underground floors?
Meanwhile, those famous militants have been busy in southern Lebanon as well, firing two rockets into northern Israel, which is full of civilian targets. Both the Lebanese army and the UN peacekeepers have proclaimed themselves to be on the alert.

One cannot help wondering how is it that UNIFIL managed to miss the fact that Katyusha rockets can be launched into northern Israel.
Two of the three rockets that were fired at Israel late Sunday landed in an area where several thousand rockets launched by Hezbollah fell on the Jewish state during last summer's 34-day war, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. A third rocket went down in Lebanon, while a fourth, which had a timer device, was found by Lebanese troops before it could be launched.

Hezbollah quickly denied having fired the barrage. Israel suggested the attacks were the work of Sunni Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who support Hamas, rather than an attack by Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah, which has close links with Syria and Iran.
That would explain the inaction of the UNIFIL forces. I think.

The United States has issued various strong condemnations of the assassination and continuing Syrian intervention in Lebanese affairs as well as of the militants’ activities, but it is not of President Bush of Secretary of State Rice that I want to write. How has the EU reacted to all these events? Here is a perfect opportunity for that value-based common foreign policy to come into play.

Well, Finland is withdrawing its peace-keeping troops, reckoning that it was unwise to get ossified in these endeavours. The real reason remains somewhat opaque:

Mr Vanhanen [Prime Minister Matti Vanhannen] believes the soldiers, equipment and money tied up in Lebanon may be used elsewhere, adding that communications kit and vehicles are needed by the Finnish troops that form part of the EU's Nordic battlegroup, which goes on standby at the beginning of next year.

Mr Vanhanen did not confirm Nelonen's report that Finland was sending more troops to Afghanistan.

France is shouldering its duties as a former imperial power in the region. There will be a meeting for all the interested parties in Paris at the end of the month to come to some sort of an understanding on Lebanon’s future. Of course, at this stage, one cannot predict how many interested parties there will be. In any case, there might be a problem with some of them like Hezbollah, against whose presence Jewish groups are already protesting.

President Sarkozy denounced the murder of Walid Eido as “an atrocious assassination”. Javier Solana the Lord High Executioner of the CFP seems to have made no statements but is quoted by the Lebanese government as saying that the EU was backing Lebanon, a fairly typical and meaningless statement.

Meanwhile, Italy seems to have gone out on a limb, so to speak. If the Israeli media is to be believed:
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema offered Syrian officials a deal on his visit to Damascus earlier this month, according to Israeli sources.

D'Alema told Syrian president, Basher al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem that Italy would push for an end to Syria's international isolation in return for a guarantee that Hezbollah and other groups would not harm Italian troops in Lebanon.

Italy has headed the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon since February, and has some 11,000 soldiers stationed in the south, covering the Litani River region.
Perhaps, the EU should adopt the Italian policy as its own.


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