The Israelis requested German troops as part of the scaled-up UNIFIL forces that would enforce the terms of Resolution 1701. Ehud Olmert went out of his way to request the troops from the Angela Merkel government, a remarkable development sixty years after the Holocaust. Germany, feeling vindicated after generations of effort to atone for the Nazi atrocities, sent their contingent to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, believing that a new age of trust was within its grasp.
Unfortunately, as Der Spiegel reports, it didn’t quite work out that way:
It started so well. But now, questions surround Germany’s mission to Lebanon. Not only have Israeli planes buzzed German ships, but the naval mission has fewer rights than at first promised. The German parliament is demanding answers.
One thing is certain, when Germany’s Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung visits Israel and Lebanon the end of this week, there will be no shortage of things to talk about. He will want a more detailed explanation from Israeli politicians, for examples, as to why their fighter jets buzzed a German ship last Tuesday and why a German naval helicopter was approached by Israeli jets on Thursday night. And when Jung visits the Lebanese government, concern within Germany’s parliament about Beirut’s wish to limit the activities of the German-led UN flotilla off the coast will surely be on the agenda.
And the German naval mission — which aims at preventing Hezbollah from receiving arms smuggled in by sea — had gotten off to such a promising start: A large majority in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, supported the mission and Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke enthusiastically on Sept. 20 of the mission’s “historic dimension.” She said that “it was impossible to overstate the significance of how much Germany is now trusted,” that Israel “explicitly requested” that German soldiers take part in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL.
This trust, though, suddenly doesn’t seem to go very far.
No one really knows what happened with the Israeli flyover, which the Germans insist included a couple of rounds from Israeli guns. The Israelis denied that it ever happened, and since then the situation has relaxed somewhat. Regardless, the German opposition has latched onto the incident as part of its argument against engagement in the UNIFIL force. The ship involved, the Alster, technically isn’t part of the UNIFIL force but is a support ship for the German contingent in the UN force. The spy ship has provided needed intelligence to the Germans in Lebanon.
That, however, is another point of contention. The Germans claim now that the Lebanese will not allow them full range of options for their naval deployment. Merkel had promised that both the Lebanese and the Israelis would not place any restrictions on their movement. Now it seems that Merkel oversold the agreement with the Lebanese, which is demanding permission for German ships to navigate its ports. It’s not just the Lebanese government making these decisions, either. Hezbollah has blocked Spanish troops from carrying out missions in the sub-Litani region; when they demanded support from the Lebanese Army, they declined to respond, forcing the Spaniards to retreat.
The Europeans apparently have begun to discover the futility of UNIFIL, a futility that many pointed out when the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 1701. It would have been better to form a new force, one that had UN-dictated terms of engagement and one that had the authority to enforce 1701. Instead, the Germans have found themselves between three entities which have never accepted the terms of 1701 and have no intention of abiding by it for very long. The Israelis did not get their soldiers back, and because the UNIFIL contingent has no real authority, no one can certify that Hezbollah has not begun to re-arm. Hezbollah wants their weapons for their next effort against the Israelis. The Lebanese government has sent its army to the sub-Litani region for the first time in decades, but it won’t stop Hezbollah from re-establishing themselves in opposition to them.
The Germans will have to decide whether to continue its participation in this charade, seeing as how the three principals have long since given it up.