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German Cabinet Renews Maritime Mission In Lebanon

10:28 AM, Aug 24, 2007 • By ULF GARTZKE
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On Tuesday this week, Chancellor Merkel's cabinet voted to extend for another year what has arguably been Germany's most controversial military operation since the end of WWII, namely the 2006 deployment of Bundeswehr naval forces off the Lebanese coast to interdict arms shipments to Hezbollah forces as part of the UNIFIL mission. In October 2006, the German contingent, which currently consists of about 1,000 soldiers and eight ships, took the lead in UNIFIL's maritime mission, which counts a total of 2,000 forces and is also supported by Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria.

Merkel_ME_UNIFIL.jpgChancellor Merkel visited UNIFIL military personnel
aboard the Brandenburg earlier this year.

In August last year, UN Security Council resolution 1701 had authorized up to 15,000 UN peacekeepers (about 13,000 troops were subsequently deployed) to help keep the shaky ceasefire in the wake of the 2006 Lebanon War--the bloody, destructive, and ultimately inconclusive 34-day proxy war between Israeli forces and Hezbollah.

In a piece for THE DAILY STANDARD published almost exactly a year ago, titled "Germany Goes to the Middle East," I analyzed why the Bundeswehr's naval deployment in Lebanon proved to be so divisive for Chancellor Merkel's Grand Coalition government, the three opposition parties, and German public opinion:

Ironically, both supporters and opponents of Germany's military engagement in Lebanon have made veiled references to the Holocaust in support of their positions. Those in favor of sending troops argue that Germany has a moral obligation to do everything in its power to help guarantee the existence of the Jewish state. […]

In contrast, Germans opposed to sending soldiers to police the ceasefire argue that this would have the potential of setting Bundeswehr against Israeli soldiers. […]

And still others argue that precisely because of Germany's pro-Israel stance, it cannot be part of a neutral U.N. force in Lebanon which, by definition, would have to respond equally to ceasefire violations by either party.

On Tuesday, the German government portrayed the Lebanese naval mission as a success story. According to German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung, Bundeswehr forces checked more than 8,500 ships via radio, 35 of which were subsequently searched by the Lebanese in their ports. According to official statistics, none of these searches yielded any weapons. It should be noted that no ship was ever searched by force.

Under German law, the Lebanon mission's 12-month extension (like all Bundeswehr deployments abroad for that matter) has to be approved by the Bundestag in a parliamentary vote, which is now scheduled for mid-September. It is widely expected that the governing CDU/CSU-SPD Grand Coalition parties and the Greens will provide overwhelming support for the naval operation. In contrast, the pacifist-populist post-Communist Left Party and parts of the pro-market Free Democratic Party (FDP) are still adamantly opposed to the Bundeswehr mission. The Left Party opposes any Bundeswehr mission abroad and wants to strictly limit the military to Germany's territorial defense. The FDP is particularly concerned about the potential for German-Israeli military clashes and demands more assurances from Chancellor Merkel's government that those issues have been addressed.