Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Countries that do not recognize and have diplomatic relations with Israel should not participate in a beefed-up UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government declared.
But U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's spokesman, asked during a briefing in New York Monday whether recognition of Israel was a criterion for participation, replied that the composition of the force was a decision that "belongs to the secretary-general."
The U.N. is looking for a mix of European and Muslim nations to make up the 15,000-strong force mandated by Security Council resolution 1701. It wants at least 3,500 of those new peacekeepers to be in place by Sept. 2.
Both Israel and Lebanon have welcomed an offer by Italy to lead the force -- following an unexpected show of reluctance from France -- but offers from Muslim countries are producing unease in Jerusalem.
Of the few countries that are offering sizeable troop contingents -- Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, all Muslim -- do not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Bangladesh has a long history of peacekeeping and currently has more peacekeepers -- 10,126 -- deployed in missions around the world than any other country. It has offered to send two battalions to Lebanon.
But Foreign Minister Morshed Khan said Monday Bangladesh would only contribute if its troops were acceptable to "all parties in the conflict."
By contrast, Indonesia and Malaysia dismissed Israel's concern, saying the decision wasn't Israel's to make.
Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Desra Percaya said Israel had no right to veto any country's participation, adding the UNIFIL was based on the Lebanese side of the border, not on Israeli soil.
Malaysian Defense Minister Najib Razak said there was no reason to exclude Malaysian troops, which had served in other conflict zones including Somalia and Bosnia. He worried that the force could end up comprising troops from NATO countries only.
Malaysia also said the decision on which countries should participate in UNIFIL belonged to the U.N. and Lebanon, not to Israel.
"Israel should not be allowed to dictate its make-up," added Malaysia's New Straits Times, a daily controlled by the ruling party.
Indonesia and Malaysia have offered to send 1,000 troops each.
A U.N. commission in 2000 headed by close Annan associate Lakhdar Brahimi to review U.N. peacekeeping operations supported the view that "consent of the local parties" and "impartiality" were among "the bedrock principles of peacekeeping."
One of Israel's key concerns is that the troops comprising UNIFIL not come from countries hostile to Israel or friendly towards Hizballah, the Iranian-backed organization whose July 12 cross-border attack triggered the 34-day war.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she had relayed Israel's concerns on the matter to the U.N. in New York last week.
Apart from the fact they do not recognize Israel diplomatically, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia all strongly condemned Israel during the fighting, with Bangladesh calling air strikes against targets in Lebanon "state terrorism."
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar did not rule out sending weapons to Hizballah, while the Indonesian government responded mildly when radicals publicly declared their intention to travel to Lebanon to fight against Israel, in some cases pledging to carry out suicide bombing attacks.
During the fighting, Malaysia hosted an Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated his call for Israel's destruction.
The Israeli foreign ministry noted that the host nation was not heard to repudiate that call.
In recent days, again, Indonesia and Malaysia have reiterated their views on where blame should be laid in the Mideast conflict.
Indonesian spokesman Desra said the situation had been "caused by Israeli military aggression," while the country's official Antara news agency quoted Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono as saying Jakarta would object if its forces in UNIFIL were mandated to disarm Hizballah.
Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, commenting on an Israeli commando raid in the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, said by violating the truce Israel showed it had no respect for the U.N. and could not be trusted.
Malaysia's Bernama news agency reports that Abdullah also said the U.N. appeared hesitant to accept Malaysian troops "because Israel does not agree."
Annan's deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, said on Friday it was "a matter of good form in peacekeeping... [to have] a force which is broadly acceptable in its composition to both sides."
At the same time, however, he said "the final word on what is acceptable is ours, and these troops are deployed in Lebanese territory, not Israeli territory." The comments were released by the U.N. and posted online.
Malloch-Brown said balance was important, referring to the need for a "European-Muslim core."
"The more we can fill this force out with a number of key nationalities providing major pillars or legs to it, the more the Israelis can be persuaded to look at its overall composition rather than focusing singularly on particular contributors."
Israel has diplomatic relations with more than 20 OIC member states including Arab states (Jordan, Egypt, Qatar), Turkey, all four Central Asian republics, and a handful of countries in Africa.
Of those countries, Jordan, Egypt, Senegal and Benin are among the 20 largest current contributors to U.N. peacekeeping missions.
Israel also has diplomatic ties with other countries that have large Muslim populations and are big contributors to U.N. peacekeeping operations, such as India and Nigeria.
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