The UNIFIL in the Middle of an Internal Turmoil

By George Emile Irani (for Safe Democracy)

Why the attack against the Spanish contingent in Lebanon is a wake up call to tackle the urgent problems undermining stability in the country.

PLUS: Lebanon and the Salafist challenge, by George E. Irani

George Emile Irani is the Lebanese-born director of the Africa and Middle East Program of the Toledo International Center for Peace in Madrid. He is the author of “The Papacy and the Middle East: The Role of the Holy See in the Arab-Israeli Conflict”.

THE TRAGIC DEATHS of 6 soldiers belonging to the UNIFIL Spanish contingent in South Lebanon are another price to pay for the instability of that region.

Since its inception, the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have had to contend with various players determining politics in that hapless country. These players include major global powers such as, the USA, France, Britain and Russia and regional powers such as, Israel and Syria. There is also a plethora of non-state groups who believe in using violence or guerrilla warfare to achieve their aims, i.e. the PLO, Hezbollah, various Palestinians groups and more recently Salafist and Takfiri groups such as Al Qaeda, Jund al-Sham, Fath al-Islam and so on.

This tragic attack occurs at a time when Lebanon is going through internal turmoil (presidential elections due in September, total stalemate between majority and opposition groups) and the growing threat of Salafist groups such as Fath al-Islam.

The Lebanese army played a crucial role in slowing the spread of this group, by acting as one of the pegs in Bin Laden’s aim to create the Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East.

UNIFIL was sent to Lebanon to protect and maintain some stability on Israel’s northern borders. Its presence hinges on the resolution of the border and prisoners issue between Israel and Lebanon. Actually, Israel recognizes Lebanon’s international borders but still occupies a small chunk of land known as the Shebaa Farms.

Following last summers war between Israel and Hezbollah, UNIFIL was expanded to include troops from NATO countries (France, Italy and Spain).The local population cautiously welcomed these troops. Spanish military commanders did their best to interact with the local population. Initially, somewhat grave mistakes were committed, but today Spanish troop’s presence is viewed as a positive presence.

It is very interesting that Hezbollah has major stakes in the presence of UNIFIL peacekeepers. They provide some kind of legitimacy to a group that believes in the possible establishment of an Iran-type government in Lebanon.

The attack against the Spanish contingent is a wake up call to tackle the urgent problems undermining stability in Lebanon. Moreover, this attack constitutes an opportunity to bring Spanish public opinion on board as a major stakeholder.

Spanish troops in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kosovo and other places are perceived as an example of Spanish good heartedness and willingness to help.

A warning though: If Don Quijote does not take necessary precautions Lebanon’s wild windmills could overcome him!

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