Italy, Lebanon, and the need for strong peacekeepers

It’s heartening to see that, as France reneges on it’s earlier offer, Italy has offered to contribute up to 3,000 troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon

This comment, however, is a little worrying, showing how little some European states really understand what peacekeeping is all about:

Italy’s foreign minister, Massimo D’Alema… said his forces would not go in unless Israel respected the ceasefire. “From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.

Keeping the peace is not a safe job, and anyone who expects it to be so shouldn’t be contributing troops to UN missions.  True, there does need to be a reasonable expectation that there is a peace to keep, but D’Alema’s comment seems to me to betray that the primary concern of the Italian governments is to ensure the safety of their troops over and above the success of the mission.     

Most cease-fires are tenuous at best – both sides will be jumpy, and will be ready to react to the slightest provocation, whether real or imagined.  Because of this, it is an absolute requirement of any peacekeeping troops that they be calm, and that they be prepared to step in early – at risk to themselves if need be – in order to calm tensions and separate the parties of small incidents before they escalate.

Both Israel and Hezbollah will be well aware of the circumstances of Italy’s withdrawal from Iraq.  True, it’s not an exact parallel with a peacekeeping mission, but both will perceive that Italy’s government may crack under pressure, if it thinks the peacekeeping mission is likely to be costly to itself.

Italy will need to be absolutely resolute if it wants to lead this mission to any kind of successful outcome.  They must make it clear – by using force at the appropriate time if necessary – that they will not be pushed around, or pushed out of Lebanon.  If they aren’t prepared to do that, they shouldn’t be in Lebanon.

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