Germany To Send Its Navy To Patrol Lebanon’s Coast

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BERLIN — Germany’s lower house of Parliament approved deployment of a naval force to patrol Lebanon’s coastline as part of the U.N.-led mission to police a cease-fire between Israel and the Shiite Hezbollah militia.

The naval mission, the first German deployment to the Middle East since the end of World War II, was backed by 442 lawmakers, with 152 against and five abstentions. As many as 2,400 German personnel will now be deployed to the region, backed by a one-year mandate expiring August 31, 2007. The mission brings the number of German soldiers serving overseas to above 10,000 for the first time in postwar history.

“This is a mission of historic importance,” Chancellor Merkel told Parliament in Berlin yesterday before the vote. “Nowhere else in the world is Germany’s responsibility so clear.”

Germany’s engagement is based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which established a cease-fire August 14 and called for an international force of 15,000 soldiers to police Lebanon’s coast and border area with Israel. The force is to act as a buffer between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas, alongside a Lebanese army contingent of equal size.

Israeli soldiers withdrew from central areas of southern Lebanon as part of the resolution that halted the 34-day conflict as Lebanese soldiers arrived. The Lebanese troops have been joined in recent days by personnel from France, Italy, and Spain, helping the number of soldiers of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, known as Unifil, to rise to about 4,800 on the ground, the United Nations said September 18 on its Web site.

“This isn’t just a military operation,” Ms. Merkel said. With deployment of the U.N.-led force, the international community is preparing the ground “for a new diplomatic attempt to carry on the peace process” in the Middle East.

Germany’s deployment will cost $245 million, of which $186 million will have to be financed from next year’s budget, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said September 13. Ms. Merkel yesterday promised to raise military spending in the medium and long-term without giving any details, though she ruled out changes to next year’s budget.

The country’s 2,400-strong contingent includes 1,500 naval forces, 400 headquarters personnel including logistical staff, and 100 troops tasked with training Lebanese forces. The contribution includes two frigates with helicopters, two supply ships, and four fast patrol boats. It completes a “maritime task force” that also numbers personnel from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands.

The mission will have a “robust mandate,” enabling German soldiers to stop ships that are suspected of carrying weapons, using force if necessary, search them, and escort them to Lebanese harbors.

“We in the international community are obliged to draw on our strength to help Lebanon as long as it is not itself in a position to do so,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Parliament. “The German army can’t secure peace in perpetuity, yet can help bring stability.”

The cease-fire was the precondition to continue peace talks, Ms. Merkel said. She urged America to again become more involved and take on a leading role in ensuring a lasting peace.

“The U.N., Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East Quartet, we all have to use this opportunity,” she said.

Germany currently has 7,700 troops abroad, some 2,800 of whom are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, according to the German federal army’s Web site.

Another 2,900 German troops are deployed as part of NATO’s peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Of the remaining soldiers overseas, 740 troops are in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help secure the peace under U.N. mandate following national elections.

Germany “has to meet more obligations and take on more responsibility in the world” after the reunification of East Germany and West Germany in 1990,Ms. Merkel said later yesterday in a separate speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Federal Army Association in Berlin.

Germany’s first female chancellor promised to meet this new situation by increasing military spending in the medium and long-term to “bring the political responsibility together with the military necessity.” Ms. Merkel did not give any further details.

Germany’s Cabinet yesterday extended the mandate for German soldiers in Sudan by six months to March next year, a government spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, said yesterday at a regular briefing in Berlin.

Thirty-six German soldiers, mainly military observers, are stationed in Sudan at the moment, according to the Defense Ministry’s Web site.That number could be raised to 75 personnel.The observers are part of a 10,000-strong U.N. force, including 750 monitors, overseeing an April 2005 peace accord between Sudan’s government and rebels.

Germany’s engagement is part of the country’s attempt “to support peace and stability in the region,” Mr. Wilhelm said. The mandate has to be approved by the lower house of parliament, Mr. Wilhelm said.

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