Europe appears ready to commit some 8,000 troops to the Lebanese peacekeeping force currently being assembled, with Italy providing about a third of the manpower. However, in his latest comments in an Italian newspaper this morning Foreign Minister Massimo d’Alema warned Rome would be unable to send any troops if Israel “keeps shooting”. D’Alema added it would be “fair to expect Hizbollah put down their weapons”, and that Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands would also send troops. He also believed France might “reconsider” its offer to send only 200 extra soldiers.
The UN Security Council resolution calls for 15,000 troops in all, with a significant non-Christian component. Italy may lead the force as it is the biggest single contributor, on paper, at this stage; Israel and the Lebanese say they are happy with this. Turkey could also be an important player, but Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is hesitating. Ankara’s previous imperial role in the region, and its close ties with Israel, may work against it. A second UN resolution on disarming Hizbollah and setting the peacekeepers’ rules of engagement is currently being drawn up. All parties are keen for an advance force to arrive quickly, and to that end French engineers are hard at work building fortified bases.