Bundestag gives green light for Lebanon mission
20 September 2006
BERLIN – Germany’s parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to contribute warships to a UN force for Lebanon in the first military deployment by Germany in the Middle East since World War II.
Deputies voted 442-152 in favour of the mission, which will see a naval force patrol Lebanese waters to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah militants based in Lebanon.
The decision means Germany will send a task force with up to 2,400 naval personnel to secure Lebanon’s coast in what Chancellor Angela Merkel called a mission of “historic dimension.”
Adressing parliament, Merkel said both Lebanon and Israel had placed a “sign of trust” in Germany by asking it to contribute to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mission.
Two frigates, four patrol boats, two supply ships, one tender and two helicopters will be deployed by Germany as part of a force that includes vessels from the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung is expected to see off the German contingent on Thursday when it leaves the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven on its 10-day journey to the eastern Mediterranean.
Jung said the figure of 2,400 was the maximum envisaged for the mission and that a smaller number would actually be deployed. There will be about 1,000 officers and ratings on board the ships leaving Wilhelshaven.
The flotilla is due to reach the Lebanese coast by early October and replace ships from Italy, France and Greece who have been on patrol pending the arrival of the German vessels.
Rear Admiral Andreas Krause will be in charge of the mission, the mandate of which will initially be limited to August 31, 2007.
Initially, the force would patrol an area from the Lebanese coastline extending out 50 nautical miles. It is empowered with a robust mandate that allows it to stop and search suspicious ships – even against the will of captains who try to evade controls.
The UN is deploying a 15,000-member peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon under a ceasefire agreement which last month ended fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
Germany has already provided a small number of border police and customs officials to be stationed at Beirut International Airport to supervise incoming cargo.
The idea of deploying troops in close proximity to Israel still remains controversial in Germany some six decades after the Nazis wiped out million of Jews.
The issue was hotly debated in parliament, where opposition deputies argued it would compromise German neutrality and jeopardize the political goodwill Germany enjoyed in the region.
Government ministers insisted the mission would bring stability to the region and increase Europe’s role as an architect of peace in the Middle East.
But Germany will not be sending ground troops to Lebanon, partly out of concern that German soldiers could be drawn into fighting with Israeli troops.
Subject: German news