Stationing Troops in Lebanon and the "Robust Mandate"
By Elmar Altvater
[This article published in: Freitag 34, 8/25/06 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2006/34/06340102.php.]
A skillful foreign policy keeps options open and avoids falling into cul-de-sacs. Measured by this rule, German Middle East policy is more than unskillful. Strictly speaking, it is a catastrophe for everyone, for Germany, Israel, the Palestinians and Lebanon.
The slight distance to the Middle East course of the US and Israel to which Schroeder and Fischer were committed is reduced to a hand's breadth by Merkel and Steinmeier - even with Condolezza Rice's impudent announcement of a "new Middle East" realized with violence if necessary. Israel's military machine could not succeed in a week as in the wars of 1967 and 1973. This time half of Lebanon was devastated in 33 days - until a faint ceasefire that is shaky.
The UN resolution to station an international task force in Lebanon should bring peace to the region. So far so good. However German foreign policy goes further. It seeks to protect Israel's right to exist that cannot and should not be put in question. But can a justification for expelling a million Lebanese and destroying the infrastructure of a country be derived from this right?
The wantonness of the policy derived from Israel's right to exist is hardly a theme in the public debate. Two kinds of standards are used. The condemnation of rocket attacks on Israeli towns near the border was always sharper in the last weeks than criticism of Israeli military strikes even when high-precision weapons struck hospitals, UN posts, fuel tanks or refugee shelters "by mistake." The shooting of civilian targets by Hezbollah or the devastation of a whole country is obviously unacceptable. Germany's credibility as a mediator in the Middle East is considerably damaged - even if the Merkel government and the embedded journalists do not want to see this - by not clearly distancing itself from the attacks on Israel. The counter-productive refusal of a meeting with the Syrian president by foreign minister Steinmeier was symptomatic. Why didn't he also refuse the hand of Ehud Olmert? Was his latest speech in the Knesset less aggressive than Bashar al-Assad's speech in Damascus?
The declaration of local politicians that German soldiers would never fire on Israel implies that shooting Hezbollah fighters, Lebanese and Palestinians are allowed. Isn't a "robust" mandate outfitted with a disastrous partiality for the UN contingent?
Israel's head of government recognizes the asymmetry in the official German position and explicitly supports a stationing of the German army at Lebanon's border. A sea blockade imposed by German marine units to stop weapon deliveries to Hezbollah while high-tech weapons are supplied to Israel will hardly convert the ceasefire in Lebanon into a permanent peace.
After the air attacks on Beirut, Tariq Ali quotes Isaac Deutscher who said to the Prussian army after the six-day war of 1967: "One can win as a dead person." German foreign policy should not help the squad of politicians and military men who now govern Israel to fulfill this gloomy prophecy.