Wednesday, 11 October 2006
Overseas Missions: Motion.
John Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
It is only right and proper that the House should have the opportunity to debate the deployment of 150 Irish troops to Lebanon. I said yesterday that the Government might have been reluctant to debate this matter in the House because, strictly speaking, it is not a Chapter VII mission, although Condoleezza Rice has said that, for all intents and purposes, it is such a mission. Like Deputy Ó Snodaigh, I ask that the Minister clarify the position. Lebanon did not want it to be a Chapter VII mission but it seems that the United States has managed to manoeuvre matters in such a way that it may become such a mission.
This mission carries certain risks and could easily turn out to be our most dangerous to date. The Minister outlined some of the dangers involved. It is at times such as this that the families of those brave men and women who will serve in Lebanon ought to be foremost in our minds.
The Green Party has supported every mission that has come before the House as part of the triple lock mechanism. We will also be supporting this mission, but with certain reservations. We have already lost 44 personnel in previous missions in Lebanon and members of our armed forces will be entering the field in very volatile circumstances. There is great resentment and hatred towards Israel in Lebanon following the former's attacks. Those attacks were in total breach of international law, a fact the Minister did not mention. He ought to clearly state that this was, in fact, the case. The Lebanese justifiably feel that the international community sat back and allowed their beautiful country to be destroyed. They have little trust in the western powers led by Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair.
On the other hand, Israel realises that its attack was entirely counterproductive, that it increased the popularity of Hizbollah and that it radicalised Lebanese youth. It would now like to broaden the conflict and have Europeans become involved in its war against terrorism. That is why Israel wants an international presence in Lebanon.
If the peacekeepers are too closely identified with Israel and are seen as a proxy force of occupation, the mission could go disastrously wrong. I remind the Minister of comments made by the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabi Berri, in The Guardian today to the effect that Hizbollah will resume its military campaign unless Israel withdraws from the disputed Shebaa farms area and other pockets of territory occupied during the summer's 34-day war. We ought to pay heed to what Mr. Berri said in the article, namely:
The UNIFIL presence will not hinder Hizbullah's defensive operations. The resistance doesn't need to fly its flags high to operate. It's a guerrilla movement, it operates among the people.
Most interestingly — this is quite sinister — Mr. Berri also expressed concern that UN forces could be involved in gathering information that could fall into the hands of Israel's intelligence agency Mossad.
The Minister can clearly see that there are inherent dangers with this mission and that we ought to bear them in mind. It is important that the force should liaise closely at all times with the Lebanese Government and its army. Despite what Condoleezza Rice says, it is not a Chapter VII mission. It cannot be about disarming Hizbollah — I see the Minister nodding, perhaps in agreement with me — because that could be quite counterproductive. Having emerged victorious from the war, the members of Hizbollah will be in no mood to be seen as losers by being forced to disarm.
The question arises as to how long the mission will last. Will it be open-ended? When one considers the resolution, it appears that the length of the mission is indefinite. That matter must be examined because as long as the vacuum exists and there is no movement towards a lasting settlement, the risk increases substantially. We need a lasting settlement and all the parties, including Syria and Iran, to come to the negotiating table in order to consider the issues of the Shebaa farms, Gaza and the West Bank. If that is not done and a such a settlement is not arrived at, there could be another outbreak of hostilities.