Angela Merkel, German chancellor, announced on Wednesday that her cabinet had taken the “historic” decision to dispatch a naval taskforce to Lebanon, in a move marking a new chapter in Berlin’s readiness to support international peacekeeping operations.
Germany had last month signalled its readiness to police Lebanese waters, a move that had assisted in the lifting of Israel’s naval blockade, but the decision by Berlin had been delayed by detailed negotiations with Beirut over the exact terms of the maritime mandate.
The mission, involving 2,400 naval and air force troops and nine ships, is expected to be endorsed by parliament next Wednesday.
More than 7,500 German troops are already involved in nine peacekeeping missions around the world, but Ms Merkel said the Lebanese deployment “is unlike any other” because of Germany’s “special responsibility for the existence of Israel” following the Nazi atrocities in the second world war.
Eberhard Sandschneider, director of Berlin’s DGAP foreign policy think-tank, said the decision for German troops to operate near Israel’s borders marked a turning point in the country’s efforts to take on greater international responsibilities. “Such a German mission to the Middle East would have not been imaginable 10 years ago,” he said.
Germany’s deployment – the second largest in the United Nations’ Unifil II operation in Lebanon after Italy – will focus on leading the maritime taskforce to help enforce a UN-brokered truce between Israel and the Islamist movement Hizbollah. German forces will attempt to stop the smuggling by sea of weapons to Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon, and will be supported by troops from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.
Germany had previously ruled out sending ground troops to Lebanon, but said Wednesday that, as part of the new mission, 100 German military advisers would be based in Lebanon to train local army officials.
The ships, including two frigates and four high-speed boats, will control Lebanese waters to a distance of 50 sea miles from the coast. Lebanese naval liaison officers would work alongside German sailors but would “not have a veto” over German operations to stop and search suspicious seacraft, Ms Merkel said.
Wednesday’s announcement follows protracted negotiations with the Lebanese government over the mission’s exact mandate. Pro-Syrian Lebanese officials had earlier either opposed the mission or insisted that German ships should not enter a 10km zone off the Lebanese coast.
Franz Joseph Jung, German defence minister, said the final mandate – agreed with Israel and Lebanon – contained no such caveats. “It is very robust,” the minister said.
The mission, set to cost €193m ($245m, £131m), will initially run until August 31 2007, but Ms Merkel said she expected it to be extended for several years.