Independent Presence

BEIRUT/BERLIN/GAZA | | libanonisrael

BEIRUT/BERLIN/GAZA (Own report) - German government advisors are considering the German naval deployment along the coast of the Gaza Strip. German naval "experience acquired off the coast of Lebanon (...) could serve possibly as a precedent for similar maritime missions," according to a recent publication by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), for example off the coast of the Palestinian Autonomous Territory. This remark coming out of Berlin shows that the Lebanon deployment was intended to pave the way for a more extensive military presence in the Near East. German repressive authorities already have police units engaged in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories. The German government's effort to enhance its influence through the deployment of police or military is pursuing the intermediary goal of deploying pro-western forces in the vicinity of Israel. According to the DGAP, Berlin should be careful not to directly serve Tel Aviv's interests - otherwise this will endanger its success in Arab countries. This suggests a strategy for attaining a "mediating" role between Israel and the Arab world to secure - strategically - an independent German position of power in the Near East.

Positively Influenced

DGAP considers that the German led, UN mandated naval deployment along the Lebanese coast (UNIFIL-II Maritime Task Force) is a clear success. The official reason given for the UNIFIL mission is the prevention of alleged arms smuggling in the Eastern Mediterranean. To date, UNIFIL II warships have not captured a single vessel transporting illegal arms. Nevertheless, it succeeded in "positively influencing an otherwise skeptical Lebanese public perception of European engagement in the Middle East," writes the DGAP.[1] At the beginning there were difficulties because the local population suspected that the western maritime presence was "to serve Israeli interests." But UNIFIL II ultimately succeeded in ending the Israeli embargo of Lebanese harbors. This, according to DGAP, clearly increased Lebanese sympathy for Germany and Europe.

Failure

UNIFIL succeeded where an earlier EU police deployment in the Near East had failed: the EU Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point (EUBAM-Rafah) between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Since November 30, 2005, EU police detachments, with German participation, had been monitoring Palestinian border controls. The deployment's objective was to prepare Palestinian personnel to permanently take over the border controls. But already then, the EU police force was merely assisting in the hateful closing of the border effected by Israel, by "providing a quasi legal allure" as observers criticize.[2] When, in June 2007, Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip "EUBAM Rafah" withdrew completely. Meanwhile, the EU deployment has been formally extended to Mai 24, 2008 and discussions have been initiated about renewed Palestinian border controls under EU police monitoring. But, as the DGAP writes: "unable to keep the Rafah crossing open, the EU monitors essentially implemented Israel's closure policy,"[3] therefore the whole mission must actually be considered a failure.

Border Controls

"UNIFIL II" and "EUBAM Rafah" highlight the EU and German intention to establish their independent police and military presence in the Near East. The efforts to take on the appearance of a neutral mediator between Israel and Arab countries are being accompanied by efforts to strengthen those forces willing to cooperate extensively with the West, as UNIFIL and German (affiliated) initiatives show. The UN and the West are sealing Lebanon off from Syria, while massively pressuring Beirut to limit its relations with Damascus and enhance them with the EU and the USA.[4] Since December 2006, troops of the Lebanese Navy are being trained and armed in the framework of UNIFIL, to control all movement at sea. Germany is contributing with its own bilateral initiatives [5]: "In the framework of bilateral development cooperation, Germany is also rebuilding the costal radar system of the Lebanese Navy," DGAP reports. "In a pilot project along the northern border with Syria, Lebanese soldiers and officers of the police, customs and border guards are being initiated and trained in integrated border management."[6] The traffic of goods and persons between Syria and Lebanon is therefore subjected to heavy controls, weakening pro-Syrian forces in Beirut.

Ready for Cooperation

Berlin and Brussels have started similar initiatives in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, where EU police have already been active since January 1, 2006 within the framework of "EUPOL COPPS" ("EU Police Mission - Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support"). Germany is also participating in this deployment, which was prolonged last December. The mission is to implement the development plan for the Palestinian police and to instruct the leading personnel of the police in the Autonomous Territories. By supplying equipment, such as the recent supply of radio equipment to the police in Nablus, Berlin is also contributing to the establishment of the Palestinian repressive apparatus. The supply of police vehicles is to follow. "EUPOL COPPS" is seen favorably by the German government: also in this case, assistance is directed toward those sectors of the Palestinian population that are willing to cooperate. They are being equipped to suppress anti-western sectors. Last but not least due to EU support, the Palestinian authorities have "succeeded in convincing members of the Al-Aksa Brigades, wanted by Israel, to give up their weapons," summed up the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, recently at the Bertelsmann Foundation [7] - this is a good example of Berlin's approach.

Independent

The DGAP is now proposing that Germany extend its military presence in the Near East. As the "leading country" in the UNIFIL II Maritime Task Force "Germany is now in an advantageous position to influence future maritime operations" - either under the banner of the UN or of some other multi-national organization.[8] The experiences acquired along the Lebanese coast "could possibly serve as a precedent for a similar maritime mission in other related regional scenarios, such as along the coast of the Gaza Strip," write German government advisors. Such possibilities should be "seriously explored and advanced", regardless of expected Israeli resistance.[9] With the build-up of a German police and military presence in the vicinity of Israel, Berlin is strengthening western positions. By conspicuously adopting a mediating role between Tel Aviv and Arab forces, Germany is at the same time laying the basis for enhancing its positions in the Near East - also in sharpening its profile in contrast to Israel and the USA.

[1] Germany's Contribution to Lebanese Sovereignty. The Maritime Task Force, Coastal Radar System and Border Pilot Project; DGAPstandpunkt Nr. 1, Januar 2008
[2] Claudia Haydt: Polizeisoldaten. Out of Area - and back again; IMI-Magazin Ausdruck Februar 2007
[3] Germany's Contribution to Lebanese Sovereignty. The Maritime Task Force, Coastal Radar System and Border Pilot Project; DGAPstandpunkt Nr. 1, Januar 2008
[4] see also Der Ermittler, Druck auf Syrien and The road to Damascus
[5] see also Zur Zusammenarbeit bringen
[6] Germany's Contribution to Lebanese Sovereignty. The Maritime Task Force, Coastal Radar System and Border Pilot Project; DGAPstandpunkt Nr. 1, Januar 2008
[7] Rede von Bundesaußenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier zur Eröffnung der 11. Kronberger Gespräche, 17. Januar 2008, Kronberg
[8], [9] Germany's Contribution to Lebanese Sovereignty. The Maritime Task Force, Coastal Radar System and Border Pilot Project; DGAPstandpunkt Nr. 1, Januar 2008