Irish to stay in Lebanon as UN extends mission
The United Nations Security Council is expected to renew the current mandate of Unifil, its mission in south Lebanon, for another year when it meets in New York today.
Ireland contributes 333 personnel, deployed in a joint battalion with the Finnish, towards the mission, which is led by Irish Major General Mick Beary, as well as a further 43 located at force headquarters and on other duties.
The United States, supported by Israel, has been pushing hard for the mandate to be "beefed up" to take a more aggressive stance towards Hezbollah.
But the move is being strongly resisted by other nations, including France and Germany, as well as Lebanon, whose Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil argued that preserving the mandate was necessary for peace and stability and to do otherwise would jeopardise the efforts of Unifil.
The debate on mandate renewal has been stirred up by the US ambassador Nikki Haley, who accused Gen Beary of being "blind" to the presence of stockpiles of Hezbollah weapons in southern Lebanon.
The criticism has been rejected by Gen Beary, who said there was no evidence to support the claims.
Gen Beary yesterday received a telephone call from Defence Minister Paul Kehoe assuring him of the Government's total support.
Mr Kehoe told the Irish Independent on Tuesday the Government gave its full backing to Gen Beary, who is the top ranking member of the Defence Forces serving overseas.
Critics of the US proposal pointed out Unifil is a peacekeeping rather than a peace enforcement mission and that changing its mandate now had the potential to trigger another regional conflict, as well as destroying the positive gains Unifil had made in recent years.
Israeli ambassadors and military officers have claimed regularly for more than a decade that Hezbollah weapons were being hidden in Unifil's areas of operation, but have never produced any evidence to back up the allegations.
The Defence Forces here has had personnel deployed with Unifil almost continually since it was established in 1978.
The size of the mission was boosted considerably after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah to oversee the ending of hostilities and Gen Beary, who began his two-year appointment as force commander and head of mission last July, is in charge of 10,500 personnel with a responsibility for a budget, recently increased to $500,000 (€420,000).
General Beary said Unifil had successfully maintained the peace for more than a decade and prevented "major misunderstandings" from erupting between Israel and Hezbollah.