- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2006

BEIRUT — Lebanon and Israel are growing increasingly nervous over delays in a deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, even as France pledged an extra 1,600 troops yesterday and offered to lead the force.

“Our own military can deploy fully in days, not weeks. We want the international force to be beefed up, but we do not agree that the full force needs to be in place before Israel withdraws,” said Mohammed Shatah, a spokesman for Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

On another front, Israel’s military chief acknowledged publicly for the first time yesterday that there were shortcomings in the military’s performance in the 34-day war.

Amid the chaos of recriminations, warnings and pledges, the shaky Aug. 14 truce continued to hold.

European leaders scheduled more meetings today in Brussels, and efforts were under way to set up a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Monday.

Pressure on the Europeans has grown, in part, because Israel has rejected offers of participation from Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia — predominantly Muslim countries that do not recognize the Jewish state.

In France, President Jacques Chirac went on national television to announce France will contribute a total of 2,000 soldiers for the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon instead of the 200 additional troops initially offered.

“Two extra battalions will go on to the ground to extend our numbers within UNIFIL [the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon],” Mr. Chirac said, referring to a small U.N. observer mission that has been in southern Lebanon since 1978.

The White House praised Mr. Chirac’s offer. “The president welcomes the decision by the French,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “As he has said, an international force needs to be deployed urgently.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni echoed the call during a meeting in Rome with her Italian counterpart to discuss Italy’s earlier offer to provide up to 3,000 troops.

“We are being watched also by extremists who want to put the region in flames, and this is also the test of the international community, a test for the determination of the international community,” Mrs. Livni said.

Though the United Nations has had troops in Lebanon for nearly 30 years, U.N. Resolution 1701, passed on Aug. 11, calls for a 15,000-strong force of U.N. troops in addition to the 15,000 Lebanese troops that are currently being deployed in the south. There are already 2,000 U.N. troops in southern Lebanon.

Prior to Mr. Chirac’s announcement, tentative pledges from U.N. member countries had reached 4,200.

Israeli officials have said their troops will not withdraw or end their land and sea blockade of Lebanon until the larger U.N. force is in place.

But with Israeli troops still occupying nine areas inside Lebanon, many Lebanese fear a resumption of hostilities and do not believe a long-term cease-fire will hold.

Sporadic clashes have been reported since the cease-fire, and Israeli jets have continued to fly over all parts of Lebanon.

Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of Lebanon’s parliament with the Free Patriotic Party, said he feared the fighting would resume.

“Are they planning another war in the region?” asked Mr. Kanaan, whose party is led by former Gen. Michel Aoun, one of the country’s major Christian leaders.

“If not, what are they doing? Where is the UNIFIL? Why they are allowing frequent violations of the cease-fire from Israel?” he asked.

Timur Goksel, who worked for more than 20 years with UNIFIL as an adviser and a spokesman, said the longer it takes the U.N. force to deploy, the greater the chance of conflict between the Lebanese army being deployed and the remaining Israeli troops.

“That U.N. force will give some sort of a buffer for the Lebanese army,” Mr. Goksel said. “That’s why it’s getting very embarrassing that the U.N. cannot get its act together and do this.”

In Israel, military chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz wrote in a letter to soldiers:

“Alongside the achievements, the fighting uncovered shortcomings in various areas — logistical, operational and command. We are committed to a thorough, honest, rapid and complete investigation of all the shortcomings and successes.

“Questions will be answered professionally, and everyone will be investigated — from me down to the last soldier.”

Criticism of the military’s preparedness and tactics swelled after the battles ended without a clear-cut victory for Israel.

While Gen. Halutz was owning up to military missteps, the head of the Shin Bet security service was calling the war “a fiasco” in his first public statement on the fighting.

“The north was abandoned, the government systems collapsed there completely,” Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin told a closed security forum, according to meeting participants. “There were many failures, and the public sees and understands this. This is not the time to whitewash. The truth must be told. … Someone has to provide explanations and take responsibility.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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