Seanad Éireann - Volume 116 - 16 July, 1987

Adjournment Matter: UNIFIL

[2634] Mr. Lanigan: I raise this matter in the knowledge that the Government, as was the case of previous Governments, wish to have the mandate of the United Nations in Lebanon continued. The situation regarding the United Nations forces in Lebanon has been well documented. Unfortunately, since the creation of the United Nations interim force in Lebanon by Security Council Resolution 425 of 19 March 1978 we have had to come back here month after month or year after year to ask that the mandate should be renewed. Unfortunately, Lebanon is still a country in which there is enormous conflict.

The Security Council resolution of 19 March 1978 was set up for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces, restoring international peace and security and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of their effective authority in the area, the force to be composed of personnel drawn from the member states of the United Nations.

The Lebanon has been called a fractured country. It has been called also a country which has no reason for existence because of the problems which affect it from outside. It was a confessional State. It was probably one of the States in which there was a large number of religions and different backgrounds. It was a shining light in that it was a country in which it was shown that people from different backgrounds could live, survive and work. If Lebanon disappears as an entity from the map of the world that will be a tragedy not alone for the people of Lebanon but for democracy generally.

The reason I raise this matter is that the United Nations will be soon discussing the renewal of the mandate of UNIFIL. Never has there been a greater necessity for the renewal of this mandate than at present.

Since 1978 UNIFIL have operated in South Lebanon but unfortunately [2635] because of a number of factors the effective carrying out of their mandate has been very difficult. The main problem in South Lebanon is of course the continuing presence of Israeli personnel and equipment in the area and the presence of Israeli armed, paid and uniformed de facto forces in the area. In the early days the de facto forces were led by Major Haddad and latterly by General Lahad and under their command there has been continuous and consistent harassment of UNIFIL troops.

The hope of the Israeli Defence Forces and of the DFF is that because of the harassment and seeming lack of progress in fulfilling the United Nations mandate, the United Nations will pull her troops from that area. Israel wants to keep a presence in South Lebanon. Effectively because she has not abided by resolutions 425 and 426, she has created a cordon sanitaire in the south of the UNIFIL area of operation. If anybody is under the false illusion that the Israelis have withdrawn to within her own borders a quick check of the Irish battalion area will show the actual position. There are five Israeli backed militia posts inside the UNIFIL area of operation. These posts form a zig-zag line which the Israelis intend to have as their northern border. From a practical point of view there are a number of people who would suggest that the reason for this continuous presence in southern Lebanon is that the water table in Israel is dropping at a rapid rate and that the Litani river which is a source of water for southern Lebanon will have to become the source of water for Israel. The water table in Israel is dropping at a rate which is higher than in the Sahel area of Africa. It would appear to a lot of people that the Litani River is the key to the survival of Israel, irrespective of political, economic or any other reason. The Israeli posts are inside the area of UNIFIL operations. These posts form a zig-zag line, as I have said, in which the Israelis intend to have as their northern border, the Litani river.

The number of incidents involving DFF and IDF in the UNIFIL area is [2636] increasing at an alarming rate and these incidents are becoming more and more dangerous. Houses are being blown up, people are being murdered and kidnapped and DFF have adopted a surveillance by fire method of deterring movement at night, by random spraying of the wadis or hollows with automatic fire. The escalation of incidents against the local population is again an attempt to force the locals from the area and so make it easier for Israeli occupation. The majority of the population in the area are the Shia Moslems and there is a significant Christian community also. The Shia Moslems and Christian communities have, in the main, lived in peace and harmony and this is very noticeable in the villages in that both commerce and social contact are carried on in a normal manner and at night the local population come out and promenade up and down the villages and everything looks as normal as at any promenade at a European seaside resort.

The local population have built up a very good relationship with the UNIFIL forces and they readily acknowledge that the presence of UNIFIL has brought a stability to the area that is quite noticeable.

The UNIFIL presence brings also an influence of peace and normal living to the area. Agriculture is the main support of the economy of the south, as three-quarters of the population rely on it for their livelihood. They rely especially on the production of tobacco and citrus fruits. This vital sector of the south's economy today suffers gravely from the impact of the occupation, mainly at the level of population displacement and forced migrations, in addition to a slump in the marketing of the products. This has, in turn, led to a serious deterioration of the region's economic life and a stagnation in the agricultural seasons. Production has dropped and unemployment has increased in the area, but in the UNIFIL area agriculture is being carried out and it is very noticeable that people are returning to the area and are building houses and engaging in commerce.

One of the particular joys of travelling [2637] through Lebanon is to go down to the area of UNIFIL operations to see people working in the fields, to see the harvests being garnered and to see that normal life is being attempted. In the northern end of the country, even though the country is one of the most productive in the world in terms of citrus fruit production, the fruit has not been collected for four or five years. It is a little like certain areas of this country where blackberries and blueberries grew as wild fruits; in the Lebanon oranges and apples are now growing like wild fruit because the harvest has not been collected.

The presence of the UNIFIL forces in the area is not only military in nature but practical day to day aid is given to the locals on a humanitarian and medical basis. The battalions have often been called in to serve as mediators in local disputes. I have absolutely no doubt but that there is a grave need to ensure the continuing presence of UNIFIL in Lebanon.

There are many who would suggest that Lebanon is an artificially created country, that there is a natural affinity in the northern part of Lebanon towards Syria and that Israel should take over the southern part. From my contacts in Lebanon I have absolutely no doubt that Lebanon should be allowed to exist as an entity. If it does not, an extended Syria or an extended Israel will not do anything for the peace movement in that area or indeed for the peace movement throughout the world. There is a growing resistance movement in the south of Lebanon. The Shia Amal movement, which was the predominant influence in the current mandate area, has been to a certain degree overtaken by support for the Hezbollah (Party of God) movement led by the very radical Sheikh Fadballah and it is very significant that in that area the militant Islam posters of the Hezbollah movement are predominant on pillars and posts.

Many people suggest that the growth of militant Islam is a threat to western values and western democracy. The growth of militant Islam is a product of a downtrodden people, the growth of the [2638] Hezbollah movement can be traced to Iran, where the people were forced to the ground by a family who did not believe in the people and who plundered the wealth of that country. Is it any wonder that Iran is now radical and that downtrodden people of the Moslem group of religions should join together to get rid of oppressors? The growth is not purely political; it has taken place on religious grounds and from an economic background.

Israel should realise that it is in her best interests to have the UNIFIL presence in Lebanon and she should abide by Resolutions 425 and 426 of the United Nations. This feeling is confirmed by many observers at the scene that the proper deployment area for UNIFIL is on the border between Israel and Lebanon and that the presence should continue as long as the sovereignty of Lebanon is threatened by the Israelis. The State of Israel has never been threatened by the Lebanese. There were attacks on Israel from Lebanon but these were nothing in comparison to the murderous air, sea and land attacks by Israel on mainly innocent people and on highly populated cities, towns and refugee camps.

I have seen the effects at first hand when I sat with the Archbishop of Sidon in his house and every 15 minutes shelling took place on a camp outside Sidon. It was a salutary experience to sit in a building somewhat like this and every 15 minutes to feel the ground jumping. There was no threat to Israel from Sidon or from Tyre but these ancient places have experienced more depredation than anything that happened in Europe during World War II. For what? To protect the State of Israel. Israel is not a threatened State. Israel is a threatening State. Israel has to realise we want the State of Israel to exist but not as long as it is a threatening State in the Middle East. The most responsible way for Israel to act would be to withdraw to within her own international borders, which have been set down, and to stop supporting the totally indisciplined murderous de facto forces in South Lebanon.

[2639] I appeal to the Minister to use all his influence to ensure an extension of the United Nations mandate in Lebanon. On a recent visit to Lebanon it was easy to see the value that comes from a peaceful environment and equally the result of breakdown in effective Government. When I say breakdown in effective Government it would appear that in certain areas of the Lebanon there is de facto governing; people take over streets and areas and collect their own taxes. On the last occasion I was there, Lebanon could not pay their international telephone bills so there were no international telephones. They could not pay for the importation of fuel and as a result, fuel was being imported into the country on an ad hoc basis. The people bringing it in were making a lot of money but no tax was collected. However, one could see that the presence of UNIFIL has instilled confidence, pride and hope for the future to the people of those areas. Outside the area one can see results of interference in the nation's affairs; the stagnation of agriculture, the demise of businesses, lack of confidence in the future, a galloping inflation rate, a sinking currency value and the growth of anarchy.

We had the unfortunate incident recently where the Prime Minister, Rashio Karami, was killed, a person I had met, who was totally involved in the future of that country. He did not agree with the President from a religious or political point of view but he worked with him and was totally committed to seeing that there would be a future for Lebanon. His death is a loss to the international community and, equally, to the Lebanese people. I sincerely hope the ideas and ideals he fought for over many years will be continued by whoever takes over from him. Whoever is governing or attempting to govern in the Lebanon has a tough job and should try to ensure that that country can be governed and that we will be totally committed to them.

I fully agree it is not in the mandate of UNIFIL to regulate the atmosphere in which people live or to set up a mini-state in which people can live in relative peace [2640] and security, oblivious of what is happening in the other areas of Lebanon. In the south in the UNIFIL mandate area there is a certain degree of confidence and stability but the whole area of Lebanon should be able to live in peace.

The United Nations should grasp the nettle of Lebanon. Too many people have written it off because of West Beirut but it must be realised that the situation in Beirut is in the main reactive and not causative. The cause of conflict in Lebanon is exacerbated by the continued Israeli presence and aggression. Israel is the only country in the world created by a vote of the United Nations.

The viewpoint has been put forward that Irish troops should be withdrawn from Lebanon due to non-payment of funds from the United Nations. I fully realise that a large sum of money is due to Ireland and that in our current financial situation it is extremely difficult to justify a continuous drain on the public purse. The United Nations must realise that Ireland plays a major part in its peace-keeping work and large nations must pay what is requested of them. The United States did come up with their dues in this regard over the past 12 months but it must be stressed that Russia did not although Russia has a major influence in that area. Russia is the one major power bloc who have not come up with their dues in terms of Lebanon. It is about time they did. Instead of talking peace in other areas of the world they should come up with what they owe for peace-keeping in Lebanon. There is talk of an East-West European involvement in Lebanon. I would hope this involvement would be twofold — an involvement of troops within UNIFIL and a cash involvement of those countries not involved on the ground. United Nations' responsibility for whatever happens is enormous. The Irish Government, as a whole, must influence and pressurise the United Nations with every possible speed to ensure the future of Lebanon as a sovereign country.

I have personally observed the operations of UNIFIL in Lebanon. I have marvelled at the expertise, professionalism and compassion of the Irish [2641] troops. Six months in Lebanon is no holiday. There is no doubt that the training our troops get here at home has enabled them to behave, under pressure, in an exemplary manner while serving in a peace-keeping capacity abroad. Ireland can be proud of her troops abroad. They fulfil a vital role in their areas of operation. That is recognised by local inhabitants and by the other contingents of soldiers in UNIFIL.

I must not allow this debate to end without paying a particular compliment to Major General Bill Callaghan who, as Force Commander in Lebanon over many years, did a fantastic job. He has been recognised as the most professional of professional soldiers worldwide. I wish him many years of happy retirement.

My final plea to the Minister this evening is that the desperate plight of the Lebanese people be alleviated not only from a military viewpoint but, more importantly, from a humanitarian viewpoint.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Calleary): I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the Seanad on this Adjournment debate on UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Might I also add my congratulations and good wishes — and those of the Government to those of Senator Lanigan to Major General Bill Callaghan on the tremendous job he did as Commander of the UNIFIL Forces in recent years.

Since we joined the UN in 1955 we have established an honourable tradition of playing a very full role in the pursuit of the UN's goals. Our commitment to the Charter is strong, enduring and is based on the belief that, despite its difficulties and shortcomings, the United Nations provides a unique and valuable world forum. More than any other body it has created a respect for international law. It has provided an internationally-accepted platform for the airing of grievances between nations and conciliation mechanisms for dealing with them. It has [2642] nurtured and promoted a process of decolonisation which has led to the emergence of over 100 new states. It has fought the afflictions of famine, poverty, disease and underdevelopment and has housed and cared for those displaced by war and natural disasters. Lastly, it is important — as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — that we compliment the United Nations on the establishment of universal standards of human rights to which all member states must aspire. Seen in the light of these achievements, our commitment to the Charter is self-explanatory.

One of the constructive ways in which we have exercised this commitment is through participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Our association with such operations is a long one. From the Congo to Cyprus, to the Sinai and now to Lebanon, Irish soldiers have worn the blue helmet with honour, pride, distinction and courage. At present 745 members of the Defence Forces are on service with the United Nations in Lebanon.

The Seanad will be aware that the mandate for UNIFIL must be renewed every six months by the Security Council. That mandate will come up for renewal at the end of this month. Not being a member of the Security Council we have no direct influence in the matter. However, before the mandate comes up for renewal the Secretary General seeks the views of all troop contributors and submits them in the form of a report to the Security Council. Thus, we are able to convey to those who decide the matter our continued support for the force.

Our support for UNIFIL and for Resolution 425 which set it up, is an enduring one. Senators will be aware that it has not been possible to date to secure the agreement of all of the relevant parties to the full implementation of the United Nations mandate. In particular the insistence by Israel on the maintenance of a so-called security zone — a point which was commented on in such detail by Senator Lanigan has prevented UNIFIL being deployed in accordance [2643] with the resolution. In turn this security zone has become a focus of resistance and confrontation with local elements. It has become a source of constant and inherent instability in the area.

The Government attach great importance to the security of Irish troops participating in UNIFIL. Every effort is being made to ensure that security. Notwithstanding this, many brave Irish soldiers have given their lives in the cause of peacekeeping. In the past year alone we in Ireland grieved for the families of three men who died in hostilities in southern Lebanon. I know that the Seanad will join with me in acknowledging the supreme sacrifice made by Lieutenant Aengus Murphy, Private William O'Brien and Corporal Dermot McLoughlin and by all the UNIFIL troops who have died in the cause of peace. The present impasse must be broken and progress made towards the implementation of the mandate. The Seanad may be assured that every effort will be made by the Government, particularly at the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly in September, to impress upon all concerned the need to find agreed means for the implementation of the mandate. If this is accepted the task of UNIFIL and the Irish forces will be rendered that much safer and easier.

Notwithstanding the difficult problems facing the force, UNIFIL has demonstrated its ability to establish a measure of security for the local population. In recent years the population of the area of operations of UNIFIL escape many of the hardships which other parts of that unfortunate country have had to endure. The large demonstrations last year in Sidon and elsewhere in support of the force in the wake to attacks on it and, more significantly, the return to southern Lebanon of practically all of the people who were displaced in the two Israeli invasions are convincing examples of the [2644] value which the local population places on the UNIFIL presence. This was a point ably made by Senator Lanigan from his personal experience of having toured the area. Certainly, by any objective standards the force has shown itself to be a professional one capable of meeting the challenges of the situation in southern Lebanon.

A matter of concern to the Government — and this was also touched on by Senator Lanigan — particularly at this time of financial stringency, is the shortfall in repayments due to troop contributors. It must be acknowledged that this problem is linked to the wider one of the crisis in United Nations finances caused by the withholding of contributions by a number of States stemming, in part, from an erosion in the commitment to the Charter. Seen in this light it is not a problem that lends itself to an easy solution. However, in our view, there still is scope for resolving the specific UNIFIL problem. We will continue to use what influence we have to bring about an improvement in the financing of the force. We have made it clear on numerous occasions to the Secretary General — and the point will be made to him again next September in New York — that the troop contributors cannot be expected to shoulder the financial burden involved indefinitely.

I cannot leave a debate on this issue without acknowledging the professionalism, dedication and distinction with which Irish troops have served the United Nations. All of the best qualities of good soldiering and good peacekeeping have been evident in their work. We have every reason to be proud of those who have served abroad under the blue flag from 1960 to date in the cause of peace.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 12 noon on Wednesday, 22 July 1987.