Saturday, November 18, 2006

Southern Lebanon Again...

The New York Times reports, very briefly today, on page A9 of the national edition, that "United Nations antiaircraft batteries" are taking "preparatory steps" to fire at Israeli aircraft that have "repeatedly violated" the cease-fire in Lebanon by flying overhead.

First, there's no such thing as a "United Nations antiaircraft battery." The only United Nations forces in Lebanon are part of UNIFIL the "United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon." UNIFIL has an authorized strength of 15,000, but as of 1 November was composed of about 9,500 troops. A useful and interesting map showing deployments as of September is here. The map shows the UNIFIL area divided into Indian and Ghanan battalion sectors, with a Chinese battalion located nearer the coast, and the headquarters elements, including a composite French battalion, in the south, on the coast, round the village of Naquora.
UNIFIL is under a French commander, Général de Division Alain Pellegrini. General Pellegrini has an interesting background -- regimental commander in the Troupes de Marine -- (formerly known as the Colonial Troops) best understood as a part of the French Army concerned with overseas operations, particularly in the former French colonies (such as Lebanon) and not so much like the US Marine Corps. General Pellegrini also has some time in French military intelligence. In 2000, he had the desk responsible for Lebanon and the Middle East. Just the man for a post like this one. The French have about 1,000 soldiers in Lebanon, and are committed to add up to another 1,000.
But back to our main point -- those anti-aircraft batteries. The Times doesn't say so, but clearly, we have to be talking about the French. Most of the units shown on the UNIFIL map appear to be too small to contain anti-aircraft batteries, the Chinese, Indians and French being the exceptions. . . The French contingent apparently includes antiaircraft batteries.
The Times squib says that the Israelis have flown over UN positions 14 times, 11 of them over positions manned by French troops. The French are clearly unhappy -- the Israelis apologized for one overflight of a French frigate offshore back on 3 October.
I feel a little sorry for the French troops. I dislike many of the policies of the French government profoundly, but I am not one of those who would be heard disparging the French military in any way. Among other things, they have some mighty fine intervention units, (the Marines, the paratroops, and the Foreign Legion). But they're on the verge of being in a bigger mess than they know what to do with. During the abortive Israeli intervention in Lebanon this year, Hezbollah forces apparently learned to hug the UNIFIL positions, using them as shields from Israeli artillery and aircraft. No doubt they're doing that again, creeping right back up to the border, and no doubt the Israelis are watching, and maybe indulging in a little low-grade yanking of UNIFIL chains.
UNIFIL, if it isn't going to stop Hezbollah from moving around, would do well to be quiet. The French have just enough troops in Lebanon to get the soldiers into some trouble, but not enough power around to really defend themselves. If the politicians push them beyond "preparations" or even push them to "serious preparations" to fire on Israeli aircraft. . .the Israelis are going to knock some Frenchmen into a cocked hat, in short order.

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