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Turkey to send peacekeepers to Lebanon

At a time of great instability, distrust, and acrimony in the Middle East, recently due to the conflict in Lebanon between Israeli forces and Hezbollah , a United Nations’ peacekeeping force in Lebanon is bound to be met with skepticism. UN member nations have been asked to supply forces for the Lebanon mission, but for that force to be taken seriously, it cannot be seen as a Western, mostly Christian, force. Therefore, it is imperative to include Arab and/or Muslim forces to ingrain a sense of credibility for this peacekeeping mission. While Israel recognizes the need for balance, it is uncomfortable with including forces from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel or with those that express anti-Israeli sentiment over concerns of impartiality. Muslim countries also have a balancing act to follow: protecting fellow Muslims versus opposing Hezbollah if the situation deteriorates. The real crux of the problem, however, is that most states do not want their troops to become embroiled in conflict and have to take sides. One country that has been courted to join the peacekeeping mission is Turkey . Despite domestic opposition, the Turkish government has agreed to send troops, probably no more than 1,000. This should be coup for the peacekeeping mission for a variety of reasons but mostly because Turkey can be seen as a fairly honest broker in this tumultuous situation. They were the first Muslim nation to recognize Israel officially. Turkey has numerous ties to the Arab world and to Israel and has maintained and balanced these ties for some time. Turkey has its own motivations to join the UN force, but if they coincide with those of the UN, then this is an act of successful diplomacy. Turkey’s decision to send troops has not been made without controversy. Both the Turkish public and members of the opposition are against Turkish involvement. They do not want to become embroiled in what they perceive as someone else’s problem. They fear that Turkish troops could end up bogged down in a quagmire if the situation deteriorates, and they do not want to be forced into any physical confrontations with Muslims and/or Hezbollah. The mission could also detract from Turkey’s counterterrorism priorities. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has stood firm against these fears and criticisms. He has justified the government’s decision as one that is in Turkey’s best interest from a geographic perspective. He is avoiding an isolationist foreign policy and promoting Turkey’s strategic role in the region by making inroads into major foreign policy issues. Beside geography, Turkey also has historical ties to Lebanon when it fell under Ottoman rule for several centuries. Erdogan has pointed out that Turkey has been involved in a variety of peace missions in the past that did not weaken its counterterrorism capabilities. Finally, he has pledged to withdraw if Turkish forces are asked to disarm Hezbollah. The government is also thinking about how Turkey’s actions will look a little closer to home. Turkey is interested in joining the European Union (EU), which finally agreed to start discussion of the issue. However, the path to EU membership is by no means guaranteed, and Turkey faces a great deal of opposition. By taking an active role in international responsibilities, Turkey can demonstrate its maturity as a country. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema publicly applauded Turkey’s decision, and he said that this choice “will contribute to strengthen relations between the EU and Turkey.” On several fronts, Turkey comes out looking like a strong regional actor, willing to live up to international security commitments rather than focusing on its own internal problems.

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OODA Analyst

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