Turkey extends its presence under UNIFIL in Lebanon

Set up in 1978, the United Nation's Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is now approaching its fifth decade of presence in the trouble Mideastern state. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 October 2018

Turkey extends its presence under UNIFIL in Lebanon

  • It is the 11th time that there has been an extension of the time frame for Turkish soldiers supporting the UN peacekeeping forces
  • Ankara withdrew its TURKCOY troops from UNIFIL after the kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots in Lebanon

ANKARA: A motion to deploy Turkish troops in Lebanon for a further year as part of the UN’s interim force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, was ratified by the Turkish Parliament on Tuesday.

It is the 11th time that there has been an extension of the time frame for Turkish soldiers supporting the UN peacekeeping forces. They will now be deployed to help the Lebanese government regain its authority and to provide security in the region until Aug. 31 next year.

UNIFIL’s total number of peacekeepers rose to 10,462 from 41 troop-contributing countries in August. Turkey, as the second largest army in NATO, has contributed 86 soldiers and one fast patrol boat.

This contribution helped the Turkish Army to boost cooperation and increased its level of recognition for the Lebanese.

Turkish engineering construction company TURKCOY joined UNIFIL in October 2006 to support the mission with engineering construction expertise, including the construction of roads, building of prefabricated accommodation and improving the protection of several UNIFIL bases. 

It also donated generators, computers and other materials to municipalities and schools, and also renovated schools.

Ankara withdrew its TURKCOY troops from UNIFIL after the kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots in Lebanon.

Lebanon currently faces many security threats, largely due to the ongoing crisis in Syria, rendering the mission of UNIFIL much more crucial for the country.

Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs (LISA) in Lebanon, said that Turkey’s presence in UNIFIL is key for the security and stability of Lebanon, especially given the escalating tensions between Hezbollah and Israel. The two sides have been exchanging threats over the last weeks.

“Russia’s deployment of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system in Syria after Syrian air defenses downed a Russian spy plane during an Israeli strike in September puts Lebanon further at risk because it could be now seen as an alternative arena for this war,” Nader told Arab News.

Nader said that Turkey has always supported Lebanese sovereignty. 

It has also been critical of Hezbollah trying to control Lebanon to set up a state within a state, the director said.

“Turkey being part of Astana peace process (aimed at ending the Syrian conflict) and remaining critical of Iran’s moves in the region renders it a peace-broker by its engagement in UNIFIL. It could therefore extend the dynamic that is established in Astana to Lebanon,” he said.

Sinan Hatahet, an expert on Lebanon-Turkey relations at Al Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said that Turkish involvement in UNIFIL has changed significantly since 2006.


Internal dynamics

“Ankara was trying to play a major role in the Arab-Israeli conflict by mediating among Syria, Israel and Lebanon. But now the relationship between Turkey and Israel has deteriorated,” he told Arab News.

“Turkey’s involvement in  UNIFIL is within a larger context of Turkish objective of being present in the Levant. But I don’t think that Turkey is engaging in Lebanese internal dynamics through this mission,” Hatahet said.

Fatih Aldemir, a security consultant and a former major, said that Turkey’s presence in UNIFIL has symbolic significance for the Lebanese as they tended to see Turkey as a model country and have developed friendly relations.


Military assistance

“Turkey’s contribution to the mission is seen as material and psychological support for the current aim of this interim force which is establishing a sort of buffer zone between Israel and prevent the potential threats coming from the sea,” he told Arab News.

For the past three years, Turkey has also been providing foreign military assistance to Lebanon’s security institutions. 

On Wednesday, during a meeting with Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Hakan Cakil, Lebanese Defense Minister Yacoub Al-Sarraf thanked Ankara for its support.

Militants kidnap Christian in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

Police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident. (AP)
Updated 18 January 2019

Militants kidnap Christian in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

  • The attack took place about 30 km west of El-Arish

CAIRO: Extremist militants on Thursday kidnapped a Christian man traveling in a taxi in the turbulent north of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, according to security officials, an incident that raises the specter of renewed attacks on minority Christians in the region after a two-year lull.

The officials did not identify the man, but said police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident, killing one of them and wounding two others in a firefight, but could not free the hostage. Two policemen were also wounded in the firefight, said the officials.

There was no word on whether any of the other passengers traveling in the taxi, a minibus, were harmed, suggesting that the kidnapping of the Christian man could have been planned. 

The attack took place about 30 km west of El-Arish, northern Sinai’s largest city, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

A spate of attacks on Christians in northern Sinai in late 2016 and early 2017 forced nearly 300 families to flee their homes there and find refuge elsewhere in Egypt. 

Those killed included a cleric, workers, a doctor and a merchant. The last Christian to be killed in Sinai was in January 2018, when militants gunned him down as he walked on the street in El-Arish.

The militants, now led by Daesh, say they are punishing the Christians for their support of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

The spiritual leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, whose ancient church is the country’s predominant Christian denomination, is a close ally of El-Sisi, who has made sectarian harmony a cornerstone of his domestic policy. 

El-Sisi’s patronage of the community has given Christians a measure of protection but did little to protect them from radicals, particularly in regions south of Cairo where Christians are a sizable minority.

Since 2016, Daesh militants have killed more than 100 Christians in attacks targeting churches and buses carrying pilgrims to remote desert monasteries. 

Also on Thursday, according to the officials, suspected militants sneaked into the parking lot of the main hospital in the city of Rafah on the Sinai border with the Gaza Strip and torched two vehicles before escaping. 

The incident was the latest in a recent spate of violent incidents in Rafah, most of whose residents have been evicted and compensated over the past year to deny the militants hiding places.

Nearly a year ago, the government threw into the battle against the Sinai militants thousands of troops, heavy armor, helicopter gunships and jet fighters in a bid to end the insurgency. 

The operation has significantly reduced the number of attacks and restored a near total normal life in El-Arish, on the Mediterranean coast.