UN troops for Gaza?

Romano Prodi must be a satisfied man today. Not only has his offer to lead the UN force flushed out the French and won him brownie points in Washington, but the Italians will lead the UN force from February. Prodi still hasn't had his appetite sated though. In an interview with Haaretz, the Italian Foreign ...

Romano Prodi must be a satisfied man today. Not only has his offer to lead the UN force flushed out the French and won him brownie points in Washington, but the Italians will lead the UN force from February. Prodi still hasn't had his appetite sated though. In an interview with Haaretz, the Italian Foreign Minister says "that if things go well in Lebanon, a similar positive process could also begin in the Gaza Strip."

Prodi's hyper-active diplomacy is a deliberate attempt to demonstrate that the left can raise Italian prestige as effectively as the right. The image of Italy at the center of world affairs will certainly give Prodi a Beirut bounce in the polls. But what is far less predictable is how the public will react if casualties start mounting. Many commentators are drawing parallels between the current mission and Bosnia in the mid-1990s, when UN blue helmets tried - and failed - to keep a peace that didn't exist. It also seems dangerous that the force is being divided into a European component—acceptable to the Israelis—and a Muslim one—which is likely to be made up of countries that don't even recognize Israel. There is a real danger that if the cease-fire collapses, the European elements of the UN force could be seen by Hezbollah as an Israeli proxy. 

Romano Prodi must be a satisfied man today. Not only has his offer to lead the UN force flushed out the French and won him brownie points in Washington, but the Italians will lead the UN force from February. Prodi still hasn't had his appetite sated though. In an interview with Haaretz, the Italian Foreign Minister says "that if things go well in Lebanon, a similar positive process could also begin in the Gaza Strip."

Prodi's hyper-active diplomacy is a deliberate attempt to demonstrate that the left can raise Italian prestige as effectively as the right. The image of Italy at the center of world affairs will certainly give Prodi a Beirut bounce in the polls. But what is far less predictable is how the public will react if casualties start mounting. Many commentators are drawing parallels between the current mission and Bosnia in the mid-1990s, when UN blue helmets tried – and failed – to keep a peace that didn't exist. It also seems dangerous that the force is being divided into a European component—acceptable to the Israelis—and a Muslim one—which is likely to be made up of countries that don't even recognize Israel. There is a real danger that if the cease-fire collapses, the European elements of the UN force could be seen by Hezbollah as an Israeli proxy. 

If one was being a pessimist, it would be all too easy to envisage a situation where America – scarred by Iraq – decides to avoid Middle East interventions and Europe – taking casualties in Lebanon – retreats back across the Mediterranean, leaving the Middle East in an even more Hobbesian state than before. Those getting excited about the prospect of the EU using Lebanon to finally establish itself as an effective force for international peace and security outside its borders should remember that the last time it was announced that "the hour of Europe has come", it was a prelude to 7 years of near genocidal violence.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.