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President of the Bundestag,
Fellow members of this House,
When discussing Lebanon, we remember all too well the images of civil war, the fighting and the car bomb that killed the country’s prime minister.
Considering the diversity of Lebanon’s society, with 18 religious groups, it is almost a miracle that the country has successfully managed to keep itself out of the region’s conflicts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Last year, as well, there were times when we had grave concerns about peace and stability. There was the resignation of Prime Minister Hariri in November 2017, a step that many believed was linked to the regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. There were ceasefire violations and threats by Hezbollah, which Israel is always highly sensitive about.
However, ladies and gentlemen, despite the general atmosphere, problems were successfully contained and the country’s stability was maintained. This was achieved not least thanks to the parties talking to one another. And that was primarily accomplished thanks to UNIFIL.
Ladies and gentlemen,
UNIFIL, the peace mission of the United Nations, continues to play a key role in stabilising Lebanon.
We have substantially contributed to this mission since its re establishment after the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel. For a long time, the German UNIFIL contingent was our largest contribution to any UN mission.
I got my most recent first-hand impression of the situation on the ground in November 2017, while visiting the German UNIFIL contingent in Naqoura in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel.
The mission of the German soldiers serving under UNIFIL’s Irish Major General Michael Beary is to provide support in three ways:
First, UNIFIL facilitates de escalation and communication. With its diplomatic and mediation activities, UNIFIL works to reduce tensions – both on the ground along the Blue Line and through the so called three way talks that involve the Lebanese and Israeli armed forces.
We must not forget, after all, that an end to war between Israel and Lebanon has yet to be officially declared. Both states currently do not recognise one another, and the land and maritime borders have not yet been demarcated. Both sides do, however, accept and appreciate UNIFIL’s valuable mechanism for settling disputes. It is only under the auspices of the United Nations that they hold direct talks.
If UNIFIL were to withdraw, then the conflict with Hezbollah could flare up again. Although there is a ceasefire, there continue to be violations. UNIFIL is deployed to the area. It is always ready to provide early notification of problems and to intensify its patrols and reporting. This has become all the more important given recent tensions in the region.
The mission’s second task is to stop weapons smuggling by sea. This helps keep arms from getting to groups that threaten the stability of Lebanon and the security of Israel.
Our maritime contingent makes a twofold contribution to the fight against weapons smuggling to Lebanon:
• UNIFIL’s maritime component secures the sea border. Arms smuggling by sea is currently registered only on rare occasions. This is proof of the effectiveness of the maritime component.
• We are also helping to enable the Lebanese Navy to assume full responsibility in the long term for managing its maritime border.
Some of the criticism about the slow pace of Lebanon’s activities in this regard may be justified. We must however also remember that the Lebanese armed forces have plenty on their hands with securing the land borders, especially that with Syria.
Third, Lebanon has taken in more than one million refugees. Any flare up in the conflict, or a war, would be a nightmare for them, as well.
With Lebanon’s population numbering only four million, it has taken in a million more. This is a tremendous accomplishment and deserves our profound respect. However, the country has been stretched to the limit, considering the religious tensions, social issues and economic challenges that it is already grappling with.
Our contribution to UNIFIL is therefore only one part of our multifaceted support for Lebanon. We are also helping the country overcome the refugee crisis, as well as helping to promote development and improve security in general.
One example of how we are helping Lebanon come to grips with the refugee crisis is the country’s RACE education programme, for which we are one of the largest donors. Thanks to this initiative, most of the children that have been forced to flee Syria are able to attend school in Lebanon.
We are one of the largest providers of development aid to Lebanon, making available some 380 million euros for this purpose in 2017 alone. These funds were used, for example, to build municipal water infrastructure and refurbish school buildings.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The political situation in Lebanon remains tense. The country has had only a caretaker government since the elections on 6 May, and the parties must now reach agreement on a new government. We are confident that they will manage to do so.
Although we do see political progress, stability in Lebanon should not be taken for granted, even twelve years after the war of 2006.
That is why we want to keep contributing to stabilisation. Our participation in UNIFIL remains a key part of these efforts.
On behalf of the Federal Government, I therefore request your approval of this mandate.