Israel could be destroying Lebanon while leaving the guerrilla group Hizbullah intact, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said on Thursday. Tuomioja also said it was “Very frustrating” that it was so difficult to reach agreement on a ceasefire, because the Europeans never believed there was a military solution to the conflict in Lebanon, now in its fifth week.
“The real worry ... Is if you (Israel) set out to destroy Hizbullah, you may end up destroying Lebanon but leaving Hizbullah intact. Unfortunately that seems to have happened,” The minister, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, told Reuters in an interview.
'A fact of life'
Israel, without opposition from its ally the United States, decided on Wednesday to expand its ground offensive, after failing during the first four weeks to achieve its original military objectives against the Hizbullah guerrillas. Israel has said it wants to drive the guerrillas back from the Israeli border so they cannot fire rockets into Israel.
The European Union has called for an immediate end to hostilities while the United States has argued against a ceasefire until there is agreement on long-term security arrangements including a way to disarm Hizbullah.
Tuomioja said: “Everyone always seems to think they have to come out in a position where they can declare military victory when in reality everyone has lost. This is a fact of life. This is the same for Hizbullah.”
He said European governments were still willing to consider taking part in a peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, under the right conditions and with a strong mandate. But he added: “The longer this continues, the more difficult it will be, because the risk will be perceived to have grown and the willingness to contribute will become less.”
An Israeli attack which killed four UN observers in south Lebanon on July 25 had made it politically difficult for Finland and Austria to send forces, he added. A Finn and an Austrian were among the four observers.