November 05, 2009

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Spain, Israel, and the Fight over UNIFIL Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has canceled a November 4 and 5 visit to Spain amid a dispute over the command of the European-led United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The visit was called off after reports surfaced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had secretly asked Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to keep Italy in command of the 13,000-strong UNIFIL force for six months longer than planned, instead of allowing Spain to take over. Italian General Claudio Graziano is scheduled to turn the command over to a Spanish general in February 2010. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz says Israeli officials want Graziano to stay on because they believe that replacing the UNIFIL commander now might further destabilize the already precarious security situation in southern Lebanon. The Spanish newspaper El País adds that Italian officials want to retain the command because it would be beneficial to Graziano’s career. In any case, considering that Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero leads what is arguably the most anti-Israel government in Europe, Netanyahu is probably justified in having some misgivings about a Spanish-led UNIFIL. Indeed, the unabashedly pro-Arab, pro-Hamas, pro-Hezbollah, and pro-Iranian Zapatero says the Middle East will be a top priority when Spain takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union in January 2010. Spanish officials now worry that a six-month delay in taking over the UNIFIL command will deprive Zapatero of a bully pulpit he believes will help him raise his profile in the region.

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