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President Donald Trump speaks as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster listen. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump speaks as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster listen. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Casting a shadow over Irish Peacekeepers

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THE Trump administration is more nagged by scandal than any previous administration and to date has no clear, coherent foreign policy. The recent political attack on an Irish Army Officer by the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, is just further evidence of a once great nation now floundering on the international stage.

In recent days Ambassador Haley made a highly personalised attack on Ireland’s, Major General Michael Beary, Force Commander of the UN Forces in Lebanon (UNFIL). Ambassador Haley stated that General Beary’s lack of understanding of the threat Hezbollah poses to the region is baffling and he is “blind” to the spread of illegal arms and the “massive flow of illegal weapons” to Hezbollah-dominated southern Lebanon, where neighbouring Israel has long complained that the militant group operates with impunity.

In response Gen. Beary stated that his force has no evidence of weapons being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the area, and that “if there was a large cache of weapons, we would know about it.”

However Ambassador Haley knows better and said General Beary displayed “an embarrassing lack of understanding of what’s going on. He seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind to what Hezbollah is doing,” adding that his view of the situation “shows that we need to have changes” in the mission.

Needless to say her briefing is probably coming from the Israeli side. She is a strong supporter of the Israeli cause and during a recent visit to Israel visited the Lebanese border and was briefed by the Israeli security agencies. I presume the Ambassador will share her intelligence information with the UN in the fullness of time.

We live in a world where we need to question and challenge, we can challenge the UN or indeed UNIFIL but it saddens me that the US would break all conventions by such a personalised attack directed at the integrity of one individual. I have no doubt the motivation here is to undermine the integrity of the UN Force.

During my career as an Army Officer I served in UNIFIL on a number of occasions. In 1989 I was there with General Beary and I saw at first hand his professionalism, integrity and leadership. He has gone on since then to serve on numerous overseas missions and is one of the most experienced Officers in our Defence Forces.

Peacekeeping is a specialised skill unique to small nations, without imperial baggage, a fact overlooked and often not understood by the Super Powers! When it comes to Lebanon the Irish have a serious track record and we have seen it all before and how the US have chosen to play out their Geo Political games. In 1982 they stepped in to Beirut with a Multi National Force, comprising of the British, French and Italians abandoning the mission in 1984 and handed it back to the UN after the 1983 barracks bombing that killed 241 U.S. and 58 French servicemen. Since then UNIFIL succeeded in bringing relative stability to that volatile region. This alone should act as a reminder to Ambassador Haley that it is not the Irish who have an embarrassing lack of understanding of what’s going on in Lebanon but the US.

We should ask why are the US trying to destabilise the peace of Southern Lebanon at this time. It is because of the UN that people live in peace, work and farm the land, it is because of the UN that the physical and social infrastructure of Southern Lebanon has been re established, children go to school and once again they have a functioning society. Yes, it’s finely balanced, but it is Maj General Beary and his forces with their years of experience that provide the delicate balance.

I would hope that the US are not in the business of destabilising the region once again in order to promote their own agenda to establish a foothold in the area to counter Russian dominance in neighbouring Syria. The people of Southern Lebanon deserve better and we have a responsibility to ensure this intervention does not pass by unchecked. The US are playing games toying with peoples lives and are happy to question the integrity of a decorated Irish Peacekeeper without impunity to undermine the UN Force while promoting their own agenda.

Ambassador Haley’s comments not only brings into question General Beary’s professionalism and integrity but also casts a shadow over the integrity of all Irish peace keepers, both currently deployed as well as those of us who contributed to the 32,000 individual tours of duty in Lebanon not to mind the 47 members of the Defence Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in Lebanon in the cause of peace.

Knowing General Beary, he will not be intimidated by such comments and in his professional style, he will temper his remarks and responses. He is not a politician he is a soldier and he will take the UN mandate from his political masters and to the best of his ability ensure that his Forces will implement that mandate to its fullest without fear or favour. We should remember that Irish soldiers have lost their lives in southern Lebanon at the hands of both Hezbollah and Israeli forces, I could never see an occasion where an Irish Army Officer would turn a blind eye to the stockpiling of weapons which ultimately could be used against his own troops.

In saying that our Government have an obligation to protect the integrity of our Defence Forces and in particular defend this officer. I know Minister Coveney in his time as Minister for Defence saw at first hand the work of the Defence Forces on the ground in Southern Lebanon and I would hope in his capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs he will ensure that this apparently unjustified and personalised attack will not go unchallenged, particularly given our proud record of commitment to UN peacekeeping missions.

John Minihan Former Senator and Army Officer (21 years) who served with UNIFIL on a number of occasions.