Friday, August 18, 2006

Malaysia's Middle East 'diplomacy' challenged

KL to send troops despite Israel's protest

Latest news reports have it that while Israel objects to Malaysia participating in the UN's peacekeeping forces on the Israel-Lebanon border on the ground that Malaysia and Israel have no diplomatic relation, DPM and Defence Minister Najib said that Malaysia would send its troops despite Israel's objection and Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar also reportedly retorted.

According to Syed Hamid, it is the United Nations, not Israel, that decides whether Malaysia can be part of the peacekeeping force.

The question arises is thus whether Malaysia, having officially adopted a sweepingly hostile attitude toward Israel for many years, is suitable or qualifed to be an impartial peacekeeper on the Israel-Lebanese border. As a matter of fact, Malaysia's official partiality or bias specifically in the Israeli-Lebanese conflicts had already been clearly shown when Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar publicly called on OIC countries to consider supplying arms to Israel's battlefield enemy, Hezbollah.

Strictly speaking, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid's emotionally co-religionist and very immature call has, according to international laws and conventions of war, officially committed Malaysia to a state of armed hostility toward Israel. How can a country that is in a state of armed hostility vis-a-vis one party in a conflict be expected to be impartial and fair in keeping the peace between the party and its battlefield enemy?

In simple terms, there is a conflict of interest in Malaysia's Middle Eastern diplomacy as there is certainly one when and if a man assumes the roles of prosecutor and judge in court at the same time.

Wanting to be peacekeeper or supporting Hezbollah is a legitimate policy choice for a sovereign country to make, but supporting Hezbollah's armed hostility toward Israel and simultaneously wanting to be peacekeeper smack of hypocrisy and opportunism. Also, while opposing Israel's aggression on Lebanon is legitimate and acceptable, public and official call for OIC countries to supply arms to Hezbollah when fightings were still in operation on the battlefields has certainly crossed the red line and impeached Malaysia's neutality and impartiality.

Moreover, sending Malaysia's troops as 'peacekeepers' to the Israel-Lebanon border unilaterally with Israel's reciprocal unfriendliness or hostility remain intact would increase the chances of Malaysia's men and women of uniform being put in harm's way. The United States, an ally of Israel, has wisely and honestly declined to offer troops for UN's peacekeeping force on the Israel-Lebanon border.

If there is anyone for Malaysians to blame for this situation, it is certainly Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar who publicly called on OIC countries to consider supplying arms to Hezbollah at the height of its fighting with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) .

Even before the issue was made a public contention yesterday (17 August), I had already foreseen the problem in two entries Peacekeeping force to Israel-Lebanon border (1 August) and Call to arm Hezbollah and be peacekeeper ? (15 August) in this blog:

Call to arm Hezbollah and be peacekeeper?

On 4 August, Malaysia's defence chief Admiral Mohamad Anwar Mohamad Nor reportedly said Malaysia would send 1,000 soldiers to Lebanon as soon as a ceasefire was declared. Four days later on 8 August, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar (left) reportedly said Muslim nations should consider supplying arms to Hezbollah amid anger and frustration over Israel's offensive in Lebanon.

Can an armed force of a country which has taken an official position to call for supply of arms to one side of an conflict be expected and perceived to be politically neutral as well as emotively disinterested peacekeeper? Does Malaysia still has a coherent Government to coordinate policy positions of different ministries such as Foreign on one hand and Defence on the other?

As a matter of public record, I had raised the question even before defence chief Admiral Mohamad Anwar Mohamad Nor (left) and Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar issued their mutually contradictory and self-cancelling statements. This is what I entered on 1 August in this blog under the headline Peacekeeping force to Israel-Lebanon border :

" While I agree with FM Syed Hamid Albar's call for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East and a formal United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent to the Israel-Lebanon border, I disagree with any idea that armed forces that are predominated by Muslims or Jews, including the Malaysian Armed Forces, to be drafted for United Nations' peacekeeping efforts.The reason is to avoid co-religionist bias which may worsen the situation. So, the ideal UN peacekeeping forces should be one composed of secular and religiously non-partisan forces from India, Russia, China, Thailand and other states in non-Islamic Africa such as South Africa. May be the Barisan Nasional government should also designate MIC's Samy Vellu to be Malaysia's spokesman on the Middle East Crisis for the same purpose."

M'sia rejects dialogue with Israel

Malaysia readies 1,000 soldiers for Lebanon

Syed Hamid: OIC nations should arm Hezbollah


Blogger The Malaysian. said...

Given your very convincing argument, the salient points which I'm sure the UN is well aware of, would it therefore not be incumbent upon the world body to exclude Malaysia from any peacekeeping role in that area of conflict? Or is the UN that desperate that they will take anyone despite knowing of their deep prejudices which is sure to jeopardize peace efforts?

8:43 PM  
Blogger hizamiiskandar said...

With greatest respect, although I understand and appreciate your thoughts, please let me present an alternative view.

Regardless of the wisdom of calling for OIC nations to arm Hizbollah, which is a divisive point unlikely to gain a consensus any time soon, I believe that with the ceasefire, any 'state of hostilities' that we may have committed ourselves to would also cease, and a commitment to maintaining the ceasefire would become paramount on our part.

I believe that representatives of Muslim nations would be very much required in any peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The force must be seen as representative in order to create confidence, and I believe this to be a principle that both sides should accept - a force containing a substantial Muslim contribution would be more acceptable to the Lebanese, and on the same count, the Lebanese should not object should there be a substantial Jewish presence in the force as well. But regardless of religious background, I believe that once they go under the UN helmet, bias will cease to be a guiding factor. Notwithstanding a minority of cases, the trust-building that such a representative force can elicit would be worth the risk.

I do agree, however, with you thatMalaysia should not send a unilateral force that is not authorised by the UN.

Thank you.

6:27 PM  

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