NATO: Diplomacy, Not Defense, Will Determine Deployment of Peacekeepers in Mideast

Top NATO official to Haaretz: Mideast units could easily be allocated out of NATO's 3 million uniformed troops.

BRUSSELS - Diplomatic, not military, considerations will determine whether or not NATO decides to deploy forces along the Israel-Syria border, or in the Israeli-Palestinian sector, according to the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Giampaolo di Paola, who spoke to Haaretz in Brussels on Wednesday.

When asked whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was preparing contingency plans, in the event that member states express willingness to deploy a peace force to the regions, as well as whether NATO had sufficient forces for such a mission, Di Paola noted that only three conditions, laid down by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, were needed to deploy NATO forces: a diplomatic agreement, an invitation from the parties and the agreement of the United Nations Security Council. A senior NATO official added it would be easy to allocate units for such a mission out of NATO's approximately three million uniformed troops.

Di Paolo expressed concern over Iran's nuclear program, echoing similar remarks by NATO diplomats, but noted that the organization is not involved in the issue.

The Military Committee is NATO's highest military authority. Its role is to provide NATO's civilian decision-making bodies with advice on military matters. Di Paola, who is scheduled to visit Israel next year, was formerly a submarine, frigate and aircraft-carrier commander in the Italian navy. As Italy's chief of defense, he helped to shape the UNIFIL naval force deployed near the Lebanese coast.

Speaking to a group of reporters here, Di Paola said that the difficulty of addressing piracy in the Gulf of Aden and in the Indian Ocean stems from the enormous area involved. It's not a lake or a pond, he emphasized.

He pointed out that the Somalia coastline is 1,500 kilometers long, and the pirates can operate at a distance of up to 600 kilometers from shore. They have large numbers of hiding places along the coast, he said, from which they set out in speedboats.

Large marine security forces, backed up by air patrols, are needed to stop the pirates. Di Paola said that it is not possible to provide security to all sea traffic, the location, route and shipping plans of which in dangerous points are not always reported.

Di Paola said that the lesson learned from implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1701 cannot be put to use to fight widespread naval piracy. It is a lot easier to secure the waters off the Lebanese coast, which are tiny compared to the area in which the pirates operate.