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Spain plans to take over UN mission in southern Lebanon next year

Move will have to be ratified by Spanish government that emerges from December elections

Cascos azules de la ONU en Líbano
Spanish blue helmets at the United Nations mission in southern Lebanon.

The Spanish Defense Ministry is planning to take over the United Nations mission in southern Lebanon (Unifil) next year.

While the initiative still needs to be formally presented and ratified by the government that comes out of general elections on December 20, Madrid has expressed a willingness to take control of a mission involving 10,500 blue helmets.

News of the plans come as Spain remains silent about how it will support France in its fight against the Islamic State, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks ago.

Spain could also raise the number of instructors in Baghdad, which now number 300

The Mariano Rajoy administration has approached several global partners regarding the possibility of having a Spanish general take over from Italy’s Luciano Portolano when the latter’s two-year term runs out. It would be the second time that Spain leads Unifil after doing so in 2010 and 2011 under General Alberto Asarta.

While command of Unifil does not necessarily mean bolstering the Spanish contingent, this could change if France decides to bring back some of its 800 soldiers currently participating in the mission.

Other scenarios where Spain could replace French troops are Mali and the Central African Republic (RCA), where Spanish troops are already part of EU missions. But because these operations are very reduced, it would make more sense for Spain to join the United Nations missions in the same countries, Minusma and Minusca.

If Spain finally were to opt for a more direct involvement in the fight against ISIS in Syria, experts said it could contribute a frigate, as Britain and Belgium have done, or else supply KC-130 tanker aircraft for aerial refueling, or even F-18 and Eurofighter jets to protect bomber planes.

Alternatively, Spain could raise the number of instructors in Baghdad, which now number 300, to help train the Iraqi army in the fight against ISIS.

English version by Susana Urra.