Minister of Defence Hannes Hanso and his Finnish counterpart, Jussi Niinistö, concluded their joint visit to Lebanon, during which they familiarised themselves with the duties of the servicemen serving in the UN peacekeeping mission UNIFIL and the security situation of the region.
At his meeting with the Estonian servicemen, the Minister of Defence told them that their service with UNIFIL has a clear foreign policy dimension to it, serving as a means for Estonia to preserve its good international reputation.
“The security of and threats to Estonia, as well as the whole of Europe, do not begin at our national borders, but much farther away. As far as Estonia's security is concerned, it is important to be able to see the bigger picture and contribute to stability,” said Hanso. “Maintaining stability and peace far from home, in Southern-Lebanon, is very important, since it prevents problems from reaching our doorstep. I thank you for you service, with which you are making the world a more peaceful place.”
According to Hanso, it is important for Estonia that our servicemen are serving together with the Finnish contingent in Southern Lebanon.
“My joint visit with the Finnish Minister of Defence is also meant to emphasise the defence related cooperation between our two countries," said Hanso. “We wish to develop close and practical defence related relations with Finland, and joint participation in a foreign operation is the best opportunity to do so.”
During his trip, the Minister of Defence familiarised himself with the everyday life and service of Estonian servicemen at their base camp. The Minister was also provided with an overview of the situation in the region and took part in a patrol with the servicemen, during which he met with local government leaders and heads of security.
During their joint visit, the Estonian and Finnish Minsters of Defence visited UNIFIL headquarters, and met with Major General Luciano Portolano (Italy), Head of Mission and Force Commander, to discuss the mission activity and future developments. The Ministers of Defence also met with General Jean Kahwaji, Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, and received an overview of the country’s security situation and possible developments in regional conflicts.
UNIFIL is tasked with controlling the Israeli-Lebanon control line, the so-called Blue Line, in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces. Estonia has been a participant in UNIFIL since May of last year, operating in the Finnish-Irish Battalion.
The primary task of servicemen is to perform daytime and night time patrols with off-road and armoured vehicles, to demonstrate the presence of UNIFIL, and to control adherence to the agreements concluded between participants in the conflict. Estonian servicemen also man observation posts and fulfil other peacekeeping related assignments.
The Finnish-Irish unit is comprised of approximately 500 peacekeepers, with Finland contributing 350 and Estonia 38 servicemen, respectively. UNIFIL is the largest foreign operation for both Estonia and Finland.
UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force Lebanon) is a UN peacekeeping mission, created in 1978, with the purpose of ensuring the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon, restoring international peace and security, and helping the Lebanese Government restore the authority of the state.
UNIFIL is comprised of over 10,000 military personnel and 1000 civilian officials from a total of 39 different countries.