The most meaningful answer to this came during Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's visit to Beirut this week; it came during a dramatic moment at a dinner for four foreign ministers given by Prime Minister Fuat Siniora.
The dinner given by Siniora took place in a large salon in the Prime Ministerial buildings in Beirut. The beauty of the salon apparently touched everyone present at the dinner. The Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora placed Gul at the same table as the French Foreign Minister as well as ministers from both Pakistan and Malasyia. There were also 9 ministers present from the Lebanese cabinet. They were sitting at different tables throughout the salon. Siniora said to Gul at the dinner "Yours was the first civilian airplane to land at the Beirut Airport following the start of the war."
The most important topic at the meal was the peace-keeping force to be sent to Lebanon. PM Siniora underlined that, as far as he was concerned, it was a necessity for Turkish soldiers to be present in that force. When Gul asked Siniora how the Lebanese people would react to the presence of Turkish soldiers, the answer he received was "Even the Armenian minister on our cabinet wants the Turkish soldiers to come." The French minister in particular was surprised by these words. But before this sense of surprise could pass, Siniora pulled another trick out of his hat: he called over the Armenian cabinet minister, who happened to be one of the 9 Lebanese ministers present, to the table where Gul was sitting. Holding the Armenian minister's arm, Siniora asked "You also want the Turkish soldiers to come, don't you?" The Armenian minister answered in the affirmative. Of course, this did surprise the Turkish authorities present in the salon, especially since only that same morning, the Lebanon-based Armenian Tashnak Party had issued a declaration announcing that it was against the arrival of Turkish soldiers as a part of a possible peace-keeping force.
In Lebanon, where the Armenians number around 120 thousand, the Tashnak Party holds 6 seats in the Armenian Parliament. Clearly the Armenian minister and the Tashnak declaration were at odds. It is impossible to know whether the Armenian minister was speaking out of the need to be polite, or in all honesty. Interestingly, Gul told reporters at the meal who witnessed this exchange that Ankara was "not taking seriously" the claims that the Armenian lobby in the US was trying to prevent the Turkish soldiers from coming to Lebanon.
But going further, what do the Lebanese Shiites and in particular the Hizbollah think of this all? Of the 9 government ministers present at the dinner, 5 were Shiites known to be Hizbollah supporters. The Shiite Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nebih Berri, answered the question of how it was that the Lebanese Shiite community viewed the potential arrival of Turkish soldiers in their country. Said Berri to Gul at the dinner: "I speak in the name of the Shiites in Lebanon. We want from our hearts that the Turkish soldiers participate in the peace-keeping forces."
These are some of the behind-the-curtains events from Gul's visit to Beirut two days ago. And so, what will we say after all this to the idea of our soldiers going to Lebanon? I don't know what other people think, but I have shared my views on this before: the Turkish soldiers must join in the peace-keeping mission in Lebanon. We should all prepare ourselves to think like this. The CHP is, however, is against this. Which is why I want to remind them of this: even Spain and Italy, who are busy withdrawing their military forces from Iraq, are preparing to send their forces to Lebanon.
Turkey is the strongest and most effective country in the region.
It must fulfill its duties on this round. But it must also take care to minimize the risks for its soldiers on this mission. If only the political opposition in Ankara would see fit to be helpful on this front, our soldiers would go off with much more boosted morales.