Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A question of capability

Massive operations are currently underway to extract thousands of foreign citizens from Lebanon as Israel continues operations against anything they left standing from the previous week. The screeching from Montreal regarding a perceived failure of the Canadian Government to extract citizens with sufficient speed is getting really annoying, not because of the families concern (absolutely valid) but because the media makes no effort to make clear the differential difficulty Canada faces in comparison to other involved nations, instead having fun by taking Peter McKay to the woodshed as Peter Mansbridge did the other night.

They also in the main leave the impression that every country is having an easy time getting their people out, when it's not true (Detroit Free Press) (The Guardian) and the CBC did report from Cyprus last night that the French had to leave 300 on the quayside because their time window to get the ship away unharmed ran out and once they got to Larnaca Port the narrow quay made disembarkation a zoo. Let's spell it out:

Assets in the Meditterranean:
Italy - almost the entire country
France - Toulon naval base
United States - the Sixth Fleet in Italy and a marine unit in the Red Sea
UK - HMS Illustrious which was in Gibraltar with helicopters embarked aboard and the RAF base at Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Canada - nothing of significance.

Beirut to Montreal :8713 km.
Beirut to Naples: 2028km.

Citizens involved (taken from various news reports):
Italy 1,000
Germany 1,100
France 14,000-20,000
UK 22,000
US 25,000
Canada up to 50,000, of which 30,000 have registered a departure request with Foreign Affairs.

For a country the size of Canada by population to undertake an extraction of this size is a formidable task and the sniping from the press peanut gallery, who one would expect a better perspective from than bloggers, should stop unless they themselves publish what they would have done given the state of Canadian military airlift, the absence of any Canadian naval assets in the area to protect the evacuation ferries, any understandable reluctance on the part of a Canadian Government to tell its citizens "you'll be safe in Syria" given Maher Arar's treatment and the lack of "take up from trade" arrangements where Canadian air carriers could simply be directed rather than chartered to undertake flights to Cyprus and Turkey.

It should also be noted that while Cyprus is a holiday destination with decent transport infrastructure, an influx of this sort will undoubtedly strain that relatively small (and divided at that) country.
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