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UNIFIL’s mandate is about to expire at the end of August 2020 and many people are debating whether the Security Council should extend UNIFIL’s mandate yet again. When established in 1978, the mandate, in addition to resolution 1701 clearly state that UNIFIL will restore international peace and security, ensure the return of the Lebanese government’s effective authority in the area, and enforce parts of resolution 1701. Although I think UNIFIL has completely failed in its mission and is mostly useless, if it is renewed, I believe the UN should now only allow, but force, UNIFIL to be more active in exercising its mandate in Lebanon.

(July 30, 2020)

For months, UINFIL has failed to assume any basic role in enforcing the UN Security Council resolution 1701 which prohibits Hezbollah from being south of the Litani river and calls for its disarmament. UNIFIL knows darn well the Hezbollah is roaming freely in southern Lebanon and is doing nothing about it. They are not even holding the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) accountable. Just look as recent incidents where Hezbollah has cut the international border in 3 locations, sent civilians to the border to test the IDF, and left suspicious object by the fence to examine how the IDF handles such a scenario. It turns out that Hezbollah even dug numerous tunnels into Israel right under UNIFIL’s nose.

In the past week, as tensions between Israel and Hezbollah grew, Israel tried sending messages to Hezbollah through the UN. Is that what we can expect from UNIFIL? To be a messenger between the two sides? I don’t think Israel nor Lebanon need the UN for that. Countries such as France, Switzerland or the United States can easily fill that role.

The day after Israel prevented a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military post on the border, Hezbollah began evacuating UNIFIL observers from the border. In other words, the real boss in southern Lebanon is not the Lebanese government, nor is it the LAF, it is Hezbollah. Had UNIFIL or the LAF done their job, Hezbollah wouldn’t have even gotten close to the border, let alone had the audacity to kick out UN forces. And it’s not as though UNIFIL couldn’t do much. According to Article 12 of resolution 1701, UNIFIL has the authorization “to take all necessary action… to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind, to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council”. In other words, UNIFIL could resist Hezbollah’s actions and willingly chooses not to resist to the terrorist organization, let alone prevent Hezbollah from acting in southern Lebanon.

If a war between Israel and Lebanon were to break out, UNIFIL would be one of the first to flee. This was the case in the 2006 war between the two. So, if they are not doing much to stop Hezbollah’s activities and build-up towards a war, and would not even be there when needed most, what are they good for?

Although UNIFIL is not doing enough in my opinion to curb Hezbollah’s activities and influence, they are, to a certain degree, a deterrence to Hezbollah. UNIFIL reports back to the UN regularly. While it was Israel who exposed and handled the cutting of the border and Hezbollah’s tunnels, these incidents have been recorded by UNIFIL and eventually make their way into reports. I doubt however that they get the same amount of attention an Israeli violation would get. These reports are somewhat of a deterrence to Hezbollah, preventing them from acting more aggressively than they are now.

Just a couple weeks ago, Israeli soldiers had to cross the border fence, still in Israeli territory – south of the Blue Line, for a logistical mission. Prior to the Israeli forces entering the area, they notified UNIFIL in order to avoid tension with the Lebanese side. Yes, there are other ways to have sent this calming message to the Lebanese, but it helped having UN forces on the ground standing between the IDF and LAF/Hezbollah. If it weren’t for UNIFIL’s presence, who’s to say that one of the forces would have accidentally stepped one step beyond the Blue Line and started another war.

Unknown to many, UNIFIL also operates in other domains in Lebanon, such as civil interactions and clearing mine fields. UNIFIL facilities even serve as a meeting point for Israeli and Lebanese officials in negotiating the demarcation of disputed sections of the Blue Line.

If UN resources could have been more effective in another way, I would have been of the opinion that we get rid of UNIFIL. Since there is no trade off here, I think the UN should extend UNIFIL’s mandate because it is better than nothing. I do still think that UNIFIL should fulfill their mandate and enforce resolution 1701 to the full extent. When coming to renew UNIFIL’s mandate, the security council should not only allow, but also demand, that UNIFIL uses all of the tools given to them. If asserting some level of power is needed, or having to be more proactive, so be it. UNIFIL has the legitimacy to use any tool to enforce its mandate. This was vested in them by the UN and has the world backing to do so. UNIFIL must stop being scared to use its force. Better them use a little power to ensure safety today, than their passive approach which has led to a 2006 war and seems to be leading to another escalation between Hezbollah and Israel in the near future. That will be far deadlier than any force UNIFIL could and should have used.

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About the Author

Benjamin Weil
Benjamin Weil is Director of the Project for Israel’s National Security at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He formerly served as the international adviser to Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israel’s Security Cabinet.

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