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UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, comes up for its annual renewal this Monday, and it is far time that we examine whether or not UNIFIL is living up to its mandate, which is to secure a peaceful border between Lebanon and Israel. The United Nations is about to vote on a proposed French resolution to reduce its troop size from 15,000 to 13,000, however, one must ask if this is sufficient. Looking at its 42-year history, one has to wonder if any international force between northern Israel and southern Lebanon is actually of benefit, or whether it just inhibits the freedom of movement of the IDF to do what is necessary to be able to defend themselves by themselves.

(August 28, 2020)

UNIFIL originally emerged as a result of a 5-day clash in 1978, between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) forces in southern Lebanon. Israel had originally gone into Lebanon because the PLO had constantly used Lebanese terrain to shell farms and villages in northern Israel, and to plan attacks on civilians. UNIFIL’s mandate calls for securing peaceful relations along the border between Israel and Lebanon.

This past Tuesday, Hezbollah fired shots from Lebanese territory aimed directly at IDF soldiers inside northern Israel, between two UNIFIL posts. The IDF responded swiftly, using attack helicopters and fighter jets to strike at Hezbollah’s posts inside Lebanon. This is the first time Israeli jets have struck within Lebanon since the 2006 War. The residents in the northern communities were ordered to stay at home, and flares went up throughout the region last night.

It looks like Hezbollah is itching to start a war, and this scenario seems all too reminiscent of the prelude to the 2006 war.

Over the last several months, there have been frequent border incursions, all under the watchful eye of UNIFIL.

On July 27th, Hezbollah terrorists attempted to penetrate Israel’s border.  The IDF observed them and fired shots into the air and they quickly retreated

On April 14th, the border fence between Israel and Lebanon was punctured in three places. No-one entered Israeli territory, but Hezbollah left its tell-tale signature by way of leaving photos of  the Hezbollah commander, Hassan Nasrallah and the assassinated commander of the IRGC, Qassam Solomeini.

In May of 2019, the IDF uncovered the sixth and (hopefully) final Hezbollah-dug tunnel going from Lebanon into Israeli territory. It went from under a Lebanese home in a Shiite village, and penetrated 250 feet deep into Israel. It was perilously close, approximately a 5-minute run, to the Israeli border town of Zar’it. This tunnel was the longest and the deepest, uncovered and thankfully sealed up by the IDF. At its nadir, it was more than 262 feet deep (the size of a 22-story building), and came fully equipped with electricity, lighting, ventilation, and a communications system. An IDF spokesman said that Hezbollah had been investing tens and millions of dollars in these tunnels, and has been working on them for years.

It was out of these tunnels that the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, had been plotting to emerge and kidnap Israeli soldiers, civilians, and children, paving the way for another war.

Again, this massive tunnel operation was excavated under the watchful eye of UNIFIL. The IDF has asked UNIFIL to investigate the Lebanese locations of the openings of these tunnels, but UNIFIL has refused to do so.

It is worthwhile to review what led up to the last war between Hezbollah and Israel.

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fired rockets at Israeli northern border towns as a diversionary tactic, while simultaneously ambushing and eventually murdering three IDF soldiers, and abducting two more. This war resulted in 161 Israeli casualties, and over 1,000 Lebanese casualties, including Hezbollah terrorists.

One might well ask now, as we did back in 2006, “Where was UNIFIL?”

As a result of the 2006 war, the UN passed UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for “Security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani River, of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons, other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

Resolution 1701 also calls for UNIFIL “to take all necessary actions in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.”

How well has this worked out?

Just look at the scope of the inventory of Hezbollah missiles staring down at Israel from Southern Lebanon. At the start of the 2006 War there were at most 15,000 missiles. There are now approximately 150,000 of them, and Iran and Hezbollah are in the process of converting them from “dummy” missiles to “precision guided munitions” that can be directed to hit vital places in Israel’s infrastructure.

UNIFIL’s numbers have grown from force of 2,000 in 1978 to that of approximately 15,000 today, but like so much in Lebanon, including the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), to which the US pays upwards of $221 million a year, UNIFIL is intimidated by the sheer, brute strength, overwhelming power, and unmitigated hostility of the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah.

Unless there is a radical change in UNIFIL’s mission, the United States has threatened to veto it in the Security Council. Many in the Israeli military agree.

Brigadier General Michael Herzog (ret.) of the IDF agrees. He stated: “Israel has long complained that UNIFIL’s mandate is not strong enough and that it is regularly prevented by Hezbollah and the Lebanese army from fulfilling its mandate in the face of Hezbollah’s continued efforts at military deployment in violation of UNSCR 1701. Notwithstanding UNIFIL’s positive role as a conduit between Israel and Lebanon, more and more people in Israel’s defense establishment wonder if it is in Israel’s interest to perpetuate UNIFIL’s ineffective presence under a weak mandate.”

Like so much in the United Nations, the American taxpayer picks up the overwhelming percentage of UNIFIL’s tab. Out of an overall annual budget of $512 million, the United States pays $128 million a year.

After the devastating explosion in the Beirut port on August 4th, more and more is coming into the open about the extent of Hezbollah’s spreading tentacles, that pervade into so many sectors of Lebanon, including the banking system, the commercial sector, and the political sector, where Hezbollah is the overwhelming force. Like a mafia family controlling all business in a town, Hezbollah makes sure that it appoints everyone in power, and everyone is beholden to, and answers to Hezbollah.

As Tony Badran, scholar with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies recently said, “Lebanon might have all the trappings of a state. It has a government; it has representation in the U.N., but in any meaningful sense as we understand states in the US, Lebanon is not even a failed state. It is maybe a facsimile of a state. It is not what we understand to be a state. It is rather, a consortium of families, as the United States refers to ‘the mob:’ families, there are a handful of prominent, sectarian families, and those prominent families come together and decide, in what is referred to as ‘a government,’ how to run the place; and they dole out favors and contracts to their families. Hezbollah has grafted itself onto the system. Hezbollah is an extension of a state, the State of Iran. Lebanon has become for Hezbollah a headquarters for its criminal enterprise of laundering money, drug smuggling etc.”

It therefore comes as no surprise to anyone that the “state” of Lebanon wants no change in UNIFIL’s mandate.

For months even prior to the explosion, people in Lebanon have been out on the streets demonstrating, complaining about the cost of bread. Every source of food in Lebanon has to be imported, because they have never developed any aspect of a domestic agriculture or food industry. The blast that left approximately 165 murdered, 5,000 injured and 300,000 homeless has left the Lebanese people increasingly angry and frustrated. They know that, like with every other important sector of the Lebanese economy, Hezbollah was in charge of the port.

In the meantime, not only the LAF, but UNIFIL is intimidated by Hezbollah. It was nothing more than a grand delusion on the part of the UN Security Council, that building up UNIFIL’s force would give them the mettle that is necessary to confront Hezbollah.

The fact is that UNIFIL has a long history of “looking the other way” throughout Hezbollah’s nefarious activities.

As an Israeli friend of mine said, “Hezbollah is just too comfortable with UNIFIL.”

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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