UNIFIL has come under heavy criticism in recent years from both the US and Israel.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF, REUTERS
The council added several demands from the government of Lebanon to allow UNIFIL to operate more efficiently after efforts from Israel and the US to strengthen to force’s authority in the face of Hezbollah activity.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which this year numbered over 11,000 personnel, has acted in southern Lebanon since 1978. As of 2006, it was tasked with monitoring compliance with UN Resolution 1701, which set out the terms of the ceasefire that ended the Second Lebanon war.
“The Security Council decision comes as a last warning for the Government of Lebanon. If Hezbollah continues to turn southern Lebanon into a base for its terrorist activity under UNIFIL’s nose, the Government of Lebanon will be held responsible and will bear full responsibility for any escalation of tensions or the grave consequences of such actions.” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan said.
“Israel will not allow terrorist attacks to emanate from Lebanese territory and will respond with force to any such crime. The Government of Lebanon is responsible for what transpires within its territory. In the upcoming months, we will closely watch how UNIFIL’s renewed mandate is implemented and determine whether there is a justification for the force’s presence.” Erdan continued.
UNIFIL has come under heavy criticism in recent years from both the US and Israel. The two countries have argued that UNIFIL’s mandate fails to fully empower it to operate as an observer force against Hezbollah.
Israel and the US would like to see the mandate expanded to include, among other things, the ability for UNIFIL to enter homes in southern Lebanon to search for entry ways to tunnels.
Israel in particular has argued that unless UNIFIL is fully empowered, there is little point in maintaining its presence on the border.
While there is broad support for UNIFIL among the 15 UNSC member states, there is sharp division with regard to the mandate under which it operates. The US is one of five permanent members on the UNSC which have veto power.
France, overseeing the resolution’s progress at the United Nations, circulated a final compromise draft on Thursday, which will be put to a vote on Friday afternoon.
The troop ceiling was lowered from 15,000 to 13,000 to meet a key US demand, though one diplomat called that a symbolic change as only 10,500 troops are currently deployed.
A French presidential official said the renewal was now certain. “It’s important for Lebanon and Israel,” the official said. “What’s expected from Hezbollah is that it doesn’t do anything that could lead to an escalation.”
A second Western diplomat said also said the mandate would be renewed. The United States was satisfied because it called for a detailed plan to improve the efficiency of the mission and report back to the council within 60 days, the diplomat said.
The resolution, seen by Reuters, has also been toughened, asking for UNIFIL to have access to tunnels discovered on the Blue Line, and for the Lebanese authorities to investigate them. It condemns efforts to restrict the mission’s movements.
The results of the vote are expected to be announced on the evening of Friday, August 28 in New York.
Knesset Deputy Speaker Sharren Haskel (Likud) wrote a letter to the UNSC in advance of the vote in which she urged the members to either reform UNIFIL or dissolve it.
“I ask you to renew it only after reexamining UNIFIL tasks and directives and providing their troops with the authority and means to carry out their mission,” wrote Haskel, who also chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs Subcommittee.
“It is crucial that under a renewed mandate UNIFIL forces will no longer need to request permission or coordinate the entering and searching of areas, compounds and bases within the territory under their supervision in the south of Lebanon. Be it a Lebanese military base, Hezbollah stronghold or private property.
“The lack of access and request of permission prevents them from finding weapons and strongholds of active terrorist cells,” Haskel explained.
“In addition,” she wrote, “alongside standard and ineffective military equipment and routine, UNIFIL forces will have to be equipped with proper surveillance and security technology for intelligence gathering and territorial scouting, in order to achieve proper deterrence which is most important.
“Without a reform in both authority and equipment I have little hope that UNIFIL will be able to maintain any influence on the Lebanese-Israeli border and certainly will continue to have no effect as a peacekeeping force.”