‘Reshuffling the cards’

It’s time to revise UN security council resolutions regarding Lebanon

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The extraordinary photos that were taken by Israel channel 13 reporter, showing Lebanese soldiers aiming RPG launchers, while an IDF tank is operating in an enclave, and UNIFIL soldiers stand between them – provide the most poignant illustration of the complex situation along Israel’s northern border. They also emphasize the need to “rethink” the reality in the south part of Lebanon, which was created after the second Lebanese war.

Let’s start from the end – the unusual incident in the enclave ended (like most incidents) without a single shot being fired. This is a direct result of the IDF’s close cooperation with UNIFIL, and ultimately via this channel, with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), thus enabling the IDF to carry out operations in such a sensitive area without the danger of escalation.

In the broadest sense of the word, UNIFIL’s ability to deliver messages from both sides can both relieve and prevent tension, as well as curbing tactical events (as a result of IDF activity in the northern border), and so prevent them from developing into strategic ones.

However, this incident also illustrates the considerable problematic nature of the UNIFIL presence in Southern Lebanon. The RPG launcher held by one of the LAF soldiers, and the “almost” openly visible presence of Hezbollah men in the area. These illustrate that beyond the coordination amongst the various players, UNIFIL does not really have the capability to impose its authority and actually implement the broad mandate given to it after the Lebanon War.

This incident joins more significant events occurring along Israel’s northern border. The discovery of Hezbollah’s offensive tunnels dug under the very noses of UNIFIL soldiers, the sequence of Hezbollah reactions to various events it claimed Israel was responsible for (damage to the border fence, anti-tank fire, laying IEDs), and of course, the organization’s force buildup efforts in South Lebanon that continue almost completely unchallenged – all of these illustrate just how ineffectual an organization UNIFIL really is in terms of its mission along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Israel must decide whether it is ready to accept the situation as it is in practice on the ground (with all its inherent disadvantages) and allow UNIFIL’s continued presence along its northern border. This is based on the assumption that UNIFIL will not stop the Hezbollah force buildup efforts but will enable the conveying of messages that may prevent future friction. It must either be willing to accept all this, or it must seek to change the current state of affairs from the ground up.

It is important to remember that Israel will pay an expensive diplomatic price in the event of any ensuing deterioration that might escalate into war with Hezbollah, due to its willingness to accept UNIFIL’s limited activity on its northern border.

The fact that UNIFIL allows Hezbollah to operate independently on the northern border and does not really relate to this in its various reports to the Security Council (as were it to present the situation as it really is, then UNIFIL would be shown up in its true colors) – will make it difficult for Israel to garner international support for its difficult activity on the northern border, which will also be directed against civilians (in light of the fact that Hezbollah hides behind its Shi’ite citizens in Southern Lebanon).

The selfsame “international community” might rely on UNIFIL reports and accuse Israel of exercising unnecessary force against civilians and civilian institutions, without any evidence that Hezbollah is hiding behind them (since UNIFIL did not report it).

It is important to note that for the international community (especially the member states of the UNSC and those which send troops to UNIFIL) the current situation is very convenient. It also ostensibly allows those countries to exert influence over the situation in Lebanon without paying the price of active UNIFIL activity against Hizballah’s actions in Southern Lebanon.

Those countries that favor the safety of UNIFIL soldiers above all other interests (and naturally they cannot be blamed for this) do not really push or seek to push UNIFIL towards engaging in such activities, and they fully understand the power limitations of UNIFIL operations (without actually acknowledging this of course). Any intelligence information about the true events in south Lebanon that Israel brought to the table was rejected by those countries who prefer to ignore the complex situation as long as there is peace and quiet in the region.

In light of the recent political development in Lebanon, and specifically the political weakness of Hezbollah that is failing to build a government that will serve its interests,  Israel needs to “seize the moment” and generate a real change in the political and security structure that was created after the second Lebanese war (by United Nations security council resolution 1701) and even before the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon (by the UN security council resolution 1559).

Since other moves such as a “directive to UNIFIL to actually implement the mandate given to it on the ground” have already been exhausted, and seemingly Security Council resolutions have been made in this context (though of course, nothing has actually come of this) – The only significant move on the part of Israel can generate is a fundamental change in the situation in its northern theater by calling for new diplomatic structure that will exploit Hezbollah weakness and will create a new reality in Israel’s Northern border.  

It is advisable to step up the messages as to the likelihood of an imminent war with Hezbollah if there won’t be any change to the current situation in Lebanon. The idea here is to exert pressure on the Security Council to create a new format for all relevant united nations security council resolutions, that will prevent an escalation develops between Israel and Hezbollah. This is a dangerous policy, as we understand that these messages might become a “self-fulfilling prophecy” but without doing so, no real change will happen in Israel’s northern border.

If Israel request will be denied then it needs to Pressure the UN to significantly reduce the number of troops stationed in Lebanon (over 10,000), given the fact that UNIFIL does not really monitor what is happening along the border, and thus turn UNIFIL into an instrument purely for coordination purposes. Simply carrying on with the current situation causes Israel to pay significant prices (given the danger of escalation in the north).

Although due to the growing tension between Israel and the organization, and in light of the palpable fear of deterioration, Israel may lose an instrument that could help it to confine the level of tension between it and Hezbollah during an escalation, on the other hand, that selfsame “instrument” might just prove to be a real obstacle if there is a rapid deterioration in the north. From the threat of unintended damage to UNIFIL soldiers to the prevention of IDF activity in certain areas due to the organization’s presence, certainly in the early stages of a future military campaign.

It’s time to “think outside the box” and to use to the current state of affairs in Lebanon and to shake the “current diplomatic order” in Lebanon which was created after the second Lebanese war by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 (and even 1559). These resolutions are inadequate to the current situation in Lebanon and in a way protect Hezbollah more than damaging the organization. It’s obvious that without a significate policy change, Neither UNIFIL nor the LAF (which tends to engage in more cooperation with Hezbollah than it does in preventing Hezbollah activity) are able to constitute a substantial obstacle to Hezbollah’s continued force buildup. Decision time is now here.

About the Author
23+ years of experience in 8200, IDI Research Division and the Israeli Embassy in the US. Retired from the Israel Defense Forces Senior fellow at the Abba Eban institute.
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