September 2, 2016 | Policy Brief

UNIFIL’s Unfulfilled Mandate

September 2, 2016 | Policy Brief

UNIFIL’s Unfulfilled Mandate

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2305 on Tuesday, renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for another year. In it, the Council commends the “positive role” UNIFIL has played in creating a “new strategic environment in south Lebanon” in the decade since the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006. The resolution comes shortly after the force’s new commander commended it turning south Lebanon into an “an oasis of peace.” The truth is rather different: Israel and Hezbollah have had their own reasons for deferring war, ones that have little to do with UNIFIL.

The UN Security Council created UNIFIL in 1978 after Israel launched a week-long operation to clear Palestinian militants from south Lebanon. The force was tasked with supervising the Israeli withdrawal and helping the Lebanese government restore its authority over the area. In the years since, Palestinian groups have been eclipsed by the Iran-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah.

Over the last three decades, Hezbollah has entrenched itself in south Lebanon, stockpiling arms and turning it into a staging point for attacks against Israel. UNIFIL’s failure to prevent that entrenchment culminated in the month-long 2006 war, in which 145 Israelis were killed and at least 1,700 Lebanese. After the war, the Security Council upgraded UNIFIL’s mandate to include preventing arms smuggling and assisting the Lebanese Army to assert itself as the sole armed force in the 40-kilometer area between the Litani River and Israeli border. However, UNIFIL is still not authorized to use force or patrol Lebanon’s border with Syria through which Hezbollah gets most of its arms.

As a result, UNIFIL has failed to fulfill its mandate. By the Security Council’s own admission, Hezbollah has flagrantly violated the post-war resolution, rearming and  enlarging its arsenal to include an estimated 150,000 rockets. Meanwhile, it is openly operating south of the Litani and along the border.

The relative quiet that has ensued has nothing to do with UNIFIL’s actions. For the last five years, Hezbollah has been too bogged down in Syria fighting alongside Iran and Assad regime forces to challenge Israel. Undeterred by UNIFIL’s presence, Hezbollah’s preparations for  the next conflict with Israel continue.

Whatever quiet exists along the border is therefore deceptive. Both sides acknowledge that another war is inevitable. As the Security Council’s latest resolution concedes, Israel and Hezbollah are merely one ill-advised cross-border attack away from a new round of fighting. The two sides have come close in recent years, particularly after Israel’s January 2015 assassination of a high-level Hezbollah operative and Iran Revolutionary Guard general, and Hezbollah’s subsequent retaliation that killed two Israeli soldiers.

The two adversaries were not interested in going to war and, of their own volition, decided to step back from the brink. UNIFIL’s role during that exchange was effectively superfluous.

UNIFIL remains unable to avert a third Lebanon war, and thus deserves little credit for the past decade of relative calm. Unless steps are taken to significantly improve its capabilities and bolster its mandate, it will remain a mere observer as both sides march to battle.

David Daoud is an Arabic-language research analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies 



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