August 3, 2023 | Policy Brief

Continued Hezbollah Impunity Risks Regional Explosion 

August 3, 2023 | Policy Brief

Continued Hezbollah Impunity Risks Regional Explosion 

Three years ago this week, in a Beirut blast widely blamed on Hezbollah, one of the world’s largest-ever non-nuclear explosions killed over 220 people, wounded 7,000, and destroyed or damaged 74,000 homes. The failure to hold Hezbollah accountable for both the blast and the terrorist group’s continuing aggression toward Israel has unfortunately now brought the entire Middle East to the brink of a conflict that could result in far more casualties and damage. 

Hezbollah’s role in the 2020 blast, caused by hundreds of tons of explosives improperly stored under its control, should have weakened the organization’s grip over Lebanon. Instead, Hezbollah has repeatedly obstructed the Lebanese legal system’s efforts to hold it and its allies accountable, including by assassinating witnesses, attacking investigators, and engineering the release of 17 detained suspects. 

Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, warned in a July 27 letter to the United Nations that tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border “are higher than they have been in years as a result of Hezbollah’s violent escalations, blatant violations of Security Council resolutions and dangerous military advancements.” As a result, Erdan stated, “the Middle East is a powder keg on the cusp of being ignited.”  

Erdan referenced a July 15 illicit crossing into Israel by 18 Lebanese persons, rockets fired into Israel, and Hezbollah’s erection of two military structures in Israeli territory. Erdan also referenced the construction in Lebanon over the past year of dozens of military outposts all along, and mere yards from, the border with Israel by a Hezbollah front group called Green Without Borders (GWB). 

The outposts enable Hezbollah — which is banned from possessing weapons by Security Council Resolution 1701 — to illicitly hide troops and weapons right next to Israel. The outposts also block border access by United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers. 

Erdan warned that unless the Security Council takes action, including by bolstering UNIFIL, the situation will continue to deteriorate “towards outright conflict, and the consequences of such a conflict will be disastrous for the entire region.” Erdan was not optimistic, lamenting that “[s]adly, inaction in the face of Hezbollah’s violations has become a running trend.” 

Ambassador Richard Mills, deputy U.S. representative to the United Nations, has warned that GWB, a “so-called environmental group … acting on Hizballah’s behalf,” is “obstruct[ing] UNIFIL’s access” to the border and “heightening tensions.” 

The UNIFIL mandate expires on August 31. When it comes up for renewal later this month, the United States should insist that the mandate specify that UNIFIL has full access to all locations within its area of operations, regardless of whether the locations are claimed by GWB. 

In addition, the United States and its allies should continue pushing for an independent and impartial investigation into the Beirut blast. A finding of Hezbollah responsibility could both achieve justice and erode the terrorist group’s power in Lebanon. The United States should consider publicizing any unreleased evidence it may have of Hezbollah complicity.  

The Biden administration and Congress should also increase sanctions pressure on Hezbollah, its use of human shields, and its missile procurement. In addition, Washington should impose sanctions on corrupt Lebanese officials who protect or otherwise assist Hezbollah. 

Finally, Washington should condition some of its hundreds of millions of dollars in annual assistance to the Lebanese government and military on their holding Hezbollah accountable. In particular, Beirut should investigate the 2020 explosion and remove GWB outposts and other Hezbollah positions near the border. Hezbollah’s impunity needs to end now, before it triggers a regional explosion that could dwarf the damage caused by the 2020 Beirut blast. 

Orde F. Kittrie is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a law professor at Arizona State University. He previously served for over a decade in legal and policy positions at the U.S. State Department. For more analysis from Orde, please subscribe HERE. Follow Orde and FDD on Twitter @OrdeFK and @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.  


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