August 16, 2023 | The Messenger

Hezbollah ‘Green’ Group Builds Dozens of New Military Outposts Along Israeli Border

August 16, 2023 | The Messenger

Hezbollah ‘Green’ Group Builds Dozens of New Military Outposts Along Israeli Border

Israel and Hezbollah are today at the brink of war. Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, refers to his country’s border with Lebanon as “a powder keg on the brink of being ignited.” The tensions result in large part from a surprising source: Hezbollah’s use of a faux-environmental front group called Green Without Borders (GWB) that Israel and the U.S. claim has illicitly established dozens of outposts all along, and just yards from, the Israel-Lebanon border. 

Although purportedly constructed to fight forest fires, the GWB outposts are manned by Hezbollah terrorists and solely serve military purposes, says Erdan. The buildings enable Hezbollah — which is banned from possessing weapons by Security Council Resolution 1701— to illegally hide troops and weapons right next to Israel. The buildings also block border access by United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers. 

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.” UNIFIL’s mandate expires on August 31. As the U.S. negotiates the mandate’s renewal, it must act to end Hezbollah’s cynical and dangerous use of its GWB front group. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has spoken out against GWB repeatedly, including asserting on July 13 that “[n]otwithstanding repeated requests to the Lebanese Armed Forces,” UNIFIL has been prevented from approaching, let alone gaining full access to, several GWB sites. Such access, Guterres explained, is essential to UNIFIL’s ability to conduct investigations as well as its daily monitoring of the Blue Line. Despite multiple such warnings from Guterres, since at least July 2018, both the interference and the number of GWB outposts have been increasing.

Not surprisingly, the Lebanese government, which is effectively controlled by Hezbollah, has dismissed these concerns. As recently as March 2023, Lebanon’s UN mission denied the outposts are a problem, including because they “belong to Green Without Borders, an environmental organization with due expertise that is registered in accordance with official Lebanese legal procedures.” Given the contrary evidence, that rings hollow. 

What kind of environmental organization just happens to build dozens of military outposts all along, and mere yards from, a tense international border? The U.S. and Israeli government characterizations of GWB are consistent with those of local Lebanese Christian leaders, who describe GWB as a Hezbollah front that harms rather than protects the environment along the border. 

The public evidence of GWB affiliation with Hezbollah is extensive. In addition, UNIFIL concluded in 2019 that Hezbollah had fired missiles at Israel from GWB locations (to which UNIFIL investigators were subsequently denied access). 

The GWB outposts are a major, but far from the only, dangerous recent border activity by Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.CanadaGermany and the United Kingdom. Several have involved incursions across the Israeli border line, in places where it is located beyond Israel’s border fence (usually for topographical reasons). 

For example, on July 15, a Hezbollah-affiliated Member of the Lebanese Parliament led an 18-person group that illegally crossed the border line. On July 12, Hezbollah members illegally entered Israel and stole military surveillance equipment. On July 5, a group of 30 Lebanese soldiers and Hezbollah members illegally crossed the border. In May, Hezbollah erected two military structures in Israeli territory.

Hezbollah’s military presence anywhere in Lebanon, including along the border with Israel, is contrary to Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that … there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.” The goal of the resolution, passed following the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, is to prevent a future conflict by removing the main cause of that war: the presence in Lebanon of Hezbollah forces.

The 27 military outposts which Hezbollah has built along the border in the last year, under the guise of GWB, gravely undermine the Resolution 1701 framework. That framework has, despite its flaws, helped Israel and Lebanon avert large-scale warfare since 2006. 

When UNIFIL’s mandate comes up for renewal at the end of the month, the U.S. should insist the mandate specify that UNIFIL has full access to all locations within its area of operations, regardless of whether the locations are claimed to belong to GWB.

The U.S. should also impose sanctions on GWB pursuant to Executive Order 13224. Ambassador Mills described GWB as “acting on Hizballah’s behalf.” The executive order authorizes sanctions on any person or entity which “act[s] for or on behalf of” an already-listed terrorist entity such as Hezbollah. 

Executive Order 13224 also authorizes sanctions on providers of material support to a listed terrorist entity. GWB has furnished considerable material support to Hezbollah, including by providing forward operating positions to the terrorist group and denying area access to UNIFIL.

Finally, the U.S. government should condition some of its hundreds of millions of dollars in annual assistance to the Lebanese government and armed forces on their removing GWB outposts and other Hezbollah positions near the Israeli border. Hezbollah’s fake environmental group must be removed from the border before it triggers a real war.

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. 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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