December 20, 2022 | Flash Brief

Death of UNIFIL Soldier Reflects Hezbollah’s Continuing Impunity in Lebanon

December 20, 2022 | Flash Brief

Death of UNIFIL Soldier Reflects Hezbollah’s Continuing Impunity in Lebanon

Latest Developments 

An angry mob near the Lebanese village of Al-Aqbieh shot and killed an Irish soldier serving in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on December 14. A UNIFIL force of two armored utility vehicles was traveling to Beirut on a road running along the Mediterranean Sea outside of where UNIFIL normally operates.

Expert Analysis

“Hezbollah is making good on its threats in September following UNIFIL’s mandate renewal, enforcing the restrictions and red lines that it has — often in collaboration with the Lebanese Armed Forces — imposed on the UN force. The arrangement with UNIFIL and the LAF in south Lebanon is a pro-Hezbollah farce. The U.S. government is underwriting this status quo with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money every year. Congress should act to defund this charade.” Tony Badran, FDD Research Fellow

Hezbollah Denies Involvement

Wafiq Safa, a senior Hezbollah official, called the incident “unintentional,” and denied any involvement by Hezbollah. However, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he does not accept Hezbollah’s denial. “We don’t accept any assurances until we have a full investigation concluded to establish the full truth,” he said.

UNIFIL Not Fulfilling Mandate to Help Secure Southern Lebanon

The UN Security Council (UNSC) created UNIFIL in 1978 with the mission of supervising the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon. After the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, the UNSC passed Resolution 1701, which expanded the force’s troop limit from 2,000 to 15,000 (reduced to 13,000 in 2020, with almost 10,000 currently deployed). More importantly, the Resolution updated the force’s mission to ensuring that terrorist groups like Hezbollah do not use UNIFIL’s operational area in southern Lebanon as a base for hostilities against Israel.

UNIFIL receives approximately $510 million in funding from the UN, more than a quarter of which the United States contributes. Yet UNIFIL has not prevented Hezbollah from digging tunnels into Israel, smuggling into Lebanon large numbers of Iranian weapons, and amassing approximately 150,000 projectiles.

Hezbollah Objects to UNIFIL Freedom of Movement

Despite asserting that its force has freedom of movement, UNIFIL coordinates patrols and investigations of Hezbollah activity with the Lebanese government and the LAF, which, in turn, coordinate directly with Hezbollah. A November 15 report by UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the LAF “continued to object to some patrol routes proposed by UNIFIL to expand its presence outside main routes and municipal centres on the grounds that they were either private roads or areas of strategic importance to the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

An August 31 extension of UNIFIL’s mandate by the UNSC included language reaffirming the force’s right to conduct its operations independently, without “prior authorization” from the LAF. The new language received a hostile response from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who said that it would cause “great dangers” in UNIFIL’s area of operation. UNIFIL immediately responded that despite the resolution, it would continue coordinating with the LAF.

Related Analysis

Missing the Mark: Reassessing U.S. Military Aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces,” by David Kilcullen

UN Peacekeepers Let Hezbollah Call the Shots,” by Tony Badran

Lebanon’s Army Doesn’t Deserve Aid unless it is Reformed,” by Hussain Abdul-Hussain


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