Lebanon News

Security Council unanimously renews UNIFIL mandate

The United Nations Security Council hears a briefing by Nikolay Mladenov (on screens), U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process from Jerusalem on the situation in the Middle East as the Council meets on Israel and Palestine at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

BEIRUT: The vote for the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate passed smoothly Thursday, with all members of the U.N. Security Council voting in favor of the proposed resolution.

Sponsored by France, the resolution was largely unchanged from last year’s, with minor amendments to draw attention to women’s role in UNIFIL and to flesh out details regarding its Maritime Task Force, including setting out its eventual transition of responsibility to the Lebanese Navy.

The vote marked “a powerful signal of our collective support of our commitment to UNIFIL,” according to France’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N. Anne Gueguen. “We wanted to build on these efforts by building and making efforts more specific,” she said. “[UNIFIL’s] action is essentially one of deterrence. Freedom of movement for UNIFIL has been emphasized in this draft text.”

Gueguen emphasized the role of the Lebanese Army as the sole legitimate protector of Lebanon. This point was echoed by other representatives, notably the U.S. and the U.K. The former stated that Iran had been helping Hezbollah to build its arsenal inside Lebanon, saying it was “unacceptable” that the Lebanese group continued to flout the embargo on any group other than the Lebanese government managing weapons flows into or around Lebanon. The embargo was contained in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted after the 2006 war with Israel.

“We have taken steps to correct this oversight and urge the international community to support the expansion of the Lebanese Navy,” the U.S. mission's political coordinator stated.

Thursday’s vote passed more easily than that of the year before, during which U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley lobbied hard for a change in the text of the mandate in order to theoretically make it more difficult for Hezbollah to operate. She said following that vote, “The status quo for UNIFIL was not acceptable. ... This resolution demands that UNIFIL step up its efforts at a moment when Hezbollah is stepping up theirs.

“They have thousands of missiles and thousands of trained fighters all beyond the control of the Lebanese government. It is apparent to everyone who cares to see it,” she said.

Former UNIFIL Commander Maj. Gen. Michael Beary conceded in an interview last month with The Daily Star that last year’s drama, in which Haley accused Beary personally of having an “embarrassing lack of understanding” regarding Hezbollah operations and weapons caches, drove the force to increase its outputs.

In the seven months after the vote, UNIFIL increased its joint exercises with the Lebanese Army by over a third, and its foot patrols by 60 percent, according to a media release from the force. In June of this year, UNIFIL launched its first 36-hour patrols.

Beary was recently replaced by Italian Maj. Gen. Stefano del Col.

Despite UNIFIL’s increased work rate, media estimates have suggested Hezbollah has over 100,000 missiles, while many of its fighters have picked up valuable battle experience fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

Hezbollah has not conceded any concrete proof of its stockpiling weapons in southern Lebanon, but the group’s leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, said earlier this month that the group was “stronger than at any time since it was launched.”

On the other side of the border, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that over $60 million had been set aside to strengthen civil defense near the border with Lebanon. The money would reportedly be spent on improving public bomb shelters and blast proofing “educational institutions.” - With AFP

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 31, 2018, on page 1.




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