Danny Danon with a map of Hezbollah tunnels in front of the UN Security Council, December 19th, 2018.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Israel sent Military Intelligence officials to New York in recent weeks to meet with senior UN officials and representatives of the UN Security Council states to present intelligence information on Hezbollah's tunnel network to keep the issue on the diplomatic agenda, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said on Monday.
Danon said the IDF officials were sent following a special Security Council discussion in late December on the tunnels, during which certain member states asked to see more information.
Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said while standing near the border with Lebanon on December 25 that the military campaign against the tunnels
was nearing completion – Israel discovered and destroyed six attack tunnels – Danon stressed that the diplomatic campaign is continuing.
Jerusalem views this campaign as a protracted one likely to come to a peak in August, when the UN Security Council will be called upon to renew the mandate of UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
Israel is preparing the groundwork for that discussion by – first and foremost – making sure that Danon, and ambassadors of other friendly UN Security Council states, address the issue of the Hezbollah tunnels during the monthly open debate on the Mideast.
January's debate is scheduled for Tuesday, but it is likely that this month the tunnels will be overshadowed by the recent developments in Syria, including that attacks attributed to Israel in Syria, and the Iranian rocket fire at Mount Hermon.
Nevertheless, part of Israel’s campaign is to ensure that this issue comes up in these discussions which – in the past – have been dominated by a monthly review of incidents in the West Bank and Gaza presented by UN Mideast envoy Nikolay Mladenov.
Jerusalem has set a couple goals to the ongoing diplomatic campaign against the tunnels, which is primarily being wage in the UN.
The first is that the UN begin relating more to Hezbollah, and not only – as has been the case up until now – to the Lebanese Army, the IDF and UNIFIL in the context of the Lebanon debate. From Israel's perspective, Hezbollah – and its responsibility for tension in the north – does not appear enough in UN discussions and statements on Lebanon.
The second diplomatic goal is to get UNIFIL to do more to prevent the future digging of tunnels, but to do so in a way that does not denigrate UNIFIL.
Jerusalem has largely adopted the following as a slogan “UNIFIL is not our enemy,” and Israel has no interest in turning the tunnel issue into a confrontation with the organization. On the other hand, it does want to enhance UNIFIL’s effectiveness.
Jerusalem has expressed concern that UNIFIL will acknowledge that tunnels were found and crossed into Israel, and that will be the “end of the story.” While Israel does not expect UNIFIL to fight Hezbollah in its place, it does expect the organization to issue more detailed reports about where it can and cannot monitor in southern Lebanon. Jerusalem also expects the UN to be more proactive in urging the Lebanese army to take more responsibility for what is happening in south Lebanon and deal with Hezbollah.
Jerusalem is not necessarily looking for a change of UNIFIL’s mandate, but rather to push it to being more effective within the current framework. In addition to the annual debate on renewal of UNIFIL mandate, every three months there is a discussion in the Security Council about implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 that put an end to the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and Israel intends to ensure that at the next meeting in March these issues will be discussed.
Jerusalem has made clear in numerous discussions it has had with diplomats at the UN and elsewhere since the first Hezbollah tunnel was exposed in early December, that it does not expect UNIFIL to fight Hezbollah in its place. It does, however, expect that its presence in the area will make things more difficult for Hezbollah than has been the case until now.
Netanyahu, however, is far from optimistic. What will keep Hezbollah from digging more tunnels, he said during a briefing with journalists in Chad in response to a Jerusalem Post question, is “deterrence,” not the actions of UNIFIL against one tunnel or another.
The diplomatic campaign continues, he said, but it is Israel's deterrence that will prove decisive.
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