Israeli soldiers speak to UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) near the border with Lebanon, in the town of Metulla, northern Israel December 4, 2018.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Israel knows it is unrealistic to change the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from a monitoring force to one that will actively stop Hezbollah from burrowing tunnels into Israel, since few countries would then volunteer their forces for such a mission, a senior diplomatic official told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the official, whose country is among the 42 which contribute forces to UNIFIL, Israeli security officials have made it clear that they don’t think a changed UNIFIL mandate is realistic, simply because they won’t get it.
“If one wanted to change the mandate, it is clear that there would not be 10,000 soldiers” to make up the force, the official said. Currently the number of troops stands at just over 10,600.
According to UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which helped put an end to the Second Lebanon War in 2006, UNIFIL is to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in ensuring that southern Lebanon – from the Litani River to Israel’s northern border – is free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot met on Sunday with UNIFIL’s head, Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col, and – according to an IDF statement – stressed that Hezbollah’s attack tunnels that penetrated into Israel are a blatant violation of 1701 and were meant to be a surprise element in Hezbollah’s plan of attack on Israel.
Eisenkot briefed Del Col on the progress being made to uncover the tunnels, and “noted the importance he sees in UNIFIL acting to neutralize the tunnels on the Lebanese side and to prevent violation of the [UN Security Council] resolution by a terrorist organization.”
Eisenkot also stressed that the Lebanese government bears ultimate responsibility for Hezbollah’s digging the tunnels.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a group of foreign ambassadors to Kibbutz Misgav Am last week to brief them on the operation to neutralize the tunnels, he did not engage in “UNIFIL-bashing,” one participant in that meeting said. The thrust of his comments was that UNIFIL should more effectively carry out its mandated role, but he stopped short of calling for an expansion of its responsibilities.
Netanyahu, did, however, bewail that UNIFIL did not file a single complaint against Hezbollah smuggling rockets into Lebanon, or building tunnels. “We think UNIFIL should discharge its responsibility and actually do it with a much tougher approach and with a bigger force,” he said.
Netanyahu told the cabinet Sunday that in parallel with the IDF operation against the tunnels, Israel is conducting a diplomatic campaign to condemn Hezbollah and its patron Iran, and to impose sanctions on them both.
One diplomatic source said that the thrust of this diplomatic push is to get international recognition that by digging tunnels into Israel, Hezbollah has clearly violated Security Council Resolution 1701. The importance of that type of declaration, the source said, is that it would give Israel legitimacy if it is forced to take military action inside Lebanon as a result of Hezbollah actions, in response to the uncovering of the tunnels.
Israel, the official said, is working with the US and others to convene a meeting of the Security Council to issue this type of condemnation and acknowledge that Hezbollah carried out an offensive action against Israeli sovereignty.
The source said that since Israel is not on the council it cannot initiate a meeting, and that a number of Arab countries are actively opposing it.
Israel, the official added, is interested in getting sanctions imposed on Hezbollah as a result of the discovery of the tunnels, since this would go a long way toward getting the European Union to drop the distinction it makes between Hezbollah’s military wing – which it views as a terrorist organization – and its political wing, which it does not.
With those as Israel’s key diplomatic aims, the official added, Jerusalem has no interest in getting into a public dispute with UNIFIL or in portraying the organization as an “enemy.”
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