UNIFIL 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)
Israel is growing concerned that UNIFIL, the multi-national peacekeeping force
in Lebanon, is headed toward collapse with a French decision this week to
withdraw a significant number of its troops.
Following the Second Lebanon
War in 2006, Israel succeeded in getting a number of European countries to
contribute soldiers to the peacekeeping force, whose mandate was also beefed up
as part of an international effort to prevent Hezbollah’s rearmament. The force
was bolstered to include 12,000 soldiers in comparison to the few thousand it
consisted of before the war.
Israel has held mixed views on UNIFIL in the
almost six years since the war.
On the one hand, the government is
satisfied with operations by the force, particularly in preventing Hezbollah
from rebuilding its infrastructure and rocket launch sites in open areas in
Israel’s criticism of the force pertains to its
mandate, which does not allow the international soldiers to independently enter
villages and search for Hezbollah activity without coordination with the
Lebanese Armed Forces.
In addition, the force’s mandate only allows it to
operate in southern Lebanon but not along the border with Syria, which has
served as the main conduit for arms transfers to Hezbollah in recent
Earlier this week, France announced that it was withdrawing 400
soldiers from the force, but that it would remain committed to the stability of
Lebanon with the continued contribution of around 1,500 soldiers. Italy recently
also announced plans to downsize its mission in Lebanon.
concerning but expected,” a senior defense official said. “We hope the Europeans
remain committed to the operation since without them it will be a force that is
not particularly efficient.”
The official said that the Italian and
French decision to downsize their contributions was the result of the global
economic crisis as well as the growing frequency of attacks against the
A roadside bomb wounded five French peacekeepers in southern
Lebanon in December, in the third attack of the year on UN forces in the
Italy reduced its contribution to UNIFIL last year to 1,100
soldiers from 1,800 after six of its peacekeepers were wounded in May, although
diplomats said the decision to cut its contingent had been made before the
attack.Reuters contributed to this report.