(photo credit: AP [file])
Ahead of the renewal of UNIFIL's mandate this summer, the Defense Ministry is hoping that the United Nations will issue new rules of engagement for the peacekeeping force that will enable it to search Lebanese villages without prior coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
According to UNIFIL's current rules of engagement, the force is not allowed to enter southern Lebanese villages to search for Hizbullah arms caches unless it coordinates the operation with the LAF.
On Saturday, UNIFIL troops were prevented from reaching a home in the village Hirbet Selm, which stored dozens of Katyusha rockets and accidentally exploded last week. According to Lebanese media reports, 14 UNIFIL soldiers were injured in the ensuing scuffle.
A decision on the renewal of UNIFIL's mandate is scheduled for late August in the UN Security Council. In the coming weeks, Israel is planning a major diplomatic push to change UNIFIL's rules of engagement. If approved by the UN, the new rules would still need to be approved by the Lebanese government.
"The discovery of the arms cache last week is solid proof of Hizbullah's illegal activities in southern Lebanon," a senior defense official said Sunday. "We want rules of engagement that will allow UNIFIL to enter the villages without having to coordinate the operations ahead of time."
According to the official, there have been several cases when UNIFIL knew of Hizbullah caches in villages and coordinated operations with the LAF. However, when the peacekeeping force arrived at the suspected building it was empty.
"We suspect that the LAF is infiltrated by Shi'ite elements who leak intelligence information to Hizbullah before operations," the official said. "If UNIFIL were able to act on intelligence immediately and without coordination, it would dramatically improve the force's effectiveness."