(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
UNIFIL soldiers assigned to maintain the cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 are not carrying out their mandate and are potentially laying the groundwork for another round of violence between Israel and Hizbullah, Israel's outgoing UN ambassador Danny Gillerman has told The Jerusalem Post.
In a parting interview, Gillerman, who has served in the sensitive position for the past six years, had harsh words for the UN's failed implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought the war to an end on terms, he said, that should have constituted an achievement for Israel.
"They [UNIFIL] should be much more proactive - more aggressive in going after Hizbullah - in detecting [and] identifying arms depots. They should be going in there, not just relying on Lebanese armed forces to do so, who often work in collusion with Hizbullah," he said.
"The UNIFIL soldiers were not sent there to give out chocolates to children or write traffic tickets. They were sent there to carry out a mandate which was very clearly defined, and they are not [doing so]. By not doing it, they may be laying the groundwork for the next flare-up. So even in their own interest and for their safety, they should be more proactive and go after Hizbullah, and find a way to control the Israeli-Syrian border."
Gillerman said he had brought up his "very grave concerns" about the situation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He said the Israeli government had made a concerted effort to persuade the UN leadership to take a more assertive approach to the UNIFIL troops' nonimplementation of Resolution 1701.
"We have brought in experts, brought in generals, briefed them on the situation - they know exactly what is happening. We are not even asking them to change the mandate or the rules of operation, because that would mean opening the whole thing today, and God knows where you will end up. But within the mandate as it stands today, they can do much more and be more effective, and if they don't, they will have to regret it," he said.
"Resolution 1701 was perceived as a major diplomatic achievement for Israel, because in previous wars, while we did have resounding and outright victories on ground, they were never followed by political or diplomatic achievements. Here, while we may not have had a resounding victory on the ground, we did have a very significant diplomatic achievement, which not only put an end to the war, but also had elements of dramatically changing the situation on the ground.
"It brought in 30,000 soldiers to southern Lebanon, including 15,000 Lebanese armed forces who had never set foot there - that's totally new - and 15,000 international soldiers under UN mandate, some very highly skilled and well-trained, which created a new situation in southern Lebanon.
"Until July 12, 2006, southern Lebanon was Hizbullah territory - a state within a state. Hizbullah could do whatever it wanted out in the open, and no Lebanese soldier would dare venture [in]. All of a sudden, there were 30,000 soldiers there," Gillerman said.
Yet frequent Israeli reports state that Hizbullah has used the two years since the war to arm itself to a much larger extent than it had in the six years after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
"Resolution 1701 was supposed to limit [the] actions of Hizbullah, and prevent it from rearming," said Gillerman. "It did not achieve that. Hizbullah today has rearmed to the point that it is possibly even better equipped than it was before the war. The resolution also imposed an embargo on arms shipments to militias in Lebanon - namely Hizbullah - which was a huge achievement, but that wasn't implemented either.
"1701 also demanded the immediate release of [reservists] Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who, tragically, were returned two years later in coffins. So the implementation of 1701 is far from satisfactory. In fact, it's very disappointing. But the elements were there, and still are.
"One of the things I keep telling the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and others is that it is up to them to implement it. It is the Security Council who passed it, and the Security Council cannot afford for it to be just another piece of paper because, in the end, when there is another flare-up in Lebanon, and there very well may be, the UN will be to blame, because they sent those forces there, drafted the resolution and at the end nothing came of it," Gillerman said.
UNIFIL sources told the Post that while they were familiar with such criticism from Gillerman, the UN force had not received any official objections to the way it was operating and implementing its mandate.
One official said that UNIFIL had recently received letters of gratitude from Israel and Lebanon, thanking the peacekeeping force for implementing its mandate and operating against Hizbullah in southern Lebanon.
"We read this criticism in the press," the official said. "But no one has filed a complaint about this on an official level."
While Gillerman's criticism is shared by many in the defense establishment, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak - who recently said publicly that 1701 had "collapsed" - officers in the IDF Northern Command are less critical, and in recent briefings have said that Israel is "far better off with UNIFIL than without."
The explanation for this discrepancy stems from the fact that the IDF - and not the diplomatic echelon - is in charge of relations with UNIFIL. IDF Strategic and Foreign Liaison Department head Brig.-Gen. Yossi Heiman holds monthly meetings with UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano and a representative of the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The full interview with Dan Gillerman appears on page 13.
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