Hizbullah gains likely weaken UNIFIL

Defense officials fear new Hizbullah veto power in Lebanese cabinet will bring end to UNIFIL mandate.

qatar  lebanon conf 224 (photo credit: AP)
qatar lebanon conf 224
(photo credit: AP)
Defense officials said Wednesday they are concerned that Hizbullah will use its newly-gained veto power in the Lebanese cabinet to prevent the renewal of UNIFIL's mandate this summer. According to a deal reached early Wednesday in Doha, Qatar, the Syrian-backed opposition - led by Hizbullah - will receive 11 seats in a new national unity government, while 16 seats will go to the US- and Western-backed parliament majority. The remaining three seats will be distributed by the elected president. Previously, the opposition held six seats in the cabinet. According to some assessments in Jerusalem, Hizbullah will be unlikely to use its new veto to kick UN peacekeepers out of the country, since the guerrilla organization has reached a comfortable modus operandi with UNIFIL. A the same time, assessments predict it is highly unlikely that Israel will have any success now getting UNIFIL to make its rules of engagement more robust. UNIFIL operates according to a UN Charter Chapter 6 mandate that only allows it to open fire in self-defense and prevents it from entering Lebanese villages without an escort from the Lebanese Armed Forces. Ideally, Israel would like the UN force to receive a Chapter 7 mandate that would give UNIFIL robust enforcement capabilities to counteract the buildup of Hizbullah forces in Lebanese villages, but concedes that the UN and Lebanon will not agree. "Hizbullah is very comfortable with the way UNIFIL operates today," one official said. "They will not agree to give UNIFIL a stronger mandate." In Jerusalem, there is dissatisfaction that UNIFIL has not kept Hizbullah from conducting an intensive military buildup, both north and south of the Litani River. There is a generally feeling in Jerusalem that UNIFIL acts only as a barrier between Israel and Hizbullah, but does not take any serious actions to stop Hizbullah's military buildup. There is also concern that with Hizbullah's new found strength, it will be more difficult for Israel to develop a constructive relationship with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government. In November 2006, Hizbullah ministers pulled out of the cabinet after Saniora refused to give the Shi'ite terrorist group veto power, which could be used to shoot down government initiatives, including the renewal of the United Nations' mandate to operate in southern Lebanon.