Border clashes prompt Israel rethink on UNIFIL

In light of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon's (UNIFIL) failure to stop Hizbullah's attack in the north on Monday, it is time to reassess the organization's mandate, Foreign Ministry director-general Ron Prosor said Wednesday. Prosor's comment came in a Jerusalem briefing to some 60 ambassadors or their second-in-command on the volatile situation in the north. Harry Knei-Tal, director of the Foreign Ministry's political research department, said the fact that UNIFIL did not stop the attack from occurring raised questions about whether it plays a constructive role there at all. According to diplomatic assessments in Jerusalem, UNIFIL must have been aware of the preparations Hizbullah was making in the area to carry out the attacks. Moreover, the IDF had provided UNIFIL with information on the group's activities over the last few weeks. The IDF had been expecting the Hizbullah attack, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz even warned at Sunday's cabinet meeting of an imminent attack, just a day before it took place. Although an Israeli call for a review of UNIFIL's job was not necessarily new, Sunday's attack provided the Foreign Ministry with a good reason to push the matter harder. Internal discussions took place inside the Foreign Ministry as far back as April over whether the time had come to begin discussions with the United Nations Security Council about whether UNIFIL, which has been deployed since 1978, had not overstayed its welcome. According to one school of thought inside the ministry, UNIFIL was being used as a pretext by the Lebanese government not to deploy its forces in the south, with the government in Beirut arguing that the very existence of UNIFIL demonstrated the situation in southern Lebanon remained "special." As such, the argument ran, UNIFIL itself had become an impediment toward the full implementation of the Security Council's own resolution on Lebanon, 1559. Security Council Resolution 1559, which led to the pullout of Syrian troops from Lebanon earlier this year, also called for the demilitarization of Lebanese militias, of which Hizbullah is the largest, and the extension of the Lebanese government's control over all the country, including the Hizbullah-controlled south. UNIFIL's mandate is automatically renewed by the Security Council every six months, with the current term to expire on June 31. Prosor also said that the international community needed to press the Lebanese government to extend its sovereignty southward. He hinted at Israeli displeasure that the condemnations that followed Monday's attack were not strong enough. He also expressed concern that the international community was not imposing implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, and said that meetings western diplomats have recently had with Hizbullah representatives in Lebanon were counterproductive. He said the argument that these meetings would somehow contribute to moderating Hizbullah have now proven incorrect.