IDF remains on high alert amid fears of Hezbollah attack

UNIFIL mandate extended with enhanced reporting mechanism.

A United Nations peacekeeper (UNIFIL) stands near a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in Adaisseh village, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, Lebanon August 7, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/KARAMALLAH DAHER)
A United Nations peacekeeper (UNIFIL) stands near a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in Adaisseh village, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, Lebanon August 7, 2020.
The IDF remained on high alert along the northern border with Lebanon over the weekend amid expectations that Hezbollah will continue trying to attack Israeli soldiers deployed nearby.
On Wednesday, Israeli attack helicopters and fighter jets struck posts belonging to Hezbollah along the border in response to sniper fire against IDF troops near Kibbutz Menara in the Upper Galilee.
It was the third failed attack by Hezbollah since the group’s leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah vowed to avenge the death of one of his operatives, killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria in July.
The high alert continues as the UN Security Council (UNSC) decided Friday to extend the mandate of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon for another year, while slightly reducing its number of troops.
The council added several demands from the Lebanese government to allow UNIFIL to operate more efficiently due to American and Israeli efforts to strengthen the force's authority in the face of Hezbollah activity.  
These new demands include an enhanced reporting mechanism to the UN for violent incidents and violations; a call for the secretary-general to create a detailed action plan to optimize the force’s effectiveness; and a strong condemnation of attempts to hamper the its freedom of movement and of threats posed to UNIFIL troops.
“Today we end a long period of UNSC complacency on the UNIFIL peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and the growing, destabilizing influence of Iran and the terrorist organization Hezbollah,” US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said in a statement. “Today’s resolution is a step toward improving the mission’s effectiveness and access.”
She added that reducing UN peacekeeping troops from 15,000 to 13,000 is an important step toward right-sizing the mission. “UNIFIL will also have prompt and full access to sites necessary to contain Hezbollah and diminish its vast arsenal of weapons,” Craft said.
“The Trump Administration will scrutinize UNIFIL to ensure these improvements are made,” she said. “We hope the reforms will spotlight actors who blatantly obstruct the mission and put peacekeepers and the people of both Lebanon and Israel in harm’s way.”
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said that the Security Council decision comes as a last warning for the Lebanese government.
“If Hezbollah continues to turn southern Lebanon into a base for its terrorist activity under UNIFIL’s nose, the government of Lebanon will be held responsible and will bear full responsibility for any escalation of tensions or the grave consequences of such actions,” Erdan said.
“Israel will not allow terrorist attacks to emanate from Lebanese territory and will respond with force to any such crime," he said. "The government of Lebanon is responsible for what transpires within its territory. In the upcoming months, we will closely watch how UNIFIL’s renewed mandate is implemented, and determine whether there is a justification for the force’s presence.”
UNIFIL has come under heavy criticism in recent years from both the US and Israel, who have argued that its mandate fails to fully empower it to operate as an observer force against Hezbollah.
They are particularly concerned by the mandate’s failure to ensure that UNIFIL can search for terror tunnels that Hezbollah has built along the border to attack Israel.
Israel and the US would like to see the mandate expanded to include, among other things, the ability for UNIFIL to enter homes in southern Lebanon to search for entry ways to tunnels.
Israel in particular has argued that unless the peace-keeping force is fully empowered, there is little point in maintaining its presence on the border.
While there is broad support for UNIFIL among the 15 UNSC member states, there is sharp division with regard to the mandate under which it operates. The US is one of five permanent members on the Security Council which have veto power.
France, overseeing the resolution's progress at the United Nations, circulated a final compromise draft on Thursday, which will be put to a vote on Friday afternoon.
The troop ceiling was lowered from 15,000 to 13,000 to meet a key US demand, though one diplomat called that a symbolic change as only 10,500 troops are currently deployed.
Reuters contributed to the report.